What consitutes a good negative? Many articles and books refer to the perfect negative having a wide range of tones etc but are there any books with examples that you can recommend?
I have recently enlarged some of my 'best' frames and have been very happy with the results especially after practicing split grade printing for a while. However my question comes from some of the enlargements being printed on a grade 3 graded paper where I have found the contrast more to my liking over and above a grade 2. These negs print very easily and have what I consider a 'good' tonal range. Does this suggest that my negs are slightly flat, lacking contrast or is it all relative to your personal taste?
I use FP4 plus currently(rated at 80) and dev in ID11 stock or 1:1
All opinions welcome
I target my negs to grade 2, but there is nothing sacred about that, and grade 2 varies from one brand of paper to another. Some people target to grade 3 to produce a thinner negative with finer grain.
As David stated it depends on your paper and what you are pleased with. The one thing that I might add is that the noticeable difference between a grade two and grade three paper is the severity of the slope on the characteristic curve of the paper. Therefore a typical grade three paper when compared to a typical grade two paper will have a more severe slope in order to compensate for the lower contrast of the negative. This leads to a certain degree of compression of the tonal scale of the negative.
I would agree with David insofar as targeting to a grade two paper for all sheet film users. The one exception that I make from this is in the use of 35 mm film. There I would target my negative contrast for a grade three paper for the reason of less grain.
I look at it from a very personal way.
As long as the negative is 'decent', that is, I can print it in grade 3 (that's my standard grade - 35mm) and get an decent test print, I will look closelly at it and decide - more contrast or less contrast?
That's very much related to the photographer's style and liking.
I did a photo that was plain vanilla at grade 3 - but came to life as a high contrast grade 4.
As someone who prints only other folks' negatives, I find that there is no real consistency between negatives. Even aerial film varies greatly from one roll and one flyer to another. Different contrasts, different densities/exposures. This is one reason why I asked a while back how important all the strict time and temperatures with chemistry is. Seems like the key to a good negative depends equally on the photographer getting enough range and reasonable density, and the printer being willing to play a bit to find the best print according to the end desires.
I can't imagine their being something like a perfect negative, because the question would have to be perfect for what? for whom? Only in the end can there be an almost perfect print, and how you get there doesn't really matter. And as soon as you think it is a perfect print, someone will disagree. So do what feels good for you to work with, where is your comfort level?
I suppose there could be an impossible negative, but not a perfect one.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in working the process from the print backwoards. After I decide something I see (or create) will look good as a photograph, I look at the tonal scale as it will compliment the feeling of the photograph. When I meter it, I will want to see that the tonal range will fit the paper I want to print it on. I got a lot of use out of my split ND filter this trip because it brought some 7 stop ranges down to 5 stops and I know that will make them easier to print. If I was in a situation where the image could not be improved by a top half / bottom half compensation, I would have to expose a little more and develop a little less. Any negative that captures exactly what you wanted to print and does not require extensive manipulation is in my mind a perfect negative.
As my darkroom and photographic skills develop I am coming to the conclusion that a good negative is one that holds all the info you want to express and requires the minimum of after work to put it on paper.
My recent entrance into the 4x5 world and zone system just had me wondering what other poeple think. I have also started split tone printing on some of my negs (Thanks to Les, Donald and others for the inspiration and advice) and have seen a marked improvement from the perspective of getting the final image closer to what I previsualised. But I still have this nagging voice in the back of my head saying 'get the perfect neg'
Maybe this is still a sign that I am not comfortable with my materials yet?
In the larger context of what your original question asked...that is, what will give me the print quality that I want? Because after all the negative is only the means to the print.
I think that what Frank alluded to has a great deal of merit. I would go a step further with this though. I think to have a truly workable system one needs to study the sensitometric qualities of the paper that is used. I think that the system that Phil Davis espouses (BTZS) has approached this in a way that no one ever has...certainly not Ansel Adams.
From the little that I understand about this system, the analysis of materials begins with the paper. By contact printing a Stouffer 21 step tablet at the desired paper grade one is able to determine what the paper will represent in density range. From that analysis the next step is to determine the film's EI(s) and the development time(s) to achieve as near as possible the camera negative's contrast range that will match the paper's ability to represent that contrast range.
Clay, Sandy, and Jorge are all probably better versed on the actual procedure of the testing, plotting etc. But I believe, in a general way, that this is a fair representation of this system.
My problem is how far do you go with the scientific before you lose track of the art?
I have the Phil Davis book and indeed use his tube design to develop 4x5 negs but don't have access or funds for a densitometer etc. I could use the service they offer buy it seem rather expensive. I have considered the Palm handheld with his program ($120) but I cannot justify with the amount of 4x5 work I actually get round to doing (10-12 sheets per month)
For now I have to take the 'suck it and see' approach and hope to learn more about the materials through usage