That is just plain bad info.
Originally Posted by Tom Stanworth
Making a fine negative is a choice regardless of the film format. We don't have to compromise, we can choose to sacrifice the majority of a roll to get that fine negative anytime we feel like it. We can run whole rolls in each lighting setup. There are lots of ways to get fine negatives from roll film.
As to printing bad negatives making me a better printer, IMO, only in the sense that I learn how to shoot better next time.
I respectfully disagree. I suspect you are used to shooting under somewhat more controlled conditions than some, both circumstantially and with respect to time. Making a 'fine negative' is very often not remotely as achievable as you suggest for documentary/reportage photographers. Certainly when you return home with 90 rolls of film, some shot with considerable speed, in wildly varying lighting, what you suggest becomes a little tricky. Remembering precisely what is on each roll is tricky enough and the time to take a variety of reading and record that info is rare. Besides, sacrificing most of the negs for one suggests you know the relative value of every frame on a roll and that's pure fantasy unless you are used to shooting under very controlled circumstances and, even then, I would not consider such presumption wise. It suggests you know everything in advance of seeing the results and, while that might be largely true for LF photographers, or those shooting controlled work off a tripod, it is not the case for street/documentary/reportage when 'by the seat of your pants' sometimes best describes the experience.
I came from LF to smaller formats and wanted to think as you do, but had to decide whether I was interested primarily in 'great photographs' or 'technically great prints'. Whilst occasionally you know you nailed a great frame or two amidst a roll of much weaker images and will nudge development in their favour, it can be extremely foolhardy to mentally edit your images ahead of seeing them in the flesh. I should add that the negatives of many great street/docu/reportage photographers suggest they made the same compromise: pictorial considerations before technical perfection. That means editing after you have developed them and making decisions from there.
If a person follows your advice, they are putting technical considerations and blind assumptions ahead of pictorial factors and I would not recommend that. It also leaves no room for experimentation and pushing the envelope. After all, if you know exactly what all your frames look like, you are surely playing it safe. Your last line is interesting. It suggests you have not had to overcome any deficiencies in your negatives i.e. they are all perfect. Even AA admitted to having to work hard with imperfect negs (and presumably learnt to be a better printer from the experience).
Originally Posted by markbarendt
(0) Is the neg really worth printing? Assuming it is...
(1) First find out what is in the neg- understand its contrast index and what detail is where on the curve. To do this, I make a matrix of exposure and contrast on multigrade paper or just make some contacts in a bunch of different ways.
(2) Form a strategy: based on the results of (1), decide whether you can print to graded, or multigrade paper, whether you'll need split grade, how to dodge and burn, whether to bleach or whatever.
(3) Print it to matte fiber!!!!! <---okay this is personal ;)
My point Tom, respectfully also, is simply that it is a choice.
Yes it is a question of what qualities we need to do our job. It is also a question of materials that we choose and as you point out subject matter.
If our subject matter is reportage and we expose to peg the midtones we can have a "fine" negative over a fairly wide placement range on many films.
Landscapers and fine art shooters typically have a different definition of fine. People shooting Pan F have a different view than those shooting TX.
I have done the 3000 shot weekends covering weddings and I still belive that in all cases, getting a "fine" negative is our choice.
Simply put, will we do what it takes or take what we get?
Originally Posted by markbarendt
i totally believe that if you can print bad negatives, you will become a better printer. the best way i learned how to print
was by printing bad negatives, and printing things that weren't supposed to be printed
because if you can print something that is bad, you will always be able to print something that is good.
it boils down to practice, and knowing your materials ...
00. What you point your camera at is the most important thing.
0. Know your scene and what you want to say; know how to get that on film and make the best negative you can.
1. Know what you want your print to look like and say before you begin printing. Then stay open for serendipity and new directions.
2. Play tonalities like you play tones on an instrument; how you compose the melody of the grays directs contrast choices and manipulations. If you "feel" the tones and their relationships and let that guide you, you will know exactly what to do technically. Then, you just have to be a good composer and performer :)
3. Forget dry-down compensations or formulas: dry your prints and evaluate them dry. Only then do you really know what they look like and how the highlight rendering will be. Wet just won't cut it and arbitrary percentages miss the point that drydown is not linear.
4. Forget rules about needing whites and blacks and what skin tones are supposed to be. Print the tones where they feel right.
5. Loud is only effective in relation to soft; contrast is not everything, not even the majority.
6. Adapt to the medium, don't waste time on what will never happen, don't bang your head against the wall, accept defeat and move on. Pick the low-hanging fruit. Accept limitations and work within them.
7. But, don't compromise on quality. Make ample use of your trash can. It is your best friend.
Oops, that's a lot more than three, but I always was bad at editing myself...
For some of us some of the time the making of the negative is out of our control because we might be custom printing for someone else who made a bad negative.
Working to overcome problems in tonality is a great way to learn about printing.
Be careful and THINK about what you are doing. Consider each and every shot you take might be THE best shot you ever made. Get familiar with one or two films and only one developer, and only one paper and developer. Use a graded paper and make your negatives work for that one paper. Never rely on " I can make up for shortcomings with ___" (fill in the blank). Never be rushed, take as much time as you want and need, whether shooting or printing. When processing or printing, have one established routine and never deviate from it.
I have been making an assumption in my arguments here that may not be true for everybody; that if one wants a fine print as out put from a specific composition then, the negative needs to meet certain standards. For me it has to be able to print all the intended tones as expected.
Originally Posted by jnanian
I've printed more bad stuff than I care to admit, what I have found is that when working with a "bad" negative I can get decent prints, even fun prints that others like, but not necessarily what I intended when I shot the scene. When I reach that limit I'm typically looking to reshoot or skip it.
Great thoughts everyone! I just started printing and these are all very helpful. I'm pretty sure I have the basics down and I'm starting to think about how I can build from here.