make a good negative
the thing is that having a good negative doesn't make you a good printer ..
it makes printing easy because the negative lends itself well to being printed.
if you have an underexposed, or over exposed negative one where there is excessive contrast
or flatness or something else, THAT will force you to learn how to print.
i used to purposefully load film in a camera shoot at the wrong fstop and shutter speed,
and put the wrong asa into the camera so the meter was useless
then process everything in a batch ( pan f, plus x, tri x tmz &c ) and then try to print everything i could
off of all the rolls ...
the thing is that not every negative will be a good negative, and it might be something you want to print ...
John makes an excellent point in my opinion. Consistent, high quality negatives certainly make printing less troublesome, but developing printing skill is where the biggest bang for the buck is. A great printer can often work wonders even with a crap quality negative and save the image. A mediocre printer on the other hand will probably make mediocre prints of perfect negatives, and be at a loss to print from crap negatives (which will inevitably happen). I'd take some proverbial pages out of Ansel's books on this issue. He was able to control most of his negatives very well, but some of his most powerful images exist despite relatively poor negative quality.
The minimum-time-to-maximum-black is associated with another "Fred Picker" philosophy, where he would consistently expose negatives to a precise minimum necessary exposure (to look good at that point). In reality your best test strip selections may not relate closely to that black strip printed from the clear leader. Of course if that strip is dingy gray when the rest of the print looks realistic, it might mean you should increase the paper contrast.
Sure it's more difficult to make a good print from a shitty negative, and it does teach us to appreciate AND recognize the good ones. The increased difficulty probably does make us better printers, but I don't think anybody here can recommend to make it a goal to make shitty negs just to learn to print.
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i agree with you, the goal should be to make great negatives and great prints ...
what i was suggesting ( and suggested to do on page 2 ) is to print EVERYTHING that you can get,
even if the films are crappy, even if the negative isn't film .. everything ... ( crayon, charcoal water glass, cliche verre, ink &c )
while i learned an immeasurable amount working for a portrait photographer whose every negative was PERFECT ...
i learned even more when i was working with the dregs ...
the problem is, no one when they are learning to print has perfect negatives, they just their 2 or 10 years worth of crappy negatives
poorly exposed backlit under developed ... speaking for myself, i had at least 10 years worth (now its more like 30 )
there's nothing wrong about poorly exposing and processing film ON PURPOSE .. it teaches you about film too
if someone has a roll of film, expired, fresh, whatever, and they shoot crappy stuff on purpose, and process it wrong
it will teach them how the film reacts with light, and time, and developer, nothing wrong with that ...
most people take other people's word for things they never bother to learn anything on their own, i'd rather learn on my own,
since 9 times out of ten, people who dispense advice just regurgitate what someone else told them without any first hand experience.
on the internet and in forums especially ... and in "real life" yikes! i would say 90% of the people i would talk with
during the time i was teaching myself to print better, had no clue and they just spewed nonsense ...
and if i showed them a negative and a print i conjured from it they insisted i didn't, it wasn't from that negative, or some other load of BS ...
now i can pretty much print anything that comes into my hands, client work, or my negatives that obviously, considered by most to be pretty crappy LOL
every once in a while i still pick up semi-translucent trash from the street or recycle bin or a piece of glass smeared with something or whatever .. and make a print from it ...
Its about 7:00am and I'm heading into the city for an early morning walk about photo shoot. Its very grey and overcast.
I don't know if this will make something difficult or easy to print, but I'll use something from this shoot for my next try. Maybe I can include a picture of the negative for opinions, and the print too.