I waste a lot of proof prints to find the correct contrast grade. Mostly I will find a satisfactory grade to print on, but I think my technique is not good enough.
Wat is the best method ? Contactprints ? Proofprints ? Densitometer ? Darkroom lightmeter ?
-Any tips are welcome.
test strips are used by many. I know some people that us e a full sheet and expose it in quarters. Each quarter is at a different grade. I have an analyser pro which works as a light meter. With it you can previsualise the final result. However, it takes a while to calibrate the thing. I highly suggest a stouffer transmission step wedge to calibrate the analyser pro. I use a reflection densitometer to set the final results on the paper up.
A densitometer is surely a good help. I use my Ilford EM-10 darkroom lightmeter with good results: I took one negative with a very long range, printed it on the full range of Ilford MG IV RC. I then measured points on the negative giving almost full black, almost white, and medium grey for all prints. I can then read key values on any negative and adjust aperture/filtration to fit. Note that my MF enlarger is an Opemus with four filter wheels: C, M, Y and N(neutral) so that I can tune the illumination to print anything at 10s base exposure.
But this is only useful when there's an absolute minimum of burning and dodging to do. Mostly I just look at the projected image to determine what grade is likly to give a good image, then use the meter to indicate how much burning to do to get the values I want...
Densitometers work and may be of benefit in many ways. However in my dark-age darkroom, I rip up a sheet of whatever and use a piece approximately a quarter of a full-sized sheet, and place it in a critical part of the image. Usually it requires no more than a couple of trials to acquire the necessary data (by inspection) to home in on the required contrast grade and exposure for a test/working print.
Caveat: it requires a lot of paper to arrive at most of the fine images you see, here and elsewhere. So be patient and expect to use some paper.
I agree with dr bob, there is no repacement for knowledge of technique to support your own judgement. Initially, you will spend a lot of time and use a lot of paper in learning how to put on to paper the tonality and contrast you see as being the most expressive for the image you are printing. Once you know the darkroom dodges you will find that the only thing you cannot do is put detail into a shadow when it has not been given sufficient exposure at the taking stage.
Just a quick thought on the grading problem. I always start at a grade 3 - using RC VC paper - and do a test strip about 2 inches wide. This gives me a good indication of the exposure times and if the grade is to high/low. Sometimes I will choose a grade, do a basic print, then do a grade higher/lower as the wont takes me. It might seem hit and miss but after dry down etc you will be surprised at how you may have misjudged the grade in the first place. Plus it's good experience to look at a print in different grades because after a while you instinctively guess the right one and get it right.
I agree with Dr. Bob as well, learn to use your eye and just think of all the money you will save on gadgetry. Not that accumulating equipment is all that bad. I can't think of one reason why I need to purchase expensive equipment to judge the contrast of my test strips/staight prints. The key, I think, is to be patient and view your prints in white light after dry down.
After I have determined my basic exposure for the most critical area of the print (not a step test across the image), I then expose one strip at that basic exposure at each hole grade contrast number. I already know the extremes will be there at each end of the contrast test, but I find it useful to view those extremes for local contrast controls in mult-grade printing. After I have determined the best contrast for the critical area, I make a straight print with the basic exposure at the chosen contrast grade. Often I will make several straight prints at the basic exposure using whole grades and then half grades. Once I'm happy with an overall contrast, I start to think about dodging and burning needs. I didn't mean for this reply to get so "wordy".
I normally use the test strip method, but start with 2 - 2.5 grade.
Grade3 is a bit on the edge (more contrast and after that, the exposure times change...
I use a Multigrade head and VC paper. I try and find the correct time for the highlights in the print at grade 2 or 2.5 and make a print. I then look at the print and decide if if needs more or less contrast. I then make another print at the new contrast. The Multigrade head is nice because the exposure times really do not move much as you change grades. My method wastes some paper, but it works very well.
Some details on my method
Even with my analyzer pro I still use several test strips. I have an odd method; however, it seems to work for me.
I first look at the print on the easel and decide if anywhere is going to need burning in. This is where the analyzer pro is really handy. I can measure if a certain area will need 1 stop 2 stop etc.
I then decide where the highlights will be with my base exposure. The analyser pro will often give me a starting point; however, I usually expose three or four pieces of paper to get the highlights right. To do this, I tear up a sheet of paper into small pieces and position them where needed in the print. I use the f stop function on my timer to print each piece above and or below the starting point suggested by the Analyser pro. On each piece I write the time and develop them all together.
Once I've decided upon my highlight time, I print a full sheet at grade two to start working on the correct contrast grade. This is where having a calibrated system is really great. I spent a weekend once figuring out the contrast grades for my dichroic head. Now all of my settings are the same density. Thus, my highlights stay the same when I change grades. From the grade two print I decide if I need more or less contrast. Once this is decided, I return to dodging and burning.
For dodging and burning I again print on small pieces of paper. The Analyser is often hand to get a starting point; however, I print several pieces, write the exposure info on the back, and develop all of them. Often, I will take all of the pieces and lay them on top of my working print. As I sit around with a cup of coffee, I decide how much burning/dodging that I like. Once I've decided which parts I like the best, I create a burning dodging plan. Often though, I return to the darkroom and make many more little pieces of areas at different grades. The end result is a base exposure and burning/dodging plan that covers several grades.
My method uses alot of paper; however, having a calibrated system saves paper in the long run. I have two densitometers, f-stop timer, Analyser, and more; however, the method that produces the best reults is lots of little test prints. I think that my results improved the most when I started sitting down with the puzzle pieces and building the picture.