Need more contrast
I pretty often run out of contrast when printing underexposed negatives. Obviously the real answer here is I should expose better, but it seems I struggle to get decent blacks when I hit grade 5 on the enlarger. Also, the difference between grades 4 and 5 seems pretty small compared to the differences between other grades. I'm pretty new to all this, so I wanted to check if I'm doing something odd--and find out if there's something easy I can change to get a bit more contrast!
Ok, here's what I do:
Film is HP5, 35mm, exposed at 1600ASA and developed in DD-X 1+4 at 20°C for 13 minutes, 4 inversions totalling 10 seconds each minute (basically what the datasheet says). When I expose it right I get lovely negatives that print at 3-3½.
I use an LPL VC7700 enlarger with a 60mm lens to print on 8x10" Ilford Multigrade RC gloss paper. Usually the exposures (at f8) end up being 12-14 seconds for a nicely exposed negative at 3-3½. I develop with Acugrade 1+9 for 90 seconds (which I do 80 seconds in the tray, and the final 10 seconds held above it to drip off, so the print goes in the stop exactly 90 seconds after it went in the dev). 90 seconds isn't what the datasheet says here--it says 60 seconds, but I would end up having to expose the prints forever (with really muddy results) when I tried that. I mix it at 20°C but I don't have any method of maintaining it's temperature (yet!) so it's generally dropped 2-3°C by the time I'm finished. That doesn't seem to make a lot of difference, I've done comparison prints at the start and end before and they look much the same.
Does anything look obviously wrong here?
First try a less diluted paper developer, you will get stronger blacks when printing.
Depending on your lens, F8 might be closed down a bit too much. 2 full stops down from max is usually the lenses sweet spot but again testing would be recommended.
If 90seconds isnt cutting, dont pull it then, leave it in a bit longer and see if those blacks get and darker.
Check your filters as they can degrade over time as well too. And double check that the values are correct amounts from the paper booklet, it lists various enlarger brands when you dial it in.
Is your film new and paper new? fog affects contrast as well.
Honestly, a film pushed 2 stops, and then printed at 5 is already ridiculously contrasty. Can you post a scan of what you have, and then a tweaked version of what you want?
You have already identified the problem.
Underexposure "naturally" places your subjects darker on the print, don't fight it so much, let it fall darker and contrast will improve.
Going forward don't be so stingy with exposure, being over a bit doesn't have the same penalty.
Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR
"We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin
There is something seriously wrong with your print developer/temperature if you can't get a good black in 60 seconds with Ilford Multigrade RC. If you can find it, get some fresh Ilford Multigrade Developer. Try to keep the temperature above 20C.
If you normally get good prints at grade 3, and you're not getting good prints at grade 3 now, a few things could have changed:
1. Your safelight isn't 'safe' anymore.
2. Your multigrade filters might be spent, producing the wrong contrast.
3. Your paper has aged.
4. Your paper developer is getting exhausted, or contaminated by stop bath or fixer remnants.
5. Stray light hitting the paper somehow.
I'm sure there are more reasons, but try changing one thing at a time, like make a print without your safelight on, or mix fresh chemistry. But change only one thing at a time so that you can isolate what causes the problems.
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I'm with the others, I think you need to do some chemical/safelight test strips to determine if everything is kosher or not.
It's true in that contrast changes between 4-5 with VC are not as extreme with the equivalent graded paper, but you should definitely be able to hit black with any negative except the most heavily *overexposed* (not underexposed) negatives.
Usually inability to get a good black isn't nearly as common a problem as inability to have clean whites with proper balance of black.
However, I'll assume what you're dealing with is that in order to deal with underexposed negatives, you have to both underexpose the paper (compared to your normal negatives) and jack up the contrast so the blacks drop as a result of the paper underexposure.
I'd do some more testing of the common things: chemicals, safe-light, filters, and paper.
Stop worrying about grain, resolution, sharpness, and everything else that doesn't have a damn thing to do with substance.
Besides what Newt has to say, you definitly need to find your personal EI for the film you are using. Printing from thin negatives is a PITA to start off, and salvaging acceptable images is hard work at best. If you believe your exposures are correct in camera, double check your developing time and temp. Make danged sure your thermometer is accurate. I have one set time that I develope prints at, and adjust my exposure at the enlarger to accomodate this.I use Ethol LPD for two minutes at room temp, dilution isn't a factor with LPD except for tonality. If you want great prints, it's best to start with great negatives.
While what is posted above is probably more to your point, I have found that current # 5 filters give nowhere near as much contrast as old, under the lens, Kodak or Dupont systems with Bakelite holders.
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Originally Posted by gbenson
Underexposed negatives are basically ruined. The only solution is to re-shoot.
If you want some nice prints, try shooting at EI 200.
Good prints start in the camera.
Could it be that the times for HP5+ pushed to 1600 in DDX is another Ilford time that is seriously under? Most agree that D3200 in DDX needs the time for the next speed up so expose at 1600 and develop for the times given for 3200 but I haven't noticed the same being said for HP5+.
Apart from the case above in respect of D3200 I have found that the Ilford times have always given negs that are fine at grade 3/3.5