Originally Posted by markbarendt
It is not about RC vs FB. Improving print quality is about working methodically from the first test print through work prints to the final print, being critical along the way, refining your burning and dodging skills, use of filters etc - and not being afraid of hard work - because some prints will be difficult even if the negative is perfect. They will require more technique and more time. Practice, practice, practice. A great printer can make a beautiful print from a flawed negative, but a lousy printer won't make much of even the best negatives.
A couple of things which may help a less experienced printer (and experienced printers) get a better final product are:
1. Instead of telling yourself you must get to the final print in one session, stop just short of that. When you think you've got the print just about right, make a few versions/variations, then stop. Live with them for a few days. Look at them with fresh eyes the next day etc.
2. In addition to #1 above, try hanging the prints upside down. Look at them that way. When you walk by them in your home, glance at them. The idea here is to remove some of the familiarity of the image and see only tones and tonal relationships in a more abstract way. Things like imbalances, hot highlights and even artifacts of burning/dodging (eg halo around a dodged dark object etc) will tend to "jump out" at you more. Sometimes when working on a print in the darkroom you can get a little bogged down and lost in the details and/or the image itself, and even though you're concentrating you might miss some little things, errors etc.
Fiber printing is not any more difficult, really. It does take some care but mostly, it takes more time.
One must transport wet paper carefully from a tray to the next. If you grab carelessly, you can dent, crease, or otherwise damage the paper. These damages do not flatten out when dry.
It takes time because it dries slowly. You *can* quick dry them with microwave ovens and hair dryers but they still change a bit when completely dry the next day. So evaluating contrast and density takes much more time than RC.
When printing fiber, I typically print just one image per session. Then quick dry them and get it close to what I want. Then print 2 to 3 varying density and contrast by just a little. At this point, I'll process them fully by giving it a complete wash, etc, then let dry til the next day.
At that point, I make the final decision to either accept one of them as a final print or make further adjustment.
It's worth my time but I do not do this if I am in a hurry. It takes time to do it correctly.
Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?
I won't repeat the excellent advice others have posted, though I'll second the recommendations of starting with Ilford MGIV FB, as this is the same emulsion as the RC version which you will expose and control the contrast the same way. Dmax *is* reached before drying, but you'll notice that dry FB prints will look less contrasty and about 10% darker than wet ones - this is called 'dry down' and is caused by the gelatin drying. Dead matt papers dry down the most - glossy the least.
Originally Posted by msbarnes
Graded papers another learning curve, but well worthwhile investigating. You need to match the negative to the paper contrast. Graded papers mostly tone more effectively than VC papers in selenium and have differences in tonal rendering etc. They're also in my experience less forgiving of sloppy workmanship. Ilford Gallerie is a very nice paper and it tones like a dream. I'd recommend that you stick with VC papers until you feel your printing has reached a high standard. Graded papers won't magically improve your results.
Before you rush out and buy FB paper, I suggest you try and get the best out of your current RC paper. See if you can find out why you find your prints are lacking - RC papers *are* capable of wide tonal range and deep blacks, and taking shortcuts will compromise your results. Any shortcuts you might use with RC prints (skipping stop bath, pulling prints, underfixing, underwashing etc) will cause real problems with FB and will result in poor print longevity, staining, poor Dmax and other faults. Once you can achieve fantastic results with RC papers, the move to FB will be much less of a learning curve. FB papers aren't a magical solution, so take your time, prepare to slow down and culture patience in the darkroom and you'll be fine - it's an interesting journey.
Last edited by kevs; 12-04-2012 at 08:39 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Effect of Dry-down in Highlights, Midtones & Shadows on Fibre Paper
I agree with Kevs that dry-down will reduce the contrast of the print. If you use Ilford MGIV FB, or many other current papers, most, but not all of the print will dry darker, and the percentage difference will vary depending on the tone in question. I found that the highlights and midtones will be darker, in terms of reflection density, by about 0.02–0.04 logD. For a very delicate highlight, say of 0.05 logD, as a percentage, this would represent 40-100% difference. The 0.02 difference on a midtone, of perhaps density 0.60, represents only about a 3% difference.
Originally Posted by kevs
You will find, however, that deep shadows will actually dry lighter, and not darker—by about 0.02 logD, too.
Here is a couple of examples I just did this afternoon, on a previously processed, and fully dried sheet of Ilford MGIV FB WT. I inserted it, part way, into a bath of water for 15 minutes, then I took it out, squeegeed, and snapped with a digital camera, so that you could see the difference between the wet and the dried part. First, let's look at highlights and midtones, focus on the dividing line between the dry and the wet area:
As you can see, the difference on steps 24–17 is small, but very clearly visible, and would be far more striking in a real picture, than on a step-wedge. This is the key aspect of dry-down that most of us will try solving. Notice, that around step 16 the difference becomes less visible. Now, if we look at the effect on deep shadows, the opposite happens! Deep shadows dry lighter than when wet. Starting at about step 13, the difference should be visible, however not many people care about deepest shadows or dMax, so this aspect of dry-down is usually ignored, but it contributes to the overall loss of contrast. By the way, I had to increase the overall exposure on this photo to make it clearer, limitations of my digital camera, hope you can see through the glare:
As long as you aware of it, you will be able to handle it with ease. The best way is to dry a print, then assess, as others have wisely recommended.
Next to that, you could reduce the base exposure by 4-8%, after you established what yields a good looking print, while it is slightly moist—it is always better to squeegee it first, and to let it rest for a few seconds, to avoid the major glare. Make sure you are using a realistic amount of light when previewing your prints, not too much, and not CFL, preferably not halogen, or anything with too much UV. This exposure reduction solves the problem of muddy highlights, however, this technique does not compensate for the slight loss of contrast. In fact, blindly reducing exposure by 4, 8, or 10% will often lighten the deep dark accent shadows even further, and so it contributes to another loss of contrast, and that sparkle is about to vanish... Selenium toning will help overcome some of that, as it will darken midtones a bit, and shadows a lot, as much as 0.20 logD with this paper. Alternatively, you could just increase the final contrast, using your filter settings—but watch out, as increasing contrast using speed-matched filters (or heads) will also make the highlights a little lighter, so it may not be necessary to reduce the base exposure as much, or not at all, in that case.
Sorry about the awful quality of the photos in my post.
Last edited by Rafal Lukawiecki; 12-05-2012 at 12:20 PM. Click to view previous post history.
"I want to step-up my printing: should I start with fiber paper?"
In a word, no. You should be able to make really good prints with RC paper. At a company I worked for many years ago we would receive product prints on B&W RC paper from the advertising agency we used. They never failed to impress me. Of course there is no reason not to try fiber based paper. I'm kind of surprised that you haven't yet.
There is a thread somewhere about recommended printing books. There should be lots available cheaply on the used market. If you are anywhere near the Chicago area, there is a very good amateur club that has open printing sessions with the members.
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