As time goes by - I go for less and less contrast...
I noticed this: year after year - my prints are having less and less contrast. 4-5 years ago I developed TriX in Rodinal 1+100 semistand, and contrast was very low: at that time I was saying "I destroyed the film", but now I am looking at it and saying "just right, nice low contrast with midtones". That is why I am slowly switching to multigrade papers - to lower the contrast (never printed on multigrade higher than 3).
What are your toughs about this?
Sorry to use the 'S' word, but I've just been going back over my old scans that I did when I first got it and didn't really know what I was doing or how to use it, but if I'd been wet-printing back then I suppose the same would still hold true. And I think I'm totally the opposite to what you're going through.
Back then, I was doing all that I could to get the most shadow-detail (ie, lowest-contrast) possible. So far in fact that they looked crap, everything that was black was just grainy as hell, anything that was just above black was pulled up into the midtones, there was no contrast in the mid because the highlights were also pulled down so that they didn't blow (currently I'm just going back over some BW400CN and TMY that I shot in dimly-lit rooms pushed to 800/1600).
Now that I know how to use my equipment properly, I'm going back over them, blackening the bits that look black, I'm not so worried about blowing the occasional highlights (like stage lights in the frame). Best part is, now that I'm ignoring the extremes (which are just backgrounds and lights) I'm focussing more on the middles, the faces and the clothes, ie, I'm focussing on the subject and getting some decent contrast into it. And some of those photos that I'd consigned to the digital scrapheap actually look so good that I'm going to wet-print them (too bad some are on orange-base, but I'll learn my way around that).
Depends what you're shooting, of course, maybe your subject is all shadows and highlights and the background is in the midtones, then you probably want the lowest contrast possible.
In short, I'd say contrast is like any other technique, shallow or deep depth of field, tight or loose cropping, motion-blur or frozen-action. It's all subjective, what you like may not be what someone else likes, and everyone's taste is likely to change...
An awful lot of electrons were terribly inconvenienced in the making of this post.
It depends some subjects need higher contrast and some don't the big advantage of going multigrade is imo split grade printing and to be able to print certain parts of a picture with different grades. Like you I started out with harder contrast and now prefer less contrasty prints but sometimes a scene just screams to be printed in high contrast. A mix between hard contrast (i.e.background) and softer contrast (ie. main subject/person) can look very interesting.
Without seeing some examples any response would be pretty meaningless. I used to make fairly contrasty prints but I was printing for newspaper reproduction for years and your prints need the right amount of "snap" for that. For a print that will hang on a wall at home or in a gallery, that is another animal.
I saw a Diane Arbus print the other day that I really liked. There were no people in the photo. It showed a bare room with a solitary chair and the door and windows were open and the outdoors was overexposed. As I recall the scene was fairly contrasty but that is what that shot called for. To me the scene evoked a sense of loneliness and soft contrast would be too pictorial. IMO.
Trix that I was talking about (negative scan):
Another examples are those pictures I would print before with higher contrast - to get more gritty look, but now I like them with lower contrast:
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Taste, skills, and understanding changes over time.
When I first came back to film I thought I needed "fast" shot HP5 and Delta 400 at 1600-3200 all the time with the development push. Made pretty negs that were tough to print. I was looking for magic bullets, it was an anathema to think that exposing and developing normally could suit my needs, I was special/different I needed better. Umm, well, turns out that's not the case for me. Turns out that I can shoot FP4+ at box just fine, that an incident meter's normal recommendation works great for me, and I can't remember the last time I did a +1 or push.
Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR
"We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin
I think it's a fairly typical progression of learning. Most tyros get blown away by the sharpness of contrast, and slowly come to realize there is so much more info that can be seen if printed properly. Ansel Adams went through this, he admits to it in his books. I have gone through similar, and so have many others who have stuck with photo printing for decades.
I print without a filter on MCC 110, but that is with Focomat Ic.
Wish I own Focomat IIc for MF work but Durst M600 is doing a fair job till now.
OM-1n: Do I need to own a Leica?
Rolleicord Va: Humble.
Holga 120GFN: Amazingly simple yet it produces outstanding negatives to print.
I generally prefer prints of higher contrast. I usually print multigrade somewhere between 3 and 4. But, there are occasions where low contrast pictures have a certain appeal.
Last edited by DannL.; 06-18-2014 at 11:03 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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For literally decades I have been pondering the same question: how much contrast is right? The problem is that contrast is both good and evil. It provides impetus but takes away detail and information. And, then again, through subjectivity, it PROVIDES information in the manner of inference.
The bottom line is to not tether contrast to anything other than the immediate pictorial situation. Each scene deserves its own day in the light. Some scenes benefit from more impact, some benefit from less. And the IMPRESSION that the photographer wishes to impart can 'adjust' what the scene, itself, tells you. The problem will never be solved in other than the micro analysis. - David Lyga