2 or 3 get me my contrast. 1 or 2 get the dodging and burning. That's average.
after reading Bruce Barnbaums book on darkroom procedure i gave up test strips forever. big waste of time and paper. do not tell you anything that a full sheet of paper won't tell you and you get to see it ALL. if one has a system locked in -film;chemistry and paper then it is so easy to make great prints. it also takes Vision-that being where you want to go with the print. unfortunately that may or may not ever happen- but hey keep trying!! like an above poster I'm in the 10 or less paper category-if it aint happening I just move on....
I got very lucky this morning... two on the first try! Several others took a few prints each. I starting to get very good at evaluating negatives. :^)
My limited experience
1 test strip to narrow time down
1 strip to perfect it for that area
strips in important areas to narrow time down
couple strips to perfect base contrast
map out areas with sharpie for times and contrast if split filtering
cut out sequence of dodging shapes
figure out times for filters needing time adjustments to get same exposure etc
maybe 1 more final print
2 1/3 to 3 1/3 sheets -so long as I don't screw one up- and that's all I can do at this point
I think the full size test prints are smart but also think you can save paper by using test strips in important, distinct areas
# of trys
I have adopted the Bruce Barnbaum method: I don't use test strips but rather start with an 8x10 sheet of paper and can ususally get it in 1 or 2 tries. Bruces' theory is that enough practice i.e. printing experience will give you a pretty good feel for exposure time and filter selection. Of course you have to maintain the same developer paper combo. I have settled on Photographers formulary B&W 65 and Arista EDU ultra paper. My prints with this combo come out with great contrast and print quite easily without alot of manipulation.
No escaping it!
I must step on fallen leaves
to take this path
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My most important step is the contact sheet. Once I see that I know what I want to do and what contrast I want. The time is easy I just put the neg in the holder, turn on the light and adjust the f-stop until it looks right. These days I'm getting cheap and not doing the contact sheets as much but I can tell by looking at the neg what I want to do and what contrast to dial in.
If I'm printing with those that want to learn something I might do test strips so they can see why I pick a certain time by dialing it in. Once you've been printing for over 30 years test strips are pretty much a waste of time and energy. At least for me anyway. YMMV.
I am pretty much with Eric and Peter, though I'm not familiar with Bruce Barnbaum's method.
I use a contact sheet to determine the basic time and figure out what I want to do about contrast, and rarely do test strips. Usually one or two sheets to get an ok work print. Getting to a final print from there varies.
I have long felt that, like test strips, contact sheets are a waste; I only make them if someone is paying for it. Reading the negatives with a good loupe on a color-corrected light table works fine.
So, in answer to the original question, when I use the same film, cameras, lights, development, et cetera in my own darkroom which I've used since who-knows-when, the first print is usually adequate for most people, but unless I'm in a real hurry, I don't stop there- there's always room for improvement. Four or five further prints would be normal. I have only had one negative that I matted and framed for myself on the first 'straight' print- the most beautiful (in a technical sense) negative I ever made. Wish I knew how I did it.
When I'm trying a new film or developer (I only change one variable at a time), it can take 20 prints to get 'close' to what I want. More than that and I start to figure it isn't worth it. Or my back starts to hurt. Same difference in my book.
I should mention that I've been working in the darkroom for 35 years, and I have always preferred darkroom work to camera work- though I am obsessed with both.
Unfortunately I have farted around so much with different films and developers that I often times am fooled moving from a negative developed in a staining developer to one in a non-staining developer. That stain really screws me up sometimes, trying to read the negative.
With normal graded paper I estimate my printing time at grade 2. Then I make the print and see how I like it. If it's too bright, I insert a second sheet and make one that's a tad to dark. (If it was too dark to begin with I make one slightly too light). Then I compare the two, side by side. At that point I can really nail down a good exposure time, adjust for contrast and figure out a rough dodging/burning procedure, and the third sheet is usually good enough to start getting down to the really nitty gritty details.
With variable contrast paper I have started split grade printing everything. One sheet for grade 0 exposure, and another for the grade 5 exposure. And they are full test sheets, no strips. The third sheet is of course a combination of the two and by judging the grade 0 and grade 5 I can usually get a fair idea of what kind of dodging and burning I have to do at both stages.
So, whether I'm printing with graded paper or variable contrast paper, I always have a decent work print with three sheets.
Then to get to the final print is a different story. That usually requires about 1-3 sheets more. Sometimes more, and in very few cases, the third prints is something I'm happy with.
I can tell that since I standardized on Tri-X and Pyrocat-MC as film/dev combination and Ilford MGWT paper as standard paper, I am able to eke out much more of the tonal scale of the paper. I've got a long way to go, but this to me seems like a good technique. The 3-sheet idea with graded paper comes from Michael Smith. I find his approach is usually very sound. No test strips there either.
Last edited by Thomas Bertilsson; 01-18-2008 at 12:31 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: Added one line.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
When I was doing silver gelatins, 16x20's from 4x5 negs, I would use one pack of ten sheets of Portriga Rapid. One for a work print (a straight print), 5 or 6 to getting burning right, then the last 3 were all final prints. This would be over perhaps an 10 to 12 hour period (from set-up to prints on the drying screens).
Platinum/palladium and carbon prints prints are usually nailed down by the second to third print.
At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.