How long's a piece of string?
Usually I get a fairly decent straight print first time, that's after careful study of contact sheets and test strips.
I always keep careful darkroom notes of paper type, size, grade(s) setting, developer - dilution, time and temperature, lens and f-stop, enlarger head height. These kind of notes allow me to get fairly good repeatability given similar negatives exposed and processed under the same conditions etc.
My student has just finished printing her first wedding, 35mm, and 10 rolls of film. She has been carefully working towards a darkroom management system whereby she wastes as little as possible, it’s a money thing where she gets paid so much and has to produce the prints for a set price. If she uses a lot of paper, chemicals and time, she makes little or almost no profit. She actually underquoted for the job and realised once she was processing the films that it was going to be tight. I sort of guessed she had underquoted, but letting her do it her way is the best lesson. She managed to actually come out with a small profit and that was with real world accounting, not fudging.
Contact sheets of each and every roll, she did set subjects in batches, bride out of car “outside with fill flash” switch to indoors mode for “Bride inside and flower girls” Switch to indoors mode “Bride and Groom White dress and Black suit”. Switch to printing reception and formal pictures on lawn, reception proper, etcetera.
By doing it this way, one can regulate, within reason, the wastage, because once you’re in the groove, you can print like crazy and it works.
For every four 5x8” prints, she had one full test print and nailed three out of four on the second attempt. This included burning the white dress, dodging the dark suit and keeping the bride the centre of attention in every frame. This is as close as it gets to perfection for one newish to doing darkroom work, without any kind of supervision. I also consider it close to perfection for a lot of seasoned darkroom workers, as well!
For myself, I just went and checked my 50 sheet box of 12x16” paper, which is for my really good stuff. I have used 43 sheets in eight sessions, which means I have printed 8 different negatives. With these eight different negatives I have two perfect prints, or at least what I call perfect. The average is 5.4 sheets used for each negative.
I always work from a contact sheet no matter what the format. With my contact sheet I can pretty much determine density, grade and possible burning/dodging. I make a full sheet test print first up at least ½ the time. I’ll do a ¼ stop density wedge when I’m not too sure for the rest of the time, then it’s usually a full sheet print straight after a density test.
With my current set-up, I’m using three types of film FP4+, Neopan 400 and Tmax100 and two formats, 35mm and 4x5. By being methodical I can switch from one film and/or format almost seamlessly.
I have standardised on scratch mixed D76 1+1 for many years now for all film developing, this also helps.
always do the contact sheets...it will give you a heads up on the entire process and immediately alert you if something has gone wrong...I try to do mine with a vc paper and a grade 1 filter...try it and see how it will make a difference..opens up the shadows so you can judge them better..it's the little tricks that make you a better printer.
Standardization is the real key here. First my film for 5x7, 8x10 & 7x17 is TMY developed in Pyrocat-HD 2-2-100 using a Zone VI compensating developing timer. I contact print everything on Canadian Grade 2 Azo. I slightly "underexpose" the contact sheets so I can really see what is in the shaldows. The enlarger height is always 19 inches. There is no lens. I use an Azo "Cold One" light source. The developer is MAS Amidol and my standard is 2 minutes for Canadian Azo again using the Zone VI developing timer.
With the information gathered, I can usually get to a print I want to hang on the wall in less than 5 sheets of paper. However, I did spend 17 sheets working on a rather difficult negative a couple weeks ago.
I've learned what 3 and 4 minutes in Amidol will do to increase the contrast in the print. I've also leaned that once I have a print I'm happy with using the Canadian Grade 2 Azo, if I want just a touch more contrast, I know exactly how much less exposure to give the Old Grade 2 Azo so I get a "final" print from every precious sheet.
It also helps to have a few thousand sheets of Canadian Grade 2 Azo, all with the same emulsion number. I am learning exactly how my materials behave and it has greatly increased my darkroom efficiency!
It takes me 2 or 3 sheets to get there, then 1 or maybe 2 more to make a print that expresses what I want. I generally don't need to do too much burning and dodging to "fix" things, but I use them to emphasize what I think the picture is really about. And to make it as beautiful as I can. Then I will make 1 to 3 copies depending on how much time I have, and tweak it slightly. See what else I might decide about the picture.
for client work... I nail it in 1 or 2, and don't play around with experimenting as much. But I'm still after beautiful expressive prints.
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Why would you want to know what I do? I can't think that anyone would aspire to my darkroom technique. But Michael Kenna. He's a man who makes good looking prints and I read an interview with him somewhere recently in which he said an hour to four hours to make his perfect print. (Then once he'd got it perfect he'd do a lot of copies.) After four hours I'd think he'd got through a lot of paper, even after just an hour more than a sheet or two.
it all depends on the negative ...
sometimes not too much paper, sometimes more.
and if i have to print a whole sequence taken at the same
place at the same time ... "the last print made" is a good
starting point for "the next one to print" ...
for jobstuff, i never make just one print, usually a handful of extras "just in case"
It depends more upon my mood and concentration than the negative. I used to work as a commercial printer, so I've printed just about every format of negative and with every possible exposure variation. No commercial printer I knew ever relied on the Zone System. Not saying none ever have, I just never saw it. Customers bring you all kinds of negative exposures.
The best day I ever had printing I made 14 excellent 16x20 fiber prints using 15 sheets of paper. The 15th sheet was for test strips. Otherwise it usually takes me a couple of test strips, and then maybe a whole or half sheet of paper to see where all the dodging and burning needs to be.
Color printing is tougher. It's easy to go back and forth a few points. I rarely print color analog anymore. More because of time than anything else
There was a thread recently where someone mentioned that he likes to get a decent straight print quickly and then look at it for a few days before returning to refine it (contrast adj, burn, dodge, etc)...
That seems to work for me, as it gives me distance to evaluate it in different light, and generally, just reflect on it. Drydown is much easier judged, obviously, and sometimes it really helps to just take a step back.
Thank you all for responding.
This is really helpful.