I do think large format helps. One part is the larger negative. Another is the ability to process individual negatives to ideal development times to control the contrast.
FWIW I like Tmax films but only with Tmax dev, I really do not like this film in D76.
For the ultimate in mid tone smoothness I will use a lower filter to extend the tonality range and split in a pop of grade 5 to add a good black and local contrast on top of the mids.
I have three of Les Mcleans prints hanging in my dining room , they are three of the nicest 35mm to print images I have seen in a long time. He is the Master of smooth transition and his book may help, as well he has lots of info here on APUG of his techniques.
I held off saying this because it may hurt. The place to start is with chiarroscura (I should look up the spelling). Once you get an interesting distribution of light and dark in mind, which you should do as you're framing the subject in the viewfinder or on the ground glass, you can start working out how you're going to put it on the negative and the print. What YOU see in the scene may not be the literal truth, but in order to show what led you to want to make the picture, you will have to lead the viewer's eye to it.
It may be that the examples you showed were small parts of more interesting compositions, in which case I apologise profusely. If you are only learning photography as a technique, you should study art in general, or find a friend who knows artistic painting. It may help to make pencil tracings of the outlines in your photos. It won't hurt, while you are practising making the tones you want to use, to practise placing them so that tones will not make the major difference. As you can see, I am not in favor of the "works of art" consisting of panels of a single solid color that hang in some museums.
Thanks for the advice, everyone. It all seems helpful.
Specifically in response to gainer: I am not entirely sure what you are saying. Are you saying my examples are not interesting or balanced or what? If that's the case then I reserve the right to disagree but that is not the question here. You may not have read that I am attending a major art school (Maryland Institute) but I think that has and will continue to give me a basis in Art History and graphic principals and the like. I am familiar with chiaro scuro and I thought these were nice examples of a good range from dark to light.
Another rebuttal: Many of those "works of art" that you deride are simply exercises in the very practice you describe, placing the darks and lights and in many cases colors in the exact right spot. Thank you for your time. I'd love to discuss this some more.
Surely, but range is not all there is to it.
The panels I refer to are those which had only one color. An artist who expects big bucks for showing how good he is at making a large panel be a uniform color is, I think, more of a con artist. Abstract arrangements of colored patches are a different matter, though some of them seem to be simply exploitations of the value of a recognizable name.
Maybe we could have a duel: flower arrangements at 3 paces.
If you believe your illustrative photos are artistically interesting, that's fine. Perhaps you should show them to one of the teachers. I'm not convinced that one of them would find an empty hole surrounded by vegetation very attracting. Vegetation surrounded by an empty hole would be better.
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I know this is about exploring tonality as a function of film and developer, but I think the largest influence of tonality is lighting. It is hard to make generalities as there may be differences in subject matter, but most of the time, I think the range of acceptable contrast with respect to film development of paper grade is less than we might expect especially in the mid values. This is why finding some optimal contrast and then burning and dodging may be preferable to simply increasing or decreasing the contrast of the whole print. To get the most pleasing separation of tones starts with lighting. Direct lighting producing prominent shadows may produce a full range grays. But, in order to capture shadow detail and/or avoid blown highlights, the contrast may have to be lowered to such an extent that the picture generally appears muddy. Soft, diffuse lighting, on the other hand, produces a narrower subject/ brightness range. In order to capture the full tonal range on the print, the contrast must be increased resulting in exaggerated or augmented separation of the values that I think is aesthetically appealing if not done to excess.
Do an experiment, compose a photograph of flowers similar to those above and take two pictures identical in composition, but differing in lighting, one in bright sunlight, the other with clouds or in the shade. Then develop and print to get the full tonal range of each. I bet the one taken in diffuse light will give a more pleasing separation of tones than the one taken in bright sun light.
Skin tones and middle tone separation has been much easier for me with my materials and techniques after I started using PyroCat and PyroCat style film developers. It seems especially effective at this in HP5+ in medium format. It also seems easier to get the effect when scanning the negatives, too. With some simple metering techniques in the darkroom, I'm seeming to get a very high percentage of prints that require very little burning/dodging and initial test prints that are keepers, too. Its ability to control highlights makes it especially versatile for contrasty lighting, getting good shadow separation without blown highlights.
As others have suggested, the developers you're using are somewhat industry standards and have a solid trail of information. They are capable of doing most everything that you might need by tuning your processes to them. The PyroCat idea is one that I wish I had tried before I did and I am mentioning it for that reason to you.
In the last week, I took a few test rolls of the new TMY-2 and was using XTOL to provide some baselines. The few people shots that I had in there gave me very pleasant and smooth skin tones that printed easily. I was getting full emulsion speed of 400 in this combination and I think I'll be pursuing this a bit (PyroCat tends to function best for me at typically about 1/2 of box speed with most films).
I will second Jim's ascertion that T Max 400 is the best film made from an ascethic and a technical perspective. I have seen some samples of Jim's prints and I was blown away with his ability to extract marvelous mid tones with considerable visual separation from this modern film. It is refreshing to have one amongst us that is as uncompromising as Jim. I know that it added a new gear in my transmission and that I have to continue to work hard to attain the optimal from the photographic materials that I use and not accept anything less than the best that can be attained.
Originally Posted by c6h6o3
Concurrently it points out some of the lesser quality B&W work that is passed around as "fine art" that is highly lacking in this regard.
The technical side of TMY(2) is that it is still the cream of the crop with quality control, density building character (I have yet to see the curve even show a hint of doing anything but go straight up) and the best reciprocity correction possible. You can go to nearly 2 seconds of exposure before a correction is necessary. It is the only film I use. T Max 100 is a horse of another color and is far less foregiving and because of this reason I do not even bother with it. When I see people rag on T grain emulsions and toss everything into the same adverse category based upon their experience with T Max 100 I cringe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Maybe art should be seen as a big tent. Lots of art that was hard to look at, seemed empty, or was hard to understand, when first introduced, is now mainstream. Witness the kind of photography Weston and Co. espoused. It was raw and uncomfortable in it's day. Now we take it for granted that photography can just look like photographs.
Originally Posted by gainer
There are two aspects of any style of art and each work of art that I think about the most. What is it trying to show, and how is it trying to show it. The "What" of it has the most leeway and is often the most difficult for the observer to decipher, especially if the observer is one whose first question is "What is this a picture of?" The artist who is trying to show only that the medium is indeed the message has the greatest problem. I don't think I should be particularly happy if the first comment about one of my pictures is "Look at those edges. What happened to the Mackie lines?" or worse, "Look at those great edge effects!"
It is true that there are times when the "How" is the purpose of the "What", as penmanship excercises show the use of a pen. Now I have to quit before I get in over my hip pockets.