Here are a few things I've learned that have made a big difference in my printing:
For some reason, if I asked myself the question "Do I need more contrast", I used to always answer "Yes." Maybe it's an American thing, or a male thing: more has to be better than less, right? A few months back, while struggling to print a particular negative, I pulled out my never-used #1 filter. I was shocked! Suddenly I had this delicate highlight detail, and to my wife's eye (my best critic) it still had plenty of contrast. We all chase the elusive "luminostiy." I think one of the best places to find it is in well rendered highlights. These days, the #1 gets much more use.
As a corollary to the above: fiber paper (at least the Ilford that I use) takes 2-3 days to fully dry. I print so that, at the time of development, there is no detail in the brightest highlights. A couple of days later, voila.
Technical competence is crucial. But, in many of the prints that I look at, I see the same thing: they were made in unfavorable light. My best prints, almost without fail, are from negatives that were shot in beautiful light. Without good light, it's an uphill struggle.
Strangely enough, I posted this same opinion about light on a forum on ph*t*.net. It turned into a huge thread, and a huge fight, with many posters having the opinion that "there is no such thing as bad light."
I would add the importance of surrounding yourself with images by others. Especially images that you respond to. Go to galleries, go to the library, browse magazines. There are elements of "good" images that are common to many and crucial to most. As your level of seeing improves, the images you pass up will increase, and the ones you go after (possessing the tools to do so) will start to approach your ideals.
The only thing you can take a picture of is light. Make sure it's good light!
"Omnia lvmen divisvm in partes decem est"
I love the smell of fixer in the morning. It smells like...creativity!
Truly, dr bob.
Well put Mike. I feel that knowing your materials and procedures as best you can is the foundation of one's craft. I don't mean that's what makes a good photo. Not at all! Thats up to our mind's eye. But even the most beautiful concept is usless if it doesn't end up on a well done print. Don't be averse to experimentation now and then, tho'. It can be fun to wring out a new film or paper occasionally. You often learn something new. I try out something new every once in a while, usually when I feel I am stuck in a rut. I always end up coming back to my old favorites, which I've used for a long time, (but even Tri-x can't do everything). And after my little experiment I'll have a new film, paper or developer in my repertoire that just might me what I need sometime.
Keep on! I always like hearing that others do things the way I do! ;^)
[COLOR=Sienna][FONT=Arial]Some days are diamonds. Some days a tree crashes through your roof.[/FONT][/COLOR]
I totally agree. I have begun to collect other photographers prints and hang them on the walls of my house.
I would add the importance of surrounding yourself with images by others.
In fact I just finished framing and hanging two prints a few minutes ago.
I also feel that this is where the "Print Exchange" is a valuable tool. It allows you to swap prints with other photographers and receive/give valuable feedback.
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And don't forget that printing is a highly subjective thing. Light or dark. Hard or soft. Is there really a "right" way? Because of preconceived bias sometimes I find myself thinking about how an image should be printed rather then trying to understand what the photographer is telling me with his printing style. I guess all those choices are what makes printing not as easy as it seems.
my tuppence worth: make yourself some forms/ have a note book and try to remember to write in it if you are trying to take a decent pic; something like: film/f stop/speed etc but dont worry about it too much if you are taking general snaps.
Use a simiular type of form in the darkroom, stating film/developer/temp etc and relax and make it part of your routine so you don't have to think about it too much.
Stick to a combination of film/developer you are happy with but once in a while go and buy something different and experiment. Write it down and play.
If you have a film to process look at your old negs, find a good set, look up your notes and use that as a starting point.
Don't get too hung up on things like the Zone System, film density, f stop printing; they will come in time but do rate your camera.