Katie, when I go in the darkroom it's for one of three reasons, to develop film, make contact sheets, or work on a particular negative. I always plan what I'm going to print ahead of time. I'll even plan it out in my head for days before the actual printing session. I'm thinking of things like 'do I want to use split grade printing on this negative?' 'I will probably need to burn the sky for whatever amount,' 'may need to dodge this area..' etc. All this while staring at the contact sheet of the negative. Along with making contact prints I also scan my film and play around with it in PS. This is a huge help. I can adjust contrast, crop, tone it different ways, and live with the image before I even need to play with it in the darkroom. Then after a while some photographs will stick with me and others will seem not so important. My point is.. I need a photograph to prove its importance to me over time before it is worthwhile for me to spend a days printing session working on it. I never print anything I shot in the last few months, unless it's of people. And I do only work with one negative at a time. I'll leave it in the enlarger and that way if the next day I'm not happy with the prints or I ruin them during toning, the neg is still there, clean, ready to be printed.
Yes, I make proofs of all LF film and contact sheets of MF rolls from which I select frames to be proofed. I keep and store all proofs in numbered file boxes for future reference (see story for Mono Moon Proof). The proofs all have basic printing notes (paper grade, exposure, dodges and burns – see Making a Proof). There are rarely any surprises, in that regard. Either it's all in the proof, or it won't get printed: technically, tonally, compositionally or emotionally.
Originally Posted by Katie
Neither do I, thank the Lord. I am only doing fine art prints for me. Previsualization (admittedly a difficult concept for some to both appreciate and execute) and its associated technical advantages from exposing and developing film to making a fine print is all that is required.
Originally Posted by Katie
Ansel Adams pretty much summed it up this way, nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy concept.
Originally Posted by Katie
Oh, and be nice.
Okay ROL - I just spit my drink out laughing at the "be nice" comment. I think that might have to be the new theme of my imaginary gallery show.
To qualify that statement, I think you should know more about me and how I ended up in the darkroom to begin with....
Like Suzanne (and I think valerie) I am primarily a mother and a photographer/artist second. I recently (2 years ago) left the city and moved to a small town for many reasons. I hated the ratrace, wanted my children to grow up like I did, and frankly the lure of a community that appreciates how things "used to be" really appeals to me. I lost all my clients and a very nice portrait business and didn't care. I really didn't want to be one of those "pixie sparkle butterfly mother with a digital camera so I am now a professional portrait photographer kind of people". Digital was really good to me, but extremely unfulfilling. I started with film and knew its qualities - and so I returned. I do not want to be a puppy mill photographer. I mostly do volunteer work here with my digi - and really have no desire for "portrait clients" at this time. I'm not really a good conformist people person... And felt that artist fit me better.
SO... what do I want out of my darkroom? Something beautiful I guess. I'm pretty ass-backwards when it comes to modern conveniences and I am one of those that wishes people still used typewriters and manners. I think life itself should and can mimic the art I want to create. In my world, people have southern manners regardless of the situation. If someone really makes you angry, you tell them "well, bless your heart" - not whatever anachronism kids use these days. I have turned in to one of those people that says "those young people" and "when I was young"; and I am only 38.
See how I ended up in a darkroom yet?
So the analog world and I are like "peas and carrots" - if only I could tell myself what I am supposed to be doing. Beautiful things. That's all I want!
First off, I know exactly how you feel. I don't get as much time for photography as I'd like. I do best and feel the most successful if I go in with a plan of some sort. If not, I just feel frantic the whole time and never accomplish anything.
I make contact sheets of every roll and every sheet I develop. I use a standard time and settings so I know from that contact sheet how each frame might print. That gives me a little bit of a head start if I print that frame. I usually don't have more than 2 or 3 rolls, tops, so doing those contact sheets doesn't take much time. I always do them first, too. That way, if I'm going to print fiber the rest of the session, I can get them washed and out of the way (I don't leave RC and fiber in the water hold together since RC can scratch the fiber). And I have them as a reference if I'm going to print something from that roll. It works better for me than using a loupe and looking at negs.
Sometimes, I go in with a plan of trying something new. That usually doesn't go as I expected and I don't always feel like it was a great day. But it's still a better day than one that I didn't do any photography.
The most new frames I'd ever try to get a really good fiber print from in one session is two. And those would have to have been tried before, just not perfected. If I'm going to do work prints (first tries at a frame to see if I like it bigger and at what contrast), I can pump out two frames an hour at least. I use the same paper I've been using for the last ten years or so and I've been printing and paying attention to how I do it for that long at least, too. I'm not a great printer, but I can usually get a print I like.
When I go into my darkroom, I have a goal and my goals are very modest.
Just few days ago, I went in and made 6 contact sheets. That was it.
I am planning to go into my DR either today or tomorrow. My goal is to make a semi-finished good print of just ONE frame. (this is on RC paper)
Then next day, I will go in and finish printing that frame. I do it this way because it takes me a while to properly judge the test print. I leaned, if I try to finish it on the same day, I tend to go through huge number of sheets and find out I either don't like any of them or I like the very first or second one. I also made my "master piece" and very next day, decided it was not to my liking. Having the piece completely dry, my mind refreshed, and seeing it in different light seems to make a huge difference in my ability to judge my own work.
If I have to make complicated adjustments, I sometimes take multiple days for a frame. If I'm printing FB paper, it almost always takes at least 3 days to finish one frame. First day is always for just to make some rough prints. Second day to evaluate and fine tune. Third day to make the final print. The tonality and the density always seem to shift from hair-dryer dry to completely dry and pressed the next day.
I don't know about you but I don't do it commercially. It's not fun when I rush myself.
Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?
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One, two, even 5 lab sessions aren't enough to do what you have to do.
There's only one way about it, only one: consistency. Schedule your time in the darkroom and the first thing you know, you've printed all your negatives and it's become addictive. As an example, do it every monday, tuesday and wednesday from 6PM to 9PM and follow religiously.
What you do during those hours in the darkroom can be totally unrelated to printing. Could be listening to a Football game while cutting negatives or choosing what negatives to print. But spend that time in there. Soon enough, you'll have printed everything and you'll be asking for more and it will all seem like a Breeze.
Katie, I totally hear you. I have exactly the same issues and (self-imposed) pressures. I highly recommend a few things, some of which repeat what has been said:
1) Like others have said, always look at your negs or contact sheets before you go in and decide what you're going to do with your precious dark time before it begins. You can do the review late at night, even when you're tired, when your kids are around, etc, and make your decisions then. This makes your darkroom session less hurried, more efficient, calmer, more fun. AND, most important, you can always change your mind once you get in there since you're in charge! But having a plan before you start -- a limited plan -- is very calming.
2) Have different kinds of sessions at different times, all contributing to the culling that is THE most important part of being a photographer, according to me. Sometimes I just process film and then make contacts if I can. (I make contacts of everything bcs it's much easier to do the review at off times). Sometimes I just make contacts if I have a bunch. Then I have another type of session where I just print proofs of some selected negatives, always on RC paper at 6"x9" on 8x10, as fast as possible, mostly just to see what this neg is going to look like at a decent size. These sessions are great because I can come out of a 3 to 4 hour session with maybe 20 prints to look at later and evaluate. Most of them get tossed or set aside to be checked again. A very few make it to the next stage, a fine printing session where I work on one or maybe 2 or, at a stretch, 3 negatives that have passed all the other tests and have real concrete immediate purpose: framing in the house, for a gift, for a portfolio project that's part of a series. For me FB paper and its time consumption is only worth it for these very special negatives. (I'm not a tonality or sharpness guy; I'm a content guy!) Maybe 1 or 2 images per 3 or 4 rolls for me. Sometimes I also do a session of 5x7 FB prints of family stuff for scrapbooks etc. I find this is a good way to do nice b&w family stuff quickly.
3) Shoot less and work in series! When not doing family snapshooting, or shooting something that is just screaming at me, I pretty much limit my shooting to an ongoing series that may someday become a portfolia, gallery show, book, etc. This helps me focus on what is important to me about what I shoot and keeps me from having so many single images that just don't belong in my own collection of work. As I say, I'm a content/art guy, not a process guy. Now the problem with this is that I have too many series that I'm working on, but that's just my lack of focus and multi-faceted interest in this old sad beautiful world!
4) Family stuff and snapshooting, i often simply shoot in color, (cheaper Fuji Superia or Portra for really nice light or important moments that I see coming). This stuff I can drop at the lab and have back negs and scans in a few hours. Much of that stuff is just shared on the web, flickr so I dont' go much further with it. And it still has that beautiful look of film! And if somehow I get a beauty out of this, I can have a big drum scan made and printed by the lab and boy you wouldn't believe the tones and colors out of those scans printed wet by a lab (chromira)!
5) Sometimes I can't get to the darkroom for a while, so I scan negs (gasp!) and proof them for later printing that way. This helps me feel connected to my work and also keeps me aware of how beautiful and different wet printing is.
I wish I could get in the darkroom 3 times a week like someone mentioned. But I can't, so all these things help me with the way I work.
6) Love it and have fun. We're all very fortunate to have the time and money to spend even a few hours a week in the darkroom. Most of our fellow humans couldn't even imagine it!
PS: 7) Don't worry about feeling that "this is all I got for 3 hours feeling." It really never goes away! That's where the love comes in.
when i have client work to do, i get it done without worrying about anything but
getting it done ...
it isn't like that usually
i don't have any expectations but to have a good time.
sometimes you need to just have fun, instead of feeling the stress of ... a deadline.
if you NEED a deadline, by all means make them for yourself .. but don't forget to have fun once in a while
because without the fun, it just becomes a chore ... something you want to avoid, instead of look forward to.
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It definitely helps to have routines for particular tasks - developing film, making contacts, doing initial proof prints.
That way you can go into the darkroom with specific goals, and most likely achieve those goals in the time available.
But you also need to go into the darkroom some times with a plan to "play". By that I mean go in without any particular result in mind - just an intention to explore, learn and hopefully create. In my mind, this is the best mindset to have when you are thinking that a final print is a possible result.
If you want to speed up the efficiency of that part of the process, I'd suggest some production printing, for the limited purpose of adding to the speed and efficiency of your technique.
“Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”
Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2
Last time I went in the darkroom to print, I turned on the water, got the negative boxes out and started riffling through. I had recently finished a few prints for two friends' of their weddings and that project left me somewhat exhausted and ran me out of some supplies. So this time I was looking for something for me. The only constraints, it had to be a good 4x5 neg that fits Grade 2 (because I was looking for something to go right).
Lesson learned: Pick the negatives you want to print - then turn on the water.