Mindset when heading to print in the darkroom?
So I am having a bit of trouble printing lately. In my other thread, I mentioned that I believe that I am trying to do too much in the darkroom (meaning testing and not printing) so knowing that will help, but I have another problem. I haven't made lots of time to print lately, so when I do, I rush in with my negative binders that contain all the rolls I have shot recently. I pull out my print files and lay them on the light table and look at them with my loupe. If I have time, I will make a contact sheet. Sometimes I don't do that first, but instead make a day of contact sheet printing (it's not as fun as making prints). I pick a negative that I want to print and take a reading with my probe. Then I do one test strip at the contrast settings that I think will work. Make modifications from there - until I get to a final print. Make print - make at least one/two copies of same print. Then, move on to the next negative. Do I want to print that cute picture of my son? Hmmm, only have time for two more negatives, so no. Then I print what I "think" I might want to see framed. Am I going to sell this? (um, probably not). Am I going to give this away? Am I going to put it in a folder? So I come out of the darkroom with about three negatives printed at least three times each. That's about it. I hang about one of these and put the rest in a folder.
So my question ... when you go into the darkroom, do you know EXACTLY what you are going to print? Should I be heading in there knowing which negatives I am printing and for what purpose? For me - for my imaginary art gallery show - for a portfolio that nobody will see? I guess I'm at a crisis where I am wondering "who" I am printing for. I used to just order hundreds of 4x6 prints of my kids from my digi files. I have massive amounts of photo albums. Then again, I used to have massive amounts of clients, too. Without clients (my choice) I am a very unstructured shooter. I like what I'm shooting, but don't know how to structure my printing. See where I'm going?
I don't need to sell prints to be happy, but I'm wondering how to come out of the darkroom feeling like I "did something". Not thinking - "this is all I got from those 3 hours?"
Do I need to make a goal before going in?
Do I first need to decide where the hell I'm going photographically? What kind of photographer am I?
Or should I just aim to print the best shots I've got?
Help. Mid life crisis here.
I am sure that you will get lots of different answers, but I can give you mine.
I go into the darkroom to escape into a different world. I will usually go in with the thought that I want to print some specific negative, and I may end up with a print that I like, I may not, I may move on to something else, but whatever happens, the issues from work and the rest of my life stay outside and I focus on making images. If I come out of the darkroom with a good print, that is a bonus.
I almost always come out of the darkroom in a calmer, more peaceful state of mind than when I went in. - The question "this all I got from those 3 hours?" never comes up since my goal involves not so much what I get, as what I lose.
Welcome to the way it is for most of us, Katie.
You will need to find what work for you, and over time. Take your time, don't try to be so rushed. Be more methodical about how you make an image in camera. The better the negative the easier it is to make a good print. It saves time and money to get it right in camera.
Make sure the prints you make, make it to the finished product, whether that is a framed piece or just well kept in a print box.
Ask yourself are you trying to make art, or simply a good photograph? Or are they one and the same for you?
The other thing is you are still finding your niche for what your work flow is. As you create better negatives and gain more experience in the darkroom, you will find that you can start to eyeball what you need to do to make a good print from a given negative.
Your last few questions are the ones that need to be answered.
Best of luck
My methods are nearly identical to yours, minus the rush. I used to rush, but I'm older (maybe a tad wiser?) now and I've realized that my time in the darkroom is sacred time. Not to be rushed, but relished. Some days are devoted only to processing film, others to making contact sheets, and some days are just for prints. While I may have an idea of which negs to print, I tend to let the darkroom gods lead me (unless I am printing for something quite specific like a bday gift).
I do have a couple of different projects that I add prints to as they are produced-- I, too, have an imaginary art gallery show to print for!
"So I am turning over a new leaf but the page is stuck". Diane Arbus
With time, it will be quicker, but never quick to make prints. I used to use a color analyzer probe to get a rough exposure figured out, but I've since moved and have done fine without it; one less thing. The test strip will show what you need for exposure. In time, you'll be able to guess contrast needs from your test strip too. If a sequence of prints is from the same roll in the same scene, you can usually print them with little or no adjustment between prints.
One of my time consuming things is I like to take the first good test strip and dry it with a hair dryer to check dry-down. Then I know what to expect at wet prints dry. I generally only do it once per paper-type per session.
Sometimes I go in and just develop film, or just make contact prints of printfile pages, depending on time constraints. When I have more time, I actually make prints. I recently made 12 prints when I needed 10 for the LFinfo print exchange; that was a purposeful darkroom session with one image. Other times, I'll print 6-8 photos from a couple pages of negatives and call it good. I've got negatives from years ago I haven't got around to printing yet because image quantity exceeds spare time and money. This happens when I shoot a bunch of rolls at an event and have way more interesting photos than necessary. Other times, such as when doing alt-process, it'll be 30 minutes in the darkroom to coat paper, let it dry, 15 minutes another time to 2nd coat it, an hour another time to expose the images and develop the paper, fit in where it can during a day or evening.
About 2/3 of what I print (beside contact pages) is "unstructured"; just following through with a photo opportunity to see how it turned out; sometimes that's a pleasant bonus, sometimes it's a learning experience. The other 1/3 is planned printing work; images for gifts, something for the walls of my house or a show, a photo someone is waiting for, etc...
I like too like every print to be presentable quality, even if it doesn't get framed and stays in a box or envelope.
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My time in the darkroom is precious as well, and I tend to go into each session with specific goals like Valerie. I'll process film, or make proof prints (I skip contact sheets for a variety of reasons) or make 11x14's. I have a gallery that represents my work, so it's always good for me to bring new work in for his flat files on occasion. If I'm printing, I print tops two negatives. (I don't generally have more time as the kids get home around three and all the mom fun starts, you know the drill I'm sure.) I try to get in there at least twice a week. (Tomorrow is film processing!! Can't wait!)
Working in the darkroom is a very zen thing... as Valerie said, don't rush it, relish it, embrace it, enjoy it. After a few months, you might have a portfolio you feel confident to share with the world, and you never know... the work may find an audience.
If you are an amatuer,then enjoy the process of being in the darkrom. Whatever successful prints emerge are a bonus.
I would suggest you have to have a target about what you intend to print in the time you have. If I go into the darkroom to print, I decide before hand I will print X,Y,Z, Knowing that is going to take approx X amount of time, if time permits I may print something else, but I aim for the target.
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”
I go in there with the same attitude as Mark S. ... anymore, if your goal is production, produce, produce, produce, manufacture, then you will inevitably go the way of Anakin, to the dark side, to digital.
A good way to keep the Zen thing going, I find, is never to tell anybody what you plan to print, nor when.
I just wait until the sun goes down, finish dinner, dishes, emails I need to send, etcetera ... and then tell my girlfriend that I"m going to the basement for a while and i'll be back when myself or my chemistry, is exhausted, which ever comes first.
I only have one rule about darkroom work: To have fun!
Other than that, I never go in with the intention of making more than one or two good prints. If I'm really feeling it and get more good prints out of a session, then that's a great bonus, but I try to avoid putting more pressure on myself than one or two good prints, because that does take the fun out of it and it becomes a chore.
That's how it is for me. Try to have fun, and avoid putting pressure on myself. I feel like we have so little time as adults, with so many demands put on us by our surrounding. The precious time away from those demands I gather should be fun.
Hope that helps.
"Make good art!"
- Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera".
- Yousuf Karsh
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".