If you really want to learn how to print...
If you really want to learn how to print, do it for somebody else using their negatives!
Printing your own negatives to suit yourself is one thing but doing it for somebody else is a whole different ball of wax! Isn't it?
I just received a bunch of negatives from a friend who doesn't have his own darkroom but he has a whole bunch of negatives that he hasn't seen prints of. He asked me to print them for him and he'd cover my cost plus a little beer money. I've got the batch about half way finished and I think I'm doing well but I find it to be a whole lot different when it's somebody else's pictures.
You're not connected with the subject in the same way you would be if they were your own images. You're forced to look at things from a different perspective. You see the details in the image in a different way and that forces you to pay attention in a different way.
As I am working on this project, I'm beginning to think it's doing me a lot of good. For lack of a better way to phrase things, it's forcing me to do a better job and become a better printer.
I think this would be a really good exercise for anybody who wants to sharpen their printing skills: Print somebody else's negatives, previously sight unseen, and do it well enough that the other guy is satisfied with your work.
What do you think?
I imagine this would be a good assignment for a teacher to give to his photography students toward the end of the term.
In a different forum I participated in a negative exchange where a group of people circulated negs and printed everyone else's. It is an interesting thing to do.
I have made a living for 20 years printing other people's negs and you need more than beer money to do it.
i agree printing other people's negatives is a good thing.
thats one of the ways i really learned how to print ... printing 6-8hours a day
helped too ( i printed for a portrait photographer for 10-11 months )
the other thing that helped was printing anything i could find ...
good luck with your project !
Last edited by jnanian; 06-11-2012 at 08:30 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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I agree with the more than beer money aspect.
I have a print I made in 1975 , it was for my third year portfolio and it hangs in my darkroom now. I had given it to my Dad back then and he passed away just last year so I have it back.
What struck me as odd is how I feel its every bit as good as the work I am doing now for myself and others.. I may print it slightly different now but its pretty good.
I think the difference of printing for others is it trains you to print in different styles, contrasts and density. I think you become much faster each year and more confident when you lay down tones.
I do not think after looking at this print that you become any better, just a bit more adaptable to other styles.
I have about ten years of experience in three different labs printing other folks B&W negs... many years ago. After awhile I grew tired of it but I did learn a lot and I grew very appreciative of my own negs which were developed and selenium toned very carefully to print on either #2 or #3 Ilford Gallery... #3 about 90 percent of the time. I don't intend to toot my own horn because I appreciate all well-exposed and developed films. It's just that in all those years not a singe customer controlled their film processing. All the individuals who did also printed their own work so I never saw their negs.
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I printed a few images for a photographer friend of mine a couple of years ago. She has a very different style than I. The toughest part was getting the images to her for approval or changes. But if I did it more, I think I'd have a better idea what she wanted and get to it faster. It would definitely take more than beer (or wine) money to do it more frequently for multiple people.
And she just gave me some negs from a project and wants to see what I come up with (I modeled).
there isn' enough beer money around for me to beevenconsidering this!
I really like this idea. I've offered to print images from relatives old negatives - admittedly, more because I just wanted to print old photos but, unfortunately, no one seems to have kept such things in my family. I think I'd be working a bit more arse backwards in the process, however. Neither my negatives nor my prints are anything to write home about, so it would be a great learning tool for me to see, from the negative, how people have composed and developed them. Learning to print them to their best advantage would follow on after that. In other words, I still need a LOT more practice at really seeing.
You can get much the same results by varying the films and film developers you use.
Right now I'm printing up a lot of old negatives. There's a horrible mix of films and developers they've been processed in: Neopan 400, Plus-X, Tri-X, FP4+, Tri-X 400, Tri-X 320, TMax 400, TMax 100, Acros, Foma 400, Foma 100, APX 100, APX 400, APX 25, Delta 3200, Delta 400, Delta 100, Kodak TMax 3200, even Lucky 400 and Efke 25/50/100. Processed in Edwal 12, Xtol, replenished Xtol, Pyrocat-HD, Pyrocat-MC, HC-110, Rodinal, DD-X, FA-1027, DK-50, Sprint, Neofin Blau, Diafine, etc... The result is - hugely inconsistent negatives, even in the same series, and instead of just needing 2-3 sheets of paper to nail a print, I need at least 4 sheets with this mess of negatives, and while it's a pain in the a$$ to go through this much paper to get a print, it IS in fact helping me become a better printer.
It is fun to print other people's negatives, especially if you're able to compare your efforts to somebody else's, and I've done that a fair amount, both for fun and hired. That too helped me become a better printer.
The lesson I learned from all this: Consistent use of the same materials IS better because it really removes a lot of headache come printing time, and the prints will be better once you really know your materials (which I gather takes a year or so of consistent use with lots of practice). If you're curious about other films, experiment with them on the side. Always have a go-to film and paper that you know well, and leave experimentation for fun stuff you can easily re-shoot in case you screw up.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
I am getting cost PLUS beer money.
He bought a box of paper and kicked in for chemistry as well.
There are about a dozen negatives and there will be two prints of each. Work up the first then just burn a second one when it's right.
I'm doing test strips as usual but I'm doing work prints on 1/4 sheets and I don't burn full sheets until I get things looking right. I'll have more than half the box of paper left over when I get the rest done.
In the end, I won't be making a huge amount of money but I'm not operating in the red, either. Besides, I'll be able to use the leftovers for myself.
Money aside, I'm still benefiting from the project. I have done a couple of my own photos in the process and I have noticed the difference in my own work as the result.
Previously, when I made my own pictures, it took longer and I had to make more tries to get a good result. Printing somebody else's pictures is teaching me to look at an image and boil it down do the important features then to print for those features. Before, when I didn't have anybody looking over my shoulder, so to speak, I had to make a couple of different prints before I decided on the way I wanted the image to look.
Simply put, printing for somebody else teaches me to be tougher on myself and streamlines my work/thought process.
I certainly wouldn't want to try to make a business out of this but, if I can come up with a reasonable price structure that covers my costs and pays me for my time, I would consider doing it again.