It may not be the most straight forward mask to make. A typical unsharp mask would decrease local contrast requiring an increase in paper/filter grade, not to mention how it can change the "look" of the print in addition to altering contrast. Other types of masks are possible, of course.
Although masking is a whole topic on its own and probably not necessary here, I think Drew's point about having more tools in the proverbial kit is a good one. Some negatives print relatively easy, and some require every tool in the kit, and there is a continuum in between. Often you don't need anything fancier than burning and dodging, but you might have to do a lot of it, carefully. Nothing wrong with that. While I'd always suggest keeping things as simple as possible, when you have a difficult negative it is nice to know you can pull out more skills, techniques and/or plain hard work in order to make the print happen. In the end nobody cares how you did it, as long as you did it.
I found mask making necessary for Cibachrome images, we would make all kinds of masks, would increase or decrease contrast for slides , we would hold highlight detail without dulling overall the highlights by using a pre mask when making the contrast reducing mask .
This is something I cut my teeth on, for years I was a photo comp specialist in a major lab, and I think I have basically burned out my eyeballs by looking intently into light boxes.
Drew is correct, for major work where you are making masks day in day out a registration system along with vacumn is really required. I swore I would never get back into this world but it seems Ultra Stable registration printing is pulling me back and I am very happy to have had the experience.
I just picked up a small strosser punch systemto go with my larger one over the weekend and soon will be back making all kinds of separation negatives and carmalizing what is left of my eyes.
I'm sure Thomas Bertilsson and Michael1974* are giving the best advice here. It must be amazing how much printing experience they have between the two of them! I'm only going to say that I've been surprised at the amount of midtone contrast control that is possible by dodging the soft exposure, just as Blighty said. One thing I sometimes do is make a test strip just to determine that dodging ( or sometimes more than a "strip" if I want to vary the dodging in several places on the print). Usually not much dodging is needed at all, but the amount of control is great, and sometimes a print will just suddenly look great when the midtone contrast is at a certain point. Please note that I'm a beginner so I like test strips.
Originally Posted by Blighty
Edit: *and Bob Carnie and everyone else! I meant as opposed to me!
Last edited by NedL; 04-12-2013 at 05:52 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: Not be unintentionally offend anyone!
Michael - with a "typical" neg (whatever that is), the whole point of a generic unsharp mask is to reduce contrast overall yet use a much harder paper grade than you usually would, hence increasing
microcontrast and visible textural detial the entire range - toe, midtones, and highlights. But there are
all kinds of variation on the theme; in black and white printing there can sometimes be too much of an
allegedly good thing. It's an esthetic decision, one which I generally defer to split printing. Back when
graded papers were dominant, I masked more often. Nowadays I use such tricks mainly for color printing, but find the option itself to be quite valuable at times. Maybe one eats antelope on a routine
basis, but every once in awhile you get a negative like a charging rhino and need a more substantial
kind of weapon.
I don't disagree. In B&W I find various masks can occasionally be useful, but I would say I really only use them to burn and dodge when it would otherwise be impossible, rather than to enhance edge effects etc. In fact they are not really unsharp masks. They're more similar to CRMs, but not exactly the same. There are people who use unsharp masks regularly, to "enhance" micro contrast. I just don't like that look (although occasionally a more subtle effect can be nice).
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To all those who have given their advice here, my sincere thanks. I will go no further until I have explored all you say.
To DS Allen: I usually give 4 1/2 min in both baths of the BT2b, for both FP4+ and HP5+. I do vary these slightly according to subject type. Funnily enough, the kind of subjects that give me most trouble don't feature at all on your website. They often involve grass or vegetation. Here's an example, which I have 'fixed' digitally here.
It's hard to say what the problem is without seeing negative or print - but the issue would seem to be a bit puzzling since the mid-tones are typically the steepest (most contrasty) part of a film's characteristic curve! Since you say that it is sometimes an over-all problem making specific dodging/burning difficult - like a speckled deep forest with a multitude of scattered deep shadows and sparkling sunspots with patches of "low-contrast" midtones, one approach might be using a combination of increased contrast to perk up the mid-tones, with Selective Masking to dodge the shadows and start with a bit of pre-exposure to tame the highlights. You could also use masking to burn in troublesome highlights with a lower contrast.
What I use is Delta 400 with an EI of 200. This I process for 5.5 minutes in both baths. Agitation is 4 inversions in the first 30 seconds followed by one inversion every 30 seconds all at 20 degrees Celsius.
As you mentioned, for a number of years I have focussed on urban landscape so am not having to deal with foliage, etc.
So, how to help?
Firstly, two-bath developers - such as Barry Thornton's - protect you against burnt out highlights. Therefore, exposure is the key control.
Generally, I have found with people that I have taught, that they have been giving insufficient exposure. Increasing exposure moves the various tonal values further up the curve and results in more detail (which can always be printed down later if the image so requires).
The simple way to test if you are giving enough exposure is to pick a negative with an area that should be black in the print (do not use the rebates or gaps between the negatives as these have not received in camera flare).
Do a test strip to determine what is the minimum exposure required to achieve full black.
Now expose the whole negative for the time needed for full black.
If your dark tones and mid-tones come out too dark for your liking, you are giving insufficient in-camera exposure.
Secondly, way back when I used to do natural landscape photography, I quickly learnt that foliage often recorded darker than how I visualised it in the final print. My solution was two-fold: (a) to increase exposure and then print-down the lower mid-tones. This gave them much more 'sparkle' and visually more contrast. (b) I almost always used a Wratten 12 (Minus blue) filter. This had an effect somewhat like a red filter for skies (without too much contrast and a loss of three stops) and for the mid-tones and darker tones it increased the visual contrast. Effectively, in a mid-tone or dark tone area (which is actually a compendium of various tones - highlight on a branch, leaves in shadow, etc) the blue light is filtered making any small areas of deep shadow darker and any small areas of highlight lighter thereby giving a visual increase in contrast.
My final suggestion is in regard to print developer. For many years, my standard print developer has been Dokumol mixed 1 + 6 with a development time of 3 - 3.5 minutes. I have found that this developer adds a level of micro-contrast that is lacking in other developers. This was especially noticeable on the (sadly deleted) Adox Fine Print Variable Contrast FB paper and with the current Kentmere equivalent.
Hope this is of some help.
For a more open mid tone look you could try moving up to a higher contrast paper, using flashing to control the highlights and printing with a minimum exposure to just get a hint of black. Still going to mess up your highlight contrast but sometimes for a high contrast scene it looks OK.
David, thank you so much. I'm very impressed by your images, so your technique is of great interest, even though your the subject matter is so very different from mine. How did you arrive at 5.5 minutes for D400?
I learned a different way to determine optimal film speed, namely to find the exposures that give you printable detail at highlight and shadow end. I used the back of a sheet of hardboard, which I think was an Ansel Adams suggestion, and in effect found zones IX and I using standard development and grade 2 paper. On that basis, I expose FP4+ at 125 ISO(box speed ), and HP5+ at 640 ISO (i.e. 1/2 stop speed gain). By the usual standards, my negs have printable detail at both ends, and appear good in terms of overall density.
Originally Posted by David Allen
However, I think your test will almost certainly tell me that my mid-tones are printing too dark, which I guess is another way of saying that the characteristic curve is the wrong shape. So are you saying that increased exposure will overcome this? I'll try lowering film speed for a few films and see how I get on.
Your filter suggestion is excellent, too. Because I like things simple, I tend to use a yellow filter only, and only for sunny landscapes or portraits in good light - I should think more often of using filters in other situations.
I still have the problem of existing negatives though, and really want to control the print. I like the idea of increasing micro-contrast. I'll give Dokumol a try. Wish I could do it with raw chemicals, though.
Many thanks again!