Controlling mid-tones during printing
How can I gain control of the mid-tones when printing? A problem I commonly face is boosting mid-tone contrast without spoiling highlights and shadows separation. I can do it by burning in selected areas of the print with a higher grade filter, but what if the problem is across the whole print? Is there some subtle aspect of multigrade printing I have failed to understand, or can one do this by choice of print developer, or what?
Thanks in anticipation.
Tough to do (I have similar problems when printing very fair skinned people). Contrast (unsharp) masking can help with the shadows. I suppose a positive version should help with the highlights. Maybe you are having issues with the non linear nature of multigrade paper? Try graded paper for the images in question. I have had good luck more than once going in that direction.
There are a few things to consider. First is the negative. If this is a consistent problem for you, you might want to change something there.
When printing through this kind of issue, you might want to try basing your filter grade on the midtone contrast, and then make local adjustments to the shadows and highlights to control them. It seems like you are doing the reverse.
So for example, you could find a higher grade that gives you the right midtones. To control shadows, you could dodge them, or dodge them more and burn them in at a lower grade. For the highlights you could burn them in at the higher grade or burn them in at a lower grade.
The most important driver of tonal rendition is the interaction between the characteristic curves of the film and paper. The closer you get with that, the less you need to do labor-intensive local manipulations with each print. So the first thing to do is find a film/paper combination that gets you closest to what you're looking for.
Read Phil Davis's "Beyond the Zone System" if you would like to understand how this works.
Even if I could change my future negatives, I still have those existing problem negatives to print!
Actually I am shooting 35mm (diverse subjects on each roll), and I always use the Thornton 2-bath (T2b). I settled on this through about 25 years of frustration, trial and error. I'm very happy with my choice for many reasons and I am not going to change, so please don't suggest it. A real joy of my negatives since settling on T2b is that long 'tails' of shadow and highlight detail are recorded on the negative, contributing to a very rich tonality when everything goes right. The cost is that in a small minority of shots where the the mid-tones matter more it can be hard to inject any sparkle. This is fairly easy to correct digitally using Curves, accepting some compression in highlights or/or shadows, but still retaining the detail at those ends of the scale. What I'm looking for is the analogue equivalent. I thought maybe the answer would be different print developers?
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It depends on film/paper curves. BTZS may be the answer for you.
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I sometimes have this problem when printing negs and it can't always be avoided at the exposure/neg/development stage. If you're mids are a bit muddy you could try dodging the area during the soft exposure; this, in effect, is increasing contrast without increasing exposure and stops that propensity for the dark tones to block up with too much hard exposure
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Split grade printing is how I would handle it. Find the exposure for the shadows first. Then find the highlight exposure for your main highlights and dodge the midtone areas you want more contrast during the highlight exposure.
OR, you could find the contrast that gives you good midtone separation and then burn your main highlights with g0 or g1. This may be easier. Every negative is different. For a simple landscape on a overcast day, I would find the contrast that gives the foreground good separation (as usually this is pretty flat in the negative), this is usually rather high, like g3 or g4. Then I'll find the exposure for the sky at g00, or if there is some separation in the sky I may choose g2 or g3. This is part of the fun of printing, and especially split grade printing!
The answer is in the printing technique I gave you in post #3. Base your paper grade on the most important values, and use printing controls to ensure the shadows and highlights are good.
Originally Posted by Jonathan R
This is something you'll have to live with when using some two-bath negative developers. Rather than preferentially reducing highlight contrast like "compensating" developers, they sometimes give a more linear - but lower contrast curve (which people who scan seem to like). So midtones are compressed somewhat.
Printing skill is what is needed. Careful burning and dodging of shadows and highlights with multiple filters so that you can work them around the desired midtone contrast which is determined mostly by the filter grade for the main exposure.
Everything is a compromise, but you can make your work flow less of a compromise by starting in the right place.
Your choice of negative developer and developing technique has entirely to do with what your paper and paper developer of choice can do. Whether you want to change film developer or not, that is your major control point. If you choose to use a film developer for any other reason than making negatives that fit your paper, then you have to live with the consequences of that compromise. That's the harsh reality. Two bath developers are a good compromise, but if you're not happy with how the negatives print, then honestly your film developing is not ideal for what you're trying to do. So I broke your rule of 'not mentioning it', but I did it on purpose in order to be disruptive on purpose, to get you to think about why you make choices that will not suit what you're trying to accomplish.
In lieu of accomplishing that MichaelR1974 has explained it perfectly. If you want to continue with what you're doing now at the film stage, you should learn fine printing tools and controls to compensate for what's lacking in your negatives.
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