a question of ideal negative contrast
The notion that one should process a B&W negative such that when it is laid upon a newspaper the newsprint is still visible through the negative's highlights is a concept that I have never been comfortable with. My negatives are usually a bit harder, thus unable to succeed with that test.
I often wondered if there was, in fact, an ideal gamma (contrast index) to adhere to (assuming modification for condenser vs diffusion printing) and was always told that an amount somewhat less than '1' was ideal. However, through the years, I often wondered about that. And in pondering, I have also wondered why American authors on technical aspects of photography have usually been too terrified to NOT remain tethered to truisms, whereas the British authors seem to be the most comfortable with promulgating what they actually find through discovery, even if such discovery leads to inferences of iconoclasm within the comforts of the photographic community. Thankfully, those Brits do not care whose toes they step on, even if it is the toe of the characteristic curve. Sorry about my prejudices, folks, but I have read too many books by Brits, in and out of photography, to not state this positive divergence boldly. (Sorry, Greece, but without this 'confiscation', the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles would not exist in the condition that they are in today.)
You will rarely find this pragmatic divergence from the status quo with American authors; instead, the mantra keeps getting repeated almost as 'duty'. No, really, not so even with Ansel Adams. Sorry, folks, but I have waited and patiently searched for years, perhaps decades, to find this truth in print. '"Photographic Chemistry" (1963) I found while looking through the photography books at Temple University's Paley Library. Tailoring a negative's contrast to a normal paper does not necessarily provide for the best print. Thank you Drs John and Field of (former) May & Baker Ltd for confirming what I have always felt in my heart.
In essence, a softer paper offers a more balanced, extended straight line within the characteristic curve so that the toe and shoulder areas do not become, suddenly, too crowded and tonally undifferentiated. That subtlety speaks volumes. The final paragraph from page 272 is the denouement.
And for those who will refute all this by warning about that excess grain from the excess gamma: save your efforts, as the softer paper handily mitigates this negative threat.
But, seriously, any comments, pro or con? - David Lyga
Last edited by David Lyga; 03-06-2014 at 09:24 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Best print is subjective, Although I develop my negatives for "normal contrast paper grade 2" the old trick of using newprint is useful as it mean you have shadow detail and printable highlights. But I usally print at grade 3 or 4, it is my "style".
Style is one thing. Ideal is quite another.
I am not refuting you PDH, merely bringing up 'objective vs subjective', perhaps. - David Lyga
Because Ken Rockwell has to stand on someone's shoulders. People read this stuff to get from novice to above average, not to go from good to masterful.
Originally Posted by David Lyga
The era and styles of photography are where the innovation is and that can vary from country to country depending on the decade.
It is all a matter of how the negative prints, and the arbiter of that is YOU - the person who prints it. When you get a print in the darkroom that you like, based on experimenting with negative exposure and development, then you have the perfect contrast.
More technically, your paper and paper developer have a curve, and the film is malleable too. Ideally the negative should fit the paper, so my philosophy isn't to worry about the negative until I know what my paper needs. That is why I always use the same photo paper (although Ilford shoved a new paper down my throat when they reformulated the Multigrade paper) - to know how I must shoot and process my film to eke the maximum performance out of it.
I even go so far to say that it isn't until you take this dynamic relationship between paper, film, lighting, technique, and chemistry into consideration, and view it as one big system that you are even able to get the maximum performance out of your materials.
But in here lies the difference to the approach of the authors - they give a general view of what is best, but they can't take into account personal taste. We, as printers, decide what our prints need to look like, not somebody else (unless they employ us print a certain way, of course).
The extreme example of this is potentially Ralph Gibson. He shot his Tri-X at something like EI 100, exposed for the highlights, and developed the hell out of the film for a very dense negative, and then printed on Grade 5 Brovira. That was photography as he saw it, but you won't find that in any text books - because he figured that out for himself. And that is what we should all aspire to do.
"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
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Well, there is no ideal of course. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, different preferences, different ways of seeing, and none of them are ideal, right, or wrong. I too like more contrasty stuff, others like less. A neg developed in Diafine will need different printing (to me) than one developed in Acufine, Rodinal, D76, etc. Since it's a visual thing we're involved in there is a lot of room for individual interpretation. Otherwise everyone would have the same stuff. Sort of like today's newspapers. You've seen one, you've seen them all, because they are all giving the same company line.
I wasn't aware of Ralph Gibson's methodology, so thanks for that Thomas. I shoot it at 100 often too (but expose for the middle value), and develop it normally and give it more contrast in the printing. I'd thought of giving it more development, but Tri-X is just such a great film, you can do all sorts of things w/ it and still get good negs.
Last edited by momus; 03-06-2014 at 09:51 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Your statement concerning soft contrast papers is not necessarily correct.
There is not necessarily an "ideal" contrast index for a negative. There are far too many variables involved. We also have better materials and variable contrast papers.
And as I have said before many times, the notion Adams is telling you to always develop the negative to "fit" a normal grade of paper for the ideal print is incorrect. It is a fundamental misreading of Adams and the purpose of the "Zone System" (in the case of Adams at least).
Last edited by Michael R 1974; 03-06-2014 at 10:03 AM. Click to view previous post history.
For me the worst think is thin negative. They say "when in doubt overexpose", I would say when in doubt overexpose and overdevelop . Better expose print in darkroom for 20 minutes than have a thin, empty negative. But usually I always develop for grade 2 papers, because for years (until downfall of Fotokemika) I was using Emaks grade 2 double weight paper for 95% of my work.
Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson
The "Ideal" negative is dependent on how the final print is to be made. Even your preferred grade of silver gelatin paper. While most people view Grade 2 as the ideal paper upon which to print, some very good printers aim for Grade 3. The print developer used also enters into the picture, no pun intended.
Those of us experienced in so-called alternative printing processes know that each of the processes requires a different "ideal' negative. A negative which produces a beautiful kallitype print, will not do so in making a salted paper print.
So the answer to the original question has to be, it depends on what you want to do with the negative.
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The advice is "develop for contrast (relative high gamma) and print on relative soft contrast paper, contributes to the sparkle of the print and thus gives it a more pleasing appearance.”
Originally Posted by David Lyga
Objectivley I dont know that relative high gamma is, I dont know what a relative soft contast paper was in 1963, we had grade 1, so is grade 2 relative soft, without examples I dont know what sparkle is, or what a pleasing apperance was to the writter, seems to be subjective to me.
An ideal negative is a negative that has printable shadow details and texture in the highlights, then it is up the printer to fine tune the print to express his/her experaince.