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Thread: Next Step

  1. #1

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    Next Step

    Hello,

    I have been developing and printing at home for a few months now and have been getting good, consistent results. I'm shooting 35mm B&W with no filters on the camera or the enlarger (though I'm not opposed to them). My prints have a good range of tones and show detail in both the shadows and the highlights. Here's my problem. For my tastes, the prints all look very literal, for lack of a better description. Comparing my prints to those of the pros, they lack a certain dramatic quality. For example, Salgado's work has an almost surreal look to it. What should my next step be in trying to achieve a less literal, more dramatic look? I'm not interested in anything gimmicky, just some solid technique for improving my printing skills. Thanks.

    Jmal

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    clogz's Avatar
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    Burning, dodging and cropping the image are the first tricks that come to mind.

    Hans
    Digital is best taken with a grain of silver.

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    jovo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmal View Post
    What should my next step be in trying to achieve a less literal, more dramatic look? I'm not interested in anything gimmicky, just some solid technique for improving my printing skills.
    Take workshops! They're out there and they can be transforming.

    Find books and periodicals that explain the way prints evolve from literal to expressive. Several examples come to mind. First, in the UK Black and White Photography magazine, there is a recurring article on printing someone's negative that often shows considerable differences in interpretation. In Phototechniques Magazine there are recurring printing articles by Bruce Barnbaum and ...darn...I can't think of the other at the moment. In at least two books by John Sexton he explains and illustrates how particular prints came to look the way they do. Les MacLean's excellent book discusses such progressions extensively. And there are lots of others.

    Use your imagination, and consider ways in which you'd like to make your prints look different than they do. All the technique in the world won't help you if you don't think to try another approach.

    Make lots and lots of prints. Experience can't come from any other source than the actual doing.
    John Voss

    My Blog

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    Study photographs, study photographs, study photographs....
    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.

    Visit my website at http://www.donaldmillerphotography.com

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    I'm with Donald on this one. There is nothing that can replace looking at the real thing in person - nothing. Online versions are simply shadows of reality when it comes to masterwork prints. Go to a museum and look at the work presented and see the difference.

    I just got back from looking at some great Impressionist paintings that I've never before seen in person and they were breathtaking - I though I liked them from what I'd seen in books, but the real paintings were just stunning. Photographs are just the same. Once you see one, live and in person, what can be done, you'll wonder why you ever bothered to look a reproduction.

    - Randy

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    matti's Avatar
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    I bought one of Donald Millers reference prints (thanks Donald it is great!) and I can really say it is interesting to put it up beside my own! A print I thought was sharp and had black dark tones was actually not at all sharp and quite muddy compared to Donalds.

    Also, I try to convince myself to waste paper to find the limits of what is good. If I for example burn the edges of the print and like it, I do one more that I burn a bit more to see if I like that even more or if I reached the limit.

    /matti

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    Thanks for the advice. As far as looking at photographs, in person, I have seen and continue to view plenty. I live just outside of D.C., so I have world class museums at my disposal. My problem is not that I don't see a difference in master prints and my own, but that I don't know by looking at them what the printer did to achieve particular effects.

    Jmal

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    Kevin Caulfield's Avatar
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    Just remember that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Not that I'm saying your negatives are no good, but if you start with a quality negative then you're well on your way.

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    Kevin,

    I believe my negatives are pretty good. I get nice prints in the first 2-3 tries, sometimes first try. Contrast is good, tonal range is good, etc. They just lack that otherworldly oompf that master printers get. I don't know if it is a mater of extensive burning/dodging or what. I don't mean in the sense of correcting an improperly exposed negative, but more like what one sees in "War Photographer" or the Cartier-Bresson documetary, where the printer keeps working the same photo, making subtle refinements. I would be nice to see a progression from a raw negative to the final, display quality print, along with explanations on the process. I'll have to check out some of the resources posted earlier for this.

    Jmal

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    Dave Miller's Avatar
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    One book that I found very useful early on is Larry Bartlett's Black & White. Each photograph is shown in it's raw state together with a detailed printing map, and of course the finished print. Well worth buying, I think it could be just what you need.
    Regards Dave.

    An English Eye


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