Can't get my prints to look like my contact sheets...
It's been almost a year since I first went into a darkroom and learned how to make my first prints. To this day I've always had the problem of never being able to make my 35mm enlargements (all I've ever worked with) look like they do on the contact sheet. Take tonight for example...
I have a portrait of my brother on Plus-X developed in Rodinal 1:100, semi-stand development. The contact sheet looks for the most part, brilliant. There's an amazing glow to this particular portrait; there's a lot of shadow detail and the highlights are very beautiful on his cheek bones.
So what happens when I try to enlarge this negative? I stop the lens down to f/5.6, put the timer on 5 seconds, pull out a small test strip and expose the entire strip once. After that I cover up a portion of the test strip with a piece of cardboard, expose yet again, reveal more of the strip, expose, so on and so fourth. In the end, there are a total of 4 "clicks". One end of the test strip has been exposed for 5 seconds and the opposite end has been exposed for 20 seconds. After proper development I turn on the lights and I find that in order to get those highlights that I see on the contact sheet I need to underexpose the paper quite a bit--to the point where it looks muddy, underdeveloped and not completely "there" for lack of a better term.
I don't understand what I'm doing wrong here. My contact sheets are made using that sprocket method where you expose a test strip under the negative sleeves for however long and you determine how long you need to expose the entire sheet by looking at the 35mm sprocket holes. Where they turn completely black on the test strip is what you want to use for the contact sheet.
That's the reason why some photographers carry very big and heavy cameras, just to make contact prints…
Altough I am a very experienced printer, I don't know the "sprocket method". I think in general you are making a mistake in expecting your contact sheet and enlargements to correlate in terms of exposure and contrast grade. An enlargement is more subject to flare than a contact print, how much depends on your enlarging lens and the conditions in your darkroom.
One thing is certain - if you are exposing paper to get the highlight density you want and the shadows are not a full black (despite full paper development and definitely no fogging of paper by safelights, etc.), you need to go to a higher paper contrast (higher filter setting if you are using variable-contrast (VC) paper) and at the same time increase overall exposure. Just remember that in b+w printing there is no such thing as a theoretically correct print (or at least no guarantee that you will like it if it does exist) - the thing to aim at is a print that pleases you, and in your case it sounds as if you need to go for higher paper contrast. When you have got your printing exposure nearly right, then of course you may need to dodge the skin tone areas - don't forget too that the dry-down effect is particularly noticeable with skin tone. Skin tone that looks right on a wet print may well look muddy when the print dries, and you of course need to make a dry-down allowance (cut the printing exposure by, say, 10%) to counteract this.
Hope this helps!
First of all, a contact sheet isn't much of a guide to exposure: that's what test strips are for. I have to confess that in 40+ years of B+W photography I've never come across this sprocket-hole theory.
Second, a contact sheet has no enlarger/lens flare to contend with, and will therefore invariably be contrastier than an enlargement.
Third, the half-tone effect will come into play at something between 3x and 8x enlargement. To demonstrate the half-tone effect, enlarge an area of (carefully grain-focused) even grey tone onto a piece of stationary paper, and a piece of rotating paper. The two greys will be different, because one is an 'average' grey with grain and white spaces and the other is a 'smeared' grey with the whole piece of paper the same tone. This can happen even before you notice the grain.
I suspect that the half-tone also explains how tonality can 'fall apart' beyond a certain enlargement size, when some areas are showing the half-tone effect and others aren't (grain size depends on exposure) and then magically reappear at a still bigger enlargement size when grain is visible everywhere. By no means everyone agrees with me about the cause, though many agree that there can be a 'dead zone' where tonality is inferior to either larger or smaller enlargements.
Fourth, in a contact sheet, light and dark are much closer together, and the gradients between light and dark are much more abrupt, than in an enlargement. This can give a contact print a jewel-like quality that disappears when it is enlarged. I use 'jewel-like' with some thought: examine a piece of filigree work with a strong magnifying glass and much of its aesthetic appeal disappears with the magnification, no matter how much you may admire the craftsmanship.
Fifth, thanks: you have given me an idea for the Photo School at www.rogerandfrances.com.
Sixth, I see that Big Dave beat me to it by 3 minutes (and had not heard of the sprocket-hole method either) and I would second his advice.
Contact prints are small and can often appear higher in contrast than they actually are. This is an illusion; maybe someone else can explain why it happens. Anyway, I suggest you use a harder grade of paper for your enlargement. Choose your exposure based on the highlights and then, if the shadows are too light use a harder paper grade or if the shadows are blocked up, use a softer grade. When you change grade, you might also need to change the exposure to keep the highlights correct.
And I see David and Roger have said more or less the same thing while I've been typing
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Your sprocket hole method is a variation on the theme that Fred Picker advocated named minimum time for maximum black...however in your case you are eliminated the density of the film base entirely. So that will throw you off completely at the start.
The next factor that is leading you astray is that five exposures of five seconds each is not equal to twenty five seconds of continual exposure. You have lamp power up lag and power off lag that leads to errors at this point.
The next thing is that when you contact print the tonal scale is compressed due to the smaller print...you will find that as each degree of enlargement is incorporated you will need to increase contrast since the tonal information is spread over a larger area.
I would suggest that you try printing for the degree of highlight tone that you want and adjust your contrast to the degree of low values you want...additionally try reading up on Fstop printing in lieu of the fixed times that you are now using.
I appreciate the quick responses guys. No wonder 8x10 contact sheets looked so amazing when I last saw them.
Random thought. You know what would be nice? An APUG Wiki that everyone could access and edit.
I had suspected that I just needed to add more contrast to the print. I'm using Foma VC FB paper that's always given me good results. I suppose I'm stubborn with the contrast filters because I don't like how they add grain. What about "Split grade" or using two filters when printing? Do you think any of those methods could help me out additionally?
Donald, maximum black vs. eliminating the film base entirely... That makes sense. If I look closely, I can still see the edges of the sprocket holes very faintly. Also, whenever I print, I don't take the sum of the seconds to get the results I see on the test strips. If I've exposed the test strip 5 times for 5 seconds each and I want this result on the final print, I just expose it 5 times. Wouldn't that give me the same results as the test strip if I take bulb warm-up and power lag into account? But that's assuming warm-up, and power lags are consistent with every exposure....
Also, Roger, what idea could I possibly have given you? :P
Last edited by OPTheory; 08-09-2007 at 03:37 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Don't think so. There are too many people who confuse fact and opinion, and who believe that their own opinion is the only fact.
Originally Posted by OPTheory
Split-grade printing won't make a blind bit of difference to grain as compared with a single filter (barring separate dodging and burning, of course). A finer grain dev might be a better route -- and of course keeping exposure to the minimum possible.
In addition to the reason given by Richard, I think there is another reason your contacts look different from your prints.
When light passes through a silver-based neg, it is scattered - and, importantly, the scattering effect increases with the density. (If I remember correctly, dye-based negs don't produce this effect.)
In the case of a contact, scattering doesn't have any effect.
However, in the case of an enlargement the effective contrast increases as the density increases - that is, highlights will be more contrasty than expected.
Unless you're TOTALLY desperate!!!!!!!!! If you have a portrait with bad grain, you CAN try split-grading with the hard-grade exposure in focus (this exposure will not produce any highlight detail) and then print in the highlights at a softer grade with the enlarger slightly defocused (or diffused), but ... using fine-grain film in the first place is a LOT easier!
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks