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Thread: Judging prints

  1. #11
    urals's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nacio Jan Brown View Post
    If you can get yourself to not be in a rush try this two-session print making procedure. In the first session you make just pretty good proofs with no dodging or burning in. It helps if when judging the wet proofs as you make them you view them along side a wet print that is half black and half white. You should be able to make a lot of negative proofs in this session because you are not spending a lot of time on any one of them--you're just getting into the ball park with exposure time and paper grade. Make exposure/grade notes for each proof. There is no need to archivally process these proofs. When washed and dried lay the proofs one at a time in the middle of a circle of first rate prints (borrow some if you need to). You should be able to see easily what different areas of the proof need: darker here, lighter there. Write down the details of which areas need what. I developed a vocabulary for gradations: a tiny bit, a little bit, somewhat, a fair amount, quite a bit, a lot, etc. As an example: the face should be "a bit" lighter, the upper corners "somewhat darker," etc. In the second session take along your notes and proofs. The proofs go into a water bath just past the fix. Follow your directions in making the new prints using the proof as control prints. Trust your directions. Whenever I second guessed my notes in the darkroom and made the print differently that specified I was wrong -- the notes were right. What this two-session method does is to allow you to make judgments in the light with fine prints as examples. It also takes the particular quality of the viewing light, both in and out of the darkroom, out of the loop. Last, the judgments you make in the darkroom are not aesthetic, they are objective: is the face on the wet print "a tiny bit lighter" than the face on the wet proof beside it or not?

    This technique is probably most appropriate when you need to make a number of prints in the same style. I developed it when I needed to make prints for a book and an exhibit. In an abbreviated version you would have one or two first rate prints in the water bath after the fix to view along side prints you are making.

    Whenever I have described this technique to a photographer I've seen their eyes glaze over, imaging it's too much work. It's not--it's a time saver in producing top quality prints.
    Wow that's a very interesting approach, I can definitely see its value. It seems like it'd work, if not for any other reason, than because, as many people have mentioned so far, it really helps to just look at a print with fresh eyes. It also seems so useful to see prints in regular viewing conditions, and to reference a great print when judging yours, we should always have high standards, and other prints also might refresh our palette, so to speak.

    The only thing I would do differently is think of the changes I want to make in terms of stops. I've been trying to develop my eye to see all values in terms of stops -- such and such an area needs +1/4 stop, another area needs -2/3 stops, etc. But it does seem rational to at first interpret it in such subjective terms as you use -- a lot darker, a bit lighter -- and then translate them into stops.

    I have a bunch of similar negative that I'm going to print later this week, and I think I'll try this on for size, it seems like it'd help.

  2. #12
    urals's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jp80874 View Post
    Go to the galleries, exhibits, competitions and museums in your area. Study original prints that they felt were good enough to hang. If there are related programs, attend, ask questions, learn everything you can about the work and the artists. Develop your eye. Learn to SEE. Talk about what you see with your teachers and fellow students. Ask them if they see things in addition to what you see. If someone does not see as much as you do, ask them politely if you can show them more. Teaching is wonderful way to learn. Photo students here are required to visit at least three exhibits a term and write a two page paper on what they see each time.

    John Powers
    Quote Originally Posted by jovo View Post
    I think a part of the answer is revealed in your question. Experience and exposure to many, many fine prints gradually informs your taste and refines your intuition. You're a university student you say, so you are probably rather young and if so, you're quite likely subject to the impatience typical of those of your years. But, this sentence: "I ask this because, with learning other things, I notice that I periodically discover key, fundamental ideas that dramatically improve how I do something." is the actual secret you seek.

    When I first went to conservatory my teacher told me to read Zen and the Art of Archery. My initial reaction was....whoa! I DO NOT need mystical kaka to get where I want to go. But, I couldn't have been more naive or mistaken. It was precisely the message in that book that became my reality and was a great comfort in the learning process. Consider finding and reading it. It will be of great use to you as well.
    Last year I tried to expose myself to as much good photography as possible and I can tell you right now that your advice on it is spot on, it did immeasurable good for me. My school has around 150,000 slides of photographers' work, and I systematically went through them all over the course of the year, from A to Z. Not only did I discover many amazing photographers, it really had the net result of making me hold myself to a higher standard, technically and creatively.

    As an aside, going through them especially made me understand the value of a good concept, or creativity in general. Seeing so much great photography kind of devalues technical concerns and raises in importance creative ones. Perfectly exposed images with beautiful, lush printing seem to almost become the norm, you have to do something beyond that to actually stand out.

    That sounds like a good idea to make students go to exhibits and write papers, I'm going to mention this to my production teacher and see what she thinks.
    Last edited by urals; 01-01-2008 at 05:51 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck1 View Post
    Your question is fairly timely with me since I have been doing a lot of thinking about print making lately. But it has reminded me of a couple of quotes that seem very appropo, from AA "The Print", chapter 1:

    "The difference between a very good print and a fine print is quite subtle and difficult, if not impossible, to to describe in words. There is a feeling of satisfaction in the presence of a fine print --- and uneasiness with a print that falls short of optimum quality."

    "Print quality, then, is basically a matter of sensitivity to values. What is important for all photographers is that the values of the image suit the image itself, and contribute to the intended visual effect. Perhaps the best guideline I can give is to look carefully at your prints and heed the first impressions that enter your mind."

    I think it is a common struggle.

    Chuck
    I read that book last year and that first quote rung true with me then and rings true with me now (second one is great as well, don't get me wrong). I think you ultimately have to use your gut feelings or unconscious reaction as a guide. I definitely notice how, with the best prints, I have that clear feeling of satisfaction, there is no tinge of ambivalence.

  4. #14
    urals's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alden View Post
    Setting up extremes helps. Make the lightest you like, then the darkest. Set up a contrasty print against a flat one. As far as burn and dodge goes, extremes look cool at first but then become too tricky and boring. experienced printers tend to make the burn and dodging unnoticable prefering to get their message across within the content. Live with them for awhile, then come back later and work another one. Good photography is a very hairsplitting affair. Another rule of mine is that the faster an image hits you, the faster it goes away. I like a slow read. Very easy on the impact. And of course look at the good stuff of others, in person if possible.
    This is excellent advice, I think... or it at least accords perfectly with my own suspicions. I remember one print I worked on, that I am now very satisfied with, that I came to through such a method. I, without letting myself think about it, printed many, widely varying iterations of the image -- very high/low contrast, light/dark, etc. In doing so I learned a lot about the negative and became familiar with its potential. I settled on one of the higher contrast printings, and I know for a fact that I wouldn't have even considered doing it such if I just went about like I normally do.

    I'd only say that this is a kind of wasteful and time-consuming approach. I see it kind of as "training wheels," that later, once I develop my sense, I can take off. But for, as I originally said, serious prints that you want to squeeze every drop out of, this method is definitely applicable.

    I also think the ideal print would be one that both hits fast and has the potential for lasting interest. Some prints are stunning after 1 second and still stunning after 10 minutes. But, of course, this is just an ideal, and one I probably wont attain for another 20 years if at all.

  5. #15
    smieglitz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urals View Post
    ...
    The only thing I would do differently is think of the changes I want to make in terms of stops. I've been trying to develop my eye to see all values in terms of stops -- such and such an area needs +1/4 stop, another area needs -2/3 stops, etc...
    Along this line I would suggest making original test strip prints from a whole sheet of paper and following a geometric increase in exposure between each step. These strips have a similar contrast between each step unlike an arithmetic sequence. I like to make tests that cover a 2-stop range, 8-32 seconds in 1/3-stop increments for example (8+2.1+2.6+3.3+4.2+5.2+6.6 seconds). I've seen so many students try to base a print on a mere sliver of test paper and ultimately I think it causes them to waste more paper and reach a high level of frustration quickly. The entire sheet approach will let you see what the light is doing in the picture and give you an idea of what burning or dodging one- third stop will look like on the initial test.

    Another thing I tell students is that they can always make a better print. It may take years to see what could improve an image, but I don't think there is any such thing as a "perfect" print. Yet, a lot of people get hung up on perfectionism and drain the pleasure and soul out the printing experience. You want to stop before that happens in order to keep making prints of other images. Most viewers aren't going to care diddly-squat about all the fine-tuning you could do ad nauseam. The print should be engaging and of high quality, but it need not be perfect. Print it until you're happy with it.

    I learned to print in a commercial studio where I had unlimited access to someone else's paper. I learned to print on someone else's dime. I could always try this or that variation and get feedback from the boss and other coworkers. Not worrying about the cost and making a lot of prints (quickly, I might add) and experimenting made me a fairly decent printer. My point here is not to count the dimes you're spending on paper if you can. (And I know student budgets can be tight.) If you are worried about how much this is costing or if you only have a sheet or two left to get a print you're satisfied with, you'll never get there.

    And give yourself a package of paper and at least a half day to get a single print. Don't rush. Chances are you won't need that much of either.
    Last edited by smieglitz; 01-01-2008 at 09:44 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  6. #16
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    [QUOTE=urals;566950]Last year I tried to expose myself to as much good photography as possible and I can tell you right now that your advice on it is spot on, it did immeasurable good for me. My school has around 150,000 slides of photographers' work, and I systematically went through them all over the course of the year, from A to Z. Not only did I discover many amazing photographers, it really had the net result of making me hold myself to a higher standard, technically and creatively. [QUOTE]

    This was a wonderful step in learning how other people SEE, finding artists whose direction you wish to follow, and what their vision can produce. Remember though a slide or copy of an image can never capture the detail and tonal range of the original. It is close and certainly broadens your horizons, but the original is needed to see the craftsmanship in the darkroom. The same applies to the books of photos. They are great, give you direction, but will never compete with the originals. Now getting your favorite artists to be on exhibit in your town. That is a difficult trick.

    John

  7. #17
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    I don't think you ever become perfect, but I do believe that what constitutes a good print is different from person to person, with some common denominators.
    I think it's down to experience and lots of practice. What I think worked two years ago I may not be so sure about anymore. That clarity of vision is hard to come by, but I really believe in Ansel Adams' method of visualization, and I think that knowing when you open the shutter on your camera you already know what you want the final print to look like is essential to achieving what you want to see in the print.
    I think it comes down to practice and hard work. That's my theory. I'm not sure that learning it from someone else is always successful. You may be able to print what somebody else likes, but they can't know for sure what you like, only you do. What's a good print?
    With hard work I mean that when you're in the darkroom, always, and I mean always try to make the best print you know how to. That way you can grow your printing skills, and your ability to judge your print will come from that skill.

    With that said, I'm hardly an expert.

    - Thomas

    Quote Originally Posted by urals View Post
    Maybe it's seen as impudent for a newbie to make such a request, but I was wondering if some people could talk about how they judge B&W prints. I'm a photo student in university and I've kind of hit a wall in this regard and would really appreciate some help from you experts.

    If the image in question is a serious one that you're trying to make great, how do you, uh, know when you're done? Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like the real challenge in printing is in good judgement of what a print needs, in knowing "how to see" prints.

    I notice that, with me at least, in the past (and still today) I could often look at a print and know that something was wrong, but not know what. Now I intuitively know what is wrong with a print, but still only to a frustratingly limited degree (I know that, for instance, certain problems come down to "competition" between values -- it might help to, say, mute highlight areas that "compete" visually with your main subject or just lead the eye astray from it).

    But how do you best develop this sense? Can someone offer me some tips or tricks on how to judge prints? What kinds of insights or truths were important to you in becoming a better printer? I ask this because, with learning other things, I notice that I periodically discover key, fundamental ideas that dramatically improve how I do something.
    "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

  8. #18

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    Regarding two-session printing

    One thing I forgot to mention in my description of the two-session printing approach is that I frequently make two or three decent proofs, each a different contrast grade. Judging these dry surrounded by good prints quickly lets you know which is best. As for trying to estimate gradations of dark/light on a print in terms of stop differences this won't work because adding a stop with grade 0 will result in a smaller tone difference than adding a stop with grade 4. Happy printing! njb

  9. #19
    Dave Miller's Avatar
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    Within any reasonable negative there are an infinite number of prints. The alteration tools you have are: cropping, exposure, contrast, tone, and paper texture. I suggest that you make a work print on R/C VC gloss paper, that is a whole negative print that shows all the detail available, or as much as possible, it will probably have to be low contrast to achieve that. Pin it up somewhere in good light where you will see it frequently, and think about it for at least a week. Then consider which of the above tools you are going to employ to lift it from a snap to a work of art.
    Regards Dave.

    An English Eye


  10. #20

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    I love the 'two-day' approach! Also, look at the original work of others whose work you admire - I mean REALLY look. You will often find that what you think you see in it is an impression. As I write this, I'm looking at a wonderful Ansel Adams photograph that I bought some years back. Even today it brings tears to my eyes. (Though not as many as it brought to the wife's eyes when I bought it!!!!) It's of the Merced River with HalfDome in the background. I just noticed that the sunlit snow on the mountain is pure white - no details whatsoever. That's what I mean by REALLY look. I just know that if I'd printed this neg. my important highlight would have been the sunlit snow - and MY print would have been muddy by comparison. You're not looking to copy someone else's work - but you are looking to learn from those you admire. After all, none of us would be doing this if the work of others who preceded us had not inspired us.

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