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  1. #1

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    Some years ago when I began black and white photography I read the works of Ansel Adams until I could almost site them chapter and verse. I accepted the camera negative density ranges that he proposed as being appropriate without a great deal of further testing on my part.

    Even though some standards are better then no standards my prints did not convey the sense of light that I observed in other photographs. I attended workshops, I read, I tested more, I photographed more...still wasn't achieving what I wanted.

    I finally discovered what I think has been lacking. Overall contrast (density range) of a camera negative as proposed by Adams is a recipe for lackluster prints. What his standards fail to address is local (micro) contrast within the print. By this I mean the contrast that exists within the localized tonal ranges.

    Now this is where it becomes tenuous. If we increase the contrast by which we print the negative we will drive either the highlights or shadows off the scale that the paper will accomodate. Therefore some means must exist to allow either the highlights or shadows to be compressed onto the papers scale.

    This is where flashing the paper comes into play by some photographers. This does allow the density range of the negative to be represented on the paper. It does also compress the highlight tonal range into the upper mid range print densities.

    Typically the mid and higher tonal range separation of a print is what makes the print "sing". Shadows are commonly accepted as being more lacking in detail by our visual experience. Therefore for a viewer of a photograph the shadows are more readily accepted when they are compressed.

    So the question that then arises is how do we accomplish higher contrast filtration that allows the local contrast to exist and still allow highlight tonal range separation? I believe that the answer lies in the manner in which we address the tonal range represented by shadows.

    One such method is to mask out the shadow densities of the camera negative by creating a high contrast high density positive of the camera negative. When we combine this mask with the camera negative (in register) we can raise the contrast under which we print the camera negative because the shadow exposure has been effectively blocked in this exposure. Since this mask is a positive of our camera negative the low density (shadow) camera negative regions will become high density on the mask that we produce and the higher density (highlight) camera negative regions will be of no density (above FB+fog) on the mask.

    By making a second mask which is a high contrast contact negative of the positive mask in the preceding step we will have mask in which all of the camera negative information that we printed in the preceding step is blocked in subsequent exposure when it is combined with the camera negative. However since the shadow regions are now of no density (above FB+fog). When we combine this second mask with our camera negative (in register) the shadows can now be printed in to the print density that we wish and at the contrast that we wish.

    The final step would be to produce an ordinary unsharp mask and that would be printed in register with the camera negative to provide a blending of the demarcation of the two masks and also provide additional benefit by increasing apparent print sharpness due to edge effects.

    I would appreciate the thoughts of those who use a similar approach. Additionally the thoughts and considerations of all regarding this would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    I agree with everything you said Don, and your results are speaking for themselves. Local contrast is the key. Adams alludes to this but doesn't really talk much about it. I've come to believe Kodak endorsements may have had a subtle influence in the editing of his books. Or maybe he just became enthralled with that type of technical detail in his later years as the technology moved out of the Rochester laboratries.

    But to me, the masking process seems very time consuming and tedious. I know Lynn Radeka (sp?) uses a similar process with exquisite results. Many others though, are achieving that feeling of light without masking. My feeling is that it can still be achieved with more straightforward technique.

    However, to qualify my statement, I don't feel that I have achieved that feeling yet.

  3. #3

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    Jdef,

    I can see that portrait photographers such as yourself, Michael, and others certainly are operating within differing criteria then those of us who do landscape type images. The tonal range that you seek to operate within is different, you have controls over lighting, and in fact an image having the local contrast that I seek would not be flattering to your clients. While it would appear that this is similar to split grade printing, the method and the result is inherently different. The reason is that in split grade printing one is not able to have two or more differing contrast grades within the same image.

    Alex,

    Yes there is no denying that making masks does take a little more time then simply enlarging a negative. However the time requirements are not nearly as involved as it would at first appear. Once a set of masks is made they are reused for subsequent printings of the same image.

    Obviously for Azo images the matter of masking is not necessary or feasible (it would require an extensive registration system).

    The use of pyro developers (pyrocat and ABC) also helps a great deal in highlight tonal separation. I have found however that even with pyro developers that the masking that I described takes my prints to another level.

  4. #4
    Ole
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    Don,

    I think about this a little differently - but then again I've never used masks.
    Here's a brief summary of my working "methodology":

    There are three kinds of contrast: Microcontrast, mesocontrast and macrocontrast.

    Microcontrast is mostly controlled by development of the negative, and to a lesser extent by the paper/printing contrast.

    Macrocontrast is the overall contrast in the image, I try to control this by burning in overbright areas (I frequently burn in everything but one tiny area, I suppose I might as well think of it as dodging...).

    Mesocontrast is the interesting one. To me, that's where the print "lives" - or dies as the case might be. By "mesocontrast" I mean contrast over areas too small to be controlled by burning, and too large to be influenced by film development.

    To control the mesocontrast I change the paper grade, paper developer, developing times etcetera. I suppose that masking will be the most precise way to do this, but as I said I haven't tried this yet.

    I see no difference between portrait and landscape; the only difference to me is that I use different "objects" to show the light. And the way I work is to always try to depict the light as well as possible. That's why I consentrate on the mesocontrast, since that to me is where the light is.
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  5. #5

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    Ole,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think that we have differing terms to describe the same effect. I can see that your terminology is more accurate in description.

    "Mesocontrast is the interesting one. To me, that's where the print "lives" - or dies as the case might be. By "mesocontrast" I mean contrast over areas too small to be controlled by burning, and too large to be influenced by film development.

    To control the mesocontrast I change the paper grade, paper developer, developing times etcetera. I suppose that masking will be the most precise way to do this, but as I said I haven't tried this yet."


    In my description in the original post I combined the effect that you describe with "micro and meso" into the my terminology "microcontrast". I do recognize that pyro developers and film choice do effect the camera negative in ways that paper and paper developers do not address.

    The use of masks does affect the mesocontrast in ways that film and film developers do not address. Additionally the use of masks addresses the other end of the paper scale from that accomplished through flashing the paper. My experience has indicated that paper and paper developers do not address the mesocontrast as effectively as does masking in my experience.

    I would be interested in your experience with masking should you desire to try it. Thanks again for your well thought out and written response.

  6. #6
    Jorge Oliveira's Avatar
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    My experience as a 35mm only user do not compare with yours LF. But:

    I've found out that there are film/dev combos that sing; some others are just lifeless.

    Just o illustrate, in the city I live thare's a very nice little store that only sells Kodak; there's another one (but that is mostly an X-ray materials store) that sells a bit of Ilford, and many times they are out of stock. No Agfa in the country, BTW.

    So, upon my return to B&W, I decided to give TMX and PX a try (I used to be an Ilford user in past life, developed in HC-110, and I liked it).

    I gave up on TMX in HC-110 since it was very difficult to avoid blown highlights.

    PX in HC-110 was lifeless (I agree with lack of microcontrast), so I went to FX-37 and had mixed feelings.

    Another test with E76, an ascorbic/phenidone formula, and bingo! That's what I was looking for.

    Fine grain, sharp and it has life with the right scenes.

    Jorge O

  7. #7
    Ole
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    Precisely, Jorge O!

    In addition, the type of developer and type/amount of agitation affects mesocontrast: Stand development with a non-solvent developer (Beutler, dilute rodinal etc) will still give high microcontrast (in this case, increased though the edge effect giving higher acutance), but the mesocontrast is reduced. That's what compensating developers are all about: Controlling the difficult mesocontrast without losing micocontrast!

    But sometimes, it's just too much to be good...
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  8. #8
    Jorge Oliveira's Avatar
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    Ole

    I'm doing 2 min spaced agitations, as a compromise (10s full tank inversions).

    Jorge O

  9. #9

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    The use of masks does affect the mesocontrast in ways that film and film developers do not address. Additionally the use of masks addresses the other end of the paper scale from that accomplished through flashing the paper. My experience has indicated that paper and paper developers do not address the mesocontrast as effectively as does masking in my experience.

    I would be interested in your experience with masking should you desire to try it. Thanks again for your well thought out and written response


    Don, I figure I make this my last post here, and perhaps leave you with one more trick.

    Something I found useful before doing more involved techniques was going to a higher paper grade and then use diveded developing. This seemed to "clean" the middle tones and at the same time mantain the overall contrast. Funnily enough to do this with alt printing you have to increase contrast and increase exposure time....go figure....

  10. #10

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    It is important to understand that many many photographers have made wonderful luminous prints without the benefit of masking or any other technique other than exposing and developing their film properly (knowing your material) and learning how to convey your vision onto your printing material. Not rocket science. There are many ways to achieve what you are looking for and masking is one. Also bleaching, dye dodging, and flashing of which AA made numerous mentions in his books. But even though he wanted to impart as much information to us in his writings, he knew he couldn't include all of the information about all of the techniques used by photographers and printers. So he wrote a very basic set of instructions which you now must improve upon. And it seems you are searching for it.
    james

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