How important is black?
I have recently found myself in a situation where I've been confused about my printing style, and came up with a question I couldn't answer myself.
In a b&w print, how important is black? Not maximum black, but a strong black. I have previously been of the opinion that a strong black was a choice, and I've seen some work completely lacking that, and the print was still beautiful.
A while back I made prints that I thought were all about mid-tones. So I heavily emphasized on mid-tones to get them just right. Then the black is what it is when I'm done.
I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
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Your method would work very well for a photo showing the texture and ripples in wind blown snow, as an example.
There is a place for every method. No one method works for everything.
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On the one hand, one might be tempted to say: pah, black is just another tone. Nothing special.
But max black and bright white are at the limits of the tone scale and thus calibrate the eye for the other tones. So I suppose that the tones are all quite relative unless you have a black and white limiting tones to "set the scale," so to speak.
Of course, you can have an effective print which has no max black or bright white.... it just depends on the subject matter. But nevertheless, the presence of limiting/calibrating tones seems to be quite common: if max black and a crisp white aren't present in a black and white print then, lo and behold, I noticed that a lot of time people will supply them with a white surround (mat) and a black frame! That's not required, of course, it's just something I've noticed. It is as if people need for the tone scale to be anchored/calibrated.
Good prints do not always go to max black. For me (and presumably others, based on my museum visits) its not a requirement for a good print. In fact I find the lack of direct control over middle tonality is the major problem I have with the 'standard' split grade technique.
When I was at college my teacher said that to check if the print is properly printed, the blacks should be black and the whites white. Then I looked at some of John Blakemore's work and realised that for most 'average' subjects this may be true, but not every image will or should show a full tonal range. It does depend on the subject matter and the mood you wish to convey.
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I think it was Ansel Adams who said that asking for all tones in a good photograph is as unrealistic as asking for all notes in a good piece of music. I'm sure that a good photograph does not necessarily have to have all tones from white to black. It certainly depends on the subject, but on the other hand, all the images I really like of Ansel Adams have a rich assortment of all tones. Go figure.
Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson
One thing is for certain: It's a lot easier to make a good print if the image has brilliant highlights and deep rich blacks. Most observers like and are stunned by the vividness this contrast provides. To make a convincing print with a limited tonal scale is possible but a lot harder to do.
It depends on the print, but usually I like a good healthy zone 0 and I in at least a few areas. It is kind of like punctuation for the rest of the print. I generally much prefer to see maximum density in a print than minimum density.
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Well stated. In my opinion if the print looks the way you wanted it to look then it's just right.
Originally Posted by Sirius Glass
In music, how important is the bass? They serve more or less the same function in their respective fields. But just because you have a tool available doesn't mean you have to use it.
Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson
Obviously there is probably 20 to 100 printing styles with silver.
I think that if black is in the image then it is important. This does not mean that max Dmax is needed but the viewers eyes needs to percieve black as black.
The hardest prints to make IMO are ones with a very long midtone scale where white detail is achieved by being a percievable tone above paper white border, and the black is set to give the viewer a full range image where the eye is fooled to see black.
This black can be what makes the print sing and being aware of its importance is critical to a good print.
If you took a densitomiter to the black region you would find it is nowhere near dmax but we do not sell images of control strips and if the viewer is fooled to see it as black then your job is successful.
Lately I have been making some prints where the blacks are dead , dead , dead black with high contrast everywhere else and the effect is quite stunning. Not like lith but more gritty than lith can accomplish. Once again without total attention of where the blacks are being set the images would not work.
Beautiful work can be done without black tones and even white tones, all midtone , but if you find your negs have both ends then keep your attention to them.
Re : the comment about controlling the mid tones with split printing , this is why I moved to starting my multiple filter printing with a middle filter. I find that starting in the middle and working both ends is more easy for me.