Back when I was making 16x20 silver gelatin prints from 4x5 negs, a typical darkroom session was 10 to 12 hours long and I would spend the whole session on one negative and go through one pack of Portriga Rapid (10 sheets) -- usually getting three final prints. Most of the time was spent looking at the print just made and planning out the changes in the burning/dodging that I would do on the next print.
A speed queen I am not...
At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.
Ralph - Very nice article and thank you for sharing that! Some of the info in the article is kind of a refinement on what I'm already doing (expose for the highlights, adjust contrast for the shadows), but it definitely takes time and experience to pick out the subtle little tonal variations on the order of fractions of an f/stop. I guess that's one of those things that just has to come with time and experience. That, and the fact that I very much need to establish a better and more systematic way of refining and getting from the work print to the fine tuned finished print and this looks like as good a method as any I've seen.
More and more, I think there would be some real benefit from making one of those test strip printing frames that gives you the exposure steps for the same portion of the image in the test print vs. the old way of dragging the card across the whole print and "guesstimating" the areas of interest. When I first saw your site and the plans for the printing frame, I thought it was a little overkill - not much, but a little. Now, more and more I think it would make for an invaluable tool for working with those tiny little tonal variations that I have so much trouble with.
I read somewhere that once past a certain point, improvements in printing skills and print quality come in small increments from different sources, i.e. paper/developer comb, enlarger alignment, etc., and I think working with subtle tones and contrast is definitely one of my areas in need of some "incremental improvement!"
Thanks again for the advice and info...
My technique of refinement is much like what Ralph does. But I 'waste' an entire sheet making one print deliberately too dark, and another too light.
This helps me see some parts of the picture in a different light, and will help me determine how much to dodge and how much to burn.
Usually my print notes are written down by hand on a pre-printed form that I have, which has details on what paper I used, what lens, if it was a condenser enlarger, chemistry, f/stop, basic exposure, split grade printing, contrast, the negative number, etc, and finally I draw a sketch that illustrates which areas I dodge and burn, and by how much.
My approach is very much about judging the print from my own artistic viewpoint, and has very little to do with science.
The notes really help if I have to make another print just like it some day.
"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
I follow the routine described in Larry Bartlett's Black & White photographic printing workshop.
Very good book and I totally agree with the statement that the writer makes in the paragraph "A word about negatives"
I recently tried the zone system, but for me this gave no improvement.
Should I ever shoot large format (one day I hope), I would use the zone system I think.
Where can one find these plans at?
Originally Posted by Exeter2010
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Jeff - You have scroll past the 1st page to get them. Those aren't the plans!
(I didn't know printing frames had blond hair and blue eyes at first either!)
Her eyes are green!
Originally Posted by Exeter2010
Nicholas Lindan, to some extent you are correct when you say people who make large numbers of prints use roll easels, video analysers and automatic processors, but this is generally in the colour world. Apart from a roll easel, none of this equipment was readily available at the time these 80 prints from 80 negatives in an hour were produced. Although I’ll concede that the best equipment money could buy, was more than likely available in that lab.
In another life I worked in a large B&W and colour lab, we mainly specialised in huge colour enlargements which were then sewn together, or welded together, to make billboard pictures, usually using four single prints to make a billboard colour print. This colour print was then sewn onto a light canvas sheet, which was then stretched with light rope over a billboard. Colour paper is waterproof and in the time frame of usage, colour fade free, so it was quick, cheap (relatively) and worked.
However there was another aspect, magazine proofing for layouts and/or repro page prints for placing under a camera for four-colour process or with B&W single colour process.
In a normal workday when in the groove, one can usually whip through a few hundred prints. These prints are done in batches, maybe 25-35 or so 8x10” sheets of paper, then a walk to the paper processor, put the prints in, make a coffee and get the next lot of negs/trannies ready on a light box for sorting. Check the prints, maybe re-do one or three prints in the next session.
There is one very useful tool for speed printing, a good auto focus enlarger, this is not a must, but by heavens it really helps when cropping to a layout tracing. I would suggest that their lab was equipped with either Leitz Focomat, or AGFA auto focus enlargers and fast 45mm, 65/75mm and 105mm lenses on a turret.
I have used both of these enlargers and if the cams are set-up correctly you can slide across from a 45mm lens to a 105mm lens, change negative easel inserts to change film size opening from 35mm to a 6x9 opening, place the neg in and be pulling the paper out of the paper safe in about 30 seconds and know that whatever lens is being used, the focus is accurate. One simply adjusts the timer then hits the button.
Having a fast negative holder system that is accurate and is in the same position each time it goes back into the enlarger also aids speed, like you wouldn’t believe.
I have seen newspaper darkrooms where people were literally running; the noise from things being slammed, scraped and generally pushed to physical limits was incredible. You really had to see and hear how people worked in those kinds of environments, to understand how it was done.
By and large though, fast darkroom people that I know and knew, work best with minimal automation. It’s all in the head, honed from years of practice and the very best just have it!
My method of speed printing, which usually occurs after a family happening, is to have contact sheets, no matter if it’s 35mm or 4x5”. I make a good print from one representative negative, and then use that as a reference print. Then with negatives on the light box, and the contact sheet I start. I often make 4 prints from 4 negatives on a single 8x10” sheet, using my Jobo Varioformat easel.
Two weeks ago I printed about 40, 35mm negatives this way and sometimes printed a negative as a 4x5” then printed it as a 5x8” on the same sheet using the Varioformat easel, this only requires a height adjustment and an exposure change, or if you are certain your enlargement factor will work correctly, click stop the enlarger lens open or closed by ½ a stop, but a time difference is more accurate, generally.
In this instance I was in a hurry as the prints were for family heading overseas, so I exposed the whole lot in two halves. I manually developed the prints (Ilford RC paper) and left them in a large tray full of water until I had finished. I then put both lots through my RC paper dryer. I was in the darkroom around 1½ hours, which included starting the darkroom up (chemicals and heater) and closing it down (cleaning). I re-did two prints with a third that should have been re-done.
One speed trick that is relatively cheap and deadly accurate, is changing your exposure factor with an enlarging meter. The cheapest, and one of the best, is the Ilford EM10.
You have a perfectly exposed print and wish to enlarge or reduce to another size. Turn the lights off, so it’s dark. Pull the neg carrier half out, place the EM10 meter on the easel; switch the enlarger on, then null the EM10 meter.
Place the neg carrier back, put the enlarger up or down and compose. Pull the neg carrier half out, place the EM10 under the enlarger, turn the enlarger on, and then alter the lens until the EM10 is nulled.
Put the neg carrier back, fine focus, compose, and make your exposure using the exact same time as previously. Within reason the print will be identical, just bigger or smaller.
If you have an enlarging lens that can be opened and closed without click stops, you can use this method. This click less feature was basically brought in vogue when colour printing became widespread. Combined with an enlarging exposure meter, it is priceless.
I once had an interesting conversation with a good friend; she worked in some London darkrooms in the sixties as a B&W printer. One of her speed tricks was to whack the neg into the carrier, then hold the carrier over a light box that had black paper over it except for the neg size area. A 10 second or so inspection was done, then the carrier was whacked into the enlarger, the base time was altered and with a foot switch, she operated the enlarger. Then after base exposure and using the foot switch, she burnt in using just her hands and to hold faces etcetera, jagged edge paper on thin wire. Her through put was incredible; I know this as I have seen her in action.
However, for exhibition quality, speed is secondary to technique and accuracy. Mind you professional printers doing exhibition quality, usually work at a pace anyway. Once they get in the groove, they just go. If they are having a bad day, then like anyone else, nothing works, but when it flows. …………………..!
Edit:- the EM10 meter is placed under the white light, in both instances. You are measuring the direct light intensity without the negative in-between the light source and the lens.
Last edited by Mick Fagan; 08-19-2010 at 08:23 AM. Click to view previous post history.
i usually do test strips and waste a full sheet of paper to make sure
the exposure is right. then i fine tune it with burning and dodging
and often times do 2 test strips, one with a hard filter, one with a soft one
and combine / split filter the exposure. i get 1 print that looks right, i
dry it down to make sure ... ( blower dryer ) and i do some more just like it.
(if all the exposures on the roll are similar every frame gets the same exposure treatment)
if i have to do multiple prints, i do a whole bunch of exposures hide them in an empty box then back to back them
between my fingers and put them in the soup together one side then the other until they are all wet.
back in the day ... 12 sheets at a time if i had to ... and i always make a few extras because of variations, and mr. murphy
motorized tray rockers that made it easy
if i have to match a print, i get a clean tray of clean water, and put the print in it and
do the same process as above but compare wet prints ( printed on the same paper hopefully )