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  1. #1
    Ektagraphic's Avatar
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    Becoming a better printer

    Hi Guys- I have been trying to find ways to make a better print..I have read a few books most giving the same tips...I am going to probably look into a copy of Ansel Adams' The Print. What I am going to try to concentrate on now is effectively using the variable contrast filters. I will actually admit I don't know if there is any way to find the proper exposure of a print. Is it really just a matter of opinion. In order to find the proper exposure, wouldn't one have to work to find the best contrast at the same time as I have found using higher filters can result in a need for much more exposure. Are test strips (the ones with multiple variations of the same print made parallel on the same paper) going to become my best friend to learn? Are there some of you out there that are so good at printing you can look a negative and just see what the exposure and contrast grade will need to be? As of right now, I can make prints that are moderately satisfactory. I defiantly do show them to others and have sold prints so I think I am on the right track I just want to bring things full circle. I have been printing for the most part with a 2 or 2 1/2 filter...I'm thinking very much experimentation with the filters is going to be the best way for me to learn...Thanks in advance for any advice that you may give..

    Patrick
    Helping to save analog photography one exposure at a time

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    Greg Davis's Avatar
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    After school, I worked as a professional printer for a few years before going to grad school. All I can tell you is nothing will make you a better printer than making a lot of prints. Reading about different techniques and chemicals may give you new things to try, but experience is what will really make a difference.
    www.gregorytdavis.com

    Did millions of people suddenly disappear? This may have an answer.

    "No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." -Matthew 24:36

  3. #3
    Ektagraphic's Avatar
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    They say repetition equals mastery
    Helping to save analog photography one exposure at a time

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    Valerie's Avatar
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    Have you read Les McLeans "Creative B/W Photography"? It helped me a lot, as did taking his workshop. His greatest bit of advice was "Bin it" (meaning make lots of prints and throw away most of them!).
    "So I am turning over a new leaf but the page is stuck". Diane Arbus

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    There are lots of paths to becoming a good printer. The trick is to distill the stuff you read into a set of methods that work for you. I think of test strips with little sections of various exposures kind of a crude tool. Useful sometimes, but maybe not the best. I prefer to either start with a "perfect proof" that is, a contact sheet exposed at your paper's minimum time to maximum black (read The Zone VI Workshop), or a largish test sheet, maybe 1/4 the size of your print, exposed for one time placed in a strategic location of the frame. That is somewhere that is mostly highlight but with some shadow areas. Or an area you'd like to receive the base exposure.

    Start with getting the exposure for your highlights using a soft filter, maybe 1 or 1 1/2. Then add contrast filtration to bring the dark tones to where you want them.

    While you're learning to read your negatives you might go through several sheets doing this, but once you gain some experience, you may only need one or two test sheets.

  6. #6
    David William White's Avatar
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    I'm worried that you're not convinced (or not sure) of the need for test strips. The comments above about repetition are within the framework of test strips, so start there. It's like playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey: goes much better without the blindfold. So yes, you need some framework knowledge that can be found in any book on printing, including AA's.
    Considerably AWOL at the present time...

    Archive/Blog: http://davidwilliamwhite.blogspot.com

  7. #7
    SuzanneR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valerie View Post
    Have you read Les McLeans "Creative B/W Photography"? It helped me a lot, as did taking his workshop. His greatest bit of advice was "Bin it" (meaning make lots of prints and throw away most of them!).

    Perhaps I'm remembering wrong, but another thing he says in his book, as I recall, is that the differences between a good print and a great print are very subtle.

    Practice (as others have said) is the best route to becoming a better printer, and the subtle differences between the prints that are good and great will become more obvious the stronger your eye gets with making a lot of prints.

  8. #8

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    I try to evaluate the negative first with the help of a good contact sheet, then pick a starting contrast filter, then make my test strips. If I need to adjust contrast, I'll compensate exposure based on experience and make a larger test strip at the same exposure. I'll then take that strip and use a hair dryer to judge "dry down" density. Then reevaluate if necessary, then a full print before deciding where to dodge and burn. Then adjust initial exposure if necessary. And don't forget to compensate for toners if you're going to use them. Toners like sepia will reduce density and toners such as selenium will increase it slightly. Hopefully this is helpful. I'm a complete moron compared to some of the amazing printers we have on this forum. Also, I can't express enough the value of going to shows and galleries and looking at peoples prints. A good print viewed in person pales in comparison to the scanned version online.

  9. #9
    David William White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Casey Kidwell View Post
    I try to evaluate the negative first with the help of a good contact sheet, then pick a starting contrast filter, then make my test strips. If I need to adjust contrast, I'll compensate exposure based on experience and make a larger test strip at the same exposure. I'll then take that strip and use a hair dryer to judge "dry down" density. Then reevaluate if necessary, then a full print before deciding where to dodge and burn. Then adjust initial exposure if necessary. And don't forget to compensate for toners if you're going to use them. Toners like sepia will reduce density and toners such as selenium will increase it slightly. Hopefully this is helpful. I'm a complete moron compared to some of the amazing printers we have on this forum. Also, I can't express enough the value of going to shows and galleries and looking at peoples prints. A good print viewed in person pales in comparison to the scanned version online.
    Excellent summary in one paragraph.
    Considerably AWOL at the present time...

    Archive/Blog: http://davidwilliamwhite.blogspot.com

  10. #10
    jeroldharter's Avatar
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    You could get a lot of opinions on this. I infer from your post that you meant to ask how to become a better printer quickly.

    I suggest a few things. First, get an f-stop timer like RH Designs or Darkroom Automations. I have the RH Designs and consider it indispensable. Do a safelight test to make sure you are not fogging your highlights. Do a drydown test with your paper and program that into the timer. Stick with one brand of paper and developer.

    The next thing to do is learn split contrast printing. Use the Les McLean book mentioned or Steve Anchell's book for guidance. That will take the thinking out of determining the precise paper grade to use. If you insist on avoiding split contrast printing, then use the Michael and Paula method of "outflanking" a print. Do test prints and purposely go too far so you can see when the contrast is too low and too high. Do that a few times and you get the feel.

    After that (or before ideally), improve your negatives. Read Beyond the Zone System by Phil Davis and have the View Camera Store do a BTZS film test for you (~$50). You will learn all you need to know about your film and developer. When you have an accurate system for exposing and developing your negatives, you will find that they are much easier to print. The required paper grade won't vary radically, the exposure time of the paper stays in a stable range.

    Somewhere in the mix, pick up the new edition of Way Beyond Monochrome which will help improve your understanding and craft. Likewise the Ansel Adams series and Tim Rudman's toning book.

    I suggest sticking with 8x10 or 11x14 paper size. 8x10 is relatively cheap and you won't be inhibited using lots of paper. In the beginning, use full sheets for test strips with 1/6 stop progression on the steps. This will give you a good feel for proper exposure in small but usable increments. It will also help you get a feel for dodge and burn times. The timer makes it easy to keep track of many exposures if you need edge burning or numerous small tweaks. I find that skimping on test strips with 8x10 or 11x14 paper is usually a false economy so I would start with a process that requires the minimum abstraction and use full sheets.
    Last edited by jeroldharter; 10-19-2010 at 10:53 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    Jerold Harter MD

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