dodging a complicated horizon
I have a scene with lots of sky and clouds. There is enough density in the negative to print the foreground with good tonality but then the sky is white. I can print the sky to a satisfactory tonality but then the foreground is too dark.
The horizon is hilly and has trees, so I haven't been able to dodge it so that it looks right. I would cut a mask with scissors, but the trees ruin it. I might have to let the trees go black.
I fiddled around trying to make litho masks for the negative but didn't get anywhere. Ideas?
May be it is better to do a gradation, dodging less in the horizon line and more in the sky above.
I have seen many Salgado's prints where due to the sky dodging many figures are half black.
Have you tried flashing the paper before exposure?
Masks would be the thing to use, really. I can't think of anything else that would work with the precision required.
lots of work, bleaching out the parts you wouldn't want to be masked (if necessary). And getting the mask and negative in registration in the negative stage can be tricky.
Masks don't have to be on litho.
As Ulrich says flashing will help and with a touch of burning in it shouldn't be too difficult.
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Making the assumption that you use a variable-contrast paper, and depending on the relative contrasts of the skyline items (likely silhouetted) and the clouds (likely low contrast) I'd suggest printing tests of half a sheet with as high contrast as possible in the sky showing the clouds clearly, then try it again with the lowest possible contrast for comparison. See what results you get, make notes and file away the tests. In other words, the burning can probably be best done at a different contrast than the foreground. To get a suitable light-grey tone through the relatively dark negative area in the blue sky you will likely want to try a higher contrast for the burn of course. The clouds themselves might benefit from a lower contrast, to show their form.
That approach can be made more general by using split grade printing, so that you expect to separate both the high- and low-contrast emulsion base-exposures and the burning-in exposures as a matter of routine, on 'tricky' negatives.
Alternatively, print in a sky from a different negative so the clouds are photogenically just away from your horizon. In 35mm you'd want to be careful about film type and magnification factor, just to match up the two areas of the print. Or, especially if you were originally working with a tripod for consistency, you could make one shot filtered for the foreground (maybe a yellow-green or green filter, if you have a lot of dark trees or similar, or maybe no filter) and another filtered for the blue-sky-and-fluffy-clouds (with perhaps an orange filter). That way you would be able to match grain and tonality between the two negs more easily.
For me it would depend if there is an important element, such as a foreground object, that was the focus, in which case the horizon may become less important. If it is a general scene then the sky becomes more important and requires, probably, a graduated burning in as though a neutral density graduated filter was used at time of taking ( with bland pale skies it is probably the most useful landscape filter, and with red/orange filters for blue skies - but no use after the event !). If the skyline trees are important/large enough to be significant in detail then this is a problem that could be reduced by tighter cropping and eliminating as much featureless sky as possible and then the edges burning in. For me the overall look of a picture isn't necessarily spoilt by featureless sky if there is interesting composition or other elements. In the past -maybe still - complex or precise masking could be done by applying rubber cement to the base exposed area under the safety filter, burning in and then peeling off before developing, I guess doing a tree would send you barking.
I'd keep fooling around with masks...but I wouldn't use litho film unless you wanted to completely block out a certain area or areas during a second exposure, as opposed to doing the whole print with one exposure. I'd use a standard in-camera film. This will give you easy and consistent continuous tone and a higher quality base and emulsion. It also allows you to have a lot of control over your mask with development, which is what you need to finely "craft" good masks. It is much more expensive, but is worth it. I use Ilford Ortho, preferably, as it can be processed under red light. Litho film, not being designed for continuous tone, is very finicky to work with, and consistency can be hard to achieve. It is also easier to damage, the emulsion can be prone to tiny defects, and the base is generally much lower in quality.
Masking takes lots of time, and plenty of trial and error. You should not expect to get it right on your first try. Also, while I have made a few masks by visual registration only, it certainly was not fun or efficient. Even a basic homemade registration system is usually better than this. Pins are ideal, but at the very least, cut out four edge notches on the original frame, using an X-Acto knife – one near each corner. This will aid you greatly in achieving visual registration if this is the way you decide to register the sandwich.
Also, IMO, you should experiment with different levels of diffusion during exposure. The diffusion goes between the in-camera film and the mask when making the exposure. The more diffusion that is used, the less precise registration has to be, but the softer the edges in the mask will be, thus the "dirtier" the line you will get between the masked area and the rest of the print. The various levels of diffusion can be used to creative effect, or out of necessity. With some images, the film base of the mask alone provides the perfect amount of diffusion. With other images, this provides a mask that is too sharp, and you can get a weird wiry effect no matter how much futzing around you do with registration. You should look for a diffusion material that is thin, not easily damaged, completely patternless, and available in various different levels of transparency.
A densitometer helps, but comparing your mask with a step wedge, or anything transparent with a known density, will do the trick.
Here is a good Webpage to read through, and it has some good links at the bottom as well: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/unsharp/.
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preflashing the print seems like the simplest way to achieve a grey tone in the sky. Split grade printing might/will yield a better result but ive never had a problem with pre-flashing the print to get a suitable sky and it works out fine.
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i have and have used Alan Rosses method of sacanning the full negative in PS then masking the areas you want then printing it out on OHP film ( doesn't matter what manufacturer)