As Joe and others have said, try split contrast printing.
I would use a middle filter that gives you good highlight detail, As Joe suggests I would dodge during the initial exposure to open up the shawdows, you can dodge with a 5 filter which will help as well.
When you have the right combination , of highlight and shawdow detail , you may still be lacking the black you are looking for.
At this point put the 5 filter in the head and give a blast of high grade, dodge at this stage as well. Only the deep blacks will come in without screwing up your highlight detail.
This may take a few sheets of paper to get what you want, I know what those negatives with long exposures are like but you will be able to pull a print that has believable blacks and good highlight
Are you taking into account reciprocity failure at such long exposures? If you are not adjusting exposure and development to compensate for reciprocity failure, you are -for sure - under-exposing your negatives and there is little you can do in the darkroom to obtain a print whose shadows have luminosity.
Originally Posted by Poco
A couple of suggestions from a novice at low-light photography:
1) use film that has minimal reciprocity failure ( eg., T-Max 400, Delta 100 or even Efke 25 which seems to do well on long exposures).
2) Fred Picker said expose for the highlights & the blacks will fall on the straight line thereby giving better separation. Have been reading Fred's newsletters (borrowed from a friend); and they offer some very good but unconventional ideas/techniques.
van Huyck Photo
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Thanks. The truth is, this is a three month old thread and I've gotten fairly decent results since I first posed the question with careful split grade printing. I don't really know why this thread suddenly sprung back to life.
I also agree that a film with better reciprocity characteristics would probably be better for my kind of photography. Finding one and learning to use it may be a decent winter project.
Efke 25 does have excellent reciprocity characteristics. I did a dimly lit scene yesterday and used Sandy's Pyrocat-hd for the first time. There is a HUGE difference in shadow values when compared to PMK. It was only a 2 minute 30 second exposure, but it worked out well enough to convince me that PMK isn't as good at shadow rendition. Give this combination a try, it is worth investigating. tim
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I find the KRST an interesting option. Can you elaborate on this technique for the shadows? How long do you leave the solution on the shadows? Is there an after wash/treatment involved?
I am very much of the opinion that a print rarely needs to show the maximum black that the paper can produce. Rather I believe that the blacks should be no darker than is necessary to convey the spirit of the photographer's intentions.
Many time photography is compared to music. Would you fault a piano piece simple because it did not use all of the bass notes or would you listen and respond?