Tips for reviewing test strips/prints.
I am noticing that I often print my photos about 0.5 to a stop darker than I really should. I would print a test strip, review it under table-top Ott-light and pick a best exposure. Then I would print the full size print and after reviewing it under normal indoor light, I confirm that I'm happy with it. It would even look fine when I pull it from the drier.
In a day or two the time comes to hang it on the wall. I would put is under glass or simply attach to a wall with a sticky tape. And that's when I notice that the print should have been a half or even a whole stop lighter.
Is that an issue with eyes adopted to dimmer light, or is it viewing vertical vs horizontal print?
Did you experience such a thing? What did you do to address it? Please share your technique...
It's a tricky business to assess a print just after it is made to know if it is right for the intended location. My way is to just have the print around for at least a few days, or a week or so to give it a fair appraisal: in a backed clear wrap (to keep the dust off) propped up by my desk or in another part of the house. That way I'm either happy with it or know what to do to improve it, because I've lived with it a bit and the initial feeling of wanting it to be right has been tempered.
This is for mounted and framed work for clients, general sale or for the home. It's a luxury I never had when I was a more busy professional, but one I take now that my work is, usually, of a less time stringent nature.
Considering the changing light levels of any location through a day, it's virtually impossible to tailor a print to a location that doesn't have a constant viewing light, it's just personal choice to choose a print of your taste for a suitable area.
I understand you questioning the horizontal versus vertical viewing impression because it could be that the angle of reflectance may tend to make the print look lighter when layed flat.
As a solution, it could be that you are overdeveloping the print enough to dim some of the tones, or change the paper grade (harder for a bit more 'snap' or softer to open up the shadows). Just some thoughts,
It helps to have two things:
1) a fixed location with standardized lighting to use for print examination; and
2) a reference print that you like and can be used for comparisons.
“Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”
Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2
Aha! A reference print - that's a great idea. Having a print that has tonality that looks good in the intended light would help prevent overexposing the print. I will try that.
I understand your technique keeping the print for a while before reprinting a better version. It sounds like the
best approach to get excellent results. I'm afraid it will be a few years before I can do that. Currently I can only
sneak into the darkroom a few times a year for a very limited time. Maybe when the kids are out of the house, I'll try your approach ;-)
I don't pretend to be an expert here but this is what I do.
I devote each printing session either to work prints or to final prints - I never mix the two.
Like others here, I 'live with' my work prints for some days and try to view them in different lights.
When I am happy with a work print (or not) and have decided what dodging or burning I am going to do, I go back into the darkroom and put the work print into a tray of water next to the fixer tray. I then make new test strips and compare them side by side to the work print - ie both wet and both under the same light. I can then figure out how to expose the final print.
Sponsored Ad. (Subscribers to APUG have the option to remove this ad.)
A couple of things to consider:
Lighting makes a huge difference. A print viewed in full sunlight or bright light may have luminous, detailed shadows, but that same print indoors with weak(er) incandescent display lighting may look heavy and muddy, with dark featureless shadows.
Then there is drydown, which can really make a difference, especially when a print had subtle bright highlights. I tried all that drydown compensation stuff and it simply does not work; a dry print has much different reflectance characteristics than a wet one. And, if you tone, you need to learn how to leave a bit of "room" for the print to change density as it tones. It's all very subjective.
My suggestions. Use less light over your fixer tray (to get closer to the right test-strip exposure)and try to evaluate prints that are approaching "finished" dry. I evaluate the test-strips wet, since they just get me in the ball park anyway. I find that a 60W bulb 5-6 feet from the fixer tray makes a good compromise. Often, however, I find the strip exposure want and print it a bit lighter (10% or so) for the starting print.
For evaluating prints close to "final," I recommend drying the prints down. Prints change in tonal relations as well as getting somewhat darker when dry, so just reducing exposure doesn't cut it. You may have to change contrast or your manipulation scheme as well. I usually concentrate my printing sessions into the summer months, so I take my prints out into the hot sun and dry them down. When I print in winter, I'll air dry a print in front of the darkroom heater or, if it's not a keeper, zap it in the microwave for a while. In both summer and winter, I try to go outside with the dry print and evaluate it under sunlight. Then I take it into the darkroom and tape them up under the weaker incandescents (60W bulb, 5 feet or so from the print). If I can make a print that still works under both conditions, then I'm happy. Usually, though, I have to print to an optimum lighting condition somewhere in between. In galleries, I like lots of light on my prints, so I often err on the side of losing shadow detail in lower lighting conditions, but not always. It's highly subjective...
Although I work with one print from beginning to finished print in a session, I spend lots of time just sitting and looking at slightly different dry prints taped up next to each other on the board. Two good prints a day (6-8 hours) is about my average, and that doesn't include the toning sessions that I do later.
Also, I often keep a number of prints at slightly different exposures/contrasts, and discard the ones that don't "sing" later. While I think a reference print is a good idea for beginning printers, after a while you find that each print has its own "will" and wants to have more open or darker shadows, more glaring or subtle highlights, more or less separation in the mid-tones... you get the idea.
A good experiment: take a print you like and evaluate it under many different lighting conditions. A bright incandescent on a dimmer is good, but you can just carry it around to different places too. One learns a lot about visual perception this way.
Hope this helps,
Yes, getting prints "right" is indeed a tricky business. You have to decide what looks good to you under "standard" lighting. But just what is standard lighting?
I print to a standard daylight–balanced halogen light source in the lab, then pull them out after they've dried and view them at various locations in my indirectly lit daylight living room. In most cases the results are satisfactory, to me. But, my prints are intended to be viewed under fairly strong direct spot lighting. They do look different (sometimes, perhaps a little dark), when not properly lit.
The question is, under general lighting are the results acceptable? A good practice, adhered to by many, is to not make final decisions about the fine print until you've "lived" with the print a few days. Of course your enlarging source, developer, toner, etc. will likely change over the course of time, and then you may have to deal with another set of variables attempting to get a "perfect" (no such animal) final print.
You pays your money and you takes your choice.
As an aside, most, if not all, of the museums I've viewed vintage prints at in the last decade, have their prints so poorly lit, presumably for archival reasons, that studying them in any but a cursory fashion is impossible. I doubt if these drab presentations were what the photographer/artist originally intended.
Lots of good advice here, but maybe you need to be more specific and give us some example images.
For example, if it's on fiber-based paper are you considering the dry-down? That might be your golden answer there. If you're not, you need to be able to either "read" the print prior to dry down to evaluate your highlights and shadows and how they act with the dry-down along with the changes in contrast, OR, you get a blow-dryer to dry down your test strips quickly and make your decision based on a dry example.
If you're guessing your exposure from a test-strip, it might be useful to use larger test strips that will give you more information. I used to use the least amount of paper I would be able to get away with to make a decision and would almost always be off a little bit. It wasn't until I started using 1/3 of a sheet and multiple test strips at different contrasts and exposures that I started to nail it down better.
Whatever you decide to do, it's important to take good notes on everything you do. You can write on the back of your test strips and prints with a sharpie or pencil before exposure as long as they are work prints and then you have all your information there.
Personally, I can nail my finals with 3-8 test strips and 1-3 work print(s) and then move onto a final that same session. I like to really work a print for up to 4 hours to finalize it rather than coming back to it later. So, everyone will have a different method of flow. But there's lots of good advice here. Just play around and see what works best for you.