Serious question about saturation:
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I am not trying to start a conversation about film v. anything, so please don't hear me taking it there. I am curious to know though how traditional wet-printing handles color saturation. I'll often see an image online and like it in a general sense, but after closer inspection I notice that there are areas where detail is lost because of over-saturation. Now, I happen to like an appropriate amount of saturation, but not at the expense of textural detail.
I've never printed color using the traditional method, but I am setting up a darkroom and am considering making color a possibility. Here's the question:
Can traditional wet-prints deliver saturation without compromising textural detail?
I understand that some of this depends on your film and format of choice, so which combinations work well?
Thanks in advance for your kind replies!
Saturation is more dependent on the film, I've never done color darkroom, but i'm pretty sure saturation isn't something you can just do like exposure.
I think this would have more to do with one's understanding of fitting a film to the scene, and then how accurate is the exposure for the photograph that shows understanding and control of, highlights and shadows, whether one is sacrificed for the other or where advanced metering metrics are employed to preserve highlights, detail in shadows and texture. Vibrancy of colour will be determined by the film e.g. Velvia, Ektar, Portra etc, and that vibrancy will to a degree be lost in the RA-4 process and given quite substantial punch in the now-defunct Ilfochrome Classic print media.
I would caution you to not draw conclusions on the quality of an actual print that you are viewing on the web; scans do not always show detail in shadows that is visible on the negative; likewise, colour vibrancy is also difficult to judge with many monitors not optimised or profiled for correct viewing. View the negative or an actual print and consider web images as approximations of the actual work.
“The photographer must determine how he wants the finished print to look before he exposes the negative.
Before releasing the shutter, he must seek 'the flame of recognition,' a sense that the picture would reveal
the greater mystery of things...more clearly than the eyes see." ~Edward Weston, 1922.
There is no saturation control with film. Some would underexpose color slide film to get better color saturation but really there is no control. Some films are more saturated than others.
The answer is unequivocally, YES... but just like anything else in the world of printmaking, the devil is
in the details. It all depends on the specifics and whether or not you have the time and committment to
learn the ropes of fine printing. And you will need to find the sweet spot between your chosen subject
matter, an appropriate fim, and and appropriate paper. This requires some experimentation. The wonderful thing about printing color in the darkroom is that you have to think about what you are doing.
People nowadays just assume they can instantly do anything by clicking a mouse a few time, and you
know the saying, "garbage in- garbage out". Quality takes time and thoughtfulness regardless of your
technique or chosen equipment. But if you are even remotely considering a color darkroom the very most important thing you first need to have is good ventilation. The chemicals are not mild like those
typically used in black-and-white printing. But otherwise, the equipment investment need not be
extreme. Modern RA4 color printing is quite simple. Learning how to judge and use color is an altoghether different subject. Most of these Fauxtoshop hyper-saturation idiots nowadays confuse color with noise - they crank up the color volume so high, they in effect become deaf.
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To follow up: printing texture with color neg film and paper is analogous to doing it in black and white.
It depends on holding the microtonality of the midtones etc while still squeezing the entire subject range onto your print. There are various ways to do this. But this topic can easily be confused with
the whole gamut question of resolving subtle distinctions between related hues - the chroma equivalent
to texture, and something which is inevitably directly related to the same variables of contrast and
tonality. A lot depends on your personal sense of color vision. That is why I referred to "noise". Too
much saturation can actually destroy all the nuances of color which make it effective. Now I'm not advocating soft films or paper as the means to solve this, but understanding how color actually works.
You can just as easily lose it by printing bland. That's why I implied you need to discover some magical
intersection where all the ingredients come together. And this differs from person to person, depending
on what you are trying to achieve. But the web is the last place on earth you want to learn about color,
or try to evaluate it, visually that is. It's an abominably crude vehicle. Do you have any art background
mixing pigments etc? or per color theory?
If you want good colour saturation, you need to capture this at the taking stage. Try using a polarising filter.
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”
I haven’t done any color printing in years But when I did do some color negative work I found that the negs I developed at home had more saturation and contrast than the ones done commercially Due no doubt to more vigorous agitation Following that same logic I would think it might be possible to modified contrast and saturation somewhat by the agitation during developing of the print the same way.
I'd try to simplify the film question first by noting how there are already deliberate choices in this dept.
Kodak offers Ektar 160, for example, as a low-contast wide-latitude film primarily engineered for skintones. At the other extreme is something like Ektar which has quite a bit more saturaton, a much
cleaner spectrum, but is perhaps not the best choice for people photography. I wouldn't try to fuss much with film development options per se. C41 is pretty locked in, though someone might know a tweak or two. Then when you come to papers you do still have a few basic choice between softer portrait papers and more contrasty commercial ones. Beyond that, one starts entering the realm of
advanced printing techniques which might scare off a beginner. If one wants to experiment with color
neg film without having to actually print it, I would strongly recommend at least a mid-quality scan by
a pro lab. Poor scanning is perhaps the single biggest factor in misinterpreting what these films are
actually capable of. Of course, it's even better to outright print your shots, but this requires enough
confidence to make the commitment. In some ways it's even easier an more affordable than black and
white printing, but do it well takes experience and good color vision.
Sorry for the typo ... I obviously meant Portra 160 (low saturation/low contrast) versus the more
saturated and contrasy Ektar 100. Portra 400 is somewhere in the middle.