Frequently on sites such as this a newcomer to photography will ask what would appear to be simple and straightforward question. That question typically is something like “Which paper/film and developer combination produces the best prints?”
Of course those of us who are experienced in this matter usually respond with “Each combination will produce different and sometimes subtle differences so the only way to know is to try these products yourself”. We then tend to follow up that piece of advice with “If you really want to understand film/paper and the different developers then I would recommend that you pick one combination and stick with it until you have a good understanding of how these specific products work together."
Well this is all fine for those of us who have had the benefit of seeing photographs on different papers and perhaps printing films developed in different developers.
What I am wondering is how can we expect a newcomer to appreciate the nuances of any film/paper + developer combination if we tell them to “stick with only one at the start”. What do they compare the results with if they are only using one? How do they know if the results are good? We cannot tell them to just try a few as this provides little help or guidance and is in essence an evasion of the original question.
Is there a better way to guide them?
Can we agree on perhaps a few of the better combinations as a starting point for them?
Is it possible to be more specific and less ambiguous when answering a beginners question without getting into a heated technical debate over the merits of many variables?
Sometimes I wonder why a newcomer would even ask questions and stick around to ask for more help with replies such as above.
I have often thought that I (and perhaps others) might be of more assistance to those seeking help if I stopped focusing on showing off my technical or perhaps artistic wizardry (does not apply to me… the artistic part :oops: ) and instead attempted to “walk a mile in their shoes”.
By this I mean try to see the problem from their perspective and provide an answer on their level so that they might benefit from the contribution.
There are those that do a much better job on a question like this than perhaps others. I do not wish to imply that everyone behaves like this but only wish to encourage a healthy discussion of the topic.
Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.
I think that a lot of times they ask questions about film/paper combinations because of what they read on these sites and are trying to "hit a home run" first time up, so to speak. In truth, I doubt that they would be able to tell the nuances of the differences in these combinations yet and are really not ready to do some of the things that some combinations require.
That is why I, personally, would tell them to try a certain combination, perfect their technique, then after a while try a different one, then a fter a bit, another different one until they find what they like.
By listing a whole lot of combinations, in my opinion, would just be confusing and would not gain them much anyway. A lot of these combinations are just personal preferences anyway. Besides many photographers, over time, change their combinations because they are starting to see things that they were not capable of previously.
On top of that getting good negatives and good darkroom technique is probably far more important that any specific paper/dev/toning combinations.
Just an opinion.
The only they need to know is that they should not expect a good print from their first 10 shots at it.
On a related note....
I was hanging out in the darkroom the other day, huffing fixer like I do, and someone asked for help with a print. She couldn't get the skin tones right and the shadows right. This was her second time in the darkroom. She needed this for an assignment, so I showed her how to split the contrast. Whcih is really an easy thing to do when you think about it, just counter intuitive ( "So I expose the paper TWICE?"). It worked out great.
Lesson being, the second rule should be "Revisit your old negs." Hell, I think it might possibly be worth it to teach a class where the students shoot until they have say 10 different "types" of images (low contrast, high, etc.) and then just work with those 10 images and seeing what they can do with them.
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I agree with Michael. As someone who is presently getting reacquainted with processing my own photographs after a 20 year lay-off, I have a particular perspective on this that straddles the world of the beginner and the advanced amateur. I have just enough basic knowledge to be a danger to myself and others.
I used APUG and some of the other message boards to help reintroduce myself to the materials, and I saw many such questions asked by beginners and those people that answered - while no doubt having the best intentions - could only have confused and scared away the newbies. A basic rule to follow when advising beginners - make it simple before making it complicated.
Or there is the old acronym K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
As I stated, I have just enough foreknowledge of photography to really screw up my current attempts. Just yesterday while looking through some of my old negatives and prints from thirty years ago I was struck by how much better they look than anything I've produced these past six months (Granted, back then I was in the darkroom at least five days a week for a minimum of five hours per visit, so my "chops" were good). And it was all Tri-X in D76, printed on Polycontrast F in Dektol. When I jumped back into this I started messing about with different soups and papers and films and am now settling down to a couple of specific combinations, and anticipate achieving better results in the darkroom. The point of that ramble was that I already had a good foundation under me from using the most basic materials day in and day out for a few years, so even though it was almost twenty years to the day from my last "old" print to my first "new" one, the basic, simple knowledge I carried with me helped my current testing of materials to make sense rather than become a tail-chasing exercise.
So to reiterate: make it simple before making it complex. The learning process is the most important part of the journey anyway. Oh, and tell the newbies to remember to wear sunscreen when they photograph out in the field.
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"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive" - Howard Thurman
I think the idea of "not confusing the beginner is a good one. Too many of the grey beards in this game will either seize the moment to impress the !$#@% out of the neophyte with their extensive knowledge --- or more often not remember why they do things in the first place.
My best thought would be to keep the advice as simple as possible - I'd say to use something like Ilford Multi-grade paper and Ilford universal developer. That will get them started.
Come to think of it - one of the most successful classes in printing started as a result of my JOBO processor having been sent back to JOBO for repair. The mentorees were FASCINATED by the appearance of the image on the paper under the safelight during tray development.
I much prefer the control and stability of processing in the JOBO ... but for the initial printing class - simple, in the case tray development - will be the way to go.
I keep it simple - as simple as possible.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
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Most usually when someone poses a question like "what is the best paper and developer"? I believe that is usually posed by someone who has limited exposure/involvement in photography.
To recommend the best Bergger, Oriental, Azo or any of the other really fine papers at this juncture is wasting money and aiding in the disallusionment of the budding photographer. It is kind of like buying a $100,000 Mercedes for my teenage daughter/son to learn driving by direct, unaided and unsupervised experience and then expecting them to pay for the scraped fender when the inevitable happens.
I think that if someone were to ask me what the best paper and developer combination was. I would ask them what their level of involvement was. If they are starting out the best paper is the least expensive RC paper and Dektol.
After someone has printed on RC paper for a year and then asks that question, one can then make recommendations of several neutral and warmtone papers and alternate developers.
As has been stated before...KISS...
The original suggestion here was to provide some uniform guidance for simple questions of (we assume) novice dark-roomers. It is certainly and especially important to address the concerns of new photographers through this forum. We do want to promote this art and the best way to do this is to get proper information to beginning photographers.
So far, most of the APUG members agree that simplicity is foremost. Great! Then I believe we can also agree on some materials. I begun dedicated photography work with Kodak PXP, D76, Galerie, and Dektol. There are several practically identical, chemically, products which can be named. The issue is really how to present this “list” in a discernible format accessible to new folks. Maybe an article here and a series in the “new magazine” (?) Efforts should be maximized to keep personal and political issues out of the projrct.
I love the smell of fixer in the morning. It smells like...creativity!
Truly, dr bob.
'Is there a better way to guide them"
Sure there is. Stress that they are not going to be exhibited in the Grand Gallerie nor become the celeb' de' Art o' de Street over night.
Write a no-nonsense, non-product promoting starter's guide that is technically good, easy to read, and makes reference for further study. Stress the use of RC paper and generic/commonly-used chemicals to get started.
Give enough info on advanced techniques/developers/papers to whet the appetite.
Finally, be impartial and stress there is no "magic bullet" combination, despite thousands of claims to the contrary.
Problem is, without large product endorsements, no one would publish such a guide.