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  1. #1

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    Advice regarding improving my contact print quality

    For some time now I have been contact printing 8x10 and 8x20 negatives with some degree of success, however I know that they could be better. I have not had any darkroom training and have simply tried things and read books. Initially I was scanning and printing so I was able to produce prints as needed. A traditional contact print is my desired output, scanning and printing was done due to time constraints and is not my preferred method of producing a print

    Finding the time to spend in the darkroom has been a challenge due to family circumstances, but I now find myself with 2 weeks where I can spend all day printing and hopefully improving my output. I hope to learn more during that time and take a step up in terms of quality.

    The advice I am looking for, is what is the best path to follow to improve. I understand that I need to get to know both paper and chemicals, but is there any other area that you would suggest I work on. While most of my output will be contact prints from 8x10, is there some benefit in doing some enlargements from 6x7 as well and learning other techniques.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.
    Craig Griffiths

  2. #2
    Krzys's Avatar
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    I've also dropped scanning to dedicate myself to printing in the darkroom. If you perhaps want to meet up some time to discuss techniques and progress that would be great. I am shooting 35mm currently however I have some 4x5 negatives that I have always wanted to contact print.

  3. #3
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Looking at excellent contact prints would be a good place to start -- though I do not what resources you have in Queensland. It is hard to hit a target one can not see (but certainly not impossible).

    I believe there is a significant amount of difference between contact printing and enlarging --so one might run the risk of spreading oneself too thin by trying to perfect both in a limited amount of time.

    Good luck in your journey!

    Vaughn
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  4. #4

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    Hi Craig,

    I had all but given up on Silver printing and was concentrating on Platinum/Palladium and Cyanotype. I was never really satisfied in the results I was getting from my silver prints. "Why did everyone elses turn out better than mine?" That was what I was always asking myself. However, I took a 2 day one on one printing workshop from Per Volquartz here in California and it really opened my eyes to silver printing. Seeing how a master printer approaches his printing is an terrific learning experience. I suggest that there isn't anything wrong with your contact printing process (I too work in 8 x 10 and 8 x 20), the problem is that you might need to learn more about printing.

    What I learned from Per is that just about all of my images needed some dodging/burning and sometimes some bleaching to give them that "real look" that I wanted. With PT/PD and Cyanotype, I wasn't really needing to dodge and burn much because the process and materials was completely different from silver.

    Now I'm back to silver printing and loving it. I'm taking the lessons I learned from Per and using them in my contact printing, and my contact prints are much better. You should think of contact prints as more than just a quick shot at getting something that you can see what is in the negative. Try to make your contact prints with the same thinking as making final prints - that you really want them to look good.

    Now, California is obviously way to far away from Brisbane to consider working with Per, and the upcoming 2 weeks is not enough time to get into a workshop. However, I would still suggest that you check around your area and see if any "expert" printers either teach workshops or would consider working with you one on one in the darkroom.

    Assuming that you use variable contrast paper, I would also work at learning what the different filters can do for you. Do some research on split filter printing with two filters (one for shadows and one for highlights). Working with the different contrast filters has also helped me a lot in getting better prints.

    Hope this helps and good luck.

    Dan
    Dan's website: www.dandozer.com

  5. #5
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Hello again.

    Dan's post got me to thinking. I can remember making 16x20 work prints (straight prints very close to the final exposure and contrast levels) from 4x5 negs and often being a bit disappointed in the images. But I would persist and by the end of 6 to 10 hours, end up with a print I loved (if I was lucky). It just took time, a lot of work and a lot of thought to bring the image I remember experiencing onto the paper. So in that sense, Dan is right -- it might be "just" a matter of more work and knowledge of the material and methods to bring out the best from your negatives.

    That said, I now contact print (8x10) with very little, usually none, dodging, burning or cropping. My interest is in seeing as intensely as possible to find and capture on film the light I see and experience...paying close attention to the edges of the image as they define what is happening in the center, composing the existing light to create a sense of dynamic balance -- that sort of thing. So I guess what I am trying to say is that one "area" that one can always work on is the image itself -- both the image one sees and the one that gets captured on to the film.

    It must be getting late -- I don't know if I am making much sense. So instead of going on, and being too full of myself to delete what I have written, I will stop here.

    And as I always say...have fun!

    Vaughn
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  6. #6

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    Using silver chloride contact printing paper will greatly improve the quality of any contact print.

    See www.michaelandpaula.com under "Azo" for all details and under "Writings" for my writing on the subject.

    One should be able to make 5 excellent contact prints in one hour if one knows what one is doing.

    Michael A. Smith

  7. #7

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    I know what you mean, Craig. I too recently moved from enlarging 6x7 and 4x5 to contact printing 8x10's. I have found (surprisingly, to me), that the two actions are very different. I cant say exactly how, but there is a different working process for contact prints than for enlarged ones. After many hours in the darkroom I am starting to get the hang of it. One thing I have noticed is that (this is my theory) the tonal range is much longer than I could get with enlargements, so it can accomidate higher contrast ranges. This means that i can print at a higher contrast than I would normally.
    Last edited by mcfactor; 06-24-2010 at 04:40 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  8. #8
    Ian Grant's Avatar
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    I'm not at all sure that using a Chloride papers is really going to greatly increase quality.

    The quality is dependant on the negative itself no paper can alter that, and for contact printing in particular the type of developer and how it's used can make the greatest difference, but then it also helps to match developing parameters to suit the paper you're going to use.

    The past 20 years have brought about a big revival of staining developers and these are ideal for Contact printing, the parallel tanning effects help enormously with edge sharpness, but new ways of using them - far more dilute than a century ago also means they are excellent for enlarging as well.

    Ian

  9. #9

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    thanks all for your feedback. I have been spending the last couple of weeks improving the prints I have been making and have found someone locally (at least in the same country) who is prepared to help out.

    Now all that remains is to shoot more and print more. Hardly seems a chore does it.
    Craig Griffiths

  10. #10
    Steve Smith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaughn View Post
    That said, I now contact print (8x10) with very little, usually none, dodging, burning or cropping. My interest is in seeing as intensely as possible to find and capture on film the light I see
    That is what I try to do with negatives which will be enlarged. I will dodge, burn etc. if needed but I get a better sense of satisfaction if I have managed to produce a good image from a straight print from the negative (more repeatable too!).


    Steve.

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