The enlarging exposure time is the key to the print highlights, but that exposure time may not always serve the global and/or local contrast equally well. Having said that, I do believe one can become distracted----------------set the exposure time by the desired highlight, then work on contrast. It has been said already, a too drastic change in contrast with VC filtration can affect the initial exposure time for the highlight. With single filters (an Ilford set with Ilford VC paper for example), the exposure time is stated, I believe, to be constant up to a #3 filter, going to #4 or #5, will require you to do another test for exposure time for the desired high value.
Originally Posted by cliveh
How often does the fine tuned enlarging exposure for your highlight also provide the best exposure "solution" for the overall density and contrast of the print itself? IMO, not often, primarily because the negative is rarely perfect enough to satisfy the aesthetic visualization of the final print.
But, the negative can be perfect enough to allow much freedom of exploration of both the final density and contrast of the desired print. Therefore, the need for contrast control is essential through, dodge and burn, paper developer, toning, and VC filtration if using VC paper.
Like many, I prefer to work up in contrast incrementally when starting from a very low contrast work print, it's where the fun is, IMO, especially when working with a well made negative that permits that exploration. And I always settle on one filtration setting to define the global print contast as I do not prefer to split print.