How are you guys making decisions early in the process?

I make test prints. Get the exposure in the ballpark. Get the tweaking such as dodging and burning in the ballpark. I do this with quick drying with hair dryer. Then, I make a full size print with complete processing - complete with full wash. This is the first day.

I then let it air dry, then hot press. Evaluate. This is my second day.

At this point, flaws become apparent. Prints look different when air dried and completely dried. (yes - looks different from quick dry with the hair dryer) Highlight looks little different. Shadow looks different. Contrast looks different. As such, the print as a whole looks different. I wait until the next day on purpose. I'm fresh. I'm not tired. I can evaluate more less as a second person - not someone who worked on it for hours.

THEN the real fun begins. Adjust the exposure, contrast, tweak dodge and burn, etc, etc, etc. From this point forward, I include toning in the process and stop and evaluate every potential candidate. Which means the result is not available until the next day.

I can guesstimate and plan for dry down. But, seeing a print is the only way for me before start making adjustments. As Bob says, yup, I am trying to make a "perfect" print by my standard - which is probably not even "good enough" by Bob's standard. At this skill level, that's all I can do....

I am aware how drying changes highlight and shadow differently. I know which way it moves and approximately how much. It's not that simple for me - when the print as a whole looks so different - far more than those individual changes.

The print I'm working on right now - a portrait, I got all the elements right. But as a whole print, a product, it doesn't say what I want it to say. A little too dark, little too purple. I went too far in selenium toning. I sepia toned it first to bring out the warmth then selenium (deep 1:5) to cool it down. I went too far! I actually have a larger print I did this perfectly. I'm now trying to size it down a bit as the former print was too large. Grrrr....

I am noticing, size does matter. The same process that looked good on large size print doesn't necessary look the same (as a whole) when it is scaled down.