Christopher, I'm starting to understand your situation a little better now. I agree with Matt - exposure and contrast can be confusing at first. Based on everything you've said so far, I'd really recommend starting with a good book on printing. You can of course still use split grade - don't worry . But a good book - or a workshop - might help you develop a "system" that will allow you to approach things methodically from test print to final print. You can use single filters or split grade etc, the key is to learn what move to make when you see something that needs fixing (adjust contrast, change overall exposure, burn, dodge etc etc), and how the paper responds to changes in exposure, contrast etc. Once you have some basics down, it's much easier to start practicing and then the sky's the limit.