Some years ago when I began black and white photography I read the works of Ansel Adams until I could almost site them chapter and verse. I accepted the camera negative density ranges that he proposed as being appropriate without a great deal of further testing on my part.
Even though some standards are better then no standards my prints did not convey the sense of light that I observed in other photographs. I attended workshops, I read, I tested more, I photographed more...still wasn't achieving what I wanted.
I finally discovered what I think has been lacking. Overall contrast (density range) of a camera negative as proposed by Adams is a recipe for lackluster prints. What his standards fail to address is local (micro) contrast within the print. By this I mean the contrast that exists within the localized tonal ranges.
Now this is where it becomes tenuous. If we increase the contrast by which we print the negative we will drive either the highlights or shadows off the scale that the paper will accomodate. Therefore some means must exist to allow either the highlights or shadows to be compressed onto the papers scale.
This is where flashing the paper comes into play by some photographers. This does allow the density range of the negative to be represented on the paper. It does also compress the highlight tonal range into the upper mid range print densities.
Typically the mid and higher tonal range separation of a print is what makes the print "sing". Shadows are commonly accepted as being more lacking in detail by our visual experience. Therefore for a viewer of a photograph the shadows are more readily accepted when they are compressed.
So the question that then arises is how do we accomplish higher contrast filtration that allows the local contrast to exist and still allow highlight tonal range separation? I believe that the answer lies in the manner in which we address the tonal range represented by shadows.
One such method is to mask out the shadow densities of the camera negative by creating a high contrast high density positive of the camera negative. When we combine this mask with the camera negative (in register) we can raise the contrast under which we print the camera negative because the shadow exposure has been effectively blocked in this exposure. Since this mask is a positive of our camera negative the low density (shadow) camera negative regions will become high density on the mask that we produce and the higher density (highlight) camera negative regions will be of no density (above FB+fog) on the mask.
By making a second mask which is a high contrast contact negative of the positive mask in the preceding step we will have mask in which all of the camera negative information that we printed in the preceding step is blocked in subsequent exposure when it is combined with the camera negative. However since the shadow regions are now of no density (above FB+fog). When we combine this second mask with our camera negative (in register) the shadows can now be printed in to the print density that we wish and at the contrast that we wish.
The final step would be to produce an ordinary unsharp mask and that would be printed in register with the camera negative to provide a blending of the demarcation of the two masks and also provide additional benefit by increasing apparent print sharpness due to edge effects.
I would appreciate the thoughts of those who use a similar approach. Additionally the thoughts and considerations of all regarding this would be appreciated.