I have mentioned before that I am a competent rather than good printer. So, the discipline of writing down how I printed a recent negative will be good to help me think about my process and might, just might, be of wider interest.
Looking at the negative I realised that dodging and burning might not be the most appropriate approach given the complexity of the shapes in the image. To my mind a split-grade approach would be an appropriate starting point. I described my approach last month in Blundering in the Dark so my first step was to pop a 2 1/2 filter under the lens and make a test strip at five second intervals to determine a base exposure from which to work from. Between 5secs and 10secs seemed to be the optimal and looking at the foliage I decided to try 6 seconds as a base. The next stage was to expose a fresh piece of paper for 3 seconds (half of base) using a Grade 0 filter. Without moving the paper or the negative I then replaced the 0 with a grade 4 filter and created another test strip (see below) which had a first exposure of 3 seconds at grade 0 and then a series of exposures at 1 1/2 second intervals at grade 4.
I liked the look of 6 seconds but thought it could be held back just a touch to benefit the sky so on a hunch opted for 5 1/2 seconds (this is where experience/intuition trumps science I guess). Before setting up for a first print I looked carefully at the test print for any signs of dust, hair (eyelashes are bigger than you think) or other imperfections. I’ve circled these on the print above. I then took out the negative, cleaned it and the negative carrier again before setting up for my first “proper” print. I was aiming for an initial exposure of 3 secs at grade 0 and 5 1/2 secs at grade 4 with no dodging or burning.
I was very happy with this first print but felt that the front of the flats, which were in the full glare of a naked morning sun in a cloudless blue sky, could be a little darker; the sky had benefited from reducing the exposure slightly but not the buildings. I therefore made a second print using the same settings but in addition I burned the front of the flats in to selectively darken that part of the print.
I was using 10″x8″ paper and ended up using two sheets for tests and then a further two sheets to create my final image. To be fair I would usually use strips of off-cuts for the test strips but I chose to use full sheets for the purpose of this blog post (thinking ahead!) as they would be easier to examine. A methodical approach is the key to making best use of precious resources such as paper in my experience. A considered and thoughtful approach, examining the negative and thinking through how to approach printing that specific one will repay in less wasted materials and ultimately save time.
Annotating the back of prints is a useful discipline
To help with this I make notes as I work in my darkroom book (see below) and I also use a waterproof marker to annotate the back of each print (above). This helps me remember what I’ve done and also means I can often get a fairly close first stab at other negatives from the same roll. I printed three similar looking negatives in this session, all had been taken at the same time under the same lighting conditions at the same location. The second negative was printed using the times already established and I then made a second print, again burning in a selected area. The third negative was also printed using the same timings but needed no burning or dodging. Three negatives and just seven sheets of paper is not a bad return for a bit of note-taking and a little thinking time before turning the lights out.