Contrast problem

Discussion in 'The Darkroom' started by i-bloom-blaum, Oct 2, 2009.

  1. i-bloom-blaum

    i-bloom-blaum TPF Noob!

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    Hello,
    New here, and hoping someone can help me out! I had the opportunity to do a night class in black and white film photography in Glasgow earlier this year, and still have a bunch of negatives I didn't get around to printing, but I'm by no means experienced enough to understand the ins and outs of enlargers etc. Now I've moved back to Australia and so have lost my old darkroom. Am using a friend's at the moment, but I can't seem to get any decent contrast even from negatives that printed beautifully in Glasgow.
    The enlarger says 'condensor' on the front, so I assume it's one, but I'm not seeing the grain or contrast I would expect. Am using an aperture of 8, and enormous exposure lengths, but even with a level 5 filter I can't get a decent black without even the brightest white turning a quite dark grey.
    I've (perhaps mistakenly?) ruled out the negatives as a problem, because some of the them have printed well before. I'm using the same multigrade ilford paper as I always did.
    Any suggestions would be enormously appreciated! I'm quite baffled.
     
  2. CSR Studio

    CSR Studio TPF Noob!

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    What developer are you using? What dilution? What temperature? Etc.
     
  3. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    If your whites are turning gray, it sounds like your paper has been fogged, or your darkroom has a light leak or a very bad safelight filter.

    Here's a really easy way to help diagnose the problem. Go about the normal process you go about in making an enlargement, but place a 25 cent coin or two on the paper just before you flip the enlarger on to make the exposure.
    Develop the print normally,and when it is done, see if the area under the coin is pure white (it SHOULD be pure white) or if it is contaminated.

    Repeat the test with the safelights in the darkroom OFF. This should give you an idea if the safelights are fogging your paper.

    You can also take a plain, unexposed sheet of paper, and develop it normally,and see if it is pure white, or if there is a substantial amount of fogging of the paper that is making your highlights gray.

    I am assuming that the problem is coming from either fogged paper, or a darkroom light leak, or a safelight that is too close to the developing area.
     
  4. i-bloom-blaum

    i-bloom-blaum TPF Noob!

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    Off the top of my head the developer is Tetenal ultrafin, which I wondered about because it said something about fibre paper on the bottle, and I was using resin-based. All is at room temperature of about 20-21 degrees, and I was diluting as per the instructions on the bottle (which I can't remember - I wrote all this down on the back of a train ticket which I then threw away =S I might be wrong)

    Thanks for the suggestion re. lighting - the thing is, I get the reverse of the white problem as well. With a short exposure everything is bright white and I can't get even a dark grey in the parts of the photo that are supposed to be black.
     
  5. Torus34

    Torus34 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    You are using a film developer.

    Pick up some Dektol, mix as per instructions and your problems will go away.
     
  6. Randall Ellis

    Randall Ellis TPF Noob!

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    Bingo! Any paper developer will work, whatever is available in your area, but you can't use film developer for paper...

    - Randy
     
  7. i-bloom-blaum

    i-bloom-blaum TPF Noob!

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    It would be nice if that was the problem! When I get back to the darkroom I'll recheck the bottles. I did write a few down, though; another was vari-speed or some such thing, and I can't remember which was the developer I was using. But I'm pretty sure it was a paper developer - I read every word on the bottle trying to figure out what was going wrong, and it was talking about warm blacks and fibre paper etc.

    Assuming I've got the bottles right (though I will check!) is there anything else that might be going on? Along with the severe lack of contrast, the prints have a slightly soft quality rather than being nice and sharp, which makes me wonder whether the enlarger is actually a condensor after all...

    Thanks for the help so far! Hopefully I can eliminate things until I get to the problem.
     
  8. Randall Ellis

    Randall Ellis TPF Noob!

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    If the enlarger has dials on the face it is almost certainly a diffuser enlarger. If it has a light bulb that looks line a traditional incandescent globe-type light bulb (looks generally like this shape, but upside down :albino:) then it is a condenser enlarger. Either type is capable of producing identical looking prints from the same negative/paper combination. Sharpness has to do with either the adjustment of the enlarger, the condition of the lens, or how you have focused. If you are certain that you are using the developer as stated, that it is fresh and properly diluted, then you may have a paper problem or a safe light problem.

    To test the paper:

    Take one sheet of paper out of the pack and develop it without exposing it to light. The paper should be fully developed after 3 minutes (fiber) or 2 minutes (resin) to white. If it does not do so you may have bad paper (it does go bad with age) or a safe light problem.

    To test the developer:

    Take one sheet out and close up the pack. Turn on the room lights to expose the sheet to full room light for at least 5 seconds. Then develop it. It should, after the times stated, be black and all hell. If it appears grey you need to dump the developer and mix up some fresh from fresh materials.

    How to test your safe light

    If the paper, developer, and safe light are all fine, you have either an enlarger or a negative problem. Since you have gotten good prints from the negatives before I would tend to assume that you have an enlarger problem. Make sure that the enlarger is setup properly (it sounds not to be by your description of exposure times and focus issues). Make sure that it has the proper bulb. Make sure that then lens is mounted properly.

    Hope that helps...

    - Randy
     
  9. CSR Studio

    CSR Studio TPF Noob!

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    I really think it is a development or printing issue and not a fogging issue. If it were fog, you would have darker areas and you have said that you have bright whites.

    Check your developer and give us all the details about your printing and development of your prints.
     

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