Printing - dodge and burn anything?


TPF Noob!
Jan 17, 2010
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Prague, the Czech Republic
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For about three years since I took up film photography, I thought dodging and burning are tools to only make tiny little changes on prints to make a photograph "perfect" or just the way you like it without changing the reality too much. I thought it was more of correction tool than creative tool. In the meantime I adored the pitch dark or blocked, you called them blocked I think black parts in Corbijn or Kratochvil's photographs. I kept asking my friends in photography, how do you achieve those perfect black parts? How to achieve that much contrast etc. And they gave me all kinds of technical tips and explanations. But last weekend I saw the film War Photographer about James Nachtway and at one point they are working on his prints with his assistant, a real printing master, I'd say. And Nachtway tells him, could you get more out of the sky? And could you make this lighter and that darker etc. I felt like a newly born baby! So this is how you do it, you just work on the print as it was a painting you just paint anyway you like it, black here, white there, gray here.. just like when I used to paint myself. So how it is almost sure that the large perfectly black parts of Kratochvils and Corbijn's photographs were simply burned into the paper and whatever the photographer liked light or lighter were dodged. I think you just need a negative that is contrasty enough and then you just choose any part you like completely black and burn it. Or am i very wrong?
Some people burn in multiple areas of a photo, and dodge areas to make them lighter. One of the keys, I think, to make that easier to do is to print with a "longer" exposure, like say a 25-second exposure in the darkroom. That allows you to dodge areas pretty easily, and make the dodging appear smoother and totally invisible. When the "whole print" exposure time is like say 10-12 seconds, that is VERY difficult to work with. That makes it almost impossible to dodge more than one area, unless you are using two hands!

One way to get "perfect black parts" is to expose the print ENOUGH under the enlarger. Then make 100% SURE that the darkroom's safelights are NOT fogging the paper. Then, develop the images with the paper FACE-DOWN in the developer, and stop bath trays, with good agitation AND for a "long" time> If you are working on resin-coated paper that say a 60-second development time is adequate, I suggest going to 90 seconds' time in the developer. Do NOT DEVELOP "by eye" in the darkroom!!!!! Develop 100% by TIME!!!!!!!!! If you want good, deep, wonderful black tones, you simply MUST develop the paper 100% FULLY!!!! That means good, fresh devbeloper that is not too cold (68-71 Farenheit is good), with good agitation, and for the FULL TIME, or maybe a bit longer. You might also try adding a full grade on the paper's contrast, such as say printing on grade 4.5 filter, or grade 4 paper instead of a Grade 3 paper.

A lot of Kratochvil's stuff, at least that which you referred us to a few months back, was low-key, dark, and shot under somewhat moody lighting. If you want to create pictures that LOOK like that, then shoot in lighting conditions that look like that--and not on bright, sunny overcast days where the lighting is flat and dull.
Derrel, thanks so much for your instructions. I learned to print photographs only on the elementary level, simple prints of quality negatives, without much changes. But I am now working and printing with a very experienced guy who has been printing professionally for over 20 years. The problem is that he has his own printing style or philosohpy, he wants to print quickly and only burns and dodges some little details in my prints. He uses f8 at most, nothing higher like f16 so usually we make a print in a few minutes. But I have some negatives where I have very specific ideas how the final print should look so I have to ask him next time to work on it slowly and play with the details. He loves Josef Sudek, he himself does similar photography and prints the way Sudek probably did and now I want him to do things like that Kratochvil stuff. Maybe later I will rent the darkroom and will try to do it on my own but I can also learn from this guy if he accepts my ideas that are different from his. Last time I wanted something and we ended up exposing the paper for 10 minutes, he thought it was crazy, and we still didn't get enough contrast. I asked if we could try f16 or something but he said it wouldn't work. He suggested I get some special contrasty positive developer. Anyway, your explanations are super expert stuff and I trust you absolutely.
I also probably just realized why I had problems with lack of contrast on a picture I took in a small town in Spain. It only occured to me now. I used to shoot color digital pictures and read textbooks on how to take the best beautiful pictures. It said the best time is the golden hour. This rule got stuck in my mind. And although I have now old film cameras and try to achieve a contrasty pictures of towns, villages and cities, not color golden hour style pictures with mellow gentle light, I took the photograph just after the sunset, not knowing I was following a rule that is useless for my intentions. So I completely lost all contrast like that as the light was really mellow and gentle. Or I shoot gulls which are white of course, but cannot make them black silhuettes, go figure. I think I have to start thinking realistically about light and how much contrast is available in the moment I shoot. Next time I go to that Spanish town , I will shoot the structure of the village on the rock in direct sunlight, maybe overexpose a bit and get plenty of contrast I think.
One of the biggest worries is that the safelights or other types of stray light will "fog" the enlarging paper. Many of the simple "orange filter" or "red filter" safelights can subtly ruin the enlargements you make by "fogging" the enlarging paper. Moving the safelight away from the developing tray, and keeping the print face-down can help eliminate the fogging effect. Also, developing the print face-down in the developer forces you to figure out the best exposure, and to develop the print fully, according to time, not your eyes in the semi-darkness. Your enlarger "type" can also affect contrast somewhat; condenser-type enlargers seem to produce more-contrasty prints than do diffusion head enlargers.

If you have specific ideas on how a print needs to look, then obviously the printer needs to heed those instructions. f/8 is a common lens aperture to print at, but it leads to a shorter overall exposure time by 50% compared against using f/11. Many enlarging lenses are not all that good t f/16, and are sharper at f/8 to f/11. In a long,long print exposure like 10 minutes, the risk of fogging of the paper could be pretty high--depending on how "safe" the darkroom's safelights truly are. Safelights that "fog" the enlarging paper are a really,really big undiagnosed problem in many darkrooms. Have you happened to see the old book "Lootens on Enlarging". it might be fun to see that book, just for ideas. It would be in English of course.

B&W film shooting, developing, and enlarging is an exciting field, filled with MANY VARIABLES...perhaps you are OVER-developing your negatives???? Your film used, the ISO setting you assign to it, and the developer used, and the time and agitation method used ALL have an important effect on how easily the negatives print. If you need to dodge and burn a LOT OF STUFF on most frames, then I would say you are likely suffering from a mis-match of some things. BASICALLY, the mis-match is most likely to be between the negatives you have to print, and the enlarging paper you are working with in terms of grade of paper, or multi-contrast filter being used...My experience is that many people tend to over-DEVELOP their negatives, leading to very dark, black highlight sections in their negatives--so they have problems with skies that are always "white" on the prints...

BTW--to avoid white skies, ALWAYS use a yellow, red, or orange filter over the lens when shooting B&W films!!!

I think a "thinner" negative, with lower contrast, and very few INK-BLACK places in the negative, which will print "straight" on a grade 3 to 3 1/2 paper is easier to work with than what many would call a "normal" negative, which will have some ink-black highlights, and lots of charcoal gray tones, but which prints "straight" or "normally" on Grade 2- 2.5 paper/ me, the "thinner" and more-delicate-looking negatives are MUCH, much easier to print, and will allow you to get those DARK BLACKS you want, while at the same time, showing details in the bright highlights of the scenes.

One way to do this might be to down-rate the ISO of the film, and shoot 400 ISO film at 250. Meter the shadows, then under-expose those about 1 stop from the meter's reading--in order to make them "shadows" in the final prints. Then, develop the film about 15-20% less than the manufacturer's stated time, using something like Kodak HC-110 Dilution B, or Kodak D-76 diluted 1:1 with water. Then, print the negatives on grade 3.5 multi-contast filter setting. Developp the prints the FULL, recommended time, or even a "bit more"....and see what happens.
I will study what you wrote a few times again, it is a lot of interesting tips. What is interesting, until recently I metered using my Nikon FE in-built meter always dark corners, floor etc, so I got all negatives a bit overexposed for at least some parts like sky etc. but such negatives are fine to print, usuallz no problem and it is quite quick. The problem with low contrast and underdeveloped negatives. I bought a Gossen Digisix lightmeter and was excited how precisely I would meter from now on. When I use the incident light meter - the reflected one shows the same values just like my Nikon FE - I think I get the right value for faces of people, but the result are underdevelped negatives so now it seems this precise metering is to no avail unless I shoot in a studio with longer shutter times and lights. i think then it will work perfectly. I tried at home using a lamp at night and the times like 4 seconds that the meter indicated resulted in perfectly exposed negatives. Go to a pub in the evening, set the meter to ISO 1600 and you get times like 1\60 s for f3.5 in a poorly lit room. THe negative developed precisely according to the instructions like Ilford HP5 push 1600, D76 stock etc. no use. All is underdeveloped. So it is much safer from me to measure the dark corners again unless I find where the problem is.

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