best quality prints : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

This may be an odd question, but to get exhibition quality images, the type in photography magazines, what sort of equipment/paper/developer should I be using. I know my image choice has strong content, but how they are turning out seems to be not so high quality. Basically im jealous. Im using Ilford RC MAtte MG IV, with Ilford film 35mm and color enlarging head. I've got a feeling alot of them are digitally enhanced ???

-- benjamin langley (, October 02, 2000


Print your negatives on glossy fiber base paper. The matte (or glossy for that matter) rc paper dosen't have the depth or brilliance of fiber. Give your fiber prints full development by adjusting enlarging exposure to give your prints at least 2 - 3 min in the developer. The difference you will see is dramatic and easily seen with the unaided eye.

-- Robert Orofino (, October 03, 2000.

Most exhibition quality B&W prints are done on glossy paper. The smoother surfaces reveals more detail in the prints. Of course, some images are better on semi-matte or even matte, but the "default" is glossy. Most dedicated B&W printers prefer fiber-base paper, but the differences in appearance are much less than they used to be (no flame wars please). The additional convenience might make RC paper worthwhile for a beginer. One problem with RC is that the longevity of the prints may be less than fiber prints.

Besides switching to glossy paper, my advice is to be sure that you are selecting both the best exposure and contrast for your prints. A typical B&W photo (there are many exceptions) should include tones from almost white to almost black, with small areas of pure white and black. Take a look at some B&W prints at a gallery. Buy a good book on B&W printing or take a class. It takes practice to make good prints and it can be done without digital enhancement. Great prints were made before digital computers even existed.

-- Michael Briggs (, October 03, 2000.

The quality of equipment may play a role. I still do not find zooms as good as high quality single focus lenses. There may be exceptions. Getting the most out of the equipment is a chore or a discipline. Most lenses work best stopped down 2-3 stops, more with zooms. Since I do not use autofocus: careful focussing makes a difference. Most importantly: camera shake deteriorates image quality more than anything. Any movement immediately robs the image of crispness. Slower films are generally still better than faster films. And size does matter! My old Agfa Isola, which I believe has a simple triplet lens, produces 6x6 negatives that give nicer prints than my modern 35mm equipment.

-- Paul Oosthoek (, October 03, 2000.

I agree with Michael. Unless you are going to go to the trouble of hot-glazing fibre based paper, then RC glossy will give a better finish. RC matt is dreadful stuff in general. If you like a matt finish, then get FB matt, if you can find it.

-- Pete Andrews (, October 03, 2000.

Well Benjamin, I don't think there is anything wrong with the materials or equipment you use. They will produce super prints.

I do agree with the point raised above, that outstanding camera lenses really help. If you can afford the top of the line lenses for your camera, you should go for them. My favorite lens is a Zeiss lens that goes with my Yashica, and I sure can see the difference in the prints.

The other thing, you might be comparing, your 35mm images to photos done with medium or large format cameras, and there is a difference, if you look only at the image quality.

I do not wholly agree with the above posts about the poor quality of RC. I think Ilford MG IV is extremely nice. I use their satin a lot. Also, Glossy RC prints to me, are too glossy and shiny. Here I like fiber better.

Once you put the prints under glass, I bet most photographers can't tell the difference between RC and fiber.


-- Christian Harkness (, October 03, 2000.


All of the information above is very good. Additionally, I would recommend studying some of the photographers whose work impresses you. You obviously have some familiarity with the web (you found us, here!) Use this to locate information on the photographers and try to learn something about the way they work. There is now way that a novice darkroom worker (sorry, you question clearly places you in that class) can walk into the darkroom and produce exhibition quality prints right away.

You can also learn a lot in any good library. There are many books on the art of photographic printing. Three of my favorites are "The Negative" and "The Print" by Ansel Adams and "Post Exposure" by Ctein.

In general the advice is print, read, print, study . . .

-- Ed Farmer (, October 03, 2000.

I must disagree with the posters who claim that there is little difference between RC & Fiber. My normal printing routine is to make a contact sheet on RC & then a full frame work print on RC. If I like what I see I will then make a final print on Fiber.The RC prints (glossy air dried) look fine until I put them side by side with the fiber prints (glossy, air dried to a semi gloss) far as I'm concerned there is absolutely no comparison..Fiber looks better. All prints are processed with the same care and I will dodge and burn-in both papers as necessary. All prints are given full development (At least 1.5 min for RC and at least 2 min for Fiber) IPlatinum II is used for all printing. I have observed the same results with Ilford and Kodak materials. BTW This is NOT intended as a flame, I'm just expressing my opinion.

-- Robert Orofino (, October 03, 2000.

I agree that learning how to print well takes some time and work. To some extent it's a balancing act between establishing a routine and experimentation (sometimes going out on a limb). On the one hand, you must develop a routine to discover the potential of a given paper, developer, etc., and to troubleshoot your process; on the other hand, if you don't experiment with different combinations of materials you often miss out on improving your work.

-- Christopher Hargens (, October 03, 2000.

To start with, you have to have a good negative to start with. If your negative doesn't have a good subject brightness range, for the image, you end up fighting to produce a well printed image. Proper film speed, proper film exposure, proper lighting, proper film processing, proper paper selection and paper processing all go toward a good finished print. There are too many images out there that that were shot with mediocre equipment that have produced exquisite prints for anyone to say you must have a Ziese, Nikor, Rodenstock, Minolta lens to get a good print. Zoom or fixed makes little difference. Beseler, Chromega, Nikor, Leitz all are good enlargers. Paper and film choice only effect the print when the wrong film pr paper is used with the wrong type image. Your best bet is to find a school or mentor to learn from. And go to galleries and exhibitions to see good work. It takes years to learn to print well. That doesn't mean you can't learn, but it takes printing almost every day to really master the techniques. James

-- james (, October 03, 2000.

Definitely read all the good books listed above. If you can find someone close by who makes prints you like, see if they'll spend a couple hours printing with you. I find that a couple hours of guided practice equals about ten hours of study :-)

-- Conrad Hoffman (, October 03, 2000.

Thank you all for your answers, they were as usual most helpful, and no I do not mind being called an amateur as I am. It's actually hard getting work experience where I live with professionals photographers as Canberra just does not have the clients; but i'm very happy with the answers I'm getting here, Ta Ben

-- Ben (, October 05, 2000.

re-read what James wrote.... excellent advice!

Does Canberra have a camera club? Maybe they run a B&W class. Here in Melbourne we have both 'beginners' and 'advanced' classes which alternate between theory/discussion and 'hands on' work in the clubs darkroom.

Another point I'd like to make is do you work on a print until you're happy with it, or are you trying to pump out many in each session. I setup my darkroom in the bathroom and due to a skylight in the room (covered but I still need to wait till it's pretty dark outside) and the bathrooms use (junior has to have his bath!) I don't get in there until late... and thus sometimes just print several 'work' prints for self appraisal, which means I end up with lots of average prints. Sometimes I manage to decide to pick a print that I want to print to my best ability... and that can take the whole session (one to two hours - as I have to clean everything up and put it away also), but once that print is on the wall, or it collects an award at camera club... it reminds me that time involved was worth it.

-- Nigel Smith (, October 05, 2000.

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