Contrast Question : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

I'm new to this board and probably a lot less experienced than many of you, so hopefully this question isn't too obvious.

I have a photograph that was taken in a pretty dark room with no flash. I'm pretty sure the image will be really good with the right paper and/or filtration. I rent a darkroom & use VC paper with a color enlarger for the filtration. Occassionally I use Ilford filters (if I want super-low contrast), but I can't get this image right. When I get the features in the face right (with a low filter) there's no "pop". Any suggestions? Thanks.

-- Juliana Hawawini (, February 13, 2001


Sounds like a little dodging and burning are called for.
'Dodging' is holding back the exposure in selected areas of the print, by waving your hand, or a little piece of card on a wire wand over them, making them lighter in the print. 'Burning' is giving areas of the print more exposure and making them darker. For burning, you cup your hands to reveal a little gap to let the light through, or use a large piece of card with a hole in.
Only experience will tell you how to use these techniques properly. Just remember to keep your hands or the dodging tool moving to avoid an artificial looking effect.

-- Pete Andrews (, February 14, 2001.

In addition to controlling local density with dodging and burning, you can also control local contrast, by printing some parts of the image with a low contrast filter, and other parts with a high contrast filter. This is known as "split filter" printing, and might improve the image you describe.

Get the face right with a low contrast filter, then -- while dodging the face -- add contrast to the rest of the print with a high contrast filter.

-- Chris Ellinger (, February 14, 2001.

Thanks for the responses. I did try a bit of dodging & burning, but the main problem is that I just can't get the face right. That's basically what I'm trying to deal with before I even get to the rest of the print. I guess a better picture would be. Is there a way to use low-contrast (to get all the shadows/features) without having it look muddy. Is there a specific paper that's good for this? I rent a darkroom & know that they use Dektol developer...

-- Juliana Hawawini (, February 14, 2001.

Also, consider spliting your filtration by dividing your overall time between a very low contrast filter and a filter of much higher contrast. You can find some posts at this site which detail this procedure.

I've also found that (1) using a high-contrast filter (2) doubling the exposure time I would give with that filter and then (3) pulling the paper from the the developer about 3 - 10 seconds after the image begins to form can sometimes help give "pop" while preserving details. (I don't use a stop bath -- just water.)This is a trial and error inspection approach, however, so get ready to waste some paper

-- Christopher Hargens (, February 14, 2001.

Juliana, let me make a couple of suggestions more slanted for a beginner. First, if you want a photo to have "pop" (you said this was missing), the basic rule is to have both a clean white and a dark black somewhere in your print. From your comments, I have a suspicion your neg may be a little underexposed (ie, there is not much detail in shadow areas).

I would suggest that you make a test strip such that a light area of the scene (like a bright part of a white shirt, etc) comes out nearly white on the paper. On that print, if the darkest shadow areas do not get dark enough, increase contrast of the paper. Compare the black by holding a piece of black paper (maybe the side of another print) next to it. If you raise contrast to the max and still cannot get very dark, you will probably not be entirely successful. To continue, anyway, bias toward having the light areas proper and forget about achieving dark black. At this point, check the faces; if they are too dark, try dodging them.

In my opinion, this method will probably give you the best results. Anything further is a little more advanced; I would advise don't even bother with these advanced techniques until you get better at the basics. The method I described will probably do so good that 90% of your viewers wouldn't be able to notice a difference, anyway.

>> Is there a way to use low-contrast (to get all the shadows/features) without having it look muddy. <<

I don't believe so. If you absolutely HAVE to get more detail, the split filter printing methods listed above ought to work, OR, there is a technique making and using what is called an unsharp mask. Astronomer David Malin has info on the net if you do a search (+Malin +"unsharp mask" will probably get some hits). This use of such a mask is different than what most people will be familiar with where it is used to increase "sharpness" of a shot.

-- Bill C (, February 14, 2001.

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