Filters- the basics? : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

I'm a beginner photographer and I am much puzzled about using filters in the darkroom with black and white photography . Is it basically that filter one produces a softer look and has less contrast and filter four has much contrast and is more dramatic looking? Or, does each filter produce a distinctly different look and the result achieved is not altered by progression?

Also, does using filters and multigrade paper produce the same result as using no filters in the enlarger but using graded paper instead? In short, does grade one paper produce the same effect as filter one with multigrade paper?

Basically, what effect does each filter- one through to four, achieve? And what effect does graded paper- one through to four have?

This is probably a silly question...but Iam a bit confused.

-- Marissa (, May 21, 2001


Yes, filter 0 or 00 gives the equivalent of the 'softest' (least contrasty) graded paper, and filter 5 has the 'hardest' or most contrasty effect.
Variable contrast, or multigrade, paper was introduced mainly to eliminate the need for separate graded papers. With the use of multigrade papers, however, printers soon realised that there were some extra 'tricks' that you can do with multigrade that you can't acheive with fixed grade papers. You can, for example, give some of the exposure with a soft filtration, and the rest with a hard filtration. This is known as split grade filtering, or split filtration, and can give a wider tonal range on the print, seen as deeper blacks and softer highlights, than you could get from a single grade or filtration alone.

-- Pete Andrews (, May 21, 2001.

Marissa, I strongly recommend you get a basic book on black and white photography, such as this one:

Black and White Photography : A Basic Manual -- by Henry Horenstein, Carol Keller (Illustrator); Paperback

It will save you from much frustration, and will be a reference for a long time to come.


-- Christian Harkness (, May 21, 2001.


Your questions cover some very basic concepts that must be fully understood in order to be a successful B&W printer. As has already been said, the higher the grade number or filter number, the higher the contrast of the paper. Also, the lower the filter number or grade number, the lower the contrast of the paper. However, just because two papers have been assigned the same contrast number (grade or filter) doesn't necessarily mean that they have the same contrast characteristics. This can be true both when comparing graded papers from different manufacturers and also when comparing graded and multigrade papers from the same manufacturer.

In the end, it doesn't really matter which paper grade or contrast filter is used as long as the print looks good. You might find that a particular negative prints beautifully on one manufacturer's graded paper when you use grade 2 while the same negative prints equally well on another manufacturer's multigrade paper when you use filter #3 or filter #1. You can even find that there are such variations between different papers from the same manufacturer.

A good basic approach to determining the correct contrast grade to use (whether you are using either graded or multigrade paper) is to first determine the print exposure that produces appropriate highlight details. Then pass judgement on the shadow areas. If the shadow areas are too light, you will need to go to either a higher grade of paper or a higher-numbered contrast filter. If the shadow areas are too dark you will need to go to either a lower grade of paper or a lower-numbered contrast filter. Whichever final paper grade or contrast filter is used doesn't matter if the print meets your expectations.

Using this approach, the finished prints from graded and multigrade papers will be very similar. It probably isn't really safe to say that exactly equivalent prints can be gotten from any two or more different printing papers, whether they are are graded or multigrade. There will always be differences between papers. Sometimes these differences are subtle. Sometimes these differences are quite obvious. One of the really interesting things about working with the different kinds of printing papers is getting to know these characteristics and deciding which paper we find most pleasing to us. Each photographer has a personal preference and will defend their preferences til the end.

-- Ken Burns (, May 21, 2001.

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