Flat prints

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I'm just starting to develop and print my own B&W negatives and haven't been getting very satisfactory results. The main problem with my prints at the moment is that they all seem very flat and lack contrast. In the words of my friend who took a look at the pics, "there seems to be just one kind of light". I don't think the problem is because of the negative because I can see subtle details (like the folds of a black gown) through the negatives and in some of the photos I've printed out, there is a gradation of shadow detail, i.e I can see the different tonal qualities of an object in shade and in bright light. The problem is that even though there is detail, everything seems flat. There are no bright whites or deep blacks. Everything just looks a shade of grey...giving the overall picture a very neutral greyish hue. The detail is there...but, not the contrast. I'm just wondering what the problem is here...is it in the taking of the photos, the developing, or the printing? So far, my photos have turned out to my liking when I send them for professional printing...so I don't think my photo-taking is the cause of the problem. Perhaps it's the development. I used D-76 with Tri-X film at the recommended time and temperature. The negatives which came out have detail in them but I notice that there is less dense area in them (the dark areas in the negatives) then when I send a roll for professional developing. Or could it be the printing? I use Ilford Multigrade IV RC paper with Dektol (not diluted), consistently developed for 90sec. I've tried several exposure times for several different negatives and they all came out flat with no obvious contrast.

Any help with regards to why my pictures are so flat and how contrast can be improved would be great...thanks!

-- Alex Tham (deckard@cyberway.com.sg), June 23, 2001


What grade filter are you using?

-- Ann C lancy (aclancy@broadband.att.com), June 23, 2001.

Hard to say without actually seeing the prints but it sounds suspiciously like you're not happy with the local contrast i.e., you are able to hold the tonal range you want and have adequate detail in the dark areas and light areas of your print but there is no snap in the local areas. I'm assuming that you do have some accent whites and accent blacks i.e., you have developed the neg well enough and are using a high enough contrast paper for the neg you have. If lcoal contrast is the issue, it is a pretty frustrating problem - David Kachel wrote a series of articles dealing with such issues in DCCT. He used to have the articles up on the web but I can't find his site these days.

There are a number of techniques you could use - none very easy. Try using a higher contrast filter (or paper) and holding back i.e., dodging the shadows to prevent them from going featureless black. If you're using VC papers and the picture would actually benefit from an increase in local contrast i.e., increase the contrast in one area, you could try burning in with different filters. You could also use more exotic stuff like masking latent image bleaching or dye dodging but I would try these simpler solutions first. Good luck, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), June 23, 2001.

You say that you just started to dev. and print your own. your solution?----10,15 years of passionate work before you're really happy, maybe!

-- mark lindsey (lindseygraves@msn.com), June 23, 2001.

When people start processing and printing their own work, the two most prevalent problems are either too much contrats in the negs or too little. Just because you can see detail in the shadows and highlights in the neg doesn't mean anything. How far apart are the densities? Take what you consider a good neg to your lab and have themm run it through a densitometer. They will tell you whether the neg holds the proper contrast and what grade paperr or filter to use to get the full range on the paper. It sounds suspiciously like a flat neg "and" to little time in the developer. Along with the wrong contrast of paper or filter. Usually it's the lack of a full tonal range in the neg. And use glossy FB paper to realize the negs full potential. If you are skeptical or people tell you RC is great to use then go to a gallery and look at what nearly everything is printed on and then go get some FB paper and use it. Next find a scene that meters with a 5 stop range. Expose your film and develope for normal time. Print it. Voila'. Snappy print. James

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), June 24, 2001.

Adding to what James says- after 30 years the problem is still too much or too little contrast! It's only the magnitude of the problem and ones ability to deal with it that changes. The fastest way to success is to find someone who has a good neg and can make a good print. Trade negs, or better yet, get into the darkroom together and print each others negs. The problem will be probably be identified in a couple minutes and you'll learn more about printing than a week of reading books (though that's not a bad idea either). The fun factor goes up as well.

-- Conrad Hoffman (choffman@rpa.net), June 24, 2001.

I say try some Ethol LPD developer with a 1:2 dilution. This will give a bit of a cold tone look but may get you closer to where you want to be. Also, try selenium toning your prints that you have already, you may be pleasantly surprised.

-- Scott Walton (f64sw@hotmail.com), June 25, 2001.

Dektol should be used diluted 1:2, not straight. Also, is the paper fresh or has it been stored for a while and/or in a warm place? I think that if you try new paper and the proper Dektol dilution, you'll be happier. Also try a number 4 or 5 filter to boost the contrast. Good Luck!

-- Paul Maciejewski (dryfly@buffnet.net), June 25, 2001.

Are you able to make satisfactory prints from the negatives processed and printed by your local lab? If you are able to make resonably good prints from those negatives, you can focus your attention on your film processing. If you can't print those negatives satisfactorily, then you need to address your darkroom technique.

On the film end, assuming you gave the negatives proper exposure (this is a BIG assumption; unexposure could be the entire problem), then it sounds like the negatives are underdeveloped. You didn't say *what* the "recommended time and temperature" you actually used were. You also didn't say how often and for how long you agitated the film. As a starting point, you should agitate constantly for the first full minute, then 10sec/min thereafter. This particular procedure is not cast in stone, but you should do it the same way every time. I would also check the freshness of your chemicals, especially your D-76 and your fixer. Lastly, check your thermometer against another one.

In the darkroom, check your safelight. It might not be safe, or it could be too close to your paper. Try making a test strip and leave it under your enlarger with just your safelight on for 0 (no light)/1 minute/2 minutes/4 minutes/8 minutes, then process the strip and see if the entire strip is clean white. If there is any tone, note the point of departure and you will know how long you can safely work with your paper uncovered.

Lastly, I would check your darkroom chemicals--developer and fixer. If you have ANY doubt about their freshness, discard them and mix fresh solutions. Incidentally, you can use Dektol straight; it will just yield more contrast. In any case, straight of diluted, it would not cause your problem. How fresh is your paper? Did you buy it used or outdated?

If all else fails, post again with the results of your tests and provide more details. Good luck.

-- Ted Kaufman (writercrmp@aol.com), July 01, 2001.

Dear pple,

a big thanks to all those who helped me in my desire to print better photos! I can't say I've succeeded, but I do know at least what's wrong. The main fault was underdevelopment, and after developing another roll yesterday and marvelling at the contrast differences between this negative and the previous, well...I hope this new negative will yield better prints! Just for everyone's information...this time round I developed Tri-X with D-76 at 20 degrees for 9.5 minutes. It's a tad longer than the stipulated 8 minutes but so far it seems good to me. There's still a lot to learn...I'd especially like to figure out the different grades of paper to use depending on the negative. Are there any other softer Matte rc paper besides Ilford Multigrade IV?

Once again, thanks!

-- Alex Tham (deckard@cyberway.com.sg), July 04, 2001.

I came into this a little late but it seemed to me that noone really stressed keeping the print in the developer for the full time you have decided on. With Dektol 1:2 try 2 full minutes - you will find more detail and learn patience at the same time. By the way, an old Fred Picker tip was to keep a good print (of course he thought his was just the ticket) in the darkroom. The number one mistake I made in the darkroom thirty years ago was to pull the print too early, thinking that it looked about right under the safelight! Good luck.

-- Fred McLaughlin (famcl3@aol.com), July 08, 2001.

It could be underdeveloped negatives or the wrong contrast grade of paper. But one that was not mentioned safelight fogging. I had the same problem at a college darkroom I was using. Every print I made was flat and muddy. The cause turned out to be safelight fogging. Varable contrast paper is more prone to fogging than graded papers. Place a sheet of paper on your easel and cover half with a piece of cardboard, then expose it for 5 minutes with just the safelight on, then develope normally and see.

-- wdnagel (wdnagel@home.com), July 13, 2001.

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