Printing question for a complete beginner : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

I have been teaching myself slr photography for the last year or so. Recently, I took a roll of black and white film and had it developed by a local photo store; I thought they turned out pretty amazing.

I thought that I could enlarge some of the prints myself, using our University's photo club darkroom services. I had been in there a few times, watching friends make develop film and make prints, so I felt confident about going in there myself - trial and error, right? I was using Ilford multigrade iv paper. However, once I made the prints, they did not appear to have as much contrast as the prints that were made by the store. Where certain things like the sky and details should have stood out prominently, turned out very grey and muted. Very little contrast. As well, all my original prints were sharp in detail... in my 5 x7 prints that I made, the edges of the photo lost a lot of its sharpness.

What could I have done wrong?

-- Mabel Li (, October 22, 2001


Mabel, There are a few possibilities; First you should make a test strip of the negative you would like to print in order to determine the correct exposure (I won't get into detail here on this procedure as it is readily available in most sources). If you still can't get the contrast you like, make other test strips using poly contrast filters. I would start with a #2 and work up. Some folks prefer starting out with filters for test strips when using a multigrade paper, but I have found that the only time I need the filters is when I am enlarging greater than 5x7. Be open to experimention and write everything down. Before you make a print you can write information on the back of the paper: f-stop of enlarging lense, time intervals, etc. A pencil works well and it will not come off in the chemical baths. If others who are using the darkroom are getting good results, this would rule out the possibilities of poor darkroom conditions: light leaks, too strong of a safelight etc.


-- Ken Bruno (, October 22, 2001.

Find the variable-contrast filters that go with the Multigrade paper and start with a no. 3. Then, if the contrast is too high, use a no. 2, and if too low, use a 3.5 or 4 filter. The right filter and exposure time should get youj what you want to see.

-- Keith Nichols (, October 22, 2001.

Mabel: The first prints I made were awfull, so don't get depressed. I just wonder though, if you took the film to the store, did you use a colour process B&W like Kodak CN400? The guy at the lab calls it "The Devil's Film". I don't know, but maybe it is the films masking which is designed for colour printing paper? Hmmm, just a thought. Keep trying, it's worth it. After a few attempts, your ho-hum will be twice as good as the machine prints. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, October 25, 2001.

Thanks everyone for your help! Dean, I was using Kodak's TMAX 100. I know that I didn't use any contrast filters and that could have been where I went wrong, so I will be returning to the lab to make reprints. This time I will make test strips first. Cross your fingers. What I'm still having trouble figuring out is why my images lose their sharpness near the edges - I'll have to play around with the aperture on the enlarger's lens.

Thanks again!

-- Mabel Li (, October 26, 2001.

For maximum sharpness, focus with the lens wide open, and then carefully (so as to not knock anything out of alignment) stop down 2- 3 stops to obtain a good depth of focus. When you’re focusing, put a piece of paper under the focus scope that is same kind of paper you will be using during the printing.

If this is a university photo club, it would be best to make a friend who can observe your printing and make some recommendations. It is very difficult to solve these kind of newbie problems over the internet.

-- Michael Feldman (, October 26, 2001.

Mabel - The edge sharpness problem could be the result of the enlarger being out of alignment, very likely in a student lab environment where enlargers get heavy use. Three planes - the negative stage, lens, and easle - all need to be exactly parallel. A poor quality lens also loses sharpness at the edges, but it shouldn't be so obvious on a 5x7 print. You might check with the lab manager on this sharpness issue, and maybe try different enlargers.

Good luck!

-- Greg Fight (, October 27, 2001.

There is a device called a grain enlarger which you place on the surface of the enlarger tray (on top of a piece of paper the same thickness of the printing paper). With the lens wide open you can explore the sharpness of the print from corner to corner, and re-align that enlarger. Stopping down as far as you can works as well. If you find the test strip times are driving you nuts, then you can get a rough time at a reasonable setting, then for each F-stop on the enlarger lens double your exposure time. Fine tune from there.

-- ted (, October 29, 2001.

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