Monday, 25 March 2013

How To: Make Black & White Print Part III - Split Grade Printing

  Split grade printing is a powerful tool in the printers skill set and when used correctly it can yield fantastic results.  For some people it works all the time, every time; for others it’s a bit hit and miss; and some just can’t get seem to get the hang of it at all.  Hopefully this tutorial will help you get to grips with the process and give you the impetus to give it a try yourself.

What is Split Grade Printing?

  Basically speaking split grade printing involves making two exposures of two different grades onto the one sheet of paper.  This will result in good overall contrast across the print, deep shadows and crisp white highlights.  It also opens up more avenues for dodging and burning (but we'll go into that in greater detail on Part IV).

The Process

  You will need all the equipment we have already discussed in parts one and two of my black and white printing tutorial.  Setup your enlarger and chemicals as previously and choose your paper (for this example i will once again be using Ilford MGIV RC VC).  Now, instead of dialling in grade 2 or 3 we will be using the softest (or lowest) grade our paper can manage (usually 00).  

  If you look at the filtration table on the datasheet that comes with your paper you will see different filtration settings ranging from 00 to 5 (dual filtration settings may only got up to 4.5).  As you can see from the table below, grade 00 on my Kodak style enlarger requires a setting of 162Y/0M.  Dial that setting in, put your paper on your easel and make a test strip in the same way we did in part two of the tutorial. 

  Once you have developed your print let it dry.  Here is an example of a test strip at grade 00 from 26s - 0s:

  As you can see it is very low contrast indeed and shadow areas are very grey, not black.  Examine your test strip and look for the time that gives you the highlight tones you want. Ignore shadow areas for now and ignore the lack of contrast – your focus should be entirely upon the highlights.  Once you have selected your time make a note of it and, if you want to, make a full print at that time to see how the highlights across the whole print look.  From my test strip i decided to go for 11 seconds.

  Now its time to create your second exposure.  Put a new sheet of paper onto your easel and make your grade 00 exposure on  it (11s in my case).  Once your exposure is done don’t move the paper because you’re going to do another test strip on it.  This is where having multigrade filters trumps using a colour head because you need to change the filtration.  If youre using multigrade filters just swap your 00 for a 5, if youre using a colour head you will have to cover your lens, run your enlarger, change the settings and then shut your enlarger off.  

  Looking back at your paper datasheet youll see that when using dual filtration on this paper grade 5 is not possible but grade 4.5 is.  That’s fine, just use as high a grade as you can.  So, for grade 4.5 on Ilford MGIV RC VC we need to dial in a setting of 0Y/150M.  Dial that in and then make a test strip on your paper.  Develop it as usual and let it dry.

  What you will have is a print with a base exposure at grade 00 and a test strip of grade 4.5/5 over the top.  Note that the grade 4.5/5 exposure doesn’t really effect the highlights much, just the shadows.  This is the key to split grade printing – your soft exposure (grade 00) effects the highlights, the hard exposure (grade 5/4.5) effects the shadows.

  Pick the hard exposure that gives you the shadows you want.  Here’s my test print (again 26s - 0s):

  After much consideration i ended up choosing the 16 second exposure.  Once you have chosen the your exposure time your ready to make your print.  Go through the steps above – make your soft exposure followed by your hard and you should be left with a print showing good overall contrast, strong shadows and crisp highlights.  Here’s my final print:

  There are a few problems though, if your soft exposure is too long then your highlights will be muddy and overall print contrast will be reduced.  If your hard exposure is too short then your shadows wont be deep enough and again, overall contrast will be reduced.  It may take you a few prints to get to grips with the process but once you get the hang of it it becomes a really versatile and useful technique.

  When you are first starting out with split grade printing i find it is best to make a few prints with one negative.  Make a print with a long, medium and short soft exposure combined with a long, medium and short hard exposure.  This will show you how the two exposures work together to change the print contrast.  In the end though it boils down to one simple rule: soft exposure for the highlights, hard exposure for the shadows.  Remember that and you shouldn't go too far wrong.

  As i mentioned at the end of Part II I will be discussing dodging and burning in Part IV of this tutorial, but until then keep printing!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Slightly Delayed Wedding

  Now i'm no real fan of digital cameras but it does have its uses.  For example-weddings.  Weddings are a massive pain at the best of times, let alone when you add to pressure of photographing them.  Fortunately that's not really something i'm into.  My wife, however, is another matter.  She loves to shoot portraits so when she was asked to shoot a friends wedding she jumped at the chance.  I decided to play at being a second shooter using my trusty Bronica SQ-A and some Tri-X 400.

  The day went really well and everyone had a great time.  Jess got some great photos (and proceeded to spend the next 3 months editing them) and it was nice for me to try something a little different. 

  I developed the films in Rodinal and (as seems to be the norm for me these days) I lith printed a few onto some Orwo BN118.  Here's the three best that I made:

    Jess did a great job with her digital shots as can be seen here (and if you desire a well-priced and very talented photographer for your wedding just drop her an email).

  All in all it was a good day enjoyed by all, and its always nice to see a friend get married.
P.S.-Yes that is me in the band that you can see on Jess' blog...

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

In Loving Memory Of...

  I very recently lost my Grandma.  Over the past few years she had been falling a lot (she still lived at home without help) and was in and out of hospital.  She went in again shortly before the Christmas holidays and things kept going wrong and unfortunately we lost her.  It's always a difficult time when you lose a loved one and i was especially close to my Grandma.  At 94 years of age she had many a story to tell!  She swore by a diet of cream cakes and whiskey and could pack away a carvery platter in ten minutes flat.

  We had the funeral on Monday and each family member decided to take a flower from the bouquets we had brought to remember her by.  I decided to set up a simple tabletop studio to photograph the flower so i could have something permanent to remember her by.

  I used close up filters on my Bronica SQ-A and shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 film.  The film got developed in Rodinal 1:50 for 16.5 minutes (most data says to develop for 13 minutes but i've always find my negatives come out a little to thin).  I decided to lith print them for a grainier/older look.  I used Fotospeed LD20 mixed 15ml A, 15ml B, 30ml old brown, 640ml water and printed onto some old Orwo BN118 paper.

  I printed the teacup one first and it took 26 minutes before i pulled the print, the second print (the flower in the pot) took almost an hour!  Good job i had my Ipod plugged into my dock in my darkroom!  From this we learn that the more low values there are in a print the quicker your developer will exhaust!  I think i may try these prints in second pass lith at some point too, i think the greys and pinks you get with this paper could work well.  For now though i'm really happy that i took these photos; it's a nice reminder of all the good times i've had with my Grandma and everything she meant to all of the family.