Monday, 27 May 2013

A Bank Holiday with Eddie

  Finally at last i got a decent session in my darkroom.  As many of you will know today is bank holiday Monday here in the UK.  Basically that means that everywhere is shut and everyone is out mowing their lawns and washing their cars.  Well they would be if it wasn't raining for a change.

  As Jess works at a hotel she doesn't have the day off so i dropped her off at 7 this morning and then headed straight into the shed to start printing.  Now, i recently shot a friends wedding on film and had a few frames left over which i went on to use on the coast at Lytham.  I decided to print one of the shots from that roll which i  really thought would let me get creative.  You see, i've been very inspired lately to give my printing skills a boost.  The book 'Creative Elements' by Eddie Ephraums is to blame entirely.  I saw it sitting on a shelf in a used bookstore and had a thumb through.  It looked interesting enough so i bought it and ever since i've been dying to have a good go at some negatives.  If you're into darkroom work i highly recommend you get this book.  In it Ephraums basically goes over ten or so of his shots and explains in detail how he got from camera setup to final print.  You know those shots you take and when you print them they just look dull and uninteresting?  Prepare to be inspired to dig them out again!  That's all i'm saying for now - if you want to know more then get the book!

  So, i decided to try and apply some of the things i had learnt from Ephraums' book to the negative i was planning on printing.  A straight print from the negative is just a bit...well...meh.  it's nothing special, very grey and flat.  Considerable dodging and burning was going to be required to get on paper what i saw in my head at the time of exposure.

  To start with i did a test strip (i should note that i have started using the f-stop printing method and i find it so much easier than dodging and burning by time - i'll be using this method from now on i think) and chose 18 seconds as the correct overall exposure time.  This gave me the tonality i wanted in the wood, which is the most important part of the picture.  The highlights were spot on where i wanted them but the shadows were weak, even though they had good detail.  I decided to step up from grade 2 to grade 3 to give the shadows a kick, even though it would mean a little loss of detail in the shadows.  I kept the exposure time the same and after processing the paper i was happy with the final result.

  Now came the fun of trying to realise the print i wanted.  I ended up using a lot of trial and error (and paper!) trying to get the sky how i wanted and getting the foreground nicely burned in etc.  You can see what i finally decided upon in my notes below:

  I spent ages working on the sky and couldn't get white clouds on darker sky until i realised that the sky was getting a hefty bit of exposure at grade 3 in the base exposure (sometimes it's just the obvious things that elude you for ages).  So, during the base exposure i dodged the sky for 1 stop (9 seconds) to ensure the clouds would be quite white ready for burning in later.  Next i focused on the foreground as i wanted it to be a lot darker, leading the eye towards the centre of the picture.  The right hand side got +1/3 of a stop (+4.7s) and the left hand side got +2/3 (2 exposures of 4.7s).  The very top of the sky then got +1/2 a stop (still at grade 3) to darken it slightly ready for building on later.  All edges were then given a +1/3 of a stop burn to darken them slightly and gently push the eye towards the centre of the frame.  I then switched to grade 0 to burn in the long white grass along the horizon and part of the foreground.  Had i merely extended the base exposure this would have affected the tonality of the wood which i wanted to maintain as it was.  Grade 0 would burn in a little highlight detail without affecting the shadows.  I decided that +1/3 of a stop would suffice to bring those highlights down.  Next i switched to grade 4 1/2 to burn in the sky and clouds.  I did several small passes up and down the sky with a piece of card during the +1/2 stop exposure.  This gave a gradational burn to the sky and enhanced cloud separation which is exactly what i wanted.  Finally i used a little bleach from a toning kit to paint over the sky just above the horizon.  It was very grey and kind of melted into the clouds above.  Lightly bleaching (with diluted bleach) separated this sky from the clouds above and the horizon line below.  It's easy to get carried away bleaching as i found out on a previous print - i had to go back and reprint it all.  Keep water nearby to wash the bleach off!

  After a good washing i bleached the whole print back in potassium ferricyanide/bromide 1:7 for 5:30 whereupon much of the highlight detail in the long grass had disappeared and some of the cloud highlights were starting to go.  I washed again and then sepia toned to completion.  After another wash i toned in selenium for 1:30 which gave the print a little kick.

  Finally after all that work i got this:


  And i'm really really happy with it.  It was so nice to focus in on one print and really work it.  Figuring out the dodges and burns required to get the print in your mind onto the paper beneath the enlarger.  Ephraum's book was invaluable in giving me the kick i needed to get creative.  I'm really looking forward to the prints to come.   have a few projects in mind and i am hoping to apply the new skills i've learnt to those too.