Monday, 14 July 2014

The Power of Selenium

  I've spoken many times on this blog of how much i enjoy working a negative until i get the final print that i want.  I love working out the dodging and burning for different areas of the print and thinking about the toning i want to do to complete it.  That being said, this print was an absolute killer.  Once again it is from my recent holiday away to the eats cast of England to enjoy the pleasant life of a fishing village for a week.  I have been here many times before and fancied some new spots to shoot so i had a quick look around online before i headed out.  A little bit of research revealed a somewhat hidden bay on the coast complete with rock shelves and nabs (a nab is an outcrop of rock which the sea has not eroded - think stack).  Perfect!  We ended up going there for a day midweek and had a fantastic time walking the dog and relaxing on he sand and rocks.  Of course, i had my Bronica kit with me and was going a bit trigger happy.  I took this shot low to the ground with a nice shapely rock in the foreground and a distant nab and cliff in the background.  The sky seemed good so marvelous, i could burn that in as much as need be upon my return to the darkroom.

  After i developed etc i setup a flat print (after determining the best overall exposure using split grade test strips) i got a flat print exposure.  And it looked rubbish.  So, off i went exploring my dodging and burning options - sheet after sheet after sheet after sheet of paper was used (i was using Slavich Unibrom for it's cold tone and nice heavy weight).  I got a print i was semi happy with and decided to tone (after a wash of course).  I copper toned for a short period then put it into selenium - after a few minutes large white spots started to appear (this is where we learn to selenium tone before copper) so i scrapped it, deciding it didn't look right anyway.

  No amount of dodging and burning that i did made the print look right.  I wanted something dark and i just wasn't getting it.  Perhaps i'm just not at the skill level to do that kind of print yet - hopefully one day i will be.  It's prints like these that really test me!

This is the best i got alas.
   After hours of trying and eventually running out of Unibrom i knew it wasn't happening - i just couldn't get any "pop" out of the print.  I decided to clear my mind and approach it from a lith point of view.  Sometimes, if i'm honest, lith feels like a bit of a cop-out.  I suppose that's because i'm not spending hours configuring dodging and burning charts, i'm just picking an exposure and slapping some paper in a tray.  There is more skill to it than that, and there's nothing wrong with dodging and burning for lith - a fact i had to reassuring myself with.

  Now one of mankind's oldest questions - which paper to use.  After much deliberation i decided to go for Fotospeed Lith paper as i knew it would give me a dark feel and suitable colouring.  So, i picked my exposure and developed until the sky had good detail.  After snatching, fixing and washing i was left with this:

  Good, i thought, but not quite there.  The shadows are a!  As is usual with my lith prints i like to see how they react to selenium toner.  In this instance i chose a dilution of 1:5 as i knew it would give more of a colour change than a weaker ratio.  I popped the print into the tray and it went nuclear!  The shadows got absolutely obliterated, the sky darkened dramatically and almost all detail was lost in the foreground rock.  I felt crushed - all that hard work wasted.  I decided to let it dry and think about my next step.

  After a few days of moping about and being busy with work i went back to look through my prints and you know what - i decided i liked the final print i got.  I was suitably dark and it was moody.  It probably isn't going to go down in history as one of my greatest prints but i like it so i decided to leave it there and move on to another negative.  But then again - looking at the above photo of my pre-toned print, i'm liking that as well...

  One thing we learn - never underestimate the power of selenium!

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