Split-Grade Printing, Silver Gelatin

I actually do make silver gelatin prints. I’ve been away from the medium for a while, mostly concentrating on alternative processes. I needed a break from alt process work so I cleaned up my workspace, fired up the enlarger, and started printing my Paris images you might remember from earlier blog posts. With my new (to me) Oriental VC-CLS variable contrast cold light head (a lot of jargon for a light source that allows you to adjust the contrast in your print by changing the ratio of blue and green light exposing the paper), I’ve been having a blast cranking out prints, and the Oriental head makes it a lot easier to do split-grade printing.

For those unfamiliar with the idea, instead of making a single exposure at one contrast grade, and then doing a lot of burning and dodging to make up for it, with split-grade, what you do is make two base exposures, one using a very soft contrast (in my case, most likely grade 0) and a second using a very hard contrast (grade 5). What this does is the soft exposure lets you get your highlights with detail, and the hard brings the shadows in to snap. You still need to burn and dodge for specific things, but you can refine the overall look as the image requires, without getting frustrated at why a certain area always comes out too dark or too bright. You can refine this technique to include your burning and dodging cycles, so that you might burn an area in with the grade 0 filter to put detail back in the highlights but not blocking up the shadows, or with the grade 5 filter for putting deep black in a shadow without muddying up the whites in the same area.

I’ll give an anatomy of a split-grade print here so you can better understand what I’m talking about. This is a real challenge to print “straight” – it’s a high contrast scene, with the dog-walker being somewhat backlit, and the upper left corner a lot brighter than the rest of the scene. This is the finished print here:

Dog Walk, Rue Sevigny, Paris
Dog Walk, Rue Sevigny, Paris

Here is the scan I made from the negative, which also had a fair bit of manipulation. Less successful, wouldn’t you say? The dog walker is still strongly backlit.

Dog Walker, Rue Sevigne, Le Marais
Dog Walker, Rue Sevigne, Le Marais

To make this print, I gave it a base exposure of 20 seconds using the grade 0 filter. I dodged the dog walker for 10 of those. Then I burned in the upper left corner for an additional 20 seconds. I gave a final overall exposure of five seconds at grade 5, to put a little snap in the general scene and specifically to firm up the shadows on the dog walker without losing tonal separation for his buttons, the cords of his iPod earbuds, and the hair of the dog. Were I making this print larger, I’d go back in and burn the sidewalk between his legs and the dog back down a bit, but in a 7×7 inch print, accurately wielding a burning card with a hole that small is tough!

This was printed on Ilford Warmtone variable-contrast fiber paper, using Ilford Warmtone developer. I’m not applying any fancy tricks to the developer like playing around with developer dilution or split warmtone/cooltone developers. That’s a trick for another day.

Quick takes from today’s Intro to Platinum/Palladium class

I’m running a quick impromptu by-the-seat-of-the-pants version of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class this weekend. It’s a bit of a hash because we had scheduling conflicts of varying types to deal with, but we did manage to meet today. My normal plan with students is to take them out into Glen Echo park and have them shoot a bunch of negatives with my 5×7, then come back and process them. WELL… today, the daytime high was still below freezing, so we scratched that idea. Instead, we shot some self-portraits indoors using my Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens, a 1000-watt hot light (a VERY welcome hot light given the weather today!) and an improvised guillotine shutter composed of a pair of dark slides, held in a V-formation. The “shutter” starts with the lower dark slide completely covering the lens, and to allow exposure to happen, the pair are swung past the lens so that the gap between them briefly allows light to strike the film. Exposures can be a little variable, but these are forgiving media.

Here is one shot of one of my students:

Barbara, Hermagis #1
Barbara, Hermagis #1

and here are two of me:

Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #1
Scott, Hermagis #1

I brought the Hermagis to class to give the students a little something special to play around with, since they both had past experience in working with large format, and I think the soft-focus lens fits very well with the alternative process print look.

Of the two of me, which do you all prefer? I know which one I like better, but I’ll wait to get some feedback before I offer my opinion. All three of these are scans from the negatives, not from prints. We will be meeting again tomorrow to do the actual printing.

First Photos of the New Year

Well, ok, I actually shot these on the 30th of December, but they got processed today. This is perhaps the best three-frame panorama I’ve shot with the Rollei panorama adapter so far. It’s ALMOST seamless.

Ice Rink Panorama
Ice Rink Panorama

This is the ice rink they set up every winter in the fountain of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. The imposing building in the background is the National Archives.

The Joys of Photography – Digital Edition

In my practice of all kinds of photography, problems arise that you don’t always expect. I’m used to humidity issues with antique and historic processes like gum bichromate and platinum. Of course, any light-sensitive material has to be treated with respect or you’ll ruin it. But digital photography was billed as a sort of end-all solution to everything that plagued wet darkroom photography. You just insert the paper in the printer, hit ‘print’ and a couple minutes later, out comes your perfect print, all in room light, no odor, no chemistry, no fuss.

Well… it turns out humidity (something unavoidable in Washington DC for 2/3 of the year) which is a big plus for antique and historic processes and a non-issue for silver-gelatin and RA-4 wet color printing, is a major enemy for inkjet printing. I had a box of Brilliant Museum SilverGloss White paper which I had been using to print my big exhibition prints. It turns out that over time, the paper had swollen from what I can only assume was moisture absorption and would not go through my printer without head strikes and smeared ink in the corners of the prints. I was trying to finish up a print job for a sale I made of four prints, and I ruined the remaining sheets of Brilliant I had. I was in a bad jam because Brilliant was Calumet’s house brand, and Calumet is no longer a serious player in the US (two remaining stores in Chicago, and an absolutely worthless single-page web page saying “call us for what you want!”). Ordering from Calumet UK, who does carry it, is a really bad idea as the shipping cost would probably equal the cost of a box of paper, AND in the UK and the rest of Europe, their paper sizes are all based on the A notation instead of inches.

I loved the paper, but it is effectively no longer available here. So off to B&H Photo I went (virtually) and found the new Harman by Hahnemuhle Gloss Art Fibre paper. It’s virtually identical in weight (a gorgeous 300gsm heavy-weight fiber paper) and paper brightness. Another upside- a 30 sheet box is cheaper than a 25 sheet box of Brilliant! After having made two prints on it this morning, I can rest happy that I can keep printing my existing series of prints with it without any loss of quality. I’m also glad I can support a major player in the analog market (Ilford/Harman) with my digital purchases.

High Heel Race, Dupont Circle, 2014 – Part 6

The last of the High Heel Race images from this year. Attending is fun, especially to see all the creativity that gets put into the outfits, most especially from the teams who invent a group theme costume. I swear there are some that start planning next years costume the day after this year’s race, like the fast food themed group or the Washington monuments group of a couple years ago.

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One of the most enjoyable parts of attending is the joie-de-vivre of the participants AND the attendees. These women were having a grand old time on the patio at Fox and Hounds. They also actively solicited me taking their photo.

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This lady also wanted her photo taken, and was directing me to take the picture of the drag queen in the photo above: “ooh, did you get her? You have to get her! She’s beautiful!”. Her boyfriend/husband was actually not so thrilled with the idea of being photographed, but when he heard it was not going to be in the newspaper, he relented. You can tell, though, from his expression here it was very much HER idea :) .

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One thing that is getting very frustrating about photographing the race, though, is the organizers. I realize they have a tough job to do, to keep a very large, and by the time the race kicks off, very drunk crowd under control. But for those of us not blessed with traditional media connections to obtain a press pass and for whom one of the primary reasons for attending is photography, they’re becoming killjoys. The organizers seem to be losing sight of the fact that this is a fun, free-spirited, countercultural event and that being control nazis and bullying photographers is just really uncool. You want good press, let us do our thing and we’ll reward you with great photos and great write-ups about the event. Keep stepping on us and we’ll stop coming, stop taking pictures, and stop showing the world what kind of fun event this is. .

High Heel Race, Dupont Circle, 2014 – Part 5

Again, not so many words needed.

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Now that is some FIERCE hair!

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She reminds me a bit of Divine post-Atkins diet. More than enough polyester pantsuit to go ’round.

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The devil/angel made me do it!

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Would you call this “masculine glamour”?

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Overheard: “We have an ‘unconventional’ relationship…”

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These guys actually asked me to take their photo!

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The less genetically graced cousins of Rocky Horror and Frank N. Furter:

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Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

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