The last two weekends, I’ve been teaching an Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class. In the past, I’ve only taught it from film negatives, but this time I did it with a module on making digitally enlarged negatives as well. It was a rousing success- I had a great time teaching it, and I had some very enthusiastic students, all of whom were very seriously interested in continuing with the medium.
Last week, we started out learning basic coating technique, talked a bit about paper selection, and the importance of a good negative to work from. To expedite the process, I provided students with negatives that were already processed for platinum/palladium printing.
This week we covered making images from digitally enlarged negatives. I had students bring in a selection of images on thumb drives and we picked one or two to make negatives with. Here are my assembled students with finished prints from our digital negative printing session. The prints are much warmer in color in this photo than they are in real life because I took this on my iPhone in mixed lighting.
A better representation of some student prints. We also tried doing Ziatypes (a variation on palladium printing that is a printing-out process rather than a developing-out process, and by default has a much cooler, silvery tone to it than a pure palladium print does). The two images in the center row – left center and dead center – are Ziatype variations. The woman’s portrait was from a 40+ year old in-camera 8×10 negative not specifically developed for alt-process printing, but it worked quite well. The soft edges are from the fact that the negative was not processed archivally and is starting to silver out.
I have two upcoming classes this spring at Glen Echo Photoworks, Introduction to Large Format Photography, and Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I’ve scheduled them so that students of Intro to Large Format can have somewhere to go with their new camera skills. Intro to Large Format runs March 11th – April 22. The course covers what you need to know to take advantage of the medium – we start with the basics of the cameras themselves – different camera types, their parts and how they work, why to choose one type over another, lenses and lens selection. We move on to film selection and film handling, loading film and developing it. There are modules on portraiture, still life/tabletop, landscape and architecture. For the Architecture module we’ll do a field trip down to the National Cathedral.
Due to student interest, I’ve acquired several cameras for student use in-class. If the popularity continues, I’ll look into getting one or two more and setting up a rental program to allow students to check out cameras for the duration of the class.
The next class is Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I will be including a module on making and using digitally enlarged negatives for platinum/palladium printing with this course. This class runs May 5th and May 12th. This course covers the history of the medium, materials and techniques. We discuss the various tools for making prints – brushes vs coating rods, UV light sources (the sun, black-light fixtures, other options). We go over paper selection and paper handling. In this intro class we will make palladium prints because palladium is the easier medium to work with, but we will discuss and demonstrate the differences between platinum and palladium. Contrast control techniques will also be covered, and developer chemistry as well. We will work from both in-camera negatives that we make that weekend, and from digital files students bring and/or create from scans.
To register for the classes, click on the links below:
I felt the need to get back into the darkroom and do some printing lately. And I was inspired by watching an instructional video from Bostick & Sullivan on making digitally enlarged negatives for alternative processes, specifically Platinum/Palladium.
I was familiar with the basics of the process, having read multiple books and web tutorials on the subject. What has always tripped me up was the process of creating my own adjustment curve. Well, the generous folks from B&S have put the curve they use on their website to download and use after running the video tutorial. I figured I would give their curve a try.
This is the first print I made with their curve. The original is a 6x12cm negative shot on Ilford FP4+ black and white film using my Lomo Belair X/6-12 camera. I followed their instructions in the video to the letter, including using a quantity of NA2 contrast agent.
They also mentioned adjusting the ink density down a bit to keep contrast under control. Well, I like the idea of printing pure palladium without adding any NA2 because the NA2 alters the color tone of the prints and makes them cooler.
I made the negative for this image (and the following image of the National Gallery of Art) without reducing the black ink, and not using any NA2. I think the balance worked out well – the contrast is where it needs to be, and the color tone remains nicely warm.
This staircase was a true test of the capability of digital negatives to render the subtlety of tone possible in a palladium print. I’d say it passed with flying colors. The tone remains rich, warm chocolate, the highlights are delicate and creamy, and there’s surprising detail down into the shadow tones.
My apologies for the image scans – they’re direct scans of the prints, and my scanner picks up paper texture to a degree not visible to the unaided human eye (I can see texture only under a loupe that may be visible in the scan).
So where does the sous-vide in the title come in? Another long-standing issue with the process is that the Potassium Oxalate (PotOx) developer is happiest at around 130 degrees F. I can get water close to that hot out of my tap to use as a tempering bath, but within a short while it returns to room temperature. I found this sous-vide machine and the 18 quart bucket on Amazon for under $100. I put them to use this morning and if the above three prints are anything to judge by, they’re staying in my darkroom! The prints are amazingly consistent from print to print (it took me about 3 hours this morning to get all three prints done, but the developer remained at a constant temperature throughout).
Something interesting about developer for platinum/palladium printing – unlike film or paper developer, this stuff never really goes bad. Your total volume will drop with use, but that is solvable by replacing lost developer with additional fresh developer. The bottle on the left is the first ever bottle of Potassium Oxalate I bought – I’ve just been replenishing it and filtering it as needed for over a decade now.
Prints are 100% palladium, 6 drops each Palladium / Ferric Oxalate #1. Developer is Potassium Oxalate, 130 F, 2 minutes. Paper is Bergger COT320. Negatives are enlarged onto Pictorico OHP ultra-premium transparent inkjet medium on an Epson 3880 with K3 Ultrachrome inks. All three prints are 4″ x 8″.
This weekend was module one of two in my revised Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class. Module One covered making images from in-camera film negatives. Yesterday we went out in the park at Glen Echo and shot some film with my 5×7. This first image is one of the student prints from that outing – the rocks and water in the stream that runs through the park.
This second shot is a happy accident – one of my students wanted to do portraits, and shot this and another one (which we didn’t print) of two classmates. What we didn’t realize at the time, which was very much my fault, was that those two sheets had previously been exposed by me on an outing with my Intro to Large Format class to the National Cathedral, but not developed. So we had two negatives of students in the woods superimposed on the facade of the National Cathedral. In the other one, the student’s face was obscured by the rose window, but here it works well. We were joking that it would make a great political campaign photo.
Here are my students busy coating paper and working hard.
Another faculty member had been given this UV exposure unit by one of our long-time patrons, Grace Taylor. Grace is now retired from photography as she’s in her late 90s, and had given it to him when she stopped printing. At the time he passed it along to me, he said it might have an electrical issue and so may or may not work properly. I was leery therefore, but determined to give it a try. If it didn’t work, I would still have a fallback option of the blacklight compact fluorescent fixture I’ve used before. Fortunately, not only did it work, but it worked well. It gave us very fast exposure times (3 minutes was our base exposure, instead of the 6.5 I normally get with my own unit or the 7-9 we were getting with the CF fixture). So Grace, if you’re aware of this, a big thanks for your UV unit, it has found a new home and is once again being productive!
This was another student image, this time one that one of the students brought in, from a digital negative she had made herself. The shot is an interior of one of the hotel rooms at the Chateau Mormont in Los Angeles. This foreshadows next weekend’s module, making digitally enlarged negatives for alt process printing. She had made this negative using the Dan Burkholder method, including using the printer adjustment curve he supplied as a download. The curve he supplied is a good baseline starting point, but as we saw in several tweaks of the print through the day, using someone else’s curve is not a true substitute for making your own.
I’ll have the students work through making their own curves next Saturday, and then we’ll make some digital negatives of our own and print from them. I’m having them use Ron Reeder’s book, Digital Negatives for Palladium and other Alternative Processes as the textbook for the digital negative process, specifically focusing on creating adjustment curves rather than using QTR to interpret the adjustments needed to create the negative. Ron covers both techniques in his book, and going through the ordeal of making a QTR to adjust the printer output has the advantage of being non-destructive to your digital file (meaning that it doesn’t make any permanent changes, so you don’t have to create multiple files to print negatives for each alternative process you want to use), but for all but the computer-geekiest of folks, it’s way too intimidating.
I have a great crop of students this time (well, I almost always do!) and I think I’m having at least as much fun as they are!
I’m going to be running my Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class again this fall, with an expansion into making digitally enlarged negatives. The new class will be a two-weekend course, September 19th & 20th, 26th & 27th. The 26th will be from 1-5 pm due to a morning scheduling conflict, but the rest of the sessions will be from 10 am – 4 pm.
Platinum/palladium is the catchall term for two chemically interchangeable but visually distinct printing processes first pioneered in the 1870s by William Willis. As the names imply, they use platinum and palladium as their primary metal salt in image formation. A platinum print will be more of a cool gray tone with higher contrast, and a palladium print will be more of a rich chocolate-brown tone with lower contrast. They are capable of producing very long tonal scales, rendering very fine gradations, therefore needing very little if any manipulation during printing. Platinum/Palladium are also among the most archivally stable printing processes – when properly processed and displayed, your prints will last as long as the paper underneath them.
I traditionally have limited the class to working from in-camera negatives because I want to give people the best possible opportunity to start by making successful prints. As a friend of mine, Ian Leake, puts it in the new edition of his book on Platinum/Palladium printing, “it is possible to make a successful print from a problematic in-camera negative, but it is extremely difficult to make an even marginally successful print from a problematic digital negative” (I’m paraphrasing here).
The addition of making digitally enlarged negatives opens up the process to a whole new range of photographers, as shooting large format is both an encumbrance and a cost that is not for everyone. We will still begin the class with a full weekend of making in-camera film negatives and printing from those negatives. For that class, I will supply the camera and the film. We’ll make our images in and around the park, process the film, and then spend the next day printing.
The second weekend will be devoted to making digitally enlarged negatives and printing from them. We will cover scanning, preparing your file, and printing the negative. I have a required text for the course, Ron Reeder’s “Digital Negatives for Palladium and Other Alternative Processes” which you can order on Amazon. Ron gives a very concise, clearly illustrated and explained step-by-step for how to produce a proper digitally enlarged negative, tailored to the process you want to print with. His technique is not limited to platinum/palladium, but once learned can be applied to any and all alternative processes.
Just wanted to post a print made by one of my students, from my Advanced Topics in Platinum/Palladium printing. The advanced topics class covers contrast control techniques, working with different papers, making digital negatives, and gum-over-platinum prints. This was made from a digital negative we created in class from a medium-resolution JPEG! I’m impressed. Patrick will have a print to be proud of as a result of this class.
By the way, I will be re-running my Intro to Platinum/Palladium course at Photoworks, October 20-21. If you are interested, please sign up now, while there’s still room!
Here is the first print in a series I’m working on. I’m going back through some negatives I made in 2004 with my Hasselblad on a trip to Spain. This shot is the cathedral in Salamanca, or more specifically, both cathedrals – the Romanesque and the Late Gothic/early Baroque, which oddly enough was built into the older cathedral instead of replacing it. I forget the reasoning off the top of my head. After I get a half-dozen or so printed, they will be going to a new gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia called Manu Propria, which specializes in handmade photography. The print is palladium, made on Bergger COT320 pre-treated with fumed silica.