Tag Archives: Oriental Seagull VC-CLS head

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.

Oriental Seagull VC-CLS Cold Light enlarger head manual

I think I mentioned this previously – there was a man here in DC who was getting rid of his darkroom and contacted the school where I teach about donating it. He also sent the inquiry out to all the faculty. One of the items he was disposing of was an Oriental Seagull VC-CLS variable contrast cold light head that fit a Beseler 45Mxx series enlarger. I happen to have a Beseler 45-series enlarger, so I told him I would be interested in the head. At the time he delivered it to me, he didn’t have the owners manual with it, but said he thought he still had it and would get it to me if he found it. Being the skeptic that I am about such things (I know myself and my best of intentions), I started searching online for a copy. Nobody had one. I had several requests, though, from folks saying “if you do get it, could you please please pretty please with sugar on top make me a copy”. A few days later, I got an email from the man asking me for my mailing address – he found the manual and would mail it to me. Now I have it and I’ve made a PDF file out of the manual. I’m posting it here for folks who need a copy.

Seagull VCCLS Manual

As a side note, I spent half of Saturday this past weekend unpacking and cataloging the darkroom equipment he donated to my school – 16 boxes in all, including some beautiful enlarging easels, a 16×20 print washer, an Omega D-series enlarger with 35mm, 2 1/4 square, 2 1/4 x 2 3/4, and 4×5 negative carriers, and a Beseler 45-series enlarger complete with Adjus-table (a specialized table made to fit the enlarger that would allow you to drop the baseboard so you could make bigger (20×24 or even larger) prints without having to flip the head and do wall projections). Every darkroom accessory you could think of was in this bundle, including the empty 1 gallon and 1/2 gallon chemical storage bottles. The bottles, and the darkroom trays, and everything else for that matter, was packed in styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap sufficient to protect it from a nuclear apocalypse. If I don’t see another styrofoam peanut for a year, it will be too soon.