FAQ Printing, with Silver Gelatin.

How to make good prints quickly?

Silver Gelatin Printing Tips

I encounter several reoccurring mistakes with students learning to 'print'. Especially with fibre based silver gelatin papers. After time management which I think affects us all, maximising information garnished from a test strip is one of the next easiest fixed issue that can be addressed by any student quickly and easily. [Even I need to learn better time management skills!] There are others.

They are:-

Making time count.

The best way to make time count is to get the most out of each test strip. So how does one get the most information from a test strip, in the immortal words of real estate agents the world over. 'Position position position'!

Careful placement of the initial test strip will allow you to make quick decisions based on the feed back you receive from the test strip, if that placement is optimised to give that feedback. So put the test strip in a position where you can give a trial exposure to BOTH the shadows and the highlights in a single test strip. These two main areas the HIGHLIGHTS and SHADOWS, govern decisions on exposure time and contrast or filter choice. If the test strip has both highlights and shadows then the choice made for the best exposure time can be checked against the corresponding shadow value, and if needed a change can be implemented at this stage saving one whole test strip.

Of course the actual placement will vary from print to print, so long as the test strip includes the necessary tones the printer can save lots of time.

Learning from our Mistakes.

This may seem really simple but it takes a students a while to realise this, but the simple act of bringing the last test strip out with you each time you need to look at your work will help immensely I t will have a two fold effect.

  1. You will learn more about printing quicker
  2. You will learn if you are making the right kind of decisions quickly.

So bring each test strip or work print out of the darkroom every time you need to examine your results and before you know it you'll be a 'gun printer' in no time. Writing on the back of your test strip as well helps immensely, use pencil though!

Enough is Enough

Sometimes it is better to face up to reality and just re-shoot or try another negative. If you have made your proof sheet to edge black, then maybe you wont even need to go in the darkroom, but sometimes this 'judgment' gets the better of us and we 'think our negs are ok'. If you have been in the darkroom for many hours and have nothing concrete to show for it then perhaps it's time to re-shoot. Learning when a neg is beyond printing is the hardest lesson to learn of all.

Here's some questions/answers to help you make that choice.

Q. Have I tried both different aperture exposure combinations to get a good white and black? None of them come close less time makes the white too grey, a higher filter makes the print too harsh or not harsh enough?

A. The neg is probably so badly exposed and developed that no end of work can fix it, time to re-shoot.

Q. I am up to huge time say over 150% more time for burning in on this print?

A. This neg is so over developed that no end of work will fix it time to reconsider it's worth or re-shoot

Q. Looks like some one tried to skate on this neg or did I really take that shot in snow storm?

A. In the days before Photoshop extreme patience was needed here, now it's not so tough. The quantity of imperfections though may even make Photoshop™ a no goer here.

In the end you need to evaluate the quality of the shot and it's suitability in your folio/job. Does it justify 4 days in the darkroom? Maybe you can justify continuing with it then if it is that ONE shot! Is it impossible for me to go back and re-shoot? Then - sigh - you'll just have to keep slugging away at it. More possible answers another day.