Printing difficult high contrast negatives
Split grade printing is the third post in this series. I will be discussing my preferred technique for printing from a high contrast image. This is with the goal of making a full tonal range silver gelatin fibre based print. My earlier posts discussed Overdeveloped negatives and the importance of Contact Proof Prints.
Split grade printing
I prefer to use the method of split grade printing, especially when dealing with difficult negatives. It breaks the printing down into, what are for me at least, more controllable steps compared to using a fixed paper grade approach. Using variable contrast paper you have the option of using either approach that fits you best. And just because you are using variable contrast does not mean you cannot also employ other contrast control measures. Such techniques like masking, flashing and two bath development can be used to fine tune your prints.
Pre-flashing the print highlights
For this print I chose to pre-flash the lower two thirds of the image with non image-forming light. The aim of the pre-flash is to boost highlight details in the forest understorey, by heightening the sensitivity of the emulsion to the main print exposure and thereby encourage more highlight detail to become visible in the print. Such a small pre-flash exposure does not affect the darker print tones to the same extent as it does the highlights.
Soft grade exposure first, then add the hard grade
When I split print I start with a soft light exposure to determine the correct exposure for an important area of print highlight. To that base exposure I might dodge (subtract) certain areas of exposure from the print or burn-in (add) exposure. I then work with the hard light exposure, again using a base exposure with dodging or burning as required. Les McLean has written a short but excellent introduction to split grade printing in his “Articles” section on his web site.
Breaking down the printing into small steps
The images above show the notes I write on the back of a print in china pencil before exposure, outlining all the steps I plan to make during the print exposure under the enlarger.
The numbers next to the steps refer to exposure times. I am using an f stop timer, so a burn of 2/3 equates to additional exposure of 2/3 of a stop. Therefore a 6/3 burn in the last step during the soft light exposure equates to a 2 stop increase in exposure compared to the main print. Likewise, the hard light exposure has its own steps.
In the top
The split grade print
Above is the unmounted, untoned 11×14 inch silver gelatin print complete with slightly curled edges! The print will be trimmed and dry mounted. So I don’t print with generous white borders as these will be cut off.
Overall I am pleased with the progress made on this difficult negative, given that the contact proofs were so uninspiring. The additional exposure given at the base of the footbridge has worked well in the print. I will view the print for a while. There may be other areas of the print to fine tune before I am satisfied it is my best.