So, I got up at 6:00am yesterday morning. On a Saturday, no less. I was up pretty late the night before making final preparations for the fetish show for which I was a contributing artist. If you know me well, I am not an early riser.
So, what would get me up at such an absurd hour? In a word, silver. I had the opportunity to join one of my friends to work in a darkroom to make silver prints using traditional black and white darkroom processes. My friend Bill Earle arranged for us to visit with his friend Chris Miller and we had part of the morning and afternoon to use his wonderfully equipped darkroom to make some prints. I used to have my own wet darkroom a few years ago, but haven’t had it setup and well stocked in years. So to have the chance to print some of the negatives that I’ve been shooting with Bill’s Hasselblad was a rare treat.
I have also been researching a new technique of making negatives from digital files that can be printed onto Pictorico High-Gloss White Film with an inkjet printer and then contact printed onto 11×14″ sheets of black and white photo paper. I took some of these digial negatives with me and wanted to attempt making some prints from them as well.
It was an ambitious plan! For anyone who has attempted making traditional black and white prints, it can be a very time consuming process. And throwing in an unknown process of making digital silver prints, it was without doubt a tall order.
The digital negatives actually printed quite easily after a few glitches. The setup was to use a large piece of glass to hold down the negative on top of the photographic paper. We made a few test prints to determine exposure and when we tried to make the final prints, everything came out blurry. The reason was that for the test strips we used a half sheet of paper, but fir the final prints we used a full sheet and this difference in surface area left enough air betwen the negative and the paper to throw things out of focus. So once we got over this hurdle, by compressing the air out, we actually got some very interesting prints. They went into the print washer and we moved onto making some prints from one of my regular film negatives.
Bill was actually a big help in getting a good print by showing me a very interestig technique of making prints. It’s a split contrast method wherein, you make one test print with a contrast 0 filter to establish your highlight tones, then once you’ve established the correct exposure for the highlights, you make another test strip with a contrast 5 filter on top of the highlight exposure. This gives you your shadow details.
As Bill revealed this technique to me, it was apparent to me that this was very similar to a technique I discovered for processing digital images in photoshop. The technique involves duplicating the base layer and setting the blend mode to Screen. This establishes my highlights and I can lower the opacity of this layer or use masks to reduce this effect. Next, I duplicate the base and set the blend mode to Soft Light to bring up the shadow detail. Again, opacity and masks fine tune the effect.
I’ve encountered a lot of people who have issues with digital photography, claiming that the skill, technique or finesse. But in reality, any good digital photographer knows that an understanding of solid imaging and print making techniques can bring even a digital image to the level of fine art.