darkroom printing, #2

In my earlier post I described a bit about what I’ve learned so far about darkroom printing, namely that it’s much more involved than I ever realized and that almost everything you can do in Photoshop can be done to paper prints. Here’s an image that required the most significant “post-processing” I’ve done so far by hand, in the darkroom:

The above is an un-processed digital scan of a frame from a roll of film that met with a bit of a darkroom accident–when I processed the film, I read the directions for mixing the developer incorrectly, and ended up processing the film in a seven-times too concentrated developer. I’m pretty lucky my negatives were salvageable at all! The negative was, to say the least, very dark, even looking at it on a light table through a magnifier (i.e., it’s not just a bad scan). But I’d had some luck saving the image in Photoshop at home, and it was one I really liked, so I thought there was no harm in seeing what I could get on paper.

Step 1: I made a test print (um, actually quite a few test prints, this is the one closest to what I wanted to see). As you can tell, it ended up being possible to print a proper image, even from the super dark negative. (Yay!)

Step 2: The lighting across the picture was really uneven and because of the over-concentrated developer, the shadowy parts were disproportionately shadowy, so it was impossible to get a good exposure across the whole paper. I needed the leaves in the foreground to be brighter than it was possible for them to be without some intervention. My instructor recommended “dodging” the image, which just means covering the part of the image you want to be lighter with something, so that that part of the paper is exposed for a shorter time (making it lighter). Because I just wanted the leaves to be brighter, I made a stencil outlining their shape for dodging.

Step 3: The first attempt at dodging was a bit much, and the resulting image was way too bright. (Although generally speaking, it seems to be much easier to go overboard in the first few steps, and kind of scale back whatever you’re trying until it’s just right. If you never go past the right spot, it takes way longer to find what the right spot is!) So I tried on a few more pieces of paper to get the leaves to look how I wanted them.

The final print:

And here’s the before and after for comparison:

You can see the amount of detail I was able to bring out of the blackest parts of the image, especially in the lower left and right corners. So, there’s quite a lot of leeway in printing to save a bad negative and end up with a pretty picture, and I ended up liking the darkroom print much more than the version I post-processed in Photoshop. (It only took about 9 hours!)

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