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Advanced printing techniques part 3 - Third in a short series of advanced darkroom printing techniques by Eddie Ephraums
Words & Pictures Eddie Ephraums
This photograph of Glen Coe contains a small, isolated building in a large,
open landscape and has been printed to create an individual, distinctive sense
of place. It's almost totally devoid of all information about the landscape.
All that is visible is the building, the stream and the break in the clouds.
Its content is minimal and the approach quite abstract. My intention was to
make an image that spoke of a presumably precarious balance between man and
the natural elements.
With this in mind, a cold, thiocarbamide tone seemed most appropriate for Glen Coe. I didn't want a colour, which would inappropriately liven up the view. The sun seems about to be shrouded in low-lying mist - and it was.
I made various prints of differing balance and tone. It was remarkable how much these altered the atmosphere of the photograph. For example, I experimented by printing the sky a heavier tone. It produced a rather unsatisfactory, solid, and static weight of cloud, that bore down too heavily and overdramatically on the print. Keeping the cloud a little lighter in tone, as in the final print, but darkening its edges, has given it a greater sense of volume and dimension. Looking at the final print, I like to think the cloud is actually moving forward, towards the viewer, whilst in contrast the line of the stream is taking the eye in the opposite direction, towards the light. In between sits the building, not just as the focal point of the photograph, but as a fulcrum around which this activity is taking place.
When I print certain negatives, such as this, I like to visualise a point within the final print upon which I could balance the image.If I look at a finished print and find it hard to identify such a place, then, more often than not, I know my printing is at fault.
Landscape photography is not a passive process. Although some subjects immediately catch the eye, and are easily recorded on film with little if any creative input, others may remain lost from sight, unless we are prepared to look for them and to work at them. Just as we can learn to visualise scenes in black & white, we can also develop the ability to see the potential of a location, even if the weather conditions, or the angle of view from which we first view the scene, are not in our favour. And so it was here. My first view of the scene left me unimpressed, until I tried to visualise what the location could look like, given the right weather conditions and an alternative viewpoint. Previous visits to Scotland gave me an idea of the type of misty conditions I could expect, and told me that first light would be the most likely time of day to capture this effect. It paid off.
35mm Nikon FM2 camera, with a 50mm lens set at f/8. In my haste to expose the film, in between brief periods of good visibility, I suspect I forgot to check the camera focus, having composed the scene with the lens set at infinity. Fortunately, for a scene like this, where there is very little near foreground included in the frame, and what there is of it is printed dark, there was little likelihood of the print looking unsharp, except through camera shake or poor printing.
The Rodinal processed negative was fine, with good tonal separation and very crisp grain clearly visible even in the 10x8in proof prints.
Original shot on Ilford XP2 ISO400 film
Even a good negative, with a full tonal range, plenty of shadow detail and easily printable highlights, won't necessarily be simple to print. View it on a light-table and, yes, it is easy to identify those areas that may benefit from burning-in or dodging, but enlarge the same negative, up to, say, 20 x16in in size, and it can be very difficult to identify the same areas under the dimmer light of the enlarger. In this case, the border between the ground and the sky (which I wanted to burn in) is quite well defined in the negative, but virtually impossible to detect during print exposure. So, I stuck some white masking tape to the black blades of the easel, to act as a clearly visible burning-in markers. When it came to burning in the sky, I simply aligned the burning-in card with these, markers and then slightly moved it up and down this invisible line for the appropriate period of time. The print has been made on Multigrade FB matt.
After very much standard processing, I briefly rinsed the print, and then, with the darkroom viewing light on, I locally bleached the line of the stream with Farmer's reducer, using a medium point brush for the more delicate detail. I also applied a little bleach to the house, but not so much as to reduce the density of the building back to paper white. In my estimation that would look too overstated and very contrived.
I had a few seconds to expose this scene before it was again shrouded in mist. The composition of the proof shows how slow I was to react.
I used a 1/2in diameter black card dodger to lighten the stream, and then one of 1 1//2in diameter for the house and surrounding area. A fifteen-second basic exposure gave enough time for both jobs.
A very rough black & white proof. The burning-in is too heavy-handed, to the point where the image lacks any kind of subtlety.
The print was made at grade 4, with the exception of a small bright area of cloud. It was burned in at a softer, grade 2 setting, to avoid a dark halo effect.
The colour of this toned version seems inappropriate. The balance of the print is similarly undecided, taking the image neither one way of the other.
Bleaching these dodged areas with a medium point artist's brush has lightened their highlights but left their blacks intact. Dodging alone could not achieve this effect.
The unretouched house blends into the background all too easily, so I knifed the ridge-line of the roof.
A close-up of the final, toned and retouched print. Retouching took almost as long as printing, but it was worth the effort. Even viewed from a distance, this print works.
|The final print was a thiocarbamide-toned print.|
About the author
Eddie Ephraums started his photographic career as a specialist black & white printer before working solely on his own projects. He has regularly lectured and given workshops at various colleges and professional institutions including the Royal Photographic Society in Bath.
He has written extensively for British magazines on creative black & white work, toning techniques, archival processing and platinum printing.
This article is a short extract that can be found in the excellent book Creative Elements - Landscape Photography - Darkroom Techniques published by Fountain Press. Click on the link to buy the book for 24.95.
NB the pictures displayed here are low resolution scans from the book. The book has fantastic quality reproduction.