I started becoming more familiar with the world of making photographic prints last year, especially after I got my brand new used enlarger, the mighty Omega Super Chromega D. If this doesn’t break spectacularly at some point, this should be the only enlarger I’ll ever need. It enlarges negatives as big as 4×5, and has both black and white and color enlarging abilities.
This is what the head of it looks like:
The C, Y, and M dials control how much Cyan, Yellow, and Magenta light is projected onto your photographic paper. This is vitally important when trying to do color prints, since you not only have the different color casts from the negative to worry about, but also the color casts from whatever paper you’re using. The color paper I have has recommended filter levels to start with when doing printing.
Yesterday I did a bunch of black and white printing. In theory, to do black and white printing, you just set all of your color values at 0 and go to town. However, black and white paper comes in two types: Graded and Variable Contrast. In general, black and white paper is graded in values from 0 to 5, with 0 being extremely low contrast and 5 being extremely high contrast. Most graded paper I’ve seen sold tends to be in grades 2 or 3, although I have some old Kodak paper that is graded 4. Graded paper is pretty old school – photographers would buy paper in a variety of grades to compensate for how their negatives looked. If you had a really soft, low contrast negative, you might choose to print that on grade 4 paper. If your negatives was really contrasty, you might go for grade 2 paper.
The problem with using graded paper is that keeping a bunch of different grades of paper around can be expensive. So, in the early 1950s, variable contrast (VC) paper was invented. This is paper that you would use in conjunction with a set of filters to alter the grade of the paper. The filters range from yellow to magenta – yellow filters reduce contrast to your prints, and magenta filters add it. This way, you can buy only one type of paper and be set, because you can alter the grade of it as needed.
When I tried working with VC paper prior to getting the new enlarger, I had a really hard time with it. In retrospect, what was wrong was that my enlarger bulb wasn’t strong enough to light up the paper through the filter. I got frustrated and just set the VC paper and the filters aside (I was using a set of Ilford filters) and worked with graded paper.
However, the new enlarger has all of its filters inside of its head, and all I have to do is turn the dials to get the proper filtration I need for VC paper. Neat! I was still kind of confused about the whole process until I ran across this chart on Freestyle’s website. It tells you exactly what to set your Y and M filters at to achieve certain paper grades.
So, with this chart taped onto the wall next to the enlarger, I started making contact sheets. It made sense to me to print my contact sheets onto graded paper, in this case, some Arista.edu Grade #3. This way I could see what everything looked like at that grade, and then I could judge what grade to use when I was making my enlargements. My enlargements would be made on some Oriental Seagull 8×10 VC-RC II paper. That paper, with all of the filters set to 0, is the equivalent to a grade 2 paper.
I wanted to try making enlargements of the pictures of the house and the pony. The house picture seemed a little soft, so I upped the contrast to +100M – somewhere between grade 4 and 4 1/2, according to the Freestyle chart. Here’s the result:
I think I went a little too heavy on the Magenta filters, but whatever, I’m still learning.
I went the opposite way for the pony picture. I wanted to try softening the image some, so I set the Yellow filter at +40, somewhere between a 1 1/2 and a 1 grade.
In retrospect, what I should have done was tried dodging the pony some instead of softening the entire image, but burning and dodging are things I haven’t tried yet (I’ll get around to it sometime). Anyway, you can at least see the effect of changing the paper grade with these pictures.
When I was making contact sheets, I wanted to see what my 4×5 waterfall picture from the other day looked like. To my horror, it was entirely underexposed.
After I had a sad about it, I decided to see if I could salvage anything from it by using filters. I jacked the Magenta up to +150 (the equivalent of slightly higher than a 4 1/2 grade) and made a print:
Not too bad! It’s still not contrasty enough for my preferences, but I think I know how to improve it if I’m going to try making the same print again: increase the magenta to +170 M (the highest magenta filter my enlarger can do), and then maybe dodge the water portion of the photo so the cliffs and the trees get darker. And if that still doesn’t get dark enough, I can always try adding some of the Ilford enlarging filters I have under the lens of the enlarger in order to add extra magenta filtering.
It’s starting to make sense to me, which is pretty cool. Here are some of my test strips I did at various contrast levels:
If you go through to the Flickr page, it shows what filter levels I used to get the different results.
I’m not entirely satisfied with the results of what I did yesterday in terms of getting a perfect print (which, let’s face it, I’m probably never going to do – I’m just too sloppy. There’s always hairs or dust on my negs, no matter how hard I try to clean them). The prints were either a little too contrasty or not contrasty enough, and it’s hard for me to judge them when they’re still wet. However, by keeping notes, I can tell what I should try if I want to go back and make a print from the same negative. For example, this Unisphere print?
Could be just a touch more contrasty. I still like it, though (mainly because the Unisphere = AWESOME!).
Something else I tried yesterday was making a black and white print from a C-41 color negative. The problem with doing that is that the heavy orange color cast on the negative makes the negative read as extremely low contrast if you try to print it on black and white paper. For example, things turn out like this:
So, to try and get a feel for what kind of filtration I should use, I did a test contact sheet of some C-41 negs.
From left to right, I used filtration values of +80 Cyan, +80 Yellow, and +80 Magenta. As you can see, both the Cyan and Magenta filters did something good, and the Yellow filters made things go horribly, horribly wrong.
So, for the next contact sheet, I used a combined filter value of +160M and +100C.
I decided to try and make an enlargement of one of the turtle pictures. I used some Arista Graded #3 paper for the enlargement, although in retrospect, I probably should have tried using the VC paper. Oh well. Next time. Anyway, with filter values of +170M and +115C, the enlargement turned out like this:
Not fantastic, but not too bad, either. For comparison, the color scan of this image looks like this:
I think I may try doing some more color enlarging next, at least if my chems are still good…