Monday, 14 July 2014

The Power of Selenium

  I've spoken many times on this blog of how much i enjoy working a negative until i get the final print that i want.  I love working out the dodging and burning for different areas of the print and thinking about the toning i want to do to complete it.  That being said, this print was an absolute killer.  Once again it is from my recent holiday away to the eats cast of England to enjoy the pleasant life of a fishing village for a week.  I have been here many times before and fancied some new spots to shoot so i had a quick look around online before i headed out.  A little bit of research revealed a somewhat hidden bay on the coast complete with rock shelves and nabs (a nab is an outcrop of rock which the sea has not eroded - think stack).  Perfect!  We ended up going there for a day midweek and had a fantastic time walking the dog and relaxing on he sand and rocks.  Of course, i had my Bronica kit with me and was going a bit trigger happy.  I took this shot low to the ground with a nice shapely rock in the foreground and a distant nab and cliff in the background.  The sky seemed good so marvelous, i could burn that in as much as need be upon my return to the darkroom.

  After i developed etc i setup a flat print (after determining the best overall exposure using split grade test strips) i got a flat print exposure.  And it looked rubbish.  So, off i went exploring my dodging and burning options - sheet after sheet after sheet after sheet of paper was used (i was using Slavich Unibrom for it's cold tone and nice heavy weight).  I got a print i was semi happy with and decided to tone (after a wash of course).  I copper toned for a short period then put it into selenium - after a few minutes large white spots started to appear (this is where we learn to selenium tone before copper) so i scrapped it, deciding it didn't look right anyway.

  No amount of dodging and burning that i did made the print look right.  I wanted something dark and i just wasn't getting it.  Perhaps i'm just not at the skill level to do that kind of print yet - hopefully one day i will be.  It's prints like these that really test me!

This is the best i got alas.
   After hours of trying and eventually running out of Unibrom i knew it wasn't happening - i just couldn't get any "pop" out of the print.  I decided to clear my mind and approach it from a lith point of view.  Sometimes, if i'm honest, lith feels like a bit of a cop-out.  I suppose that's because i'm not spending hours configuring dodging and burning charts, i'm just picking an exposure and slapping some paper in a tray.  There is more skill to it than that, and there's nothing wrong with dodging and burning for lith - a fact i had to reassuring myself with.

  Now one of mankind's oldest questions - which paper to use.  After much deliberation i decided to go for Fotospeed Lith paper as i knew it would give me a dark feel and suitable colouring.  So, i picked my exposure and developed until the sky had good detail.  After snatching, fixing and washing i was left with this:

  Good, i thought, but not quite there.  The shadows are a!  As is usual with my lith prints i like to see how they react to selenium toner.  In this instance i chose a dilution of 1:5 as i knew it would give more of a colour change than a weaker ratio.  I popped the print into the tray and it went nuclear!  The shadows got absolutely obliterated, the sky darkened dramatically and almost all detail was lost in the foreground rock.  I felt crushed - all that hard work wasted.  I decided to let it dry and think about my next step.

  After a few days of moping about and being busy with work i went back to look through my prints and you know what - i decided i liked the final print i got.  I was suitably dark and it was moody.  It probably isn't going to go down in history as one of my greatest prints but i like it so i decided to leave it there and move on to another negative.  But then again - looking at the above photo of my pre-toned print, i'm liking that as well...

  One thing we learn - never underestimate the power of selenium!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Keep on Rolling

  Rather excitingly i have a new paper to use for lith - Kodak Polycontrast III.  

  I found it on a classified listing and as you can see - it's a big roll!  I haven't used paper on a roll before but £10 for this 40inch wide, 100ft long paper seemed too good an opportunity to miss!  I'm hoping to get into the shed this weekend (if Jess let's me - the sun makes her want to go out and do things) and give it a try.  A quick dip into the internet has revealed that it is indeed lithable so i'm thinking of either buying or making some huge trays and making some mega lith prints!  I will, of course, keep you posted on how it goes.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Break From the Norm

  By now you're probably fed up of seeing me post landscape after landscape.  I'm sorry but that's pretty much all i've been shooting lately.  Not even a shipwreck has crossed my path in the last couple of rolls i've shot.  I did, however, shoot a test roll when my wife got her new Pentax 67 (yes, i have converted her from digital - jackpot)!  There was one frame on it that i decided would potentially look good lithed. 

  So, i loaded up the enlarger, focused, chose some ancient Foma Neobrom 211N paper and set about making a test strip.  Imagine my surprise when the print actually developed well.  This paper is old.  Really old.  It's in a paper packet and even the lightproof sleeve is paper!  Surprising, then that it developed so well.  In fact, it developed so well i decided not to lith it and just make a straight print.  Fortunately the paper i had was the right grade (2 i think) and so i chose an exposure, burned each edge for 1 stop extra to provide a nice border and developed in Ethol LPD 1:4.  The keen-eyed among you may note that this is a cold tone paper and i'm developing it in warm tone developer.  Deliberate!  The final print gave of a lovely sharp silvery tone which was a delight to behold (until i obliterated it with toner that is).  As always my hand ended up reaching for the selenium toner.  I gave it a few minutes in 1:5 toner until it started taking on a warm brown tone, then i slipped it into some bleach (after a wash of course) and gave it a slight sepia hit in the highlights.  This resulted in the final print:

  Yes - rectangular, not square!  It's not one of my greatest images but i think it's ok.  Sometimes it's nice just to be able to blast out a quick print without having to go round and round sheet after sheet after sheet of paper (speaking of which - i have a post coming up soon which covers an absolute demon of a print).

  So what do we learn?  Sometimes it's nice to print something simple and easy to give yourself a confidence boost and to get those juices flowing again!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Thoughtful Cliff

  So despite saying in my previous post that i was going to update more i haven't updated in over two weeks!  Sorry!  But, good news - i have made my first print from my recent holiday to the north east coast of England, and here it be:

  I shot this on a very sunny day in the town of Saltburn.  It is printed onto Ilford MGIV FB Warmtone paper using Ethol LPD diluted 1:4 and toned using selenium 1:9 and a bit of sepia.  This is my first time using a non-neutral developer and i have to say i loved it.  If you are unfamiliar with LPD it is a wonderful developer which allows you to change tonality (not contrast) using dilution e.g. use it 1:1 for cool tones and around 1:4 for warmer tones (obviously tonality will depend very much on the paper you are using too). 

I like to think of the clouds as little thought bubbles coming out of the cliff. 
  I'm pretty pleased with this print, i really feel like i am starting to get into a rhythm and personal style with my printing.

  I made this print using the split grade printing technique, as i have done with so many others.  I did a soft exposure test strip, selected the best exposure for highlights (remembering to go a bit heavy as the sepia toning i had planned would lose a little highlight detail), then i did a hard exposure test strip and selected the best exposure for that (again, taking into account the added density that selenium toning would yield).  It's always good to have a good think about toning either before printing or during proofing so that you can account for any lost/added density that may result form the toners you use (that reminds me - i should really do a few tutorials covering toning).   I knew with this print that i wanted a selenium/sepia split so i deliberately overexposed the highlights and very slightly underexposed the shadows.

  So, after making a base print of my combined soft and hard exposures it was time to think about dodging and burning.  The cliff was looking pretty blocked up so i did a bit of a burn on the soft exposure and a dodge on the hard exposure - this evened out the contrast a little whilst maintaining the "pop" of the cliff.  Then i did a very slight hard exposure burn on the sky to add a little extra depth to the clouds (the use of a grad filter at the time of exposure had already helped darken the sky to a pleasing tone).  Then i did a bit of an edge burn around the sides and base of the print to draw the eye into the centre (i did this on both the soft and hard exposure).  I think this really works on the base of the print as if the sand was all the same mid tone the eye would be drawn off the bottom of the image.

  To finish off the print i did some very very light bleaching (followed by a fix) of the cloud highlights and the band of light across the sand (i used potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide bleach from a sepia kit diluted 1:9).  This helped add a bit more "pop" to the highlights but i had to be carfeul that this combined with sepia toning would not cause any highlight detail to be lost.

  After a good wash (in my newly constructed print washer) i bleached back the print until the upper midtones were just starting to be affected and then toned in standard sepia toner.  After a quick wash i then transferred the print into selenium toner mixed 1:5 for a few minutes which added a nice dark purplish hue to the print.  I then did a final wash and left the print to dry before scanning.

  I'm really pleased with how this print turned out and i am loving Ethol LPD as a print developer.  I'm going to try some coldtone papers with it soon and a stronger dilution and see what effects i can get.  In the meantime i've still got plenty more frames to be printing from my trip away.

  I hope some of you have found this post useful and, as always, keep printing.