The Online Darkroom Store

Friday, December 6

Cropping out the hard bits


contrast, speed graphic, 127mm, ektar, 5x4, 4x5, large format, ilford, multigrade, spur, straight black, analog, analogue, photography, darkroom, print, enlarging, enlarger
This is a big scan and worth a click to see it full size.
This is the photograph I mentioned in my earlier post about the derelict transport office. It's a 5x4 shot but you'll maybe notice it's a little bit squarer than that? I'm not religious about printing full frame but that's always the goal so I wasn't too happy to crop this shot in scanning and might well stick with the full frame.

The problem is the bottom of the photograph. Light was coming from a window high up to the right and the floor, desks and the underside of the chair were receiving very few photons. These areas are all seriously underexposed. Here's the negative:

contrast, speed graphic, 127mm, ektar, 5x4, 4x5, large format, ilford, multigrade, spur, straight black, analog, analogue, photography, darkroom, print, enlarging, enlarger



The challenge here, as with the derelict transport office shot, was to wring some detail out of the shadows. The solution was much the same: print those areas using a hard filter grade to get as much tonal separation as possible. My first test strip using one-half stops showed that the basic exposure for the shadows was around six seconds. I then did a test strip in one-quarter stop steps around the six second mark.

With the RH Designs analyser Pro I was using, the automatic test strip mode comprises seven steps. The first three were muddy grey, the middle one not too bad and the rest almost black. With negatives this thin and at a grade five filter setting, a quarter stop can make a huge difference. So I made a third test strip at one-twelfth stops and arrived at an exposure of just over 6s.

I exposed a sheet of 10x8 at that setting and was pleased with the top half of the print but still not happy with the shadows. The grade five helped to accentuate the side-lighting and bring out the texture in the bricks which was good. But the shadows were still very dark and largely detail-less. And yet, any less exposure and there wasn't a good black down there.

Right, so I thought I'd leave the shadows as they were and concentrate on the rest of the print. The top of the desk on the left got an extra half-stop, and the wall, calendar and chest of drawers on the right got an additional stop-and-a-half. I'm pleased with the upper part of the pic but those shadows are still bugging me. Taking the lazy man's way out, I decided to crop them out for the pic at the top of the page. I think it's a crop that works well but I'd still like to keep the whole frame if possible.

contrast, speed graphic, 127mm, ektar, 5x4, 4x5, large format, ilford, multigrade, spur, straight black, analog, analogue, photography, darkroom, print, enlarging, enlarger

If you ask my pal Phil Rogers what the meaning of life is he'll reply "pot ferri" and I think that is the best solution for these shadows that refuse to give up their secrets. I'll mix some bleach up and give the bottom of the print a gentle swabbing to bring out the detail. I don't need to get a lot from the shadows: just a hint of texture would be fine. That's the full neg above. You might notice that I also cropped in a little from the right hand side in the main pic at the top of the page to get rid of a distracting highlight down the edge of the chest of drawers.

Uncropped, the centre of attention is the chair. Cropped as in the main pic at the top of the page, the calendars take centre stage. It's the chair that caught my attention when I walked into the office which is why I'd like to print it full frame. The idea that, at some point in the distant past - in fact, most likely October, 1985, judging by the Associated Tyre Specialists' calendar on the wall - the man or woman who had occupied that chair for goodness knows how many years just got up, walked out and never returned, is quite poignant. The office was as I found it and probably how it was left all those years ago.

3 comments :

Hernan Zenteno said...

In what paper are you printing this photo? I remember that Ilford variable contrast papers don't worked well with bleach solutions, stains were the main problem as I remember.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

It's Multigrade MG IV RC, Hernan. I'm still using up some paper I've had for a few years. I'm going to be buying some good FB paper shortly to start printing a portfolio on.

Herman Sheephouse said...

You know Bruce - I reckon Ilford MG loses some of its contrast over time . . can't prove it but just an observation.
As for the prints . . well I (typically)prefer the uncropped (slightly cropped) one . . nothing wrong with big shadows! It's a really good photo AND print - you should be chuffed.
The meaning of life indeed. Well done that man.