I stumbled upon this article on the Filmwasters website a while back and asked its author, Jeff Warden, if I could publish it here. He kindly agreed. It's a good description of one way of doing split grade printing and will give you a good understanding of the process if it's something you haven't tried before. There's always more than one way to skin a cat, though, and other photographers will use different methods of split grading. Jeff's technique is well-explained, however, and the sample photos he uses to illustrate the various stages do a great job as well. So over to Jeff.
Split Grade Printingby Jeff Warden
For the past few days I have been experimenting with split contrast printing. I have enjoyed the process of learning how to do it, so this post is for those who haven't tried it but have an interest.
I'll be walking you through the numbered prints above. I'm loosely following the technique outlined in the book 'Way Beyond Monochrome' by Ralph Lambrecht.
The idea of split contrast printing is to forget about contrast, and just print highlights (with a low contrast filter) and blacks (with a high contrast filter) with separate exposures on the same page. The midtones are supposed to take care of themselves, mostly. There are advantages and disadvantages to this process, but the first advantage is that you quickly get to a 'working print'. I think split contrast printing might be faster than single contrast for me.
Check the image above. The first step is to find white while using the lowest contrast filter possible, the 00 filter. (Filters go from 00 to 5 in ten steps). You can see on the first test strip 3 seconds is too bright and 6 seconds is too dark, so I made another test strip using only 4 and 5 seconds. I decided on 5. Printing the entire image like this (which I wouldn't normally do but did today so you could see it) would result in image 1 below, which has nice lighter values but no dark ones:
The next step is to establish blacks. The process is the same as establishing white, except you're using the highest contrast filter, #5. The test strips below show that process:
I didn't label those, but I think you've got the idea. The best black also happens at 5 seconds, and if we were to print the entire image that way (which we wouldn't) it would look like image #2, below. Notice there is no sky at all:
Now that we know where black and white are, all we need to do is expose one paper twice; one five second exposure at 00, and one five second exposure at 5. The pleasing result is below:
Now we have a working print that goes all the way from black to white, and has all the values between. It's the starting point for dodging and burning. So let's get on with ruining the thing. :-)
The cool part about split contrast printing comes when you want to dodge and burn, because you have multiple opportunities to do it, during or after the high and low contrast initial exposures. You can softly dodge the barn during the 00 exposure for instance, to add some brightness to the highlights of the wood without affecting the shadows. If you were exposing the image only once (say, with a #3 contrast filter) and dodged the barn both the highlights and shadows would lighten.
For me, that's a real benefit of split contrast printing.
Now a personal preference - I like 'straight prints', so I like print #3. Normally I would just stop there, but for sake of experimentation I decided to burn some depth into the water and sky. The water was pretty straightforward, a simple six second burn using the 5 filter:
The sky was trickier. Recall from image #2 that the 5 filter has no effect on the sky whatsoever. I decided to try a burn test strip at 00, but the results weren't quite right, so I tried again using a #3 filter and liked that more. They look almost identical here but in person there is a difference.
So, let's put it all together. To make the "final image", we:
expose 5 sec at contrast 00
expose 5 sec at contrast 5
burn water 6 sec at contrast 5
burn sky 8 sec at contrast 3
That gives us image #4 below:
I vaguely recall a quote from Ansel Adams where he said he didn't know if he had gone too far until he actually did it, or something like that, and I think this print goes too far. I do like the added depth in the water, but the sky just looks 'burned in' to me, which of course it is.
So I backed up one step, grabbed the working print from before and just selenium toned it (which adds some depth to the dark values without affecting the light). It doesn't have the same pop as image #4, but I sure like it more as a straight print. It looks like the scene I remember:
So this is the one I'll keep.
That's it in a nutshell. I hope you enjoyed it!
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