The Darkroom
The Lowdown On VC Papers; A Versatile Choice For A Variety Of Negatives Page 2

Twin-Filter Printing
True split-grade printing is printing one part of an image at one grade, and another part at a different grade, as described later. Confusingly, many people use the same term to describe twin-filter printing, where you expose the whole image twice through two different filters or at two different filter settings. Twin-filter printing can work very well, but the theory behind it is often misunderstood.

The common misconception is that you can "lay down" the highlights by printing at one grade, then "lay down" the shadows by printing at another grade. In reality, you cannot. There will always be a single contrast grade which will give identical effects with a single exposure, because the characteristic curves of the two emulsions combine to give you a single, intermediate contrast grade.

For example, if you expose your print for 5 seconds at Grade 0, and 5 seconds at Grade 5, the results will be very close to what you would get at Grade 21/2 with a 10-second exposure. They may not be identical--you might need 2.4 or 2.6--but if you could dial in that grade, the results would indeed be identical. The same would be true with (say) an 8-second exposure at Grade 11/2 and a 2-second exposure at Grade 3. You would need a 10-second exposure at somewhere around Grade 2, but I wouldn't like to say exactly what grade.

If you get good results via twin-filter printing, then that is the way you should print. Also, with discrete filters, it allows you to print in-between grades for which you don't have a filter.

True Split-Grade Printing
There are two reasons for burning locally at another contrast grade. The first is corrective, the second artistic. As an example of the former, a negative may have plenty of sky detail, but at the exposure and contrast which makes the foreground look right the sky comes out "bald." Generally, burning-in the sky at a softer grade will reveal the lost detail. There are also times when you have good detail, but you simply want more drama and emphasis: a "looming" sky is a prime example. Or you might want to darken one particular detail, or lighten another, either to draw attention to something, or to make it less prominent. Again a series of test strips will give you a good idea of just how far you can go.

Do not, incidentally, believe anyone who says that if your prints often look better with some dodging and burning, you must be overdeveloping them. Dodging and burning are legitimate methods of control, and the vast majority of fine printers use one technique or the other, or both, on the vast majority of the prints they make.

Airplane Graveyard 2, Slovakia. This printed perfectly adequate on Grade 21/2, but I wanted to add more interest to the sky. Normally I burn skies at a lower contrast, but this sky had so much detail I went up to Grade 3. It looked better than the test strip I did at Grade 2.

This technique (which works as well with VC as with graded paper) involves giving the paper a brief exposure to overcome the inertia. As this exposure should be too brief to build any density, it doesn't matter whether you use filtration or not. If you want to pre-flash, you should test each paper you use. With no negative in the carrier, the lens stopped well down and the head high on the column, make a series of short exposures: for example, 1-2-4-8 seconds.

Let's say there is slight fogging at 4 but none at 2. Make another set at 2.2, 2.5, 2.8, 3.2, and 3.5 seconds, or if you like at 2.5, 3, and 3.5 seconds: it's not that precise. The last exposure before the one which gives you any density is your pre-flash. If there is density, you are fogging, not pre-flashing.

Settings For Color Heads
There are two families of enlarger filtration, Durst and Kodak. The Durst family includes Dunco, Kaiser, Kienzle, Paterson circa 2000, Leitz, and Lupo. To complicate matters further there are enlargers in the Durst family with 130 maximum magenta, and others with 170 maximum magenta.

The Kodak family includes Advena, Beseler, Chromega, De Vere, Fujimoto, IFF, Jobo, LPL, Omega, old Patersons, Saunders, Simmmard, and Vivitar. Meopta and Krokus are included in the Kodak family, but need slightly more magenta for harder grades. The hardest grade available from this family is 41/2 or a little harder: for Grade 5 use a discrete filter. Make your own tests and alter the chart values to suit your tastes and your paper choices.

Grade Durst 170 Durst 130 Kodak
00 115Y/0M 120Y/0M 162Y/0M
0 100Y/5M 88Y/6M 90Y/0M
1 75Y/10M 64Y/12M 68Y/10M
2 52Y/20M 45Y/24M 41Y/32M
3 34Y/45M 24Y/42M 23Y/56M
4 17Y/76M 10Y/69M 6Y/102M
5 0Y/170M 0Y/130M Not Possible

A Quick Course In Printing
There are lots of ways to learn to print. You can attend workshops or take a course at your local college, or learn from a friend. But one of the quickest ways is to buy a big box of VC, resin-coated paper and set yourself a date to finish it. Better still, buy two boxes so you don't start getting nervous when you approach the end of the first box! Yes, two boxes of paper are expensive. But how expensive is a college course? (And you'd still need to buy the paper anyway.)

VC paper gives you the flexibility of trying whatever grade of paper you need, and resin-coated paper washes and dries very quickly, so there are no long waits. You can always switch to fiber based later, if you want, but many photographers are perfectly happy to use resin-coated for most or all of their prints.

Don't worry about how much paper you have to throw away. That's part of the learning curve. Besides you can use those scrap prints for other experiments with toners or handcoloring materials.

VC Vs. Graded Papers
There are lots of different VC papers available. All paper manufacturers have them. You can buy resin-coated papers,
fiber-based papers, warmtone papers, cooltone papers, matte, semimatte, or gloss.

Even so, graded papers are still made, partly for technical reasons--some heavily textured papers are not VC, for example, because the emulsion coats unevenly--and partly because some photographers prefer them, even though the quality of VC paper caught up with graded many years ago.

Partly, too, it is for Grade 5. I keep a box of Ilford Ilfospeed Grade 5 for when I need all the contrast I can get; for example, when I am printing very old negatives which have not been properly stored. I can gain almost a full contrast grade by using this instead of my usual Ilford Multigrade Warmtone paper. If I then develop it in Tetenal Dokumol developer I can get perhaps another 1/4 grade. A box of Grade 5 has a shelf life of years, so if I don't use it up very fast it is not a problem.

And then there are also those for whom the whip-and-chair approach is the only way to make prints. Through endless testing they manage to tame all their negatives so that they print perfectly on Grade 2 every time--except that usually they don't. Couldn't that sky benefit from a short burn at a lower contrast? Might not another 1/4 grade of contrast add "sparkle"? Why limit yourself?

Developing all your images so that they print perfectly on Grade 2 is hard enough even when using single sheets of cut film: for example, the negative for Ansel Adam's famous "Moonrise, Hernandez" was water-bath developed and then locally intensified. It's probably a little easier if you always shoot in the studio under controlled lighting, but anyone shooting 35mm film or roll film of different subjects under different lighting conditions cannot by definition have every single negative print perfectly on a single grade. At this point, VC paper is the perfect solution.

VC Without Filters
It is generally reckoned that if you print on VC paper without VC filtration you will get Grade 2. With my Meopta Meograde head, and Ilford Multigrade Warmtone paper, I would say that it is more like Grade 13/4, though I don't have the equipment to test it precisely: certainly, a Grade 2 filter gives more contrast than no filtration, though you have to allow for the difference in exposure. I found that the print with the filter needed about 3/4 stop more exposure than the print without; the exact difference depends on which tone (highlight, mid tone, shadow) you are trying to match. Try it for yourself to see what happens.


Athena's picture

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