Saturday, 23 May 2015

Contact prints why?

Contact sheets
The humble contact print is a very powerful tool when creating an enlarged photograph. It passes on a wealth of information in it's imperfect way. It is not just a positive record (proof) of all the images on the film but a starting point for the perfect print.

Not everyone agrees that a contact print of your processed film is needed. Instead they like to work straight from the negative. I do not have a problem with this approach except on a practical level you need a light source to view them. I use the contact print not only as a reference for all my negatives but as an indicator as to which images are going to be more of a challenge to print. It is not always possible to see this when looking at the negative.

Making a contact print using a sheet of
glass to keep the negative flat and in
contact with the paper. 
It is not a case of one, (the negative) or the other, (the contact print) but both together. By using them in conjunction you have all the information you need about the image you are going to print leading to a more judicious use of your time in the darkroom and a greater likely hood of the first proof print being closer to what you had in mind as the final print. A couple of tweaks to the next print may fulfil your vision. 

Contact printing does not require an enlarger or any special equipment. A darkened room, a frosted light bulb suspended from the ceiling and a sheet
35mm contact printer
of glass to keep the negative[s] in contact with the paper and flat. Edward Weston used this simple method for his prints. During the timed exposure he would dodge the image where necessary. Once this time had elapsed he would burn in where he thought it was needed. This method can be a bit uncertain, as you can not always see where you need to make the adjustments unlike that of the image projected by the enlarger. A number of large format photographers still use contact printing as a way of making their final print from their negatives.

120 format contact  sheet.
 This indicates that the negatives on
 left sides  are under exposed. 
When contact printing I use my enlarger set to white light, with the lens fully open. The projected light is greater in size than the 8x10 paper I'm contact printing with. For 35mm film I use a contact frame and for 120 format and above a pane of glass with a ground edge so I do not cut my fingers.

There are varying opinions on whether you should set white light, use grade one or your preferred printing grade. I have always used white light with multigrade and varitone papers and yes it works very well. You get a full range of tones.
The enlarged image shows that this negative
would enlarge without adjustment.

Remember a contact print in it's simplest form is a work in progress not the finish article. I have found that some of my negatives print better with white light than they do graded. At one time I used to produce all my enlargements with white light and was very happy with the out come. With experience came sophistication and now I use graded and split graded printing methods to get the best out of the negative.

You should do what you feel is best creatively for your negatives and not let others dissuade you from that path.