I don't know about you but sometimes I find the constraint of having to make a segmented test print to determine the right exposure for each negative tiresome. I sometimes feel that it interferes with the creative process. On these occasion in the darkroom I put myself to the test with what I call free printing. I can see some of you shaking your heads at such a notion. It is a way of pushing your instincts creatively.
Let me lay out the rules of this creative freedom. I pick a random sleeve of negatives, run my eye over them to see what catches my attention. Load that negative into the enlarger and then make a half sheet test strip at five second intervals. This will be the only test strip of the session providing the starting point for each subsequent negative I opt to print. I give myself two attempts at getting the exposure right using my experience and knowledge (best guess) to refine it with dodging and burning. This is where your print technique is put to the test and your ability to choose negatives of the same density.
Into the darkroom. I have chosen a set of 35mm negatives that have a selection of landscapes I made while I was in the lake district and the one that took my eye was looking across the lake into the sun. As gooder place as any to start the printing session.
With this negative loaded I set up the enlarger as follows: the lens to F8 and the paper grade to three. These are the most common settings I use when printing. The paper used is silverproof matt. With the test strip made I look carefully at it to work out the overall exposure and how much more light may or may not be needed for a balanced print.
The mountain into the sun image is the one I made the test strip for. Even so it proved difficult to get right. I chose to print overall at 32 seconds adding an extra 15 secs for the sky. This did not allow for the mountain slops on the left of the picture which needed less light to stop them completely blocking out. The burning in of the sky did not take into account the brighter area to the centre right leaving it a bit blown out. So for the second print the mountain slops to the left were held back for -7 secs and the off centre sky received a further +15 secs.
The second negative chosen was the fence post into the sun. I already knew that overall this would require less light to print, the trick here would be by how much, after a bit of consideration I opted for 27 secs. Which worked well but I felt it needed even less. Overall the second print was exposed for 24.5 secs with an added 5 secs for the sky. Not much of a change, but the affect on the foreground was positive.
|Right first time no adjustments|
The third negative is of the dog in the lake. I chose 25 seconds for this because the negative looked a bit dark indicating some over exposure. I was too bold with my exposure time as the print is a bit washed out with no sky. So I up it to 28 secs and added +28 for the sky. In cases where the sky is whited out I double the amount of light when burning in. Overall a much better picture.
The final image looking through the trees is a straight print, the overall time is 27 seconds. I'm happy with the print, yes I could adjust a couple of bits, but they would not add much to the overall look.
Free flow printing sessions are not always successful but it does free my mind especially if I'm having a bad time getting a picture the way I want it.