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A Study of Contrast

Marloes Sands

I have read some very good advice when making a print by David Kachel. Make a range of exposures and contrasts beyond what you would expect to create an acceptable print. The idea is a corollary of learning from mistakes and serendipity. Sometimes you discover something you didn't understand about the negative or the image and this can take you down an entirely different path in the image. This is difficult though to follow through on as it sounds like a waste of time and material. The answer is somewhat determined by the purpose of the work on the spectrum from documentary to art. (If you are new to the darkroom like me I recommend David Kachel's monographs as they are instructive and insightful.) David insists this be used to get the local contrast right on the point or points of interest in the print.

Towards this end I made some explorations on a couple of images from a short break on the Pembrokeshire coast late last year. The first is a rock on Marloes Sands beach. The day was dry but overcast and very windy. The rock struck me as a subject of isolation. I took the image with my OM1 on Ilford HP4+ film with a 28mm lens. It belonged to my father and had not been used in at least 20 years by the time it was given to me. I had to repair a corroded battery wire as the battery had been left in and it had leaked. A little cleaning and solder and it was right as rain.

The Olympus is a great camera probably the best 35mm SLR manual camera ever made. Smaller and lighter than others in its class it is reliable and easy to carry. I prefer medium format but sometimes I need an unobtrusive camera and the Olympus or my Yashica Electro fit the bill.

The original photo looked like this. For the effect I am looking for I need to crop out the background.
Original Scanned Photo
After making test strips and dialing in f8 as the right exposure range for the crop I want I would normally produce the following split contrast print. The print gives the full tonal range with reasonable contrast.
Straight print at f8 #5 32 seconds #0 24"
However this was not the first print I decided to make. I initially made 3 exploratory prints using only the high contract #5 filter at different times. The first is f5 at 64 seconds. It is a strong image with most of the context for the rock and it emphasizes the grain of this enlarged section of the 35mm negative.
f8 at #5 64 seconds
Next lower exposure again with only the high contrast #5 filter.
f8 at #5 45 seconds

f8 at #5 38 seconds
Each of these shows an entirely different mood for the rock. These last two reduce the context and makes for a greater isolation as almost floating like an iceberg. These are reminiscent of the Japanese photographer I follow on Flickr. Yuu Sakai. I admire him because of his stripped back high key high contrast images that evoke singleness or isolation. Often taken along the coast they are little gems.
Finally I tried the opposite. I only exposed with the soft #0 filter. Again a different aesthetic, here lots of creamy tones .
f8 at #0 32 seconds
In all I prefer the first two taken with #5 filter. These are scans of the prints and while I tried to adjust them to accurately represent the print they don't quite do it justice. I also note that my prints are warmer in tone. They are all printed on Ilford MGIV Deluxe RC paper using Moersch Eco4812 developer.

Porth Gain

Further up the coast is Port Gain, a small port once used to ship slate, stone gravel from. A small harbor and I took this photo.
Original photo
It was a gray and blowy day this day as well. Difficult to photograph with an extremely bright sky and dark ground.
Again I tried to use a high contrast image. This didn't work well as the midground and back ground are quite bright. Indeed even a straight print would prove challenging. Never-the-less #5 at 45 seconds.
f11 #5 45 seconds
The boat is effective seeming to float in the image. The lack of background seems just an error.
I tried a normal print next and settled on f11 #5 27 seconds and #0 32 seconds.
f11 #5 27 sec #0 32 sec
This fills in a lot of detail but the sky and lightening background is indistinct. At this point was I puzzled how to burn the sky I thought perhaps I should flash the paper to bring the paper up the toe of its light curve. (Here is a post where I first exploring flashing paper.) I have a section on my enlarger automation rig that does flashing and I haven't tried it out yet.  So I ran a test strip at 1 second intervals and found where on the strip the paper moves from white to the first signs of exposure. This happened at 5 seconds and  so I would flash the paper for 4 seconds. I can set the intensity of my flash source and for the first one I used the default setting of 128 about half the brightness range.
f11 #5 27 sec #0 32 sec white flash 4 sec 128 intensity
Flashing helped bring the sky and sea up and also balance the edge of the land. Next I would try flashing to fix my high contrast experiment. Here I ran a new flash test strip but I attached a #4 filter to the light source. Since the #4 filter attenuates the light I set the intensity to 189 (the highest setting). The test strip indicated no change in tone up to 9 seconds so I used 10 seconds. The result is below. It did help but not as much as I hoped.
f11 #5 45 sec #4 flash 10 sec intensity 189
Next I tried to go back to a white flash but forgot to rest the intensity. This result is below. It fogs the film but does fill in the 'gaps' but I don't like it. A mistake...
f11 #5 45 sec white flash 4 sec intensity 189
Finally I set the intensity correctly and made another print. Not much difference though the sand next to the boat shows more tone.
f11 #5 45 sec white flash 4 sec intensity 128