How to get the rich blacks and good contrast
Old 01-27-2013   #1
mmartin09
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How to get the rich blacks and good contrast

I'm pretty new to doing my own bw and was hoping someone could give some advice for getting richer blacks and more contrast. I know a good amount of this is in camera, and lighting, etc... but some of it is in the development, correct? My current setup is Tri-X shot at 400 and processed in HC-110. I'm getting decent results, but it seems it could be better. Mostly, it seems a little flat and to lack good contrast. Any advice?

Attaching an example from my last roll. Its a straight scan from my epson v750.
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Old 01-27-2013   #2
FrankS
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If your negs are properly exposed and developed, once they are scanned, simply make adjustments to brightness and contrast using an image processing program.
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Old 01-27-2013   #3
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I added contrast to your image using the Snapseed program available for iPad. I think I like the delicate tones in your version better. But is this the effect you're looking for?
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Old 01-27-2013   #4
mmartin09
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With this image, I don't think there are a lot of blacks so it was a poor choice on my part for an example. I meant for that to me a more general question, and not one focused so much on one particular image. Looking back at it, I dont think I phrased my question very well.
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Old 01-27-2013   #5
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Regardless, the brightness and contrast of an image is under your control. No need to accept without adjustment what your scanner gives you.
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Old 01-27-2013   #6
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If you want a look like this:

20103719 by mfogiel, on Flickr
Take a slower film (APX 100), expose at ei 200, use red filter and push in Rodinal,

however, you can get a perfectly good tonal range from Tri X in HC 110 - I usually rate it at EI 250 to get more shadow detail:

201211403 by mfogiel, on Flickr

At the processing level in PS, I usually pull up a bit the curve histogram, cut off the extremes with levels, burn in the corners and adjust with brightness and contrast at the end.
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Old 01-27-2013   #7
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Frank is right, you cannot use the file right from the scanner. It simply must be edited in an image editor like Photoshop to bring out the full tonal brilliance of the image.

Read this scanning tutorial I put together:
http://chriscrawfordphoto.com/technical/scanning.php

If you need help understanding curves adjustments:
http://chriscrawfordphoto.com/technical/curves.php
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Old 01-27-2013   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
Frank is right, you cannot use the file right from the scanner. It simply must be edited in an image editor like Photoshop to bring out the full tonal brilliance of the image.

Read this scanning tutorial I put together:
http://chriscrawfordphoto.com/technical/scanning.php

If you need help understanding curves adjustments:
http://chriscrawfordphoto.com/technical/curves.php
Chris,

I am curious as to wether you have found certain emulsions better suited for scanning than others. If so, does the film's scanning properties change from 35mm to 120 and even 4x5?

Thanks,
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Old 01-27-2013   #9
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Ideal scanning film: Ilford XP2 Super. Try it and see if you disagree.

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Old 01-27-2013   #10
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actually, i find that film flatness affects
my affinity for the emulsion. i know
it's kinda silly, but the way some
films curls, it really drives me nuts
and psychologically, i think i have
a defective image.

Sharp rich blacks can be found in
T-Max series of film, i find that to be
true of Fuji Acros 100 as well.

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Old 01-27-2013   #11
FrankS
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See, I think that the old school of films, before T grain technology, contained more silver (I read that somewhere I think a photo mag years and years ago) and were capable of stronger contrast. A properly exposed roll of TMax film is surprisingly ( to an old timer) "thin".
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Old 01-27-2013   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rpsawin View Post
Chris,

I am curious as to wether you have found certain emulsions better suited for scanning than others. If so, does the film's scanning properties change from 35mm to 120 and even 4x5?

Thanks,
I've never scanned 4x5, but I scan a lot of 35mm and 120 film. I've honestly never seen a black and white film I couldn't scan well, and the 35mm and 120 versions of the films I have tried seem to scan the same.
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Old 01-27-2013   #13
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Gee, I was going to suggest printing on a silver-rich paper and being sure to burn in enough for the blacks to take...
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Old 01-27-2013   #14
bwcolor
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It is also helpful to have a high quality scanner where you have profiled the film/development/EI that you are using.
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Old 01-27-2013   #15
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One of the reasons I love Plus-X is the rich black and dark gray tones, particularly when exposed at 320 and developed in Diafine. Alas, Plus-X is discontinued, and I've been searching for a film that provides a similar look. One film that's promising in that department is Fomapan 100. This would be consistent with Frank's suggestion to use older emulsions.

I agree w/ other posters that, if you're looking for richer dark tones and more contrast with Tri-X, you're going to need to do more post-processing after scanning. Tri-X is a very adaptable film, but has a different look to it than Plus-X.
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Old 01-27-2013   #16
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How about this?



I think first off the image as you originally posted it is too light (overexposed and probably underdeveloped), so darken the whole thing down. Then, you can adjust the curves to raise the midtones and the highlights, but keep the shadows in the basement. Add a bit of a vignette, a bit of blue and magenta in the shadows (mock selenium tone), and away you go.

If you want more contrast in your negs, underexpose and overdevelop. But it's better to have flatter negs, as you'll have much more flexibility in terms of adding contrast.
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Old 01-27-2013   #17
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First, I always shoot with a yellow filter. Tri-X can have really wonderful contrast. I find that pushing it to 1600 gives really amazing contrast, but I'm sure at 800 it would be more in the middle and less extreme.
This is Tri-X @ 1600, straight from the scanner [Canoscan 9000]

kelsey by scottkessler, on Flickr

I usually use D-76 but Rodinal also gives great results with Tri-X. HP5 at 400 in D76 probably has the best contrast I know of at box speed. I always fix for a bit longer as well, 7 minutes or so.

This is HP5 in D76, also straight from the scanner.

passionate dog by scottkessler, on Flickr

Finally, I could suggest Fomapan 100 developed @ 100 in Rodinal - easily the deepest blacks and whites I've seen yet. It's just less versatile being a slower film. Again, straight from my scanner.

sarah by scottkessler, on Flickr
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Old 01-27-2013   #18
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The only trick is to use fresh film. And fresh paper. Preferably fb.

If you don't print yourselves, then you're hitting a digital wall. Use the curves in PS and you'll get good blacks.
Basically, if you're scanning, the film and developer are almost totally irrelevant.
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Old 01-27-2013   #19
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I kept mentioning D76 because HC-110 is supposed to be comparable. I've never used it so I can't vouch for it. A final example you might like, although also a bit extreme: FP4 in D76 with a few drops of Rodinal @ 125


cat by scottkessler, on Flickr
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Old 01-27-2013   #20
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I'm no expert by any means. I'm quite new to all of this, but scanning in Silverfast I've been able to adjust how black the shadows go simply with the Histogram. The HP5 I've shot at 800 or 1600, and with a Yellow Filter, will certainly get there faster than when I shoot at 400 or 200.
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Old 01-27-2013   #21
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BTW.. high contrast and richer blacks are pretty easy. What is a bit more challenging is keeping the subtle tonal range. After all this text on an expensive monitor has deep black and high contrast.
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Old 01-27-2013   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmartin09 View Post
Mostly, it seems a little flat and to lack good contrast. Any advice?
Flat and lacking in contrast is exactly what you want from a scan. Just make sure the highlights and shadows aren't clipping and don't worry too much about the rest. Naturally if your film has blown highlights or very thin shadows you can't do much about that except go back to basics and expose and develop differently. Indeed you can process your film precisely to give a low contrast image that is ideal for scanning. But the scan itself should simply contain all the information possible with no real artistic judgement made.

All your contrast adjustments, along with traditional techniques of dodging and burning, should be done in post processing using Photoshop (etc.). It is much more accurate and offers far more choice and control than trying to get Silverfast to do the right thing. Photoshop is the equivalent of the darkroom, the scanner just opens the door.
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Old 01-28-2013   #23
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I think really rich blacks and good contrast come from learning to see light, and you seem to have a good eye for that. Treating it as an add on often just leads to harsh or unnatural looking images, though obviously some people want that look too. Rich blacks often hold some detail which avoids the sooty look so famous in "soot and chalk" pictures most people get when they first start looking for good blacks and contrast.

Personally, I like your original image much better than a lot of stuff I see. The soft enveloping light is intact and seems very appropriate for the subject. I'm sure some tweaks could improve it, but you can't change it a whole lot without loosing that effect. I think it is nice to see something different than the usual heavily processed stuff that often has no real sense of light.
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Old 01-28-2013   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark C View Post
I think really rich blacks and good contrast come from learning to see light, and you seem to have a good eye for that. Treating it as an add on often just leads to harsh or unnatural looking images, though obviously some people want that look too. Rich blacks often hold some detail which avoids the sooty look so famous in "soot and chalk" pictures most people get when they first start looking for good blacks and contrast.

Personally, I like your original image much better than a lot of stuff I see. The soft enveloping light is intact and seems very appropriate for the subject. I'm sure some tweaks could improve it, but you can't change it a whole lot without loosing that effect. I think it is nice to see something different than the usual heavily processed stuff that often has no real sense of light.
Thanks, Mark. I'm pretty new to this whole home dev thing, and just looking for ways to get better. I agree that the subject matter lends itself to a generally softer, less harsh overall feel and it works. I'm mainly just curious, thats all. In general, the less time I have to spend on processing, the better.
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Old 01-28-2013   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grapejohnson View Post
First, I always shoot with a yellow filter. Tri-X can have really wonderful contrast. I find that pushing it to 1600 gives really amazing contrast, but I'm sure at 800 it would be more in the middle and less extreme.
This is Tri-X @ 1600, straight from the scanner [Canoscan 9000]

kelsey by scottkessler, on Flickr

I usually use D-76 but Rodinal also gives great results with Tri-X. HP5 at 400 in D76 probably has the best contrast I know of at box speed. I always fix for a bit longer as well, 7 minutes or so.

This is HP5 in D76, also straight from the scanner.

passionate dog by scottkessler, on Flickr

Finally, I could suggest Fomapan 100 developed @ 100 in Rodinal - easily the deepest blacks and whites I've seen yet. It's just less versatile being a slower film. Again, straight from my scanner.

sarah by scottkessler, on Flickr
Scott, I really like that first image. That's the look I'm kinda hoping to work towards. I'll try some pushing. Maybe 800 to to start with.
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Old 01-28-2013   #26
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By the way, this is a good example of an image I have shot that has the look I'm after. I din't do the dev though, a lab did. I want to figure out how to do this at home with my dev and scan. It's Tri-X with a 1 stop push.

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Old 01-28-2013   #27
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Martin, you seem to be missing the message. If you are going to be scanning negs for a final output rather than wet printing them in a dark room, you want negs to be rather thin and flat because those qualities allows them to be scanned the best. Then you dial in the contrast and brightness and whatever in post processing.

Even with darkroom wet printing, one usually is best off with a normal neg with normal brightness/contrast values, then pick a paper grade and printing time to move to the desired result.
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Old 01-28-2013   #28
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Oh well, then you have it made; that will be an easy look to accomplish, which is why you see so much of it. Plenty of good suggestions here to do that.

FrankS's advice on processing is good, plus will allow you the option of rethinking later if your tastes change.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mmartin09 View Post
By the way, this is a good example of an image I have shot that has the look I'm after. I din't do the dev though, a lab did. I want to figure out how to do this at home with my dev and scan. It's Tri-X with a 1 stop push.
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Old 01-28-2013   #29
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Why isn't anyone just saying

"Underexpose and overdevelop"
?

That's what you need to do anyway, underexposure gives you deep/empty blacks, while overdeveloping stretch the highlights up, creating greater contrast in your negative.

It's dependent on film type, developer and developing scheme though, so you need to experiment to find what works best for you.
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Old 01-28-2013   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by znapper View Post
Why isn't anyone just saying

"Underexpose and overdevelop"
?

That's what you need to do anyway, underexposure gives you deep/empty blacks, while overdeveloping stretch the highlights up, creating greater contrast in your negative.

It's dependent on film type, developer and developing scheme though, so you need to experiment to find what works best for you.
I'm afraid it's the other way around. Overexpose and underdevelop. When a negative is underexposed, if you contact print it for maximum black, you shall notice that the entire frame is too dark. The same goes if you enlarge it. Therefore, you will unknowingly try to correct the "darkness" (lack of brightness) of the shot, thus avoiding true black. On the contrary, if the shot is too "bright" (overexposed), you will be forced to print it "darker" (with deeper blacks).
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Old 01-28-2013   #31
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I mentioned the 'underexpose and overdevelop' in my earlier post on the previous page, and for higher contrast I'm pretty sure that's correct. Remember that old saying 'expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights'? So if you underexpose, you're burying those shadows. And if you overdevelop, you're pushing those highlights. That's basically what the OP did in that wedding photo depicted above -- pushed Tri-X one stop (underexposed), and then the lab overdeveloped it to get those blown highlights.

If you overexpose and underdevelop, you're revealing more detail in the shadows, and then the underdevelopment keeps those highlights in check -- ergo, a more detailed, full range image (and probably flatter).
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Old 01-28-2013   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alexandru_voicu View Post
I'm afraid it's the other way around. Overexpose and underdevelop. When a negative is underexposed, if you contact print it for maximum black, you shall notice that the entire frame is too dark. The same goes if you enlarge it. Therefore, you will unknowingly try to correct the "darkness" (lack of brightness) of the shot, thus avoiding true black. On the contrary, if the shot is too "bright" (overexposed), you will be forced to print it "darker" (with deeper blacks).
Ehm, that's exactly what I said, remember that the OP wants deep blacks and higher contrast than the example photo he posted.

Thus:
If you want black blacks and normal highlights, you underexpose and overdevelop (In effect, push the film).
(this is what the OP wants as far as I can gather)

If you overexpose and underdevelop, you end up with a negative with LESS contrast (effectively pulling the film), thus, you'll have to print it with a higher contrast filter to obtain normal contrast in your print. The contrast filters affect print shadows mostly, so you can control the degree of blackness with those if you have a "flat" negative.

Scanning is a different story, as long as you have all the tones you want, you can just pull the black and white points to where you like and you're done.
Doing a curves adjustment on top of that, will alter mid-tone contrast to whatever you like.
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Old 01-28-2013   #33
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As most people have said, once you're scanning, you just need to adjust the scan in Photoshop or whatever you are using.

If it's a scan, grab the curves in Photoshop and give them a nice "S" shape and you will get the sort of look you want.

Really Tri-X is a great film and can give you as much contrast as you like. You can get all Ralph Gibson style straight out of the neg by over exposing and developing in Rodinal 1:25 for 11 or 12 minutes rather than the usual 7 or so but using a flatter neg and scanning will give you the ability to control this much better.

35mm Tri-X is very well suited to this. It's when you want more subtle tonal gradations where medium format has some advantages.

This one is 35mm Tri-X in Rodinal 1:25 for 7.5 minutes and has a nice deep rich black and charcoal tones that I like:

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Old 01-28-2013   #34
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As most people have said, once you're scanning, you just need to adjust the scan in Photoshop or whatever you are using.

If it's a scan, grab the curves in Photoshop and give them a nice "S" shape and you will get the sort of look you want.

Really Tri-X is a great film and can give you as much contrast as you like. You can get all Ralph Gibson style straight out of the neg by over exposing and developing in Rodinal 1:25 for 11 or 12 minutes rather than the usual 7 or so but using a flatter neg and scanning will give you the ability to control this much better.

35mm Tri-X is very well suited to this. It's when you want more subtle tonal gradations where medium format has some advantages.

This one is 35mm Tri-X in Rodinal 1:25 for 7.5 minutes and has a nice deep rich black and charcoal tones that I like:

Looks great!
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Old 01-28-2013   #35
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So, what happened here? I just got these back from my local lab that did processing only. It's Tri-X at 1600, and he uses TMAX developer. I scanned this straight and made no adjustments other than cleaning up dust. Is it a bit overdeveloped?
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Old 01-28-2013   #36
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My preference in scanning film is to have a long tonal scale like your image and build contrast in editing. If you start with a contrasty neg with minimal shadow and highlight info it's tough or impossible to reduce contrast if it's too high. You can't add information that's not in the neg. you can however throw away info if you have it.

If you want richer blacks and want to adjust your film/ dev. Increase the ISO in 1/3 increments to 500, 640, 800 etc and increase development by 10%, 20% etc. you'll find the right combination that way. HC110 and Tx are great and will do what you want if you experiment with USO and dev. The higher the iso and development the more contrast and deeper shadows.
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Old 01-28-2013   #37
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Originally Posted by mmartin09 View Post


So, what happened here? I just got these back from my local lab that did processing only. It's Tri-X at 1600, and he uses TMAX developer. I scanned this straight and made no adjustments other than cleaning up dust. Is it a bit overdeveloped?
What many of us have been saying all along -- underexposed and overdeveloped!

No detail in the shadows -- that comes from underexposing (pushing the film 2 stops).

Almost no detail in the highlights -- that comes from overdevelopment (I am assuming that you told the lab that you pushed the film 2 stops, and they adjusted accordingly).

'Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights' -- every photographer shooting conventional black and white film should know this basic rule.
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Old 01-28-2013   #38
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Originally Posted by mmartin09 View Post
So, what happened here? I just got these back from my local lab that did processing only. It's Tri-X at 1600, and he uses TMAX developer. I scanned this straight and made no adjustments other than cleaning up dust. Is it a bit overdeveloped?
Yes, if you haven't made any adjustments to the scanner settings the bleached highlights and solid blacks are under exposure and over development.

You could have got detail in the highlights and the shadows if shot differently, and made your high contrast image in post processing. You may say 'why do that when I can do it without post processing?' but the answer is easy, in years to come you may change your mind about the Ralph Gibson look, you may want a baby picture that isn't dated to 'the Lomo school of 2013', you may want more refinement. So there is no going back if the negative is thin and blocked.

Even Ralph Gibson's high contrast images, made even more aggressively by over exposing and over developing, are finished in 'post processing', high contrast printing in the darkroom to control the balance of blacks and whites. See a reproduction on the web and the shadows often look totally black, but see the print and subtle detail can often be seen, a testament to the fine control he has over the process. Letting the Lab decide the style and quality of your output is one way to do photography, but I'm sure most people here would agree that being in control all the way through the process is a better way.
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Old 01-29-2013   #39
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What many of us have been saying all along -- underexposed and overdeveloped!

No detail in the shadows -- that comes from underexposing (pushing the film 2 stops).

Almost no detail in the highlights -- that comes from overdevelopment (I am assuming that you told the lab that you pushed the film 2 stops, and they adjusted accordingly).

'Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights' -- every photographer shooting conventional black and white film should know this basic rule.
Yes, I metered at 1600 and told the lab, which adjusted accordingly.

So I would have been better off maybe having them push it 1 stop to save the highlight details and adjusting my exposure for more light in camera to save shadow details?
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Old 01-29-2013   #40
mmartin09
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Originally Posted by V-12 View Post
Yes, if you haven't made any adjustments to the scanner settings the bleached highlights and solid blacks are under exposure and over development.

You could have got detail in the highlights and the shadows if shot differently, and made your high contrast image in post processing. You may say 'why do that when I can do it without post processing?' but the answer is easy, in years to come you may change your mind about the Ralph Gibson look, you may want a baby picture that isn't dated to 'the Lomo school of 2013', you may want more refinement. So there is no going back if the negative is thin and blocked.

Even Ralph Gibson's high contrast images, made even more aggressively by over exposing and over developing, are finished in 'post processing', high contrast printing in the darkroom to control the balance of blacks and whites. See a reproduction on the web and the shadows often look totally black, but see the print and subtle detail can often be seen, a testament to the fine control he has over the process. Letting the Lab decide the style and quality of your output is one way to do photography, but I'm sure most people here would agree that being in control all the way through the process is a better way.
I agree, the high contrast look isn't for every image and is probably not well suited to a baby picture. I was mainly just curious how to achieve this look. I don't want every image I shoot to be this way, but it is helpful to understand how to achieve this look when I want it.

I also agree that going the Lab route isn't as desirable as being in total control. I've started tinkering with home development and hope to do more and more of it in the future. If only I had a suitable darkroom... converting a bathroom into a temporary darkroom is a lot of work for a roll or two.
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