Contact Printing - A Revelation

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Francesco

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I use to think that contact printing was a chore, a secondary task to the real work of enlargement.

NOW I feel it is the purest form of image capture. In this I mean that the negative is faithfully represented, that is, the pictorial moment is captured nearly unmanipulated (nearly because dodging and burning, developer and film combinations can affect the final "look" of the print). Enlarging changes the aspect ratio which for me changes the "look and feel" of the original scene - I adjust my emotions according to the size of the viewfinder and when I check out the groundglass there is a specific emotion associated with it. Contact printing is somehow faithful to that emotion or seeing or capturing.

Before this gets construed as partisan, I am not making a value judgement on print quality - results are what matters. But what I am concerned about is faithful representation of what was seen and felt under the hood or through the looking glass. I find it interesting that the same negative can be offered for sale in a multitute of sizes (u can this in 8x10, 11x14, 12x16 or 16x20). It seems that size does matter after all. Is it possible to see a scene in a variety of sizes before the shutter is released? I suppose it is but I certainly do not have the nack for it.

Just my thoughts Contact Printing.
 

Alex Hawley

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I quite agree. I fell into contact printing last year when I got my first LF rig, a 4x5. Not having a 4x5 enlarger, I was contact printing the negs on regular enlarging paper. WOW, I said. Posting a forum question about papers for contact printing rendered a resounding AZO. One thing led to another and here I am with an 8x10, Azo, and Pyro.

Borrowed a friend's 4x5 enlarger, but I found most of those 4x5 negs just don't look as good on an 8x10 print as they do a 4x5 contact print. The 4x5 contacts have their place. There's some subjects that just beg for it.

Still have the 35mm and had to use it last weekend when the available shooting time on a subject didn't allow using the 8x10. But I felt like just another snapshooter out there grabbing quick shots on the fly. It just didn't feel as good. I'm having anxiety pains about developing the film because I'm afraid I will be disappointed and this was a once-in-a-lifetime subject opportunity.

Using the 8x10 camera has in itself, been a complete joy. You can actually SEE what you are doing with no scrunching down or squinting through the viewfinder. I thought the difference between it an the 4x5 was profound. The 8x10 is also so versatile. With reducing backs it will also do MF roll film, 4x5, 5x7, 4x10 or whatever one wants to invent.

I'm quite happy with contact print photography. No snobbish elitism on my part; I hate that stuff. Its just flat out fun and leaves me with a more joyous experience than I've felt with the other formats. If I were starting out completely from scratch, with no photographic knowledge, my wish would be for some mentor to start me with an 8x10.
 
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Francesco

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You are absolutely right jdef. I should have used another term other than aspect ratio. I am trying to allude to the original viewpoint (viewfinder if yoo like) versus the final output (the enlargement). I use to enlarge my 8x10 negs up to 20x24 and although the size increase is breathtaking it seems that after s while all there is to captivate me is the size. It feels as though I was never there somehow. Remember: this is a personal issue not a critique of enlargements in general - how can I possibly know what the photographer really felt, whether he contact prints or not. But I know how I felt that day and somehow I lose something if I enlarge it and I keep the original feeling when I do not. Strange?!
 

Ole

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Francesco said:
... although the size increase is breathtaking it seems that after s while all there is to captivate me is the size.

Funny that - most of my MF pictures looke best when really HUGE - like 4x5 feet or so. While my 5x7" negatives print best as contacs. I think it's something to do with perspective, viewfinder/groundglass visualisation, and the old "smallest significant detail"-thingy.

This is a lot easier, as my trays are only 9.5x12": Saves a lot of spilled developer all over the darkroom :wink:
 

Deckled Edge

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While I have to please myself first, I'm not the only one involved. If I put a series of images up on the wall, I get strong responses to 2-14 x 3-1/4 contact prints and equally strong responses to 8x10 contact prints or 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 blown up to 30 x 30. Some people love my favorite print and others gush over my lesser children.

It's the image. Some love to be enlarged and some should remain small or brown or somehow different from the rest. As you go larger you sometimes get closer to the truth and sometimes retreat from it. Each image has to be interpreted individually. Other people keep me honest (most of the time!).

Enter the circle of confusion.
 

SteveGangi

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Contact prints have a different look, somehow. A good one, a really good one, has almost a jewel like quality to it. Someone once said that grand vistas should be huge, intimate portraits should be small. I think instead it depends more on the individual picture. To me, part of the satisfaction is the direct hands on involvement. Sure, you don't see me hunched over a tray in the final print, but for me it is part of it.
 

Black Dog

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There's a clear difference even on nasty RC paper-and it's a difference for the better.
 

noseoil

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After playing with 4x5 enlargements on RC paper, I ended up with a box of postcard stock last year. I realized that cropping was necessary due to the difference in formats (4x5 to 4x6). Finally sent for a box of Azo paper and things changed completely. I find using the enlarger less appealing now.

Looking at a mounted and framed contact print on azo now seems to be more gratifying. Since all are the same size, content becomes more critical. Composition is a larger factor than before, no cropping of a full sheet of film, just the image as taken.

All in all, I seem to enjoy a nice "small" contact print to a larger print on enlarging paper now. The small size does tend to draw one into the print more and has a more "complete" feel when looking into the frame. A sense of intimacy exists with the smaller print that I find pleasing. Hard to explain.
 

kkranis

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Although somewhat different from the opinions mentioned in the previous posts in this thread, there is another aspect of contact printing that makes it absolutely central to the whole photography experience.

The contact is where you actually study the result. I never start enlarging after developing the film. First of all, I make my contact sheet and take a thorough look into it. Sometimes I mark one or two photos I like. Then, I leave it for 2-3 weeks, just to let the thoughts associated with the moment of taking the picture fade away. If I still like the same pics, then I will print them in 10x15cm. Leave them for 2-3 weeks and if I still like them, then I say I have a picture worth enlarging.

As you can understand, I am talking about the 135 format, making it more difficult to actually "see" the picture behind the contact.

Oh, and another thing: contacts might flatter the image sometimes, but in 99% of the cases, you can see a good picture from the contact.

All in all, a very educational process in photography.
 
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Francesco

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I was looking at my old Hasselblad negatives and decided to see how my compositional skills have changed since my move to 8x10 8 years ago. The 6x6 negs look pedestrian, rushed, assembly-line like. My 8x10 negatives seem more controlled. I notice more unwanted foreign object intrusions in the top, bottom and corners of my 6x6 negs. But I thought that being smaller I can make sure nothing gate crashes on these areas. I think that because it was easy to just click click away I probably did not bother so much outside of the central area of the viewfinder. Whereas with the 8x10 I WANT to take the loupe to every nook and cranny of that groundglass before I even consider metering the scene.
 

Alex Hawley

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Francesco,
Your experience and mine are very similar, although I haven't at it near as long. I started LF with a 4x5. Not having a 4x5 enlarger at the time, I was contact printing on enlarging paper. One thing led to another and a few months later I had the 8x10 (plus a borrowed 4x5 enlarger). The 8x10 just is a joy to work with. There's no squinting down to see the image. That problem even existed with the 4x5. For once, I felt like I was really studying the image, like I can see every square millimeter of it. That for me is the real joy. The image comes out just like I saw it on the ground glass. And the ground glass doesn't lie.
 

pierre

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I don't have a scanner at the moment, so I haven't tried this since I thought of it, but...

Let's say I have a 6x6 negative, I want to digitize it for web display, and I have no scanner that can do film, and no enlarger for that size of negative. I know that in the past, I did scan Polaroid SX-70 prints on a cheap flatbed. That ended up plenty large enough for web display. In fact, I had to reduce the image size to fit the monitor. So, I though, what if I just contact printed the medium format negatives, and then simply scanned the resulting 6x6 or whatever prints? How would that turn out? Anyone try this?
 

scootermm

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Ive found that you can use a small portable light box to "backlight" a slide or negative and just use the normal reflective setting on a flatbed scanner (same one youd use for scanning a picture torn out of a magazine or what not). I have an Epson 3170 and it only accomodates up to medium format negs/slides so I use a small 5x7" light box to back light my 4x5 negs under a loose sheet of 8x10 glass. works pretty well Ive found.

in regards to contact printing. I am somewhat of a grommet to largeformat shooting. but Ive managed to go through hundreds of 4x5 sheets of film in the 6 months since I got my Crown Graphic and moved onto my cambo. Ive enlarged alot of them and been pleased with the resulting 8x10. But like all are saying.... I feel something different with the few I have contact printed. The image seems honest and true to form. thats what I saw thats how I envisioned it with all its proper (or improper) exposure/composition etc etc.
I am yearning for an 8x10 to be honest.
4x5 seems to be a stepping stone to where I would like to eventually be.
 

mobtown_4x5

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enlarger for sale?

Me too. I love my 4x5 contacts- "jewel like" is a perfect description for the better ones. I love my new Shen H, but I am really itching to get an 8X10 and try Azo, platinum, and alt proc's....I have a feeling once I do so, my 45MRX will be gathering dust...

Unfortunately if I spend any more $$ on photo/art gear this year I'm gonna get killed (sound of whip cracking).

Matt
 

Tom Hoskinson

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mobtown_4x5 said:
Me too. I love my 4x5 contacts- "jewel like" is a perfect description for the better ones. I love my new Shen H, but I am really itching to get an 8X10 and try Azo, platinum, and alt proc's....I have a feeling once I do so, my 45MRX will be gathering dust...

Unfortunately if I spend any more $$ on photo/art gear this year I'm gonna get killed (sound of whip cracking).

Matt

Yeah - I haven't used my Shen-Hao since I got the 8x10 Wehmann...

It's a slippery slope, Mobtown. Azo 2, Azo 3, save yourself! Too late for me!
 

colrehogan

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I think that's what's happened to me. I tried contact printing some 4x5 negatives as Ziatypes and now just can't wait to try 8x10. I just need to load up some 8x10 film right now.

I have the same suspicions for the same reasons Matt. :smile:
 

John McCallum

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Been reading this thread with real interest. Mainly because I've been trying everything to get the tonal range and details of the orig 4x5 contact print into my enlargements. New lens, papers developer etc .... nothing seems to quite get there.

So I've often thought about 8x10 but wondered: considering 8x10 is only 4x the film area in size, is it really worth the hassel that comes with the more bulky equipment? Would be very interested in the responses from those doing it.
 

clay

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John McCallum said:
Been reading this thread with real interest. Mainly because I've been trying everything to get the tonal range and details of the orig 4x5 contact print into my enlargements. New lens, papers developer etc .... nothing seems to quite get there.

So I've often thought about 8x10 but wondered: considering 8x10 is only 4x the film area in size, is it really worth the hassel that comes with the more bulky equipment? Would be very interested in the responses from those doing it.

My thought process now goes somewhat along the lines of: Do I really want to spend the time to take this picture with a 4x5 or 5x7, when I know that I will only be satisfied with a 8x10 (or larger) contact print? So yes, it absolutely is worth it, UNLESS you are travelling with your wife and family. Then you need to adopt the precautionary principle and realize that you won't be able to afford to shoot 8x10 and ULF when you're paying alimony and child support.
 
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Jorge

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John McCallum said:
Been reading this thread with real interest. Mainly because I've been trying everything to get the tonal range and details of the orig 4x5 contact print into my enlargements. New lens, papers developer etc .... nothing seems to quite get there.

So I've often thought about 8x10 but wondered: considering 8x10 is only 4x the film area in size, is it really worth the hassel that comes with the more bulky equipment? Would be very interested in the responses from those doing it.

In a word...yes! 8x10 is a great format, still light enough to hike with, something you definitly dont do with ULF. I would say I average about 4 8x10s for each 12x20 I take. Go for it...you wont be dissapointed.
 

Tom Hoskinson

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John McCallum said:
Ahuh - so you guys don't miss enlarging / or having large prints then? (assuming you don't have monster enlarger :smile:.

Don't miss enlarging at all!

Love contact printing!

Viewing contact prints is a very intimate and exciting experience.

C'mon John, step on out on the slope - be careful - it's slippery!
 

Jorge

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John McCallum said:
Ahuh - so you guys don't miss enlarging / or having large prints then? (assuming you don't have monster enlarger :smile:.

IMO the only reason to have very large prints is because they seem to draw you in, notice the popularity of the 6' ink jet prints. But a well made contact print has a 3D quality that will draw you in despite being much smaller. I dont miss enlarging at all, and after my tests with JandC 400 I think I will be packing my enlarger for good.
 

John McCallum

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Jorge said:
IMO the only reason to have very large prints is because they seem to draw you in, notice the popularity of the 6' ink jet prints. But a well made contact print has a 3D quality that will draw you in despite being much smaller. I dont miss enlarging at all, and after my tests with JandC 400 I think I will be packing my enlarger for good.
I see your point Jorge. Very interesting - packing up the enlarger is quite a call!! It's a rather scary thought.

Tom said:
C'mon John, step on out on the slope - be careful - it's slippery!
I'm wobbling! :smile:
 
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