Is this really what my negatives look like?

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sterioma

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I have printed contact sheets from my negatives for the first time today and I was astonished how dark they can look if "properly exposed". I am not sure whether I am doing something wrong, so I thought I'd ask.

I have been printing on an off for a few years now, but I had never bothered doing contacts sheets. I usually scan my negs and then decide what to enlarge in the darkroom; or for a quick look I use a little nice Android app called Helmut (which basically inverts the negative back to a positive using the phone's camera) while examining the negatives on a light box.

The other day I was reading How To Make a Proper Proof Sheet (by T. R. Halfill), where the author insists that "In a proper proof, the clear, unexposed edges of the negatives should be as black as the areas of print paper between the strips of film. And those areas should be as black as the paper ever gets."

So today I had 4 hours in our communal darkroom, and broght with me a couple of Medium Format and a couple of 35mm negatives (all HP5+, exposed from 250 EI to 800, alll souped in HC-110 but for one stand development in Rodinal).

I started doing my test strips (with a colour head, with settings equivalent to grade 2), trying to match the unexposed edges of the negative to the black border around. For shorter exposure there was certainly a difference, but with longer times it became difficult to detect which was the minimum exposure for maximum black. So, I decided to take advantage of a light box in the darkroom and evaluate the test strips (not the negatives) on that: there, with the light on, it became clear that even when I thought I had visually reached maximum black, there were still quite a bit of difference. So I went on and made additional strips when even on the light box I could not see difference between the black page and the unexposed film border.

I am attaching a sample contact sheet (shot with a Hasselblad, developed in HC110). Contact sheets from other rolls are similar in being very dark. Note that these same negatives seem to scan decently, and when exposed around one stop less they seem to have "normal" tonal scale and contrast (at least, very similar the one I am use to see in my negatives when I scan them).

Let me know what you think. Maybe using a light box to evaluate the test strips was not such a great idea and it led me to expose more than I should have?
 

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sterioma

sterioma

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I should probably add that I use an incident meter for medium format and in-camera meter for 35mm.
 

Sirius Glass

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Either cut down on the contact print exposure time or reduce the enlarger aperture.
 
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sterioma

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Either cut down on the contact print exposure time or reduce the enlarger aperture.
i know the basics of how to make a print and yes, if I cut the exposure time the proof sheets look normal. But if I do that the unexposed film edge will be lighter than the area around the strips, suggesting that something is proably wrong with my film exposure and/or development.

I am just not sure that using a light bix to evaluate the test strips is an orthodox procedure.
 

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hey stefano
if you think your film is too dense
what you might do for your next roll is "bracket" 1 full stop on either side of your meter reading
so if it says 1/60thS f8 ... then shoot f8 5.6 and f 11 and do that for the whole roll
process your film for whatever time you landed on and see what film looks best
do the same thing 3x ... one for the developing time you landed on, 1 for 30% more and 1 30%less
do your contact sheets and make your prints and see which you like the best ... and then shoot a roll using that as your guide
so if it was f11 and 30% less time shoot a whole roll and see how it works out .. its all a matter of finding whatever the right "everything"
have fun !
john

ps. added later
the way i always made contact prints of negatives was to make a test strip of the actual negatives
across a section that had some light and dark regions
use rc paper and develop for 1 min .. pick the best time and then make the actual contact print of the sheet
of negatives i never bothered worrying about the film rebate &c... its so you can see the negatives, right ?
( use a contrast filter if you need it )
 
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In a proper proof, the clear, unexposed edges of the negatives should be as black as the areas of print paper between the strips of film.

You are comparing apples with oranges if you follow that advice. The light goes just through the glass inbetween the the strips but has to pass through the glass and the clear edge of the negative so will require more exposure to reach the same density as it is berween the strips. Just eyeball it, you do not want to get OCD about contact sheets......
 

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I was told to make proof sheets flat and light -- so one can see what areas hold detail. No reason for a black on a proof sheet.

One needs a lot deeper black to get a black when viewing by transmitted light compared with normal reflected light. With reflected light, we see the light that passes thru the emulsion, bounces off the paper , then back thru the emulsion again to our eyes. Transmitted light only has to pass thru the emulsion once.
 
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Vaughn

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You are comparing apples with oranges if you follow that advice. The light goes just through the glass inbetween the the strips but has to pass through the glass and the clear edge of the negative so will require more exposure to reach the same density as it is berween the strips. Just eyeball it, you do not want to get OCD about contact sheets......
No, the methodolgy is solid. One will not have a max black in the image until the rebate (the unexposed portion) of the film prints as black as part of the paper without the film over it. This method compensates for light blocked by the film base (and any fogging due to age, etc).
 

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Sterioma,

I have been down the same path as you....started to just print/scan my negs and later on decided to do "proper"contacts. I have also read the article you link to.
Just like you, I found that my contacts turned out very dark if exposing to yield no difference in intensity of black between bare paper and the rebate of the negatives and when inspecting the contacts very critically. I have relaxed my procedure an aim for "almost no difference" between bare paper and rebate of neg-strips and the contact now looks more "normal".

I think the sensitivity curve of the paper roll-off too slowly at such high densities (almost at D-max) and to really push both the bare paper exposure and the exposure for the film rebate up to D-max you will also push all other "zones" of you neg into dark black. Instead, if you tolerate a small difference in level of black between bare paper an film rebate, it is more likely that bare paper will fall on D-max and film rebate at about zone 0-1, and then the rest of the zones in the neg will also be about right.
( I hope you understand what I am trying to say...?)
 

Michael W

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Hi Sterioma, I think you are on the right track in figuring out why your proofs look too dark. It sounds like you are overdoing it in the attempt to get maximum black. Realistically, if the negs look good on the lightbox and print well then it's safe to assume they were correctly exposed in camera and therefore the proof sheet images should also look good. Henke has it right when they say they are now more relaxed as to just how black the rebate should be. And I certainly wouldn't be inspecting the proof sheet via transmitted light from a light box, I would just check it under normal room lighting.
My method of proof sheets is to use glossy RC paper, enlarger contrast quite low around grade 1 or 1.5, lens aperture wide open, sheet of glass on top of film, do a test strip along one row of negatives in something like 2 second increments, dev, fix, wash, dry then inspect under room lights. Hopefully it is too light at one end and too dark at the other. Then look in between for the section where it first goes black. I'm just comparing the rebate blacks to each other, not the black of the paper where it had no film on it.
 
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rknewcomb

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" a light box in the darkroom and evaluate the test strips (not the negatives) on that: there, with the light on, it became clear that even when I thought I had visually reached maximum black, there were still quite a bit of difference. So I went on and made additional strips when even on the light box I could not see difference between the black page and the unexposed film border."

There is MUCH difference between the reflected light of viewing a print and viewing by transmitted light of a light table.
Expose your contacts by the min time max black while viewing by reflected light.
 

MattKing

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In a proper proof, the clear, unexposed edges of the negatives should be as black as the areas of print paper between the strips of film. And those areas should be as black as the paper ever gets."
With respect, I think this is wrong.
It might be correct for a true contact print, but for a proof sheet for 35mm negatives, the rebate area (including the sprocket holes) add all sorts of flare and refraction to the equation. I would suggest that the rebate area should look lighter on the proof sheet than the area between the negatives.
The minimum time for maximum black approach should usually apply to the area between the negatives.
If your negatives have a lot of base fog, you may want to print a bit darker.
 

Bill Burk

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A proper proof is likely to prove that you should shoot a 400 speed film at 250.

If you shot at 800, then a proper proof will make your contact print look dark. Even though you might get acceptable prints.
 

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@sterioma you don’t need to search for maximum black by looking at the test strip on a light table. When you make a print in the darkroom, you don’t look at your final print on a light table so the same logic applies.

The point of finding maximum black is to see if you have given your negatives adequate exposure.

The film rebate should print to black. The area in between the negatives, because there is no film rebate would have already turned black. This is why you examine the sprocket areas to see if the film rebate has reached maximum black.

When you have printed the film rebate to maximum black, you can tell if your negatives are over or under exposed.

Over exposed negatives are still printable. But you may be able to get a better print or an easier print with a properly exposed negative.
 
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sterioma

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Thank you all for your responses.

Something that probably I failed to express in my original post is that I did not use the light table looking for absolute values of tone (or texture), but only to to evaluate the difference of tone between the film rebate and the rest of the paper: I was looking whether my maximum black was really the maximum, and since both blacks (paper and film rebate) receive the same light (from the light box) the comparison looks valid to me (at least in theory). A bit like some difference in values, maybe when selenium toning, are best examined when another copy of the print is in a tray full of water (who displays their prints in an aquarium)?

I normally evaluate my prints with just room lighting (in a spot in the darkroom which I measured being around 6EV at 100 ISO and that, based on what I have read on some book, is about appropriate).

I think the sensitivity curve of the paper roll-off too slowly at such high densities (almost at D-max) and to really push both the bare paper exposure and the exposure for the film rebate up to D-max you will also push all other "zones" of you neg into dark black. Instead, if you tolerate a small difference in level of black between bare paper an film rebate, it is more likely that bare paper will fall on D-max and film rebate at about zone 0-1, and then the rest of the zones in the neg will also be about right.

It's nice to see that someone has followed the same route and was against the same issues. From your comment it looks like we should give up the hope of ever reaching true maximum black from a straight print, at the grade level that we normally print contact sheets at? Or maybe that the maximum black should only be judged against what can be produced if the paper has been exposed through a blank strip?
 

pentaxuser

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Or maybe that the maximum black should only be judged against what can be produced if the paper has been exposed through a blank strip?

That's certainly how I decided on exposure for my contact sheets and it seemed to work OK

pentaxuser
 

Sirius Glass

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When I make contact prints, I want to see the photograph. The last thing on my mind is maximum black at that time. Maximum black comes later.
 

MattKing

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I will re-iterate - the contact proofing process adds variables that are not present when you actually print a 35mm negative.
Adjust your exposure a bit - decrease the exposure - to improve the usability of the proof sheet.
By the way, given how small a 35mm contact proof is, you should probably be using a magnifier to evaluate things like exposure.
 

Bill Burk

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Great prints can be made from negatives that look too dark or light on a proper proof.

A proper proof "proves" whether you hit your mark with a negative, or if it is underexposed or overexposed compared to an ideal.

If your ideal is a contact print sheet where every shot looks decent when proper proofed, then you should be careful to give consistently correct exposure in camera. Fred Picker wrote a lot about the "Proper Proof". He may have coined the term.

A while ago, I considered aiming for such a standard of quality, but I decided it didn't fit my style.

My ideal is to take a successful photograph under any situation that I come across. Sometimes to get the shot I have to underexpose. When there is enough light, or if the subject can tolerate a long exposure on tripod, then I will give plenty of exposure. But each of my exposures on the roll is different, I don't try for a perfect exposure. I try to give more than enough when I can, and I try to get away with as much as I can give it when things are dicey.

My contact prints look terrible.
 

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This is exactly how I do my own contact sheets. It may seem a bit extreme if all you want out of your contact sheet is to see your photos, but it certainly helped my printing immensely. My own negatives were actually too dark to print optimally. I don't remember where I picked this up but I suspect it was out of a book of some sort. Maybe one of Ansel's or Thornton's. (EDIT - It could have been Fred Picker too.)

However with that being said, I don't use a light box to evaluate my DMax. I just look at my contact sheets in what I consider good viewing light.

Of course if I have learned one thing for sure, it is that everyone has their own method that seems to work for them. Likewise, though my method works well for me, I am certainly not an expert of any kind so I would never consider telling anyone else to use my own process. Especially since I can't always follow my own advice! :D
 

Huub

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I am with Sirius Glass on this: i make contact prints to actually see what is on the negative, not to evaluate my max black. Maximum back comes when doing a proper print en even then i think high lights and overal tonal range are more important.
Your negatives might be fairly thin, as mine are, causing the contact sheet to be very dark when exposing them for max black. But then: when you can make decent prints using grade 2 or grade 3 paper of the majority of your negatives, i wouldn't be bothered too much.
 
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