CLIVE R. HAYNES FRPS
Why is it that some
prints fairly ‘glow and sing’ whilst others look dull and grey and simply lack
that essential sparkle? Often the answer lies in insufficient attention to detail.
At each part of the photographic chain, from exposure to final presentation,
small deviations or sloppy practice can erode that elusive print quality.
The following list
is not definitive but it does give an idea about how attention to detail can
boost print quality. Proper attention to each point will degree by degree, lift
a print from the greyness of mediocrity and give it every chance to sing. Will
you join the choir? Or perhaps become a soloist?
- Correct choice of film for the
- Accurate initial exposure in camera.
- Rewind carefully.
- Accuracy in Developing.
- Correct choice of developer for
film and correct/proven best development method.
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions
or with experience, your own method. Whichever you choose, be consistent.
- Ensure the temperature is correct
and keep it stable.
- Use a stop bath.
- Fix as per manufacturer’s instructions.
- Do not use exhausted fixer.
- Use wetting agent after washing
for correct time.
- Dry in dust-free environment.
- Store negatives carefully.
- Keep all developing utensils clean
and always wash after use.
- Correct choice of paper type,
i.e. resin coated or fibre based.
- Finish of paper: glossy, lustre,
matt, etc. Tone of paper base: warm, neutral, cold.
- In general, the more ‘silver-rich’
the better, giving denser, richer blacks.
- Correct grade of paper of filter
- Choice of developer to influence
‘emotion’ and print tone.
- Do not over-use developer. Discard
- Keep developer temperature accurate
- Keep the developer free of contaminants
– in particular other chemicals (stop bath and fixer) nearby in the area.
- Use a black card beneath the print
(same size as print or larger). This will reduce reflections from white baseboard
or easel/printing frame that could diffuse through the paper layer and de-saturate
- Ensure that undersides of shading
cards, "dodgers" and "burners" are grey or black to reduce bounced light and
- Aim for medium exposure, time
say 15 to 40 seconds to allow sufficient time for shading, dodging, etc..
- Always make a test strip
and take time to assess it.
- Keep hands and fingers clean and
- Take care of multigrade filters
– avoid scratches, marks and damp fingers.
- Focus accurately – use a focussing
- Do not over-use the fixing bath
- discard when exhausted.
- Indicator sticks are useful to
estimate silver content and Ph level.
- Wash for specified time. Do not
over-wash resin coated papers.
- Use a hypo eliminator/wash-aid.
GENERAL GOOD PRACTICE
- Keep it clean and electrically
- Check the alignment.
- The fitted safelight – is it really
- Guard against light leakage.
- Check glass surfaces for condensation.
- Ensure that the enlarger lens
is of good quality.
- Check that the enlarger lens is
- Use a lens cap on the enlarger
lens between sessions.
- Check the bulb for discolouration.
- Check that the system is giving
even illumination over the baseboard area.
- Ensure that the enlarger is mechanically
stable and that it doesn’t wobble or vibrate. If you work on a wooden floor,
avoid moving about during the exposure time.
- Must be light-tight.
- Must be well ventilated.
- Avoid/minimise extremes of temperature
to reduce ‘ageing’ of materials and papers etc.
- Safelights must be safe – carry
out a test.
- Safelights must be of the correct
- Safelights must not be too close
to papers/enlarger/developing area. Minimum safelight-to-paper-distance four
- Reduce/eliminate reflections around
the enlarger to avoid white light bouncing up from the print area and reflecting
back down to the print. Make black the ceiling area immediately above the
enlarger and sections of the side walls adjacent to the baseboard.
- Assess the test strip, working
print and final print under the same, even tungsten lighting source. An ideal
viewing source is two 60 watt pearl tungsten lamps (no shades and no reflectors)
set about four feet apart and about four feet from the print.
- Always make assessments after
‘dry-down’ or at very least after the surplus water has been removed.
- Avoid the use of fluorescent lights
in the darkroom as they continue to glow gently for a while after switch-off.
This can ‘fog’ paper.