Part of my current project involves portraits I took last summer on large format BW film. I’ve decided to do it the right way, and print correspondingly on fibre based paper for the ultimate in quality. It proved to be a long, exhausting, expensive and confusing ordeal, but yesterday I finally managed to get the prints exactly as I wanted them. It was mostly one particularly thin and strange neg that tortured me the most, the portrait below.
To get here, I had to fight density shifts, fingerprints, scratches on the emulsion of the prints, dust, selenium toner and a cheeky glazing press. It took four 10 hour days over 4 weeks in the darkroom, and nearly 4 packs of paper (only 10 sheets each though) but getting that perfect print in the end makes it all worth it.
I’ve come to a few essential conclusions after this experience. These tips are probably in every good BW printing book, but if you’re like me and print before reading anything they might just save you a few hours/sheets/bucks:
- The emulsion on FB paper is VERY delicate, especially when wet. If you come from a RC workflow as I did you’ll probably have to change a few things. For example I learned the hard way to…
- Never put images face down in the trays! Actually, don’t put them face down anywhere. The worst part is that if you get scratches on the emulsion they usually show up when the image is dry. That means that you might go through the whole thing (wash for a million years, tone in a stinky toner, spell magic and all that) only to find a nice scratch through the middle of the print. Believe me, it’s not a nice discovery
- Only handle paper by the edges. Although it’s kind of obvious it’s surprisingly hard to not touch the emulsion through the whole thing. Fingerprints often behave like scratches, you only see them when the paper’s dry. However, if you’re lucky, a bit of lighter fluid on a soft cloth gets rid of most, unless you’ve ignored the following warning:
- Don’t use a glazing press unless absolutely necessary. I decided to give it a try, and that one try is all that it will ever get from me. Amongst the various ways that a glazer can ruin your prints this is my favourite: if there’s a fingerprint anywhere on your image and you run it through the glazer the fingerprint is permanently embedded in the emulsion. There’s nothing you can do to get rid of it. If possible,
- Always dry your prints by hanging them on a line, much like you’d do with your socks (no, the tumble dryer is not an option). My simple but groundbreaking revelation came in the form of small bulldog clips. They are strong enough to hold the prints securely, leave almost no mark on the prints and are cheap. If you use those to hang your prints in couples, back to back (that’s important, if emulsion sides touch while drying they will stick and you’ll have to wash them again) and clip them together all round (see images above) they will dry as flat as possible. Be careful as the clips might sometimes leave small rust marks.
to be continued (and edited)… some day