The zone system is a method of controlling tone in black and white film photography. It enables the user / photographer to have confidence that tones visualised when the shutter is pressed will be the tones seen in a final print. It involves undertaking careful film exposure and development testing (linked to an individual’s equipment and working habits) and removes the doubts of ‘hope it will come out’ photography.Read More
Today I'd like to share a video with you.
I have been working on my 10x8 contact prints and am starting to get some sound results. The print in the video is approximately 11 x 14 inches, with the image size just a shade under 10x8 inches (I used a mask to get the paper white edges and this results in a size slightly smaller than the negative).
As always it's difficult to truly share a print online, but I hope the video gives a sense of its physicality and presence. I said in a previous post that making this print has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated (mainly because of the masking), but working with the large negative has been a joy. The adventure continues.
Today I thought I would share some thoughts with you on a print by John Blakemore entitled 'Lathkill Dale - from Lila’, 1978.
The image measures 17 x 22 cm and has been printed on a 23 x 27 cm (nearly 9 x 11 inches) sheet of fibre based paper. The image is not small, neither is it large; it has ‘stocky’ proportions which creates a sense of presence, perhaps making it look larger than it really is.
At first sight, the print presents as an even swatch of light, mid-grey. A sense of shimmering silver is there too. As the viewer moves closer the print shifts and changes, revealing a more complex tonality and a charming sense of depth and detail. Scanning up and down and from left to right, the viewer realises that there is in fact a quite staggering range of tone, from very near black to sparkling specular highlights. Mini-dramas unfold here and there, separate dioramas vying for the eye’s company.
The central trope of the image is a body of flood water. In his book Black and White Photography Workshop, Blakemore writes of the problems he had with the negative, which suffered from flare at the edges. Due to the temporary nature of the flood, Blakemore couldn’t return to make more exposures, and so had to make do with what he had.
The water is at once reflective and transparent. It is the reflecting reeds and leaves that gives the print its sparkle, reaching up the tonal scale. Yet imprinted on this, in almost ghost-like fashion, is a series of darker reflections. The viewer’s focus shifts back and forth between surface and reflection as the two aspects compete. Neither wins out, and in their interplay lies a wondrous tonal dance. The prints feels alive, shifting, sparkling, drawing one in.
Moving outwards again, a sense of settled, overall grey returns. The dominant tonal evenness reinforces the frame and prevents the eye from falling away. There is a serenity, a peacefulness; a state which belies the miniature dramas within. This is a print I could look at for a long time, and through framing, no doubt will.
I was able to acquire this print through John’s ‘Bargain Box’ which is available on his website here. It is a collection of test and alternative prints that John is kindly offering for sale at a much lower price than his regular work.
Good morning folks.
I've been printing my Pingliang Road image today. I went for an A3+ size to get a measure of the print at a good dimension, although it strikes me this image would lend itself to a much bigger form. Below is a mini photo essay in celebration of this simple but joyful photographic act. I hardly ever tire of seeing an image 'released' onto paper.
There are lots of reasons not to print your work - time, money, storage space and so forth. Perhaps you might like to go against this today, and give your image(s) a well-deserved reincarnation.
Sometimes it's good to be wrong.
Not so long ago, I wrote about my experiences of printing one of my 5x4 negatives, and recorded my dissatisfaction with the image as a print. Readers of this blog will recall that I was especially disturbed by the large shifts in focus; I found myself putting this print on A4 paper to one side.
The other day I decided to re-visit the file and printed it onto A3+ paper. The result was a revelation. The focus issues weren't gone - I would hardly expect them to be - but they were certainly different. Crucially, they weren't nearly so distracting, making the print much, much more satisfying.
There are a number of factors at work here, but the key one is clearly the size of the print. I think there is much in the idea that an image 'wants' to be a certain size. There are relationships of depth of field, subject and background interactions, detail and subject placement that pull or push against a given size. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that a 5x4 negative is leaning towards a bigger physical form in the final print.
I'm happy because this is the difference between 'this negative isn't going to make a piece' (of photographic art) and 'it is' ... just. For the time being I'm especially pleased to see the beauty of a negative realised in such a way that it hadn't been before. It is an image with some compositional and timing strengths, so this is a win for me.
Today I’m happy and excited to announce a new print offer. I’m also trying something different, by offering it for sale in my shop for one week only (starting today). I may make more in the future, or I may not (so it is strictly speaking an ‘open edition’ print), but it will be certainly limited by this time constraint for now. Who knows, I may never offer this image for sale again, so there is plenty of scope for purchasers to land themselves a very low-number work of art.
The piece is Alleyway, Menorca, a black and white inkjet print with a full-bodied tonal scale. It was shot on a Leica M6 TTL earlier this year, using Ilford HP5+ film, before being scanned on a negative scanner and edited digitally. The paper is the venerable Canson Baryta Photographique, which holds the fulsome tonality well, and accommodates the subtle darkest greys. The print is on A4 paper, with a generous border for framing. Image size is approximately 15 x 22 cm. As is my custom, I will sign the print in pencil on the rear and will ship it with a certificate of authenticity.
The print can be purchased in my shop now, but the sale will end on Tuesday 28th November at 8pm, London time. It will then be removed from the shop. If you are interested, my advice is naturally to place your order asap, something that is doubly important if you have the print in mind as a potential Christmas gift (and what better gift that a handcrafted print made by the photographer?). I'll do my best to make sure that any orders reach you in time for Christmas, but please be aware of shipping timescales and potential for disappointment if ordering from overseas.
I have been looking forward to printing this negative for some time. The print is on warmtone fibre based paper (hence the gentle curl at the edges).
I began with my usual procedure of making test strips at grade 2.5, but soon went down the grades as I felt that the negative demanded an open and gentle tonality. The grade I used in the end was 1.4. There is a very extensive tonal range, and the print does not lack contrast, even at this low grade. I think I achieved the kind of open tonality I was after.
The print size is a little larger than I would normally print at for 35mm. It was made using my Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm lens, and the bright, strongly backlit scene allowed for a favourable aperture and shutter speed combination (favourable, that is, to securing the necessary sharpness for a good enlargement).
Thanks to everyone who has purchased one of my Young Corn prints. I will be offering a 50% discount to celebrate the launch of this print for one more week from today. Please use code CORN50 at the checkout to take advantage of this offer. You can find this and my other prints here.
Last week I shared my Young Corn piece, shot on Ilford's HP5+ film. I have now added this as a print in my shop (please click on the 'prints' link above).
Two sizes are available, one on A4 paper and one on A3. Both have a border to allow for mounting (matting) and framing (the image of the actual print above helps to show this). I have chosen Canson's beautiful Baryta Photographique paper, an inkjet paper that gives the feel of a traditional fibre based print. I especially enjoy the rich and deep blacks that this paper has to offer, which I think suits the image, and it also produces an excellent tonal range. I wanted to reproduce the tonal rapport that HP5+ gives with this kind of subject and light. As is my customary practice, they will be signed in pencil on the rear and will come with a certificate of authenticity
In order to celebrate the launch of the print sale, I am offering my readers an impressive 50% discount for a limited time. Simply use the code CORN50 at the checkout (it will work on either size). Depending on the demand, I may close the offer relatively quickly so please don't delay if you are tempted. Shipping is free in the UK and there is a modest charge for the rest of the world. You are responsible for any taxes that your country imposes.
Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about the print and / or offer.
I have been busy on lots of fronts of late, but especially with teaching, as it the start of the academic year. My Pebble Project is in full swing, and it too has taken no modest amount of time, demanding my concentration and discipline.
So it is easy for me to forget that some of the best pleasures in doing photography are simple ones. A little time in the darkroom the other day served as a reminder.
Despite some reservations, I went ahead and printed a somewhat underexposed negative taken with my Yashica Mat G medium format camera and Ilford FP4+ film. The image is inescapably dark, so I went along with this, hoping to stay just the right side of 'meh, too dark'. The negative is indeed thin, but is it nevertheless amazing how much detail still resides in even the thinnest of areas.
In a case such as this, one's printing choices are narrowed and fine margins become all-important. My first print was too dark and lacked contrast. Still, I could see that the image struck up a relationship with the paper and its pearly, pitted surface, so I pressed on. I went up by about half a grade, and reduced my exposure. The tonality was now much more open and the image remained suitably dark, but gained much more of a sense of the light beyond. I finished the print with a gentle vignette, maybe heavier than my usual, and dodged the flowers a little to lift the lightest tones and draw the eye to the melancholy memorial.
An hour's printing with this forgiving, flexible and tactile medium that is darkroom.
Whilst looking at my previous post I had a realisation. There is a world of difference between the on-screen version of my Shutters image and the version on paper. I have to rely on the reader imagining differences between papers because the screen and the paper versions are so very different. The 'light turqouise' patch of which I write literally can't be represented on screen. A problem on one level, but, an inherent part of these distinct media and a splendid example of the gap between screen and print.
I guess you just have to see the prints too.
This print is very much a hybrid of new and old technology. It was shot on Ilford Delta 100 film and scanned and processed digitally before being printed on an Epson R3000 inkjet printer. The film was processed using Ilfosol 3, a developer that works very well with Delta 100, if one wants to emphasise fine detail.
I had made a darkroom print before I went down the digital route. I had envisaged this image as a very crisp and tonally varied one, something that my darkroom print didn’t quite achieve. Admittedly, I hadn’t spent too long on it in the darkroom, and remember filing the work print for further work. I must have been trying out some new ideas in digital processing, because I scanned the negative knowing what was in it and began to work on it in earnest.
One of the joys of modern technology is control. I think the analog darkroom has more than enough control in itself; the digital darkroom multiplies even this much further. The image needed some substantial perspective correction (you can see I am looking up from the camera position) and cropping as a result. I wrestled for a long time with the balance between emphasising the details in the architecture and conveying the grain in a way that I liked. You can’t have it all your own way: enhancing midtone contrast comes at the expense of adding noise to smooth areas. You are forced to protect certain areas (like sky) with carefully made layer masks. I went backwards and forwards for a long time with the tones and detail enhancement. I learnt a great deal about processing along the way.
I hadn’t really considered the print finished until a friend asked me to talk about my work and show some prints. It was at that point that I decided that I had a definitive version, printed on Epson Archival Matte paper. Looking at it on screen and then seeing the print brings a certain surprise. There is a fullness and depth to the print, a ‘rightness’ and balance that you can’t appreciate looking at a screen. It is as if the image can finally breathe. Happily, my first audience greeted the print with a lot of praise. As a photographer you do hope that others will enjoy the aesthetic decisions you make and share and understand a modicum of your vision.