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5. Example - From Negative to Print

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A recent thread on the APUG photography forum titled "interpretations of a negative" invited participants to provide examples comparing raw scanned negatives with finished prints. The intention was to illustrate the sort of aesthetic judgments that are made in the course of the transition from negative to print. That discussion prompted me to reply with an example, so I thought I'd include a page on my site that elaborates on my response.

Here's an example that illustrates the difference between a "straight" print from the negative and a finished (manipulated) print. The image is "Never Never Creek, NSW, Australia 1990":

Never Never Creek, 1999

It was a family holiday and we had gone out to do a bit of "exploring" around the area where we were staying. We had stopped to investigate a stream and see whether it was a suitable spot to let the kids have a play in the water. I had gone off for a "recce" and what initially caught my eye was the contrast between the light-grey texture of the slab of rock at the centre of the image and the darkness of the bush above and water below. Out came the Technika. The vantage point meant my 150mm Apo-Symmar lens (roughly equivalent to 50mm on a 35mm camera) was the best choice to capture all three elements of bush, rock and water. From memory the day was clear - or perhaps high overcast. I metered to give the rock an exposure that would render it mid-gray. I wasn't too concerned if I lost shadow detail in the bush as I knew I wanted that darker anyway. So after setting up, focussing etc the film (on Agfa APX100 rated at EI64) was exposed for 1 second at f16.

The exposed film was subsequently developed for 10 minutes in Rodinal diluted 1:50, and yields a straight (or proof) print that looks like this:

Figure 1: Straight print from Negative

(i.e without any manipulation)

To my mind, while the gray tones of the rock at the center of figure 1 look fine, the tones of the bush and water are too light and distract attention from the rock - particularly in the top left and right corners. Similarly, the tones of the rock at the left and right edges are lighter than at the center, resulting in the slightly odd effect of drawing the eye out from the center to the edges of the image.

All these "problems" can be solved in the darkroom using a technique called "burning". Essentially, burning involves giving more exposure to the areas that need to be to be darkened. The effect is linear, so the more exposure that is given, the darker the exposed part of the image will become - until it goes black.

When burning, a card is held suspended in the air between the enlarger lens and the easel to shade those parts of the image that do not receive the additional exposure. Provided the card is kept moving slightly throughout the "burning" exposure, there will be a gradual transition between burnt and unburnt parts of the image that will not be noticeable.

The base exposure for this image on my system is 12 seconds at f16. The additional "burning" exposure (on top of the 12 second base exposure) is a further 12 seconds (or 1 f-stop) to the bush at the top and water at the bottom of the image; and a yet further (third) 12 second exposure to the corners. The left and right hand edges are burnt for 6 seconds or so also. All expsoures are made at the same contrast setting (grade 3).

Figure 1 below is the straight - or proof - version, while figure 2 below is the finished print. Roll your mouse on and off the image and it will change between the straight and finished versions (sorry they dont line up exactly, but you get the idea...):

Figures 1 & 2 (roll mouse on and off image to change)

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Other choices included how far to burn down the bush. I could have rendered the bush completely black with no detail at all. I decided however, that a certain amount of detail in the most prominent bush helps the viewer work out what the image is actually representing, and also visually balances the "weight" of the light swirls in the water in the lower right corner. But who knows, future interpretations may see both bush and water go completely black for a more dramatic abstract look. I'm also still undecided about framing, and may yet crop the small amount of bush that intrudes into the image on the extreme right hand edge.

Nevertheless, the final print now looks much closer to how I envisaged it (read: hoped it would "come out") and I'm pleased with the outcome.

That's the fun of photography.

An Alternatve to Pre-visualisation

Think all this pre-visualisation stuff sounds pretentious? Then here's an alternative approach:

Figure 2 just looks better.

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