Split grade printing

Some months ago I won an online auction for a complete set of Ilford Multigrade below-lens filters in near pristine condition. Today, I had the opportunity to put them to use.

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Some months ago I won an online auction for a complete set of Ilford Multigrade below-lens filters in near pristine condition. Today, I had the opportunity to put them to use.

About a month ago I posted a blog about a forty-something year old contact strip discovered at the back of an old photo album (The abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart). I’ve since scanned the contact strip and created a set of 35mm film sized digital negatives on Permajet acetate sheet to print from. This morning the rain rained and looked like it would be on all day so I set up my darkroom and disappeared within it for the rest of the day!

The digital negatives, created from an old and quite marked contact strip were already quite high contrast and with pinhole-like soft focus but the images have resonated strongly with people who know the house and its history. They have a story to tell and I’ve felt compelled to make what I can of them. Since discovering the images I’ve re-visited the house albeit briefly and been able to take a couple more photos of it as it is today.

I printed on 5×7 Ilford MG Art 300 paper. It’s a cotton rag base paper with a textured, egshell matt finish that not only feels ‘right’ for the vintage of the subject matter but also hides some of the imperfections inherent in the images. I expected the high contrast of the digital negatives to be troublesome to print so I’ve been reading up on split grade printing in the hope of smoothing the way.

IMG_5742

The below-lens filters were a breeze to use. One test strip at grade 2½ gave me a base exposure for shadow detail. Halving this gave me exposure times for a split grade test strip/print, half at grade 5 for shadows and half at grade 0 for highlights and overall contrast. From this print I could determine any adjustment needed to the exposure given at grade 5, and to adjust the brightness and overall contrast of the print I could change the exposure at grade 0 and/or change the filter grade. (There’s a great set of video tutorials for this on the Ilford Photo website).

Some prints worked better than others but on the whole they are much as I had expected and hoped for. I’ve already posted a set of the contact strip images so it would be wasteful to post another set of the prints. However, here’s a then and now comparison of a split-grade print made via a digital negative from the original contact strip and a split-grade contact print of an FP4+ 5×4 negative exposed just a couple of weeks ago, both from much the same viewpoint.

20170806_001sm
then
20170806_002sm
now

Since my blog post last month and re-visiting the area I’ve discovered quite a lot about the house, its history and the family who lived and worked in it. I need to do more research and put together the photographs and the story for posterity, perhaps in a wee book.

Author: Donald Tainsh

A lifelong explorer of photography

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