Darkroom: Three Prints of Prague

June 27, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

To my dad, who first introduced me to the wonders of darkroom.

It is a shame but I do not make it into the darkroom as often as I would like to. I'll have to work on that as I truly enjoy the process. I like it allows me to finish the analog picture making journey started by capturing the world on film without a computer inserted into the process. And to top it off, it is very relaxing. The whole world is literally shut out and not allowed to enter. And time becomes relative. Hours can pass by feeling like no time at all.

For now, I have stayed with the simple yet powerful process my dad introduced me to back in 1980s. I take couple light readings from the frame to be printed, one for dark and one for light areas. I use the low value reading (dark in the negative but bright in the final positive) to set the aperture of the enlarger lens to place the target exposure time somewhere around 10 seconds. While it may sound like that there is not much science to this. It's based on past trial and error and knowing that approximately 2/3 EV should get me close. I use the high reading (bright in the negative but dark in the final positive) to gauge the contrast I should start with.

A test strip is the next step. While I am aware of f-stop-based darkroom printing and f-stop-based test strips and definitely see the logic and advantages behind that I have stayed with the simple timing method for now. For my first test strip I will go for about 6 - 7 strips on a 5x7 paper ripped in half to limit waste. Thus, each strip is less than 1 inch wide. I will start on 6 or 8 seconds and add 2 seconds for each next step. In practice, the whole sheet gets exposed for example for 8 seconds. Then I cover a small section and add 2 seconds of exposure. Then I slide the cardboard more in to cover an additional step and repeat until the whole paper is used. That will give me 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 seconds. And that's what you see in the first photo below.

Roofs & Chimneys, Test 1Roofs & ChimneysTest 1 Roofs & Chimneys, Test 2Roofs & ChimneysTest 2 Roofs & Chimneys, Test 3Roofs & ChimneysTest 3

Unfortunately, this time my guesswork was a little bit off and even the darkest stripe lacked punchy blacks. As a result, I repeated the test starting with longer exposures and going past 20 seconds. I could have also opened up the lens a stop but I chose the longer exposure times instead. As you can see, I also widened each stripe and printed 5 variations instead of 7 to have wider areas included in each. Now I definitely had the whole range covered but hesitated on selection. To solve that I printed the final test for the three exposures I wanted to pick from.

Another option is to use bigger time differences for the initial test strip but I usually work with 2 seconds. If I was not metering the dark and light areas at all and depended solely on the initial test strip, I would definitely go with 3 or even 5 second increments to make sure I get to the ballpark with the first test strip. The exposure selection can be narrowed down by going in smaller increments for each successive test.

For now, I've used this simple method of sliding a thin cardboard over the face of the photo paper. That comes with some major disadvantages as each strip includes a different area of the print and the shadows and highlights may not be present in each, making it difficult to pick an exposure working best for both whites and blacks. Localized test strips are meant to solve that challenge. It is something I plan on trying out in the (near) future. Another use for the localized test strips would be insuring a face in a portrait is well represented in a test strip. With the simple method described above the face (or faces) may be completely missing from some of the samples.

Roofs & Chimneys, Prague Castle, Czech RepublicRoofs & ChimneysPrague, Czech Republic

Roofs & Chimneys, Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Traditional Black and White Darkroom Print on Ilford MG IV RC Portfolio

You can see the final print above. Please, keep in mind that these are scanned images of the test prints that I tried to adjust for brightness and contrast to be as close to the paper versions as possible but that is not an exact process. And it was close on my monitor, which is a huge variable. When working on photographs I keep my monitor turned down quite a bit to see what I would get if I printed the photos on a printer or had them printed by an online photo lab. Most people's monitors are set to a way higher brightness. Thus, the photos here are just for process illustration rather than showing which strip was or should be chosen.

Now for a little bit of background for these photographs. When one exits the Prague Castle, the views don't get any less impressive. I have always liked the roofs and chimneys of the houses along the roads on the slopes below. The first two prints in today's post are dedicated just to those views. The one above for the Roofs & Chimneys, and the one below focused on the Chimneys.

Since this print was from the same roll of film exposed and developed identically to the previous one the starting point was easier. One test strip would have most likely been enough but I chose to confirm my selection with a small print. I wanted the chimneys as bright as possible without losing detail in them.

Chimneys, Test 2ChimneysTest 2 Chimneys, Test 2ChimneysTest 2

That relatively quick process gave me the final print below. Even though the sky has a very minor role in this photo I was quite happy about its tonality. On cloudy days that can be taken care of by itself and when the sky is blue, I prefer to use an orange filter. Yellow often seems too subtle while red can be overpowering and can also make it harder to get the right exposure for both highlights and shadows. With the orange filter, I often leave the exposure compensation up to the built-in meter and get very good results. With a red filter, I get better results metering without the meter and adding compensation manually.

Chimneys, Prague Castle, Czech RepublicChimneysPrague, Czech Republic

Chimneys, Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Traditional Black and White Darkroom Print on Ilford MG IV RC Portfolio

For the third and final print we are staying at almost the same location but the focus is now on the approach to the castle, specifically the stairs. In this case they are the Castle Stairs (Zámecké schody) also known as the New Castle Stairs (Nové zámecké schody) in contrast to Old Castle Stairs (Staré zámecké schody) at the eastern entrance.

(New) Castle Stairs, Test 1(New) Castle StairsTest 1 (New) Castle Stairs, Test 2(New) Castle StairsTest 2

As with the chimneys I was happy with my results after one test strip and one small print for a confirmation. Enjoy the final print below.

(New) Castle Stairs, Prague, Czech Republic(New) Castle StairsPrague, Czech Republic

(New) Castle Stairs, Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Traditional Black and White Darkroom Print on Ilford MG IV RC Portfolio

What remains? Not only did this post make me want to print more photos from Prague I already have ideas where to visit next and capture some future printing material. So many opportunities!

Enjoy The Beauty That Surrounds You! #etbtsy

PS: Future darkroom topic ideas: f-stop printing, localized test strip making, 3d-printing a localized test strip masking frame, home made developer

Do you enjoy reading my photography blog? Would you like to see more photographs from Buffalo and Western New York? Visit my Buffalo Cityscapes and Buffalo & Western New York Landscapes and enjoy! For more darkroom prints, head over to the Darkroom gallery.

Previously from the darkroom:

Historic Chautauqua Belle Steam Ship, hand-made traditional silver gelatin darkroom printChautauqua BelleBlack & White Darkroom Print Historic Chautauqua Belle Steamship, hand-made traditional silver gelatin darkroom lith printChautauqua BelleDarkroom Lith Print

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