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[ Thinking in B&W ] - [ Getting Started ] - [ Taking Pictures in B&W ] - [ Developing B&W ] - [ Printing B&W ] - [ The Negative ]


Retouching is normally done to remove blemishes from the negative or the final print, but it can also be used to change the tone or remove unwanted detail.

ILFORD materials can be retouched, like any others, but in all cases extreme care is required.

Retouching - Donna Foster

The most risky retouching techniques involve the removal of parts of the image, by bleaching, cutting, or scraping with the edge of a sharp knife. The addition of density is generally less risky, and can be done using dye, paint etc, or a suitable soft pencil. When retouching prints from old and damaged negatives, professionals often use airbrushes. Photographic dealers generally stock kits of suitable materials.

It is best to avoid retouching small format negatives, and to work on the print instead whenever possible. Large format negatives can be retouched more easily - but if you ruin a negative, it is gone for ever, so unless you are experienced at retouching, it is advisable to make a copy and retouch that.

When adding density, it is best to use several successive applications of dye (etc), rather than to risk adding too much. Use dye to add density to glossy prints, and poster paint to add density to matt prints.

Do not use a knife to scrape a glossy print – the surface finish is all but impossible to restore. It is best not to use a knife at all on RC papers, no matter what the surface finish – the emulsion layer is thin, and any cutting or scraping is practically certain to distort the RC coating on the base in an unacceptable way.

If there is a clear spot on the negative, it will print as black, and reducing the density on the print is more difficult than increasing it. The best solution is usually to turn it into an opaque spot with a tiny dot of paint; this will print as white, and you can add density on the print.