The version of split grade printing described here is that taught to me by the ILFORD head printers, Mike Walden and Terry Offord, and is the simplest, fastest way to make good darkroom prints from pretty much any negative. (The exception is really underexposed negatives to print these you usually only need high contrast).
This is a very powerful technique that can be used routinely with variable contrast (VC) papers, such as ILFORD MULTIGRADE. It makes use of the differing performance produced by combining low contrast and high contrast exposures in the same print. For example, you may think that a 10 sec exposure at grade 2.5 would be similar to two exposures of 5 sec, one at grade 0 and one at grade 5. Fortunately for us, the performance curves for VC papers like MULTIGRADE vary across the grades so this simple example doesn’t work. However, it does mean that we have another way of controlling contrast, and especially shadow and highlight detail.
The term split grade printing just means that instead of starting with one exposure you split it into two (or more), to give the basic image, one of these is low contrast and one high. Together they average out to an exposure somewhere in between the two. This gives the printer an infinitely variable contrast range within the limits of grades 0 and 5.
A video of showing this technique can be found here and the full detailed description is below. I’d suggest watching the video through, whilst having the instructions in front of you.
For each exposure, you can change the time and grade used giving you an almost infinite variety of possibilities. You can also dodge (selectively reduce the exposure of) parts of the image during each of these 2 basic exposures:
It needs a bit of playing around to see what the variations can do for any image.
I often make the foreground more contrasty by dodging the low contrast exposure for this area. I don’t want viewers of my images to just look straight beyond the foreground to the main centre of interest. The picture sits on the foreground, and increasing the contrast here gives it a prominent position in the final print.
Now the basics are in place further exposures can be added to enhance or emphasise smaller areas in the print.
This document was reproduced here with kind permission from http://www.darkroomdave.com/tutorial/split-grade-printing/
All black and white images ©Dave Butcher
Darkroom Dave is my alter-ego. I’m really the photographer Dave Butcher.
Since 1988 I have lived in the Derbyshire Peak District village of Tunstead Milton, near Whaley Bridge and have been married to Janice since 1976 although I was born and brought up in Welwyn, Hertfordshire (25 miles north of London).
Played football in local leagues, until 1984, for the Frythe (Unilever), Colworth House (Unilever), Steeple Claydon near Buckingham, Biggleswade Town, Churchill College Cambridge, St Andrews (Cambridge), Toft Red Lion (near Cambridge), University of Cambridge Chemical Labs and Ilford Ltd.
I trained and worked as a chemist, with a PhD from the University of Cambridge, until 2005 when I decided to turn my love of black and white photography into a full-time career. Working for ILFORD PHOTO for 21 years, including running the photographic printing department for many years, helped this quite a bit. I still keep close ties with them after they made me one of only six Ilford Master Darkroom Printers in the country. In fact all the materials used in our courses and workshops are from them. A lot of my work has been used on their packaging and marketing material.
I develop and print my own work using Ilford Multigrade fibre based papers, sell framed prints from my studio in the UK’s Peak District as well as at fairs and exhibitions and sell unframed prints, courses and books through my website www.davebutcher.co.uk. As well as running photography and darkroom courses I have a busy schedule of lectures and exhibitions up and down the country.
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