So the other day I was reflecting on how I've been having a good old look at the state of play in my negative folders, observing the general poor state of things there and how a distinct softness abounds. Not the case for every neg, of course, but too many. As a result, I find myself printing at grades 4 and 5 in order to put some sparkle into into my prints. I should perhaps say that I'm not a big fan of super-contrasty prints, but you need a bit of punch to them otherwise they're just lifeless and dull.
I've been wondering why I haven't rumbled this earlier. I can't blame it completely, but I suspect it's my workflow that's partly to blame. Usually the first thing I do once the film is dry is cut and scan it. I pull the tif files into an old version of Photoshop and usually do a 'Auto Contrast' on them, before saving as jpeg. Then I decide which warrant messing about with in the darkroom and which don't. I suspect this workflow has been masking the general rubbishness of my work - basically, the software is too good at pulling something decent from what essentially is a poor negative.
So, what to do about it? I suppose the default is nothing, but that's not going to solve anything, right? No, the first step, I think, is to actually spend more time actually looking at the the quality of the negatives themselves - and not the subject matter. I'm also thinking it might be good to forego the scanning process completely, and revert back to printing contact sheets, as was the norm a few years ago. I like the sound of that.
The solution is probably something simple, y'know - like letting a bit more light in through the glass. Lots of peeps out there in Internet-land suggest rating the film at half the box speed (so around 80 for FP4+, 200 for HP5+), meter as normal and then cut back slightly on developing times. That sounds like a decent enough plan, but in essence the trick is to find a system that works - reliably - for yourself. Let's see what happens.