Wednesday, 10 May 2017

If you really want An Irish Republic

It has, believe it or not, taken me two days to produce this masterpiece:

My old Uni friend Simon, his partner Catherine and I took the train to Derry-Londonderry last Saturday and after the obligatory visit to the Guildhall to see the exhibition about the 17th Century Plantation of Ulster and the similarly obligatory walk around the Walls (which Simon and I first did about 35 years ago) we dandered up the town before getting the train back to Coleraine.  Towards the top of Shipquay St is the War Memorial and I snapped Simon as he leant over the railings in a pensive sort of mood.  I liked the Sinn Fein election posters against the backdrop of the 1927 War Memorial - kind of tells you all you need to know about this part of the world, really.

Anyway, due to shooting into the sun the subject brightness range was immense and the first straight print had no tone whatsoever in the sky.  That print went in the bin.  I tried a simple burn in and it looked awful so after a bit of thought I figured out that perhaps this was a negative that might benefit from pre-flashing.  I'd never done it before so read all I could about it in a short space of time - like here, from Ilford.  If you are into darkroom printing then you probably already know about the toe and the shoulder of the negative-density exposure curve.  Pre-flashing gets over the inertia of the paper, gets up past the toe and gives you a chance to get a little more tone into the paper for negatives where the highlight detail might normally be lost.  But don't take my word for it  - do your own research, as they say.

So I did a pre-flash test print - wound the enlarger up high, closed down the lens and set filtration to 00.  As a result I reckoned that for my situation, using Ilford Warmtone RC I could get away with about 4s before tone started to show on the paper.  So I pre-flashed a few sheets.  I did wonder how long the paper would hold it's 'pre-flash' for and the only mention I could get of it was from Roger Hicks, who reckoned a few hours to a day.  Good enough, anyway.

My first attempts were moderately successful - I got tone and detail in the sky but lost a lot of sparkle in the rest of the print:

So I regrouped and read some more and someone somewhere said that when pre-flashing it was appropriate to increase the contrast in the rest of the print and decrease the exposure.  Makes sense I guess when you think about it since you're effectively fogging the print a little...I think.  Anyway, this afternoon I took a deep breath and ventured forth again into the darkroom to try just that and yes, pretty much it worked.

I ended up pre-flashing at grade 0, printing at higher contrast/lower exposure than suggested (grade 4), burning in the sky at grades 2 and also grade 4, an additional burn-in at grade 4 for the top half of the print and lower-left (Simon's jacket) and a 9s dodge around Simon's face.   Whew.  After all that we get the result shown at the top of the page and shown here again just 'cos:

It's been a 2-day self-taught workshop with one negative and while 24 hours ago I never wanted to see that negative again now I think Yes, I can deal with it.  I'm happy.


  1. Just to tell you I'm still struggeling a bit with this one, and will probably comment some day...
    It's a very good post though, and a great outcome on that print for sure. I will read, and read again, and hopefully learn a few bits from it.

    1. Thanks Roy, appreciated - not sure you could learn much from This Place, though ;)