Darkroom contrast vs push processing

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by stevej1265, Mar 10, 2019.

  1. Hi everyone. Been getting to grips with processing HP5+ shot at box speed and it's all ok but it looks pretty flat and lifeless. I'm used to punchier, more contrasty images for street photography. Do you recommend push processing or is it better to have more 'standard' negatives to begin with and just use variable contrast paper and filters at darkroom stage (and curves/levels adjustments for scans in the meantime.) Just how much contrast can be added in the darkroom using these methods and do these linked images give a realistic indication? Printing with variable-grade paper - darkoom guide

    I won't have access to darkoom printing for quite some time but it is something I'm hoping to get into in the future and I would hate to run into unnecessary problems further down the line....

    Thanks in advance!
  2. Generally, increasing developing time will increase contrast with (again a generalization) 15-20% increase in time yielding about one grade. Agitation also increases contrast but, if you are following recommendations for agitation intervals I would try a 20% increase in developing time and compare the results. This isn't the same as "push-processing" which is exposing at a higher speed and processing longer (underexposing and over-developing) and the resultant loss of shadow detail.
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  3. SCL


    If you're planning to digitize the images, say for internet posting, it is better to have flat images and make contrast adjustments using your processing software.
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  4. The link to contrast grades looks pretty close to what you'd see visually (sorry for the tautology there).

    You can get pretty close to a 'lith' effect with a grade 5 filter. However, it depends what paper you're using. A trend to putting less silver content in bromide paper started many years ago, and some brands of paper just look flat no matter how contrasty the original negative is.

    Generally the more expensive the paper, the more punchy the end result, but there are some exceptions at both ends of the cost scale. So I'd advise doing some research on customer satisfaction with printing paper quality.

    Stale paper will also look flat, and needs a more concentrated, or hotter developer. In fact the paper developer can make a big difference too. Nothing beats the old D-163 formula (RIP, sadly missed) IMHO. You might try warming your paper developer to 75F instead of 68F as well.
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  5. Push processing always increases contrast and different developers will give different results. D-76 is always a good general purpose developer for most applications. Push one stop with it and you'll increase both contrast and grain ie from 400-800 for example. If Acufine is still available it gives excellent results pushing from 400 to 1600 but again contrast goes up and grain really starts to show but that's not always a bad thing. Printing with multigrade papers makes things less complicated and you don't have to keep so many graded papers on hand. Dektol was always a very good print developer and Kodak made a similar paper developer that came in liquid form. I can't recall the name but our local photo store called it liquid Dektol in its stock form and that was accurate.

    Rick H.
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  6. Thanks Joel! Would this not make my negative highlights too dense?
  7. Thanks for the reply! I was hoping that would be the general advice. I've taken some decent pics and I was worried they would be too flat come darkroom time
  8. Thanks Joe, so you think I'm better leaving extra contrast work for the darkroom rather than pushing the film?
  9. Thanks Rick, so would you recommend pushing the film rather than leaving contrast for the darkroom?
  10. A neg is for printing not projection I would not be scared, if mine (clarifying: I am talking about a half tone neg placed on Chromolux for visual evaluation under light!) looked like the grade 0 or grade 1 example in the link. or, due to the film base, even flatter.
    I 'd want punchier contrast in my film, if(!) I was processing slides.
    Dig out some neg you had successfully darkroom printed to your taste in the past and compare it to the recent ones.

    Flat negs give exposure latitude. - Slides lack that. In the darkroom you tend to have time to get things right, out on the street you might have not.

    It is incredible hard to find words to describe a good enough neg. All I know: When I shot HP5 (without "+") results seemed OK from a somewhat recent / decent lens like chrome Sekors or a Solinar. (1950s & 60s?) a Seagul's lens was 1.5 grades softer and even pushing to ISO 3200 in Microphen did not give me "expected" results from an uncoated pre-war Heliar. I guess warming up with that lens for landscapes on dull days would have required a very different developer.

    I wish I could give an answer, but in the end you need to get into a darkroom, to see what you have or a neg to compare to.
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  11. I wouldn’t push the film simply to get more contrast unless the scene itself was very flat. Different lens give different contrast ranges, same with different films and developers. Learn which combinations can give the results you are after in a given shoot. Tri X or HP-5 in D-76 is a good place to start and works well most of the time. 90% of my newspaper work used it but for high school sports and some college games at night Acufine was a lifesaver. It takes practice to learn what works for you on any day.

    Rick H.
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  12. In the darkroom, it's much easier to add contrast than to tame it.
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  13. Yes. Pushing (i.e. over developing) runs the risk of 'blocking' highlights so that no detail can be got from them. A properly exposed and developed B&W negative should have a density not much higher than 1.8 ~ 2.0, which looks quite low in contrast visually, but prints nicely.

    Same goes for colour negatives. The colour negative itself is capable of capturing a wide subject brightness range, but printing or scanning it becomes very difficult once the SBR exceeds 7 or 8 stops.
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  14. Thank you for your reply!
  15. Thank Rick, appreciate it!
  16. Thanks a lot Bethe, was hoping this would be the answer!
  17. Thanks as always Joe for keeping me on the right track!

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