how to attain deep blacks

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by ian_babcock, Dec 26, 2016.

  1. I see pics with deep rich blacks but I myself cannot ever get enough darks and blacks in my images. This user has alot of images like this: I also see it on my favorite pictorial images.
    Vignetting and color filters can help but I cannot believe it comes from increased contrast - the images I speak of have light highlights and a very smooth tonal range.
    My last roll on my Rolleicord was overexposed. As I read the Zone System I am thinking some form of +/- exposure with +/- development could work, so that is my next test.
  2. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    I would underexpose to drop the zones 2 and 3 into or close to black and overdevelop to bring the zones 7 and 8 back up to zones 8 and 9.
  3. AJG


    How are you printing? If in a darkroom, using good quality recently manufactured paper and fresh developer is important along with James Dainis's suggestion about exposure of your negatives.
  4. It's the holy grail of black and white photography.
    The only way to master it is to do the hard yards and go
    through the dreary process of hugely bracketed
    exposures and variable time, temperature and
    processing techniques. Eventually, ;you'll hit on the
    formu k a - and everyone will take their hats off to you.
    Cartier-Bresson's wise words... The first ten thousand
    photographs are your worst. Get back to me when you've
    done 10,001.
  5. It isn't necessarily all done in camera. Underexposing with get you deeper blacks with less detail, but you can get that in post, too (darkroom or computer). Some of it is scene-dependent, too. Plus what Andrew says about fresh paper and chemicals if you're using a darkroom.
  6. In the darkroom you will get deep Blacks with fresh Glossy photo paper and put it afterwards in Selenia toning. Also the developer is a part of it: Fresh Rollei Print Neutral or Kodak Dektol or a copy of this receipt.
    The type/brand of paper: Fomabrom Variant 111. Till log 2,2 with Selenia toning which is pretty deep Black, most papers are not even touching log 2 in reflex measurement with a densitometer. The old Agfa fiber was the best but not available anymore (log 2,3).
  7. I agree with the OP that the issue is not necessarily one of contrast. Underexposing and overdeveloping will change the number of zones with detail, but it doesn't follow that prints will then have really black blacks. I agree with those who have suggested using fresh developer along with paper that can produce the desired blacks. Selenium toning can help. It's also important to give the paper sufficient exposure and development time so that it produces the darkest black that it can.
  8. Developing your prints for 1.5 minutes in virtually any paper developer will get you the deepest blacks the paper can produce. You can test this yourself by exposing a few small pieces of paper to room light and developing them for 1 minute, 1.5 minutes, 2 minutes, 2.5 minutes, etc. Almost always, the samples developed for 2 minutes or more are no blacker than the one developed for 1.5 minutes.
    In other words, developing a print for longer than 1.5 minutes won't deepen the blacks. It merely shoves more dark-gray tones into black and depresses the whole print. Underexposing your film will likewise shove the shadow detail into black without really making the blacks any blacker. For a full-toned print with deep blacks, good shadow detail, and good highlight detail, you need a properly exposed and developed negative.
    Glossy papers tend to produce the deepest blacks. Personally, I prefer fiber-base glossy paper (F surface) air-dried to a semiglossy finish instead of ferrotyped full glossy. The slight loss of black is insignificant, and the prints are easier to view without reflections. Of course, this is purely a matter of personal taste.
  9. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    "...I myself cannot ever get enough darks and blacks in my images." <BR> <BR>

    The OP is not asking about attaining deep blacks on prints per se. The examples shown are of internet web site displayed images. Most of the examples look to be underexposed which is the effect desired or having strongly backlit silhouettes.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2017
  10. Light and subject probably also have some importance in the photos linked. As these are film generated images (with the noted limited range of the medium to record wide dynamic range) and some seem to have seen the use of filters and vignetting, exposure is probably part of the key to the question and the photographer may be using the approach mentioned by James Dainis in his first post to obtain the necessary compression of light value range. The importance in some of the shots was apparently to accurately place the lighter subjects as near white reflectance (with details or not) while generally underexposing the overall scene, inducing the darker values, including shadows, go near black. If you overexpose you will not get this type of rendition.
  11. Internet images are obviously not comparable to printed paper images. Paper doesn`t have backlighted properties, nor digitally oversaturated blacks. The contrast range of screen viewed images is vastly larger than the one on a normally illuminated traditional paper. Don`t believe on internet images... they use to look much better than on paper.
    To get the most of your printing paper you need first to know its contrast range, from unexposed white to maximum black. You cannot go beyond this.
    To have a "contrasty" look, you probably need to reduce the "grey range" and to get full blacks to full whites. Think that room illumination will reduce or expand this range, so you must work thinking in advance on the place where they will be displayed.
    Depending on the negative quality, you may need to burn or dodge certain areas. Or to use contrastier filters. Next step is to split print, and then, masking techniques that lend the best results. Take your time.
  12. Don't make any value assumptions based on what you see on web images. You have no idea what went on in the post processing.
    Besides correct lighting and exposure (and a yellow or red filter can help) choosing the right film and developer combination is important. I can only tell what worked for me, and that was D76 full strength w/ Tri-X shot at 200 w/ a yellow filter, and Arista EDU Ultra 100 shot at 50 in full strength Microdol X. Both of these combinations gave stellar whites and deep blacks. Rodinal gave beautiful grain, but the blacks were not so deep, and Acufine gave incredible sharpness at the expense of the blacks. If you nail the lighting and exposure, either of these combinations will give you juicy blacks on the negs. Then print them on something like Adox MCC 110 fiber paper, which has the best whites and deepest blacks of any paper I have ever seen and is very simple to get dialed in.
  13. Thank you all for the responses I am so happy for everyone's input. I am scanning all my negatives, no printing at this point. I am using old cameras without a hard click between shutter stops plus the probability of worn out springs I expect leads to longer shutter times. I will do some bracketing, at least on the underexposed side, and will try some microdol X.
  14. Negatives should have some areas that are pretty black, and some that are almost clear.
    If the darkest is gray, it is underexposed. If the lightest is gray, it is overexposed.
    Your scanner might adjust the exposure as average over the scene. You then need to adjust before posting for others to see, or for printing. You adjust the brightness and contrast such that the darkest parts are black, and the lightest white.
    A low contrast negative, usually either over or under exposed, will print with no dark black and no whites white if you print as the average exposure. Increase the printing contrast with appropriate paper grade or variable contrast filter.
  15. Can you recognize and tell the difference in negatives that are under or over exposed compared to under or over developed?
    If not you better learn. Until then you are spitting into the wind.
  16. Zelph I believe you have hit the issue. I found a web page from The Online Darkroom, "How to Read a Negative" and that's about all I came up with - it was difficult to find information on interpreting negatives. Anyway it shows one negative in all the various combinations of over/under, I need to review it with every roll I develop. If you know of something else that can help me let me know. I am doing 60 minute semi-stand development with R09 1:100 and so not sure how much over/under development comes into play - might be a good thing for me but then maybe not.
  17. In the exposure it starts with your understanding of where the blacks are when metering. Typically if you find and meter on middle grey fairly accurately, you should be able to find a true black, assuming either one exists in the picture or at least the contrast latitude is greater than that of the film or sensor. Secondly, in post processing either computer wise, with use of various sliders, In Lightroom there is a black slider, there is also a black slider in the adjustment brush where you can also selectively increase black, like wise contrast, or shadows. In the wet darkroom, some methods, are exposure, burning, contrast filters, and burning with a high contrast filter. The better the exposure, the easier it is in post.
  18. I still find this basic bit of information is a good guideline: Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. In the zone system Zone III is the darkest area of the negative (and eventual print) which should actually contain discernable detail. Zone I and II rendering blacker and black respectively. Development of the negative has very little effect on the shadows and the detail there; Zones 1-3. There is almost a logarithmic effect where the middle Zones IV, V, and VI are affected more by a development increase with V and VI impact greater still by the same overdevelopment time. Zones VII, VIII and IX are often blocked-up and increasingly dense so as to render pure whites with no detail the more these zones are pushed in development. So a good practice might be to meter the shadows where you want detail (the meter will give you an exposure for a Zone V, and the stop down two stops to yield a Zone III. If you're brightest highlights are greater than four stops more you may want to under-develop which has it's own set of affectations. (See Ansel Adams book; "The Negative" for a good reference.) Over developing will expand the higher, lighter zones increasingly. I found that 40% overdevelopment took a Zone VI (caucasian skin value) to a Zone VII and sometimes higher depending on the original exposure. I did this a lot in the late 70's and 80's as a stylistic choice which fit in with the approach taken by my then mentor Francesco Scavullo. My approach has since changed with the advent of digital in the studio. I still shoot film but now use a lab for processing (even the black and white), so if you go that route, test your metering and exposure with a local lab and try a roll pushed 30% and pulled 20% to see what effect their processing has on the resultant negatives. I am glad to hear people are still choosing to use film, it has a definite dynamic all it's own. Just wish it were a little more ecologically sound.
  19. Phil, interestingly, I've found when moving from film to digital that reversing the adage to expose for the highlights has served me better. Somewhat how I would expose for slide film. It comes down to preference in that I like blown highlights much less than blocked shadows. Partly cause I live in Southern Cal, and on many a bright cloudless day there is more often than not going to be one or the other.
  20. I suggest you start by placing a small sauce pan lid on a piece of your 8X10 enlarging paper, turn on the white lights, wait a few seconds, turn off the white lights, develop the enlarging paper for your normal developing time. You should have a circle of unexposed paper [pure white] and the rest is completely exposed and completely developed to maximum black. This will show you the maximum range of your paper and chemistry. If your black seems weak, do it again but increase your developing time by 30 seconds. I find that 3 minutes for fiber based paper in a developer like Dektol [Diluted 1+3] will have completely developed all the exposed silver. If your blacks are still weak, it might be your paper or developer combination.

Share This Page