Skip to content →

Self portrait: burning in the highlights

In this first installment of the Print Improvement section of this blog, I return to a print I made in April this year. My girlfriend and I were at Scheveningen beach, when I asked her to take this portrait of me.

Figure 1: Photographic reproduction of the original print.
Figure 1: Photographic reproduction of the original print.

The original print is shown in Figure 1, and was printed for the midtones to get skintones that looked okay to me. Although I was not unsatisfied with the original print, I felt there was more to it than I got out of it in that session. A second look at the contact sheet (see Figure 2), shows that there is quite some interesting detail in the background that could be used, but which is completely blown out in the original print. Due to all the light tones the original feels somewhat flat to me.

Figure 2: Photo reproduction of the contact print of this photo.
Figure 2: Photo reproduction of the contact print of this photo.

Attempt to recover the highlights

In an attempt to recover these highlights I remade the print; this time without considerable cropping of the frame. As I did not keep a record of my methods at that time, I decided to first try a straight print using a single filtration. In the straight print the highlights could be brought back, but not to the extent that I wanted them. Based on the test strip I decided to burn in the background a stop compared to the base exposure. As the area to be burned-in is large I used a cut-out from another test print as a template as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Template made from a cut-out print.
Figure 3: Template made from a cut-out print.

The result is shown in Figure 4.

Figure ...: Photographic reproduction of the final print of this sessions.
Figure 4: Photographic reproduction of the final print of this sessions.

Things I learned

The first thing I learned in this session, is that the read-off error of my analog darkroom timer is larger than I anticipated. In making test strips I switch on the enlarger in three second intervals. In doing so, the read-off errors accumulate, making a strip that should have been exposed for 6 seconds one of for example 7 second exposure, and that of a 9 second exposure one of 10.5 seconds in stead. In noticed this when I closed down the aperture a stop and doubled my exposure time. The original exposure time of 6 seconds at f/8.0 should be the equivalent to one of a 12 second exposure at f/11. However, it was clear that the latter one was noticeably lighter. I needed to bump up the exposure to 15 seconds in stead to get the expected results. This only goes to demonstrate once more that at the low end of the scale, readings are not to be trusted. This can be solved in two ways: 1) close down the aperture further at the start, to increase the exposure times or 2) switch to a digital clock. If you have one lying around and are willing to sell it or want to support my hobby by donating it, feel free to contact me ;-)!

The second thing I learned, is that paper is not fully opaque to light. As demonstrated in the photos above, I used a cut-out of a test print as a gobo for dodging and burning in the print. Although the base exposure was the same as for the straight print, some darkening is still apparent in the final print in areas that were covered during burning in (thanks Madeleine for that tip!). I had not noticed this before, as I normally use card board for this in more generic shapes. This last point ties in directly with my burning skills.

Figure 4: As can be seen there is some halo around the head and some darkening of the shoulder areas.
Figure 5: As can be seen there is some halo around the head and some darkening of the shoulder areas.

As can be seen in Figure 5 there is quite some halo present that is introduced by my poor job of blending the edges while burning in. To avoid the halo I will have to hone my skills. Additional time during burning in will certainly help, as it allows for more blending actions near the edges of the cut-out. At f/16 I reached the smallest aperture of my enlarging lens, so I cannot further lengthen the time by closing it down any further. Another solution can be found in abandoning the cut-out gobo altogether and replacing it by plate with a small hole. By blocking the larger part of the light, the hole can be used to position a small patch of light on the print and burn in locally. By moving the patch around, the local burn-in time can be controlled. This method is demonstrated in this youtube video. Although this is the most versatile method, it will also require the most practice. Especially with large areas to be burnt-in, as in this image, getting a consistent and even exposure over the entire area will require practice and trial and error. Lastly, the same effect can be achieved using a neutral density filter in the optical path to cut down the intensity further. On a dichroic head this can be achieved by adding more cyan to the mix, with multigrade filters you are stuck with an additional filter.

All in all a good practice session with some important lessons learned!

Published in Print Improvement