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Book review of Tim Rudman’s “The Photographer’s Master Printing Course”

When I wrote my previous post, I decided it was time to get back out there and shoot more film. Unfortunately, the weather has been terrible since, with lots of rain or very dull, featureless, grey skies. Not being outdoors shooting or in the darkroom printing photos, leaves time to read though, and I have been going through Tim Rudman’s book titled “The Photographer’s Master Printing Course” (ISBN 1-85732-407-2) which can be had second hand for roughly 15 euro online. The review below concerns the 1995 reprint of the 1994 edition of the book. A revised version was published in 2004.

Impression

My copy is a nice hardcover version that came in good condition and included the dust cover. A quick browse through the pages displays the rich amount of photos that accompany the text. The paper is smooth and glossy, but does not degrade the reading experience and the photos come out nicely.

The book is split into three main parts, which Rudman uses to take the reader from the very conception of a print to its presentation and preservation.

For the beginner, the first part, titled “The Preliminaries”, discusses the tools that are needed, considerations for the construction of your own darkroom and the very basic considerations of developing film. Printers with more experience will likely skip the first part, but it pays off to browse it anyway. I found it instructive in its own right and found information that I had not come across before. When discussing “Other useful chemicals”, for example, he highlights the uses of materials that are nowadays less common in the darkroom of the amateur printer. For example, the uses for benzotriazole for minimizing fog and cooling down the tone of an image, or the use of potassium ferricyanide as a bleaching agent, are briefly discussed.

The second part, aptly titled “Printing”, is the main attraction of the book and covers more than 70% of the pages of the main text. For a book that contains “Master’s printing course” in the title, nothing less can be expected. The reader is taken step by step through the process from the very basic operations, to the more complex movements of print making. The topics that are discussed are:

  1. The work print, in which the reader is taken along every detail of making a proper work print;
  2. Dodging and burning-in, where Rudman explains several techniques for darkening or lightening parts of the image and the effects that can be obtained;
  3. Contrast, where both the technical background and artistic goals of contrast are discussed;
  4. White light, that covers the uses of illuminating the paper without a negative in the carrier (e.g. for contrast control);
  5. Multiple printing, that focuses on composite images;
  6. Lith printing, that discusses the fundamentals of making lith prints;
  7. Bleaching, where Rudman covers the use of chemical bleaching to achieve effects for which normal dodging falls short;
  8. and Toning, in which the need for toners and their applications are outlined.

All in all, this makes for a very complete guide through all the important aspects of darkroom printing and it will satisfy the interests of many readers. Rudman includes many step-by-step explanations of the processes and includes the technical details that aid in understanding the effects. I found the ample amount of pictures very helpful and they illustrate the text rather well.

Photo of pages 46 and 47 of Tim Rudman's "The Photographer's Master Printing Course".
Photo of pages 46 and 47 of Tim Rudman’s “The Photographer’s Master Printing Course”.

The third and last part of the main text, “Presentation and Preservation”, is relatively short and mainly focuses on how to achieve an archival print (entire books and academic journals have been filled on the topic, so it is relatively basic information here), and on what to consider for the presentation of your photos. Although, it should be part of a “Master printing course”, I found it too brief to be very useful.

After the main body, there is a section that is labeled “Reference data”. Together with the part on printing, this section makes for good reference material and will have you use it as a reference book, indeed. Although the author already expresses that this section “is not intended to be a comprehensive photographic formulary”, it gives formulae on chemical agents such as developer additives, reducers, bleachers and toners. He also included a conversion table for converting exposure times from the original work print to an enlargement.

Verdict

I find “The Photographer’s Master Printing Course” an instructive book, that is well written and contains many helpful visual examples. I certainly learned quite a bit from reading it, and I think that especially the beginner and somewhat more experienced printers will want to have this book their bookshelves.

While writing this review, however, I kept lingering on the question “is this a master printing course?” That question I have to answer with: no, it is not a master printing course. Although it is extensive and covers all the main topics, I believe a master course should be even more extensive and focus on mastery, in stead of just covering all bases. Mastery, however, cannot be gathered from reading books. It comes by practice and personal guidance of an experienced printer that will help you understand your errors and teach you how to fix them.

About the author

This book, published in 1994, was Tim Rudman’s first on the topic of darkroom printing and others followed. As a renowned expert on lith printing, he authored the reference book “The Master Photographer’s Lith Printing Course” in 1998. Although he has an academic background in medicine, he is a self taught darkroom printer (as many of us are too nowadays) and now practices both photography and teaching professionally.

Published in Darkroom Bookshelf