Getting that final print right

As I have said before on this blog, I started photography many years ago and learnt darkroom printing techniques whilst I was at university. At that time I obviously learnt about making test strips to make the print with the right exposure, density, contrast and depth. Even after test prints, you might still want to make alterations after you have lived with the photograph for a while. So on that test print, you would mark areas on it where you might want to burn in or dodge and once again the test strips would come in useful as a reference guide for the kind of timings that would be looking for.

The photograph below shows how annotations were made to a test print to guide the printer in making the right dodge and burn areas on the paper.

The actual photograph was taken by Dennis Stock and the annotations were made by master darkroom printer Pablo Inirio prior to making the final print. It’s obviously difficult to read Inirio’s notes, but the gist of them can be made out by virtue of what he was encircling on the image.  The numbers are obviously the additional or less amount of time in seconds that he would burn or dodge that particular part of the final image.

Here’s another image by Stock and printed by Pablo Inirio of Audrey Hepburn.

In the image on the left, you can see that Inirio has noted where he would have to again, burn-in or dodge – even down to the side of Hepburn’s nose. On the right is the completed print by Inirio after using all of his notes. And you can see when comparing the two images where he has dodged the image, particularly along the side of the car and the windows at the top left.

Before I obtained my digital printer, I used to use commercial outlets to print my photographs. The ones I used produced fantastic results and they did brilliant work with the images that I supplied them. However, once I got them back and put them up somewhere in the house where I could see them every day I would start to see things that I would like to alter. Such and such needed burning in or a particular area needed lightening. But of course, I could only do that by altering the images and getting a new print done and as they were not cheap, sometimes fiscal responsibilities dampened down artistic integrity.

Once I bought my printer however I was introduced to another level of artistic independence which meant that I could use a particular wet darkroom technique that I was taught and found very useful – the test print annotation.

I now process the photograph I am working on the computer to what I think the final image should be. This is all done using the monitor screen which obviously is regularly calibrated. I then print a small copy of the image, usually a 7” x 5” print and examine it carefully. I leave it for a while somewhere I can see it and then after a couple of days maybe I will note on the print where I think I need to adjust it to get it exactly how I envisaged the finished photograph. I will circle areas on the print and mark them with a “+” or a “-“ denoting dodging and burning, an “s” for sharpening or a “c” for contrast each with a prefix of “+” or “-“ to either increase or decrease the effect and I will also make notes along the edge of the photograph to remind me of other work I will do like a line showing where I want to crop perhaps. I then take this back to my digital processing software and carry out the changes to the image.

After I have completed the changes, if necessary, I will then make another  7” x 5” print to check that the work I have marked on it as being needed has been done correctly. Sometimes however I just know after altering the photograph that it is ready for the final print.

Below are a couple of my 7” x 5” test prints and some of the annotations I have made prior to making that final print.


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