Your Thoughts On Maximum Black In A Print

Ian-Barber

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Apart from the obvious where the photograph is intended to be very high key, what are your thoughts as to whether photographs should contain some degree of maximum black of which the substrate can produce.

Looking back through my archive, its pretty obvious that I personally tend to work with a much narrower pallet of greys. What I mean by this is that very few of my prints contain maximum black or even paper white come to think of it. The only reason I can give is that I am drawn more towards what I call lower contrast images.

For those who have been in the game for decades, and may have even exhibited works in galleries, whats the overall concensous when it comes to the final black and white print. Should we be including some degree of both maximum black and paper white, I believe Phil Davis referred to them as accent tones.
 

Ian Grant

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The only time my prints contain paper "white" is if there's a light source in the image, or a "specular" high-light, and usually just a hint of a "maximum" black. That's just the way I work with a long tonal scale, Ralph Gibon and others work completely the opposite

Some of my prints won't have anything remotely close to maximum black and may not get close to white either. It's worth buying John Blakemore's "Black and White Photography Workshop" book.

Ian
 

Ian-Barber

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It's worth buying John Blakemore's "Black and White Photography Workshop" book.
I am reading that book at the moment which is very interesting.

The only time my prints contain paper "white" is if there's a light source in the image, or a "specular" high-light, and usually just a hint of a "maximum" black. That's just the way I work with a long tonal scale
When you talk about "long tonal scales" are you reffering to a scene which contains all the greys from black to white.
 

Ian Grant

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I was referring to the final darkroom print, but it's the same with a scan and digital print, of course the tonality is also coming from the original scene and how the negative is exposed and developed.

A well exposed and processed negative can be printed in different ways, you can compress the tonality like Ralph Gibson - printing with much higher contrast. Of course you can expose and process your negative to achieve that higher contrast but then you can't later make prints with a much longer tonal range.

Ian
 

Alan9940

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I typically have a bit of maximum black in my prints, but it depends on the scene. A woodland scene in fog, for example, typically wouldn't have a max black and a paper base white. Like Ian G, or, at least, what I think he is saying, I work for maximum tonal scale in the negative. That way, it can be printed however I see fit. Contrast in a print is no problem, but you can't get detail back by printing a lower contrast, if it's not in the negative to begin with. ;)
 

Ian-Barber

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Having watched some video interviews with Ralph Gibson, it was interesting to hear him talk about his experience with the Leica Monochrome and how the results match his earlier work with his Leica M2 which he has owned since 1960.
 

Ian Grant

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I typically have a bit of maximum black in my prints, but it depends on the scene. A woodland scene in fog, for example, typically wouldn't have a max black and a paper base white. Like Ian G, or, at least, what I think he is saying, I work for maximum tonal scale in the negative. That way, it can be printed however I see fit. Contrast in a print is no problem, but you can't get detail back by printing a lower contrast, if it's not in the negative to begin with. ;)
Yes that's what I was saying. Having printed for other people you're limited by their negative quality.

Ian
 

David M

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It is easy to get obsessed with this. When someone is learning to print, it's a good thing that they learn how make a print with maximum black and white but expressive printing demands more.
The language we use is a little misleading; no matter what the print looks like, the maximum available black and white remain the same. When we say high contrast, we actually mean fewer intermediate tones and vice versa.
If we are competent printers, we should print any way we like, to show what we want to show.
We might usefully consider where the prints will be viewed. A brightly-lit place will make the prints look more contrasty, because the bright parts will be brighter. AA has an exercise in one of his books where he varies the light on a print, to illustrate this.
If the prints are to be shown in company with others, then harsh prints might overwhelm delicate ones. This is a matter for whoever does the hanging.
 
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