Paper Grades

Photographic printing papers are available in a wide variety of textures, thicknesses, and tonalities. Resin-coated (RC) papers require much less washing and dry more quickly than fiber-based papers. Fiber-based papers are generally preferred for exhibition-quality printing because they are more archival. There are a number of excellent, exhibition-quality papers currently on the market. These include Ilford Galerie, Ilford Multigrade, and Bergger Prestige Fine Art Supreme. Single-weight papers are less expensive but are more vulnerable to creasing than double-weight papers. "Warm-tone" papers print with a brownish or sepia tone, while normal or "cold-tone" papers are more neutral. To become familiar with the variety of papers available, compare the paper sample books displayed at many photo supply stores.

One fundamental characteristic of a photographic paper is its contrast. Figures 161A and B illustrate the difference in contrast between two papers of different "grades" used to print the same negative.

FIGURE 161 Photographic paper contrast examples.

Figure 161A is "softer" or "flatter" than 161B and has more gradual transitions from one tonal value to another. Figure 161B has greater separation between print tones that are relatively close in value. This is especially visible in the background and in the child's face. Tonal range and tonal separation are two ways of defining the contrast of a photographic print. While the tonal range of different prints may be the same, meaning that the blacks are just as black and the whites as white, higher-contrast papers separate close tones more sharply. If your film is properly exposed and developed, the choice of what grade of paper to use for a negative depends on your sense of how that negative should be interpreted.

Photographic printing papers are assigned numbers according to the contrast a particular paper will make from a given negative. The rule is: The higher the number, the more contrast the paper will have. These numbers run from 0 for the very low contrast papers to 5 for extremely high contrast papers. Photographic papers are available in two forms, graded papers and variable-contrast or polycontrast papers.

With graded papers, you have to buy a separate supply of paper for every contrast you want. Graded papers are available in a wide range of contrast grades and generally have superior tonal quality.

Variable-contrast papers allow you to change the contrast of each sheet by using a set of numbered filters. Each filter in the set represents a different contrast grade according to its number. The higher the filter's number, the higher the contrast. For obvious reasons, variable-contrast papers tend to be more economical. With practice, it's also possible to use two or even three different filters on the same sheet of variable-contrast paper. You can, for example, use a low-contrast filter (number 1 or 2) to print the sky of a given negative and a high-contrast filter 2 (number 3 or 4) for the foreground. Variable-contrast papers also have the advantage of allowing you to change the contrast by one-half-grade steps.

Different brands of paper of the same grade will often have different contrasts. This is due to the difference in manufacturing standards and specifications. It's a good idea to become familiar with the characteristics of one brand of paper before trying another.

A normal grade of paper (usually grade or filter 2) is one that will make the best print from a negative that has Normal contrast. If the negative you are printing has less than Normal contrast, you will tend to use a higher grade of paper. If your negative has too much contrast, you will want to use a lower than normal grade of paper. The problem with this random method of printing is that the farther you get from normal-contrast negatives and papers, the more difficult it becomes to control the subtle nuances of tone that make fine prints so beautiful. Ideally, if all your negatives printed well on normal grades of paper, you would be free to use the higher or lower grades for interpreting your images in other, perhaps more creative, ways. Each grade of paper has a unique quality. The secret of fine printing is to discover which grade is best suited to the quality of print you are trying to make, then adapt the contrast of your negatives to fit that particular grade. The Zone System is specifically designed to make this possible.

The contrast of a given grade of print is also affected by the paper developer you choose to use. Kodak Dektol is a standard print developer that produces normal-contrast prints when used at dilutions of 1:2 or 1:3. Kodak Selectol-Soft is a slower, "softer-working" developer that will give you less contrast than Dektol on the same grade of paper.

Film Making

Film Making

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