Print Quality and Negative Contrast

Let's begin by defining a few important terms. Throughout this book you will find that the word contrast has different meanings depending on whether I am referring to the contrast of the subject you are photographing or the negative that you will use to make the print. In general, the word contrast refers to the relative difference between dark and light areas of the subject or negative.

Note: In the world of digital photography the term dynamic range is often used instead of contrast when referring to the difference between the darkest and lightest tonal values in an image.

SUBJECT CONTRAST refers to the difference between the amounts of light reflected by the darker, or "shadow," areas of the scene and the lighter, or "highlight," areas (a dark door as opposed to a white wall, for example).

Note: In the Zone System, the words shadow and highlight are often used as general terms to describe any darker or lighter areas of the scene.Areas of the scene that reflect more or less light are also called "values." Thus a white wall is said to be a "highlight value," and a dark wall could be called a "shadow value." These terms will become more familiar as we go along.

NEGATIVE CONTRAST refers to the relative difference between the more transparent areas of the negative and those that are more opaque. Because photographic negatives are actually coated with extremely thin layers of silver, they are said to have shadow densities and highlight densities.* The shadow densities are more transparent and correspond to the darker parts of the print.

The highlight densities are more dense and appear as the lighter areas of the print. If any of this is unclear, refer to the section of the Primer called Photographic Emulsions before going on.

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