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Black and White contrast filters

Daniel Pertout , Dec 06, 2002; 11:47 p.m.

I am looking for some advice on how to use contrast filters when printing black and white. Some advice on what situations to use them in, that sort of thing... Thanks for any help.


donald miller , Dec 07, 2002; 12:31 a.m.

Contrast filters are used with variable contrast papers to determine the contrast grade of the paper that you are printing your camera negative on. They are normally used in an enlarger that does not have some type of variable filtration (either dichroic or VC lamphouse).

The contrast grade of the paper will be determined in large part by the density range of the camera negative which is itself determined by the degree of development that it receives.

What one normally attempts to do is arrive at a contrast grade of paper which will give you the degree of shadow detail and highlight detail that you want to display within the print. I hope that this provides you with the answer that you are seeking. Good luck.

Donald Miller

Art Haykin , Dec 07, 2002; 03:20 a.m.

The above is spot on, and I would only add that the 0 or 1 filter renders the lowest conrtrast, and the 5 the highest. With no filter, most VC papers yield a contrast of about 2, or "normal." Also, as you go from filter to filter, you MAY have to re-test for exposure time.

Rick Jones , Dec 07, 2002; 06:40 a.m.

One approach to "How to Use VC Filters": make an initial print using a #2 or #3 filter only looking at the lightest areas (ignore the dark tones). When you have arrived at a printing time that renders those highlights (light areas) to your liking, then and only then evaluate the dark tones. If those dark tones are too gray reprint with a higher # filter. If the dark tones are too dark (empty with little detail) reprint with a lower # filter. Daniel, the VC filters allow you to balance the highlights and shadows (adjust the contrast). Just don't skimp on paper. You'll learn the most by making lots of different prints from the same negative. Don't think "I'm wasting paper" think "so that's what happens". You learn from mistakes. Hope this will get you started.

Richard Rankin , Dec 07, 2002; 09:35 a.m.

When I first began down this same path, I found the use of a Jobo Varioformat easel to be invaluable. This is a plastic easel that lets you make 4 test prints of 5 exposures each simply and quickly, and you can develop them all on the single sheet of paper. So you can try 4 different contrast filters over a range of exposures and see what looks good to you.

As I used this system, I eventually became much better, of course, at guessing the initial exposure and which contrast filter will be closest to the 'best'. It also lets you evaluate these multiple contrast filters so that split filter printing is also easier. I picked it up for $10 or so on ebay and there are almost always others for sale.

Cheers, Richard

Daniel Flather , Dec 07, 2002; 12:51 p.m.

Print with a #2 filter all the time. If you need more or less contrast use a different filter. Try to shoot and develop so all you negs will print nice with a #2 filter.

Daniel Sandlin , Dec 08, 2002; 08:54 p.m.

Like the other daniel said' Print with the number two, and learn to shoot and deveolop. then if you neeed to ad some time withta darker filter. it also uses less paper, as you can start to see what will, and will not print in the negative and to correct the exposure in the camera accordingly. Developing your own makes you a better photogragher. You have to be or you'll go broke buying paper and chemicals!

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