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Split grade printing

Federica Monsone , Sep 14, 2005; 05:40 p.m.

Can anyone please explain what split grade printing is, what it achieves, and what type of negs are best to start with? I'm still a beginner - ish, so nothing too technical please. Thanks,


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gareth harper , Sep 14, 2005; 06:38 p.m.

Split grade printing is where you do the main exposure using a combination of the 00 and 5 filters only on VC paper.

When I do it I select the 5 grade filter first (you can do the 00 first if you like), and do a test strip for the shadows or blacks. I pick the time that just gives me a true deep black where I want it. Then I expose a whole sheet of paper with the 5 filter for the selected time. I then switch to the 00 filter and do a test strip (on the full sheet) on top of the grade 5 exposure. Now I'll select the time that gives me the highlight I want. Then you simply combine the two exposures on one sheet. Of course you can add in a little dodging, and burning at whatever grade you feel like after that.

Hope that makes sense.

Though it's seen as an advanced technique, it is quite simple really and can be great for begineers if you are having a hard time selecting the right grade and/or getting your contrast correct.

john reef , Sep 14, 2005; 08:38 p.m.

As far as overall print contrast is concerned, there is nothing you can do with split filter printing that you can't do with a single filter with a little modification. To achieve a 2 1/4 grade rather than your filter's 2 1/2 grade you only have to make a small adjustment with the 2 filter. However, the real advantage to split filter printing is in dodging and burning and which filter (00 or 5)you are using at the time. Do a Google search on Chris Woodhouse who wrote an article called Advanced Split-Grade Printing.

Alexis Neel , Sep 14, 2005; 09:14 p.m.

Well the 2 above posts are very general definition, and have some inaccuracies, IMO. you can use any 2 filters for the combination, even as close as a 1 and a 1 1/2, for fine tuning a print where the single filter grade isn't exactly where you want. Split filter printing WILL give you a contrast that you CANNOT achieve with a single filter without modifying your developer, or using a 2 bath dev. system, both of which are a pain. Thats just fact. The use of 00 and 5 is the basic, although IMO not the best, way to do it. As stated, burning is made a lot easier with split printing.

the IDEAL is to make your negative right with exposure and development so you don't HAVE to do split printing. I would suggest you concentrate on that first, and use split printing for further fine tuning.

I could go on, but I'm on the road for a week and typing on a laptop...a real pain.



D Purdy , Sep 14, 2005; 11:55 p.m.

I think the term split grade has evolved a bit. When Ilford first came out with the half grade buttons on it's control unit, split grade meant getting a grade in between a couple of the buttons. If say grade 2 was too flat and grade 2.5 was too contrasty you could start the print on one grade and punch the other grade in half way through the exposure and get a grade in between. Then the digital variable conrast heads came out with 1/10th grades and that sort of splitting grades became a moot point. Now a lot of printers have developed the technique of isolating theexposure of the highcontrast bulb and the low contrast bulb so you can make more intelligent decisions when to dodge.. whether you want to dodge during the high contrast exposure or the low contrast exposure. Also you can choose a different grade for any burning.

Federica Monsone , Sep 15, 2005; 03:48 a.m.

Thank you very much. I was having a converstaion with some other women from my photography course last night (I joined them half way through the course) and this is sort of what they also explained but since they weren't sure I wanted to check with the experts on this forum. Very useful as usual! Thanks you all. Federica

Chris Waller , Sep 15, 2005; 06:20 a.m.

In addition to the above, here is an example of a split-grade test-print. I used grade 1/2 and grade 4 1/2 to create a grid of squares, each being exposed at a different combination of times (intervals are 5, 10, 14, 20, 28 seconds, i.e. half-stop intervals). From this you can work out your base exposure times and then the dodging and burning at each of the two grades. It's very useful for printing difficult negs where you might want to increase contrast in one area of the print but reduce it in others.

split-grade test print

Lex Jenkins , Sep 15, 2005; 07:07 a.m.

There are many discussions about this in the archives of this forum. A quick search should turn up a few that might help.

I'll try to summarize:

1. Some folks combine a bit of yellow and a dash of magenta with a single exposure onto the paper and call that "split filter printing". It ain't. While combining filters this way *can* help finesse an exposure when a single yellow or magenta filter won't quite do the trick, it isn't split filter printing.

2. Split filter printing involves using yellow and magenta filters *independently*, usually using a series of exposures for the same print, combined with selectively dodging and burning.

Keep in mind that this works *only* with variable contrast, multicontrast and multigrade paper - these are all exactly the same thing but you'll see different paper manufacturers use different terms.

Quick example, a photo of a street scene just after a rain: A test print using a single exposure, no filter, looks pretty good but needs a little help. It could use more contrast on the street and pavement to separate the tones and emphasize the glistening wetness. And it could use some help to bring out detail in the white, featureless sky.

Based on test strips (or a meter, if you prefer) make the basic first exposure without any filter. For the sake of simplicity let's say 10 seconds at f/8. Of course, the exposure time, aperture and filter settings I'm recommending for this excercise are almost purely arbitrary, but they do happen to work for me based on how I develop my negatives and using a Durst M605 dichro head enlarger. Your needs will depend on how you develop your negatives and on your enlarger.

Now go to work on the street. You don't want extra exposure on the buildings because they're fine as-is. You'll need to dodge around them. I keep black construction paper and scissors handy for this and quickly snip out the approximate shapes I need on the spot.

Select a magenta filter equivalent to 3.5 or 4. While dodging (shading) the rest of the print, burn in the street for another 10 seconds at f/8. Gently wiggle the dodging mask around to avoid obvious lines and to blend in the exposures.

Almost finished: Now for the sky.

Cut out another mask to hold back everything but the sky. Select a yellow filter of 3 or 4. Burn in the sky for another 10 seconds at f/8.

Develop the print and compare the results with the first, unmanipulated test print. You should see distinct differences where you dodged and burned using filters selectively.

And your first work print using split grade printing will probably need more work. I sometimes make up to a dozen work prints before I'm satisfied with what needs to be done and how much to do. I take notes on the back of the print using a Sharpie or pencil to quickly describe which areas I'm dodging or burning, what filter setting was used and what exposure time and aperture were used.

Sounds like a lot of hassle but after you've tried it you'll probably use the technique often.

For some really excellent examples of a master printer using these techniques, see Rolfe Horn's website. This URL will take you directly to his "Techniques" section. You can skip the stuff about the Zone System for now. Read the rest, "The Tone System," "Printing" and "Finishing."

Good luck.

Lex Jenkins , Sep 15, 2005; 07:11 a.m.

BTW, I forgot to mention that in Rolfe Horn's examples a fixed grade paper, not variable contrast, was used. And it's a "hard" grade paper, very contrasty. But that suits his style.

To create the contrast and luminous quality he relies heavily on burning and dodging (and post printing work such as bleaching and toning). So some of his exposures are much longer than many of us are accustomed to using. When I've experimented with some of these techniques my cumulative exposure times have been as long as 10 minutes.

Robert Vonk , Sep 17, 2005; 07:36 a.m.

Summurized a very interesting and good explained topic.

May I additional refer to the possibility of automatic split grade printing on the Heiland Split Grade from Wetzlar (Germany) who has developed this system for 34 different enlargers. http://www.heilandelectronic.de

In one measurement the right exposure and grade, combined with all sensiometric data of a lot of VC papers and type of films. But also all additional manual changes are still possible. If you want you can make full automatic test strips of grade/exposure. Accuracy 1/10f stop and 1/10 grade.

Best regards,


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