As part of the preparations for my trip to the Pacific Northwest, I need to slim down and bring as few things as possible. My goal is to be able to print while on my trip, so I knew I couldn’t bring my large format cold light enlarger. I also plan on using color negative film on the trip and print RA-4 color darkroom prints as well. My Beseler 23CII XL with the dual dichro color head started to look very appealing to me.
I’ve always printed with my cold light head for black and white, and color prints with a traditional color head. I really never had any reason to try and print both black and white as well as color on the same enlarger (until now). In addition to preparing for the trip, I was mentoring my friend Frank on all things analog photography and darkroom printing. It was a lot of fun because I really had no idea of what to expect and I think Frank enjoyed that I didn’t know too!
I use Ilford darkroom papers and also use Ilford variable contrast filters on my normal enlarger, so I began my search with them. I quickly found a technical paper “Contrast Control” dated 2001. I found my enlarger in the paper and located the recommended filter settings for dual color settings.
As a test before I hit the open road, I needed to put the recommend equivalent filters settings to test. I loaded my black and white negative into the enlarger and dialed in the color filters for yellow and magenta. I should note that I purposely selected a 35mm negative that was developed with Diafine. In alignment with keeping my trip simple and easy, I plan on using Diafine to develop my Tri-X and T-Max while on the road.
One of the downsides to wet printing a Tri-X negative developed with Diafine is they are typically very thin. As you will see by my results below, the ISO 1250 Diafine Tri-X negative was indeed thin. I needed to validate this with the dual dichro color head so I knew what to expect on the road. For those interested, I plan on making thicker negatives with Diafine which are more suited to darkroom printing versus scanning (thin negatives). To accomplish this, an effective ISO of 600 and the use of a yellow or orange filter to bump the contrast usually does the trick. I also do minimal agitation, with an initial inversion of only two cycles and again at 1 1/2 minutes. Diafine is a two-part developer, so I follow this technique for both A and B parts. I want to be able to print my small format Diafine negatives with my standard #2 contrast filter and have the proper proofs be spot on. My goal is to produce the highest quality negative that I am capable of which results in an easier and more creative experience during the printing process.
I started with a #2 filter setting as I normally do with my negatives. After making a test print at 3 second increments at F5.6 I found my highlights to look best at about 10 seconds. I wanted to extend the time, so I changed the aperture to F8 for a time of 20 seconds. I typically target for a base time somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds. I like the longer time to make finer adjustments for dodging and burning. I made a full test print at F8 for 20 seconds and evaluated my highlights. I decided to reduce my exposure time by about 10%, so reduced the time to 18 seconds. Now it was time to move on and pay attention to the shadows. My shadows were too dark, so I knew I needed a lower filter (indicating my thin negative). Normally I would have went down a half step, but since I had never used this setup before, I was looking for bigger adjustments to hopefully identify that I was going in the right direction. So, I made a test print at 18 seconds at F8 with a modification of the yellow and magenta filters equivalent to a #1 variable contrast filter. The shadows were definitely much more open, and to my eye, weak and washed out. I adjusted the yellow and magenta filters equivalent to a #1 1/2 variable contrast filter and made the print. It was almost perfect. I dodged the barn for 5 seconds and the print was done! This was Frank’s first time in the darkroom making a print from scratch, so I sent him home with all of the prints to enjoy. Frank (a.k.a. grasshopper is a very fast learner and will be making his own prints very soon).
I found the Ilford contrast filter recommendations to be literally spot on with my tests. This solves a big concern for me and now I can move onto thinking through the rest of my open issues before the trip. I plan on using Tri-X in my Nikon F camera while doing hand-held photography and printing my best images as described above. I will be using both Tri-X and T-Max in my Mamiya 7 and Fuji 690GSWIII when I want to create black and white prints of the epic Pacific Northwest landscapes. Two of the places I plan on visiting first are Mt. Rainer and the Olympic National Forest. I suspect I will also consume a lot of Fuji Provia and Velvia in my Fuji 690 in those lush green landscapes. I will continue to share my experiences during this journey in hopes the information helps other analog darkroom photographers.
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All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014