The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

Behind The Print: Three Clouds

Here's another article from the past all about how I made my "three clouds" print which i'm pleased to say got really good feedback at the Redeye event I attended a few weeks ago. 

Every now and then when I am looking at a finished print I can see that it represents a step forward in my own printing journey.  It may only happen every 50, 100 or 1000 prints but when it does happen I get a sense of extreme satisfaction.  This is one of those prints.  When I  held the final print of this frame in my hands after washing and drying I smiled to myself and thought "that's exactly what I was trying to make".  I had finally managed to get onto paper exactly what I saw in my head at the time of exposure.  Up until this point I had just gone into the darkroom, chosen a negative and started printing, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; I think I have got some good prints doing this.  But I really felt a great sense of accomplishment in working this print to get it exactly how I wanted it.  My favourite part of this print?  The bottom.  I like how the darker area at the bottom keeps the eye from straying off the base of the print and how it accentuates the band of light sand at the base of the cliff.  As with all prints the scan will never do it justice, you have to see the real thing.  Maybe i'll never make a print that I love as much as this again, but i'm so glad that I have made this one.  Anyway, enough sentimentality - how did I make it?

I shot this on a very sunny day in the town of Saltburn which is on the east coast of England.  It is printed onto Ilford MGIV FB Warmtone paper using Ethol LPD diluted 1:4 and toned using selenium 1:5 and a bit of sepia.  This was my first time using a non-neutral developer and I have to say I loved it.  If you are unfamiliar with LPD it is a wonderful developer which allows you to change tonality (not contrast) using dilution e.g. use it 1:1 for cool tones and around 1:4 for warmer tones (obviously tonality will depend very much on the paper you are using too). 

I made this print using the split grade printing technique, as I have done with so many others.  I did a soft exposure test strip, selected the best exposure for highlights (remembering to go a bit heavy as the sepia toning I had planned would mean that I would lose a little highlight detail), then I did a hard exposure test strip and selected the best exposure for that (again, taking into account the added density that selenium toning would yield).  It's always good to have a good think about toning either before printing or during proofing so that you can account for any lost/added density that may result from the toners you use (that reminds me - I should really do a few tutorials covering toning).   I knew with this print that I wanted a selenium/sepia split so I deliberately overexposed the highlights and very slightly underexposed the shadows.

So, after making a base print of my combined soft and hard exposures it was time to think about dodging and burning.  The cliff was looking pretty blocked up so I did a bit of a burn on the soft exposure and a dodge on the hard exposure - this evened out the contrast a little whilst maintaining the "pop" of the cliff.  Then I did a very slight hard exposure burn on the sky to add a little extra depth to the clouds (the use of a grad filter at the time of exposure had already helped darken the sky to a pleasing tone).  Then I did a bit of an edge burn around the sides and base of the print to draw the eye into the centre (I did this on both the soft and hard exposure).  As i mentioned earlier this is my favourite part of this print.  It's surprising how effective a little burn can be.

To finish off the print I did some very very light bleaching (followed by a fix) of the cloud highlights and the band of light across the sand (I used potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide bleach from a sepia kit diluted 1:9).  This helped add a bit more "pop" to the highlights, but I had to be careful that this combined with sepia toning would not cause any highlight detail to be lost.

After a good wash (in my recently constructed print washer) I bleached back the print until the upper midtones were just starting to be affected, and then toned in standard sepia toner.  After a quick wash I then transferred the print into selenium toner mixed 1:5 for a few minutes which added a nice dark purplish hue to the print.  I then did a final wash and left the print to dry before scanning.

It all sounds so simple written down in a few paragraphs, but this printing was spread out over a few sessions.  It can be agonising when you have to wait for test strips to dry, and the temptation is always there to just print off the wet strips and deal with any dry-down later, but if you take the time to do everything right you will be richly rewarded.  Hopefully.  Sometimes no matter how much you work a negative the print never seems to come together, and sometimes printing just flows naturally and you're left with a print you love.  Both add to our experience as darkroom printers.  I hope you too get to create a print that you love and that makes you feel a great sense of accomplishment, because it really is one of the greatest feelings we can have as film photographers.

Until then keep printing and enjoying every frustrating, agonising, exasperating and joyful minute of it!