Printing black and white photographs onto something other than paper is difficult, for reasons I’ve listed in previous blogs. But the most important knowledge base for the photographer is good, old fashion, darkroom technique, which is becoming more and more difficult to learn as film and darkrooms disappear, not to mention the photographers who can teach this to others. I will list a few of the standard techniques that are essential to become proficient in, so that a good print can be made.
1] Contrast filters and their proper use. Variable contrast emulsions are useless unless the correct grade filter is used. For example, if the film is contrasty, or as the distance from film to print increases, a lower contrast filter would be used.
2] Dodging and burning. It is rare that some selective darkening or lightening should not be used to improve the final print. My favorite example is A. A’s “Moonlight , Hernandez”- the straight vs. final print have little resemblance!
3] Toning. Although selenium is used to render prints archival, it also tones; the extent depends on time and concentration of the chemical. Toning is also greatly influenced by bleaching with, for example, ferricyanide, followed by selenium. Also of great importance is the type of liquid emulsion used- is it a warm or a cool tone emulsion?
4] Judging how much darker the final, dried, print will appear, while the image is still in fixer. One of my biggest headaches is to keep the image slightly light, so that after toning, the dried and Krylon-sprayed print has the correct densities.
5] The whiteness of the surface you are printing on is another important variable.
How do you learn these skills? The easiest way is to take a basic course at a craft/art center. Of course, there are books still in print covering these methods, but you would have no one looking over your shoulder to judge your work!