Split Grade Printing Part 2 – Making Test Strips

Making test strips in the darkroom can help save a lot of time. With split grade printing, the process is no different than single grade.

In my last article, I talked about filters, paper, and how the split grade printing works. This post will get more into the practical side and you will learn a few methods of finding out your exposure times. We will begin by making a test strip.

DETERMINING YOUR STARTING TIMES

First I’ll explain how to determine what filters to use them I will explain how to make adjustments. Once you find which filters you need, everything else is the same.

THE MIDDLE FILTER TEST STRIPS

The first way of determining what filters to use is is what I would recommend starting with. It’s the most straight forward and will give you a good place to start with only one test strip. This method is simple because you are basically looking at the test strip and choosing what you want your final image to look like.

  • Choose your image and use the middle filter (2.5 for Ilford). Make a test strip and develop it. Keep your developing times and temperatures constant. If you’re changing something every print you make, you are never going to get consistent results.
  • Examine the test strip. Here you are simply looking for the exposure that looks the best. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be perfect, we can tweak it later. Choose a time that has decent detail in the shadows and highlights. Don’t worry too much about the midtones, you can work that out later.
  • Take your time and divide it in half. You are going to start with the lowest filter and highest filter for half the time each. For example, if your time is 12 seconds, you will use the 00 and 5 filter for 6 seconds each.
  • Choose your image and use the middle filter (2.5 for Ilford). Make a test strip and develop it. Keep your developing times and temperatures constant. If you’re changing something every print you make, you are never going to get consistent results.
  • Examine the test strip. Here you are simply looking for the exposure that looks the best. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be perfect, we can tweak it later. Choose a time that has decent detail in the shadows and highlights. Don’t worry too much about the midtones, you can work that out later.
  • Take your time and divide it in half. You are going to start with the lowest filter and highest filter for half the time each. For example, if your time is 12 seconds, you will use the 00 and 5 filter for 6 seconds each.

THE CHECKERBOARD TEST STRIP

This is another great way to get an idea of what filters to use using only one test strip (or sheet in this case).

  • Load the lowest filter you have into the enlarger.
  • Put a full sheet of paper into your easel (with larger papers you can get away with using a half sheet).
  • Make the test strip horizontally (moving left or right).
  • Without moving the paper change the filter to the highest grade you have.
  • Make another test strip going vertically (moving up or down).
  • Develop and look at your test strip. You will have something similar to this (only with your image of course).
  • Choose the square that looks the best. Again, look for details in the shadows and highlights.
  • Now just figure out the time you used with each filter.

THE 2 TEST STRIPS APPROACH

I personally never use this because you have to make two different test strips and it’s more time consuming. Some people swear by it so if you like it, by all means use it.

  • Load in your grade 00 filter and make a normal test strip.
  • This way is different that the last two. You are looking for the point where the detail in the highlights just starts to show.
  • There are two different ways to go here.
  • Keep your 00 filter in and expose for your chosen time. Without moving the paper change to grade 5 and do another test strip on the same paper. Determine which one looks the best.
  • Load your grade 5 and make a test strip on a different strip using only that filter. In this test strip, you are looking for the point where the shadows begin to show. That’s your time for the grade 5 filter.

TESTING YOUR TIMES

Using whatever method you have chosen, you now have a good starting base for what times to use with the 00 and 5 filters.

Make a test print (not strip). Expose using your time for the lowest filter, then change the filter (again without moving the paper) and expose again for your chosen time.

SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER

  • It doesn’t matter which filter you start with. Your results will be exactly the same if you start with grade 00 or 5.
  • Keep everything consistent. Times, temperature, paper, developer, etc. should all remain the same. If you change anything, make new test strips.
  • With the first method, you will learn what filter to start with. If you have an extremely high or low contrast negative, you can start with a filter other than 2.5.
  • You should now have an OK print. Even if it looks perfect, it could probably be better. In the next article, we will dive into making the perfect print.

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