As I read and learnt more about printing, a mysterious phrase appeared on my radar – split grade (or split filtration) printing. Its advocates claim miraculous benefits – fast and precise control over exposure and contrast, fewer test strips, enhanced dodging and burning possibilities, and unlocking secret tones which are beyond the reach of ordinary printing techniques (the first three are mostly true; the last is mostly false). On the other hand, sceptics like David Vestal (The Art of Black and White Enlarging) dismiss split grade as ‘tricks’ and ‘distractions’.
Sroyon’s Darkroom Printing Guide
Part 3 is the most (only?) technical part of my ongoing series about darkroom technique. If you like technical, you’re in for some fun. If you dislike technical, maybe skip the bit about f-stop timing, and the exposure compensation tests at the end. But some of the other stuff, like the expose for the highlights rule, yield rewards even when followed in a general, non-technical way.
In Part 1 of my ongoing series about darkroom technique, I talked about how to set up a fully-functional darkroom for black-and-white printing – for less than £100, and in a small flat with no dedicated darkroom space. Of course, having set one up, I wanted to get printing as quickly as possible. Who wants to know about the intricacies of split grade printing, or the mathematical relationship between contrast and exposure? Well I do, actually – but not now! Instead, in Part 2, I walk you through the creation of two prints, using the bare minimum we need to know to make a decent print. The rest can wait – that’s what the next three parts are for.
I’ve been shooting film since the late 90s; my father bought me a quirky little National 35 when I was thirteen. But I started darkroom printing just a year and a half ago, in autumn 2018. What took me so long? Two misconceptions, mainly – that it’s expensive, and that it’s difficult.
In fact, it turns out that setting up a basic darkroom need not be expensive. In this, the first of a five-part series on printing black-and-white photographs in a darkroom, I want to illustrate just how cheap it can be – how, through a combination of eBay deals and some dubious hacks, I built a makeshift but fully-functional darkroom in a small flat for a grand total of £92.50… and how you can too (clickbaity but true!)