Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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How was the contrast increased with film? One technique is given in this answer and involves Selenium. Are there other methods that were/are used to increase contrast in a photo taken on film?

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Are you interested in the specific dark room techniques or things like film, paper, exposure, etc.? Or all of the above? – dpollitt May 1 '13 at 16:48
Do you want to know how to change it after the photo is taken? One of the big reason to select different films is to get different contrast ratios (which comes along with different ASA speeds) – Pat Farrell May 1 '13 at 16:58
OK, I guess my lack of film knowledge made this question quite broad. I meant after the photo is taken. So darkroom techniques, printing paper, but not film types, lenses, or lightning setups. – Saaru Lindestøkke May 1 '13 at 20:41
For later readers of this question & comments - higher ASA films tend to give higher contrast and lower ASA films show more of tones. But you choose film before shooting, while this question is about chances of adjusting contrast after shooting. – Esa Paulasto May 3 '13 at 21:45
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Most commonly, you used paper with different contrast grade.

There are fixed grade papers, normally available in grade 0 to grade 5. There are also variable grade papers (aka Multigrade), where you change the contrast with different filters that gave different colors.


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Push processing (extending the time the film spends in the developer) increases the contrast of the negative or slide. If you're shooting roll film, you pretty much have to push or pull the whole roll. But for sheet film shooters like Ansel Adams, it was a pretty good way to adjust contrast—terms like "N+1 development" in the Zone System refer to this method of adjusting contrast. (You also have to know, prior to development, whether you want to increase the contrast. That sort of planning was Adams' forte.)

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Do people ever try to cut half a roll up to process it differently? I imagine it would be difficult to determine where to cut in the dark :) – dpollitt May 1 '13 at 19:58
@dpollitt Sometimes people will do (or ask the lab to do) a "snip test" where they cut off a couple of frames at the start of the roll, develop them, and use them to judge development of the rest of the roll. Usually that's done as an emergency measure ("I forgot what ISO the camera was set to") or to nail slide development very precisely (which probably only makes sense for consistent studio lighting). You'll probably cut a frame in half. I've never heard of it being done on purpose just to develop parts of a roll differently. – coneslayer May 1 '13 at 22:02
You could also get away with changing the developer's temperature. Great option if (like me) you had old and used developer, you were a bit broke at the time, and couldn't afford to go buy decent chemicals. – Roflo May 3 '13 at 15:19

By using filters when exposing on to the photographic paper. With B&W they were this orangy color of different densities. You would stick the in front of the projector's lens and then expose on to the paper.

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Note: This is used with variable grade paper to control the grade. Regular fixed grade paper gives the same contrast regardless of the color of the light. – Guffa May 3 '13 at 17:31

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