Split Grade Printing

Controling contrast and darks/lights is a fine art printers more challenging roles, especially when dealing with difficult negatives. Getting that highlight to come in at a nice point, and that shadow to print where it is not too stopped up can sometimes be really difficult. Split grade printing is another tool that a printer can add that will help to give them more control over their prints.

Using the split grade method, a print is broken up into two separate components, the highlights (which are printed at a grade 0 or 00) and the shadows (printed at a 5). By printing a portion of each print with some 00 and some 5 filter, will give fantastic highlights, great shadows and magically, the midtones just fall right in to place.

Using this method, you may find that difficult to print negatives, such as ones that are flat, too contrasty, require obscene amounts of dodging and burning just work, or require little fixing after their initial exposure with the zone 5 and 00 filters.

How To: Split Grade Printing

  1. Make a test strip of the ENTIRE image with the 00 filter
  2. Develop, stop, fix and was as normal.
  3. Select the time based on the highlight tone only. This should be done dry (or as close to dry as possible). You are selecting tone here, not tone with detail. Be careful as it is often easy to choose a tone that is darker than the one you really want, though this is easy to correct after the fact. If you don’t find a tone you like, redo the test strip either cutting your exposure or increasing as appropriate. Remember this exposure time, as it will become your base 00 exposure time.
  4. Print a full image on the paper with the 00 filter. Do not remove the paper!
  5. Do another test strip ON TOP of the exposed paper with a 5 filter in.
  6. Develop, stop, fix and wash as normal.
  7. Select the time for the 5 filter based on where your shadows look good
  8. Print a new print using the 00 time and lay on top of it the 5 time
  9. Develop, stop, fix and was as normal

You should now have a great looking print, where your shadows fall perfectly and don’t close up, your highlights are exactly where you want them to be, and only a little touch up needs to be done.

Hints & Tricks

  • If the highlights are too dark after the final print, reduce the 00 filter time
  • If the shadows are too dark after the final print, reduce the 5 filter time
  • If you dodge during the 00 filter, you’ll increase the local contrast of that area
  • If you dodge during the 5 filter, you’ll decrease the local contrast of that area
  • Thinking in terms of contrast using this method will confuse you, try to think in terms of the 00 filter giving you your highlights and the 5 filter giving you the shadow details and allowing you to hit DMax.
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