Contact prints without enlarger - part I - paper negative

It has been over five years since my last blog post related to any wet print tests. It is also about a year now since I had to remove all enlargers and associated accessories from my house, making other people happy using them. Yes, complete lack of space and time at this stage. 

This does not mean that I gave it up.… not at all! All this time makes me even more eager to get back to frequent wet printing but yeah… Only small bathroom available and four people in the family ;)

I found, however,  an effortless way of dealing with that - contact prints without enlarger - a well known process which was in my head for quite a while now. 

Last Friday, I finally got around it and made the first approach. Pure joy! 

I started with 4x5 paper negatives which I made a few years ago. I focused on one specific photograph to see how the smallest change in the process will affect the look of it.

Besides the fact that a wet printing process is addictive and brings a lot of happiness :), in this case, it is also something which does not require dedicated equipment or space. 

So what do we need actually? 

- flat surface

- desk lamp

- a sheet of glass (form an unused frame or clip frame)

- darkroom safelight

- paper developer (in this case Ilford Multigrade developer)

- fixer (in this case Ilford fixer)

- photographic paper for wet prints (Ilford Multigrade IV RC paper deluxe pearl  for easy handling) 

- trays for chemicals

- paper negative 

- dark room (obviously) … any room with no windows or room at night with blinds or curtains closed)  


That’s all.

The procedure itself is also straightforward. Desk lamp replaces enlarger as a light source in this particular process. The results depend on the power of the bulb and height of the lamp over the paper. 

I moved all bits and pieces to the bathroom using a small floor standing shelf as a worktop. Asked family to avoid space around it and keep all doors closed ;) Safe light ON. 

I placed a small piece of paper on the worktop. Then sandwiched it with paper negative face down and a glass on the top of it to keep everything flat. An essential element of contact printing as it keeps everything in focus.

I started with a standard lamp with halogen bulb 46W (the equivalent of 60W) which supposes to be mounted to the desk, but I ended up using it handheld due to some technical issues.  

First test strip (done in the usual way). Lamp approximately 30cm above paper. About 2s exposure each time. The print came up completely dark - light source too close or too long exposure. 

After over 10 min fight I had to stop and think about more drastic changes. All of it was going nowhere.

I decided to keep the lamp much higher - about 1.5m over the print. Also, after many tries and errors, I shortened exposure time to a fraction of a second. Everything is approximate as I did not have a timer and had to switch on and off the lamp using standard switch. It does not give precise effects. Not even close to it. A big, full of fun improvisation. First visible prints after changes gave me, even more energy and joy. 

There was nothing to stop me now. I had to make a decent print with what I have available - no other way. 

A few more test and this came up.

Split of a second exposure. The test strip was nonsense in such circumstances. Paper negatives are usually more contrasty (which I like) but my contact print could be completely different. 

Got it almost right but the sky was too bright with no details which are visible on negative.

That was a time for dodging and burning. 

Not easy with such a small area and extremely short exposure time but still doable.

I did double exposure. First entire print area and then second one with an area of the building covered by hand. Pure craziness with lamp handheld trying to switch it on and off in such short period and at the same time cover the building with one hand. 

I did it, and I am delighted with results even if the top part of the building got burned. I have to point out here that dodging and burning while making contact print from a paper negative is very tricky as the image is not invisible. Paper is turned face down. Pure guessing…

The bulb was still too strong. I needed longer exposure, and ideally, lamp mounted somehow to the stand/worktop, which would allow me to use both hands. 

A quick visit to local shop across the street did not help. It seems to be impossible to get other bulbs rather than the one I already have or stronger.

Here my kids’ rooms came handy ;)

I found a small desktop lamp with standard stand in my son’s room. He did not use it for quite a while now as it was already too small and was giving not enough light (!) Old fluorescent 7W bulb.

Perfect!!! That is what I was looking for.


Another modification - this time, I used floor stand shelf as a support for the new lamp. Printing was done on a small plastic chair much closer to the floor, which gave me helpful over a 1m distance in between the light source and a paper.

That was a great decision. I ended up doing 12-second exposure to get a decent print. Perfect for manual modifications. 


I wanted the brighter but contrasty building and sky visible. Dodging and burning once again. This time much easier with both hands and such a long exposure. 

Two stages - 10s for entire print and about 5s extra seconds after covering the building. 

Not enough. Time is ticking. I am occupying bathroom already far too long ;) 

Another test - 8 seconds for the building and 14 seconds for the sky.  

That’s it. Looks great to me. I would be more happy to be able to separate building more precisely, but that will come once I will get time to proceed with more tests.

I’d say this method can be applied even for medium format negatives. Testing with smaller materials wouldn’t make much sense, but it is possible. Ideally would be to play with 8x10 or even larger negs.

I will keep testing it until I will be able to print easily every paper negative I will create.

Also next week I am going to try contact printing with standard negatives. The procedure will be the same however exposure time much shorter. We will talk about it next week.

Thanks!



In Memoriam…

This text was supposed to be about something else. Due to unexpected circumstances, however, I decided to change the subject. 

Paul Koralek, cofounder of renowned architectural practice Ahrends, Burton, Koralek Architects (ABK Architects), passed away a few days ago. 

I had a chance to meet him while working at ABK and later during his lectures here in Dublin. Very talented and genuine designer.

That is why I wanted to present here several photographs of Paul’s first project - Berkeley Library (1967),  a unique building which can be considered sculpture, designed, taking into account the smallest details. It is one of the most notable examples of the modern movement in architecture in Ireland. 

Berkeley Library was the first structure I wanted to explore, the first structure which helped me to evolve as an architectural photographer, changed my way of thinking about composition and texture of photographed materials.
Berkeley also opens my series ’Unfulfielf dreams’ which I started to work on in 2011. 

Berkeley Library celebrated its 50th birthday three years ago. Have a look please at this short video at the end of today’s post. Thank you!


Short break

In a post last week I wrote about my fast changing neighbourhood. However, this does not apply to the entire area. There are still places here that are slightly different. 

Like this across the street. Several lanes with picturesque red brick terrace houses built in 1890–1910 for dockers. 

Many of these small dwellings have changed internally over the years, but their character remains the same. And that’s the beauty of it.

Going home, a few days ago,  I realised (not for the first time) how unique this place is. Especially in the morning winter sun. 

That day was fully planned and supposed to be very intense. Still, I decided to pause… load the roll of film into the camera and get back there. 

Well, something that meant to be just a break at work turned into a short photo essay…

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