Caring for the Digital Negative
Once we've gotten to this point you've got your curve, I'll go ahead and fix my curve here 'cause it's driving me crazy, we got your curve, you got your image, you've gone on ahead and you're ready to print. You're gonna print this negative out. And then one of the things you're gonna wanna do is it's still a negative, so it's not as critical as the most difficult ones, Gina can you grab that notebook that has the negatives in it. You're gonna wanna take care of your negatives even though you can reprint them over and over again. They still have a sense of delicacy to them. And so, one of the things that, I don't worry about, like my normal negatives sit in archival sleeves. For my digital negatives, what I have them, is I just have them in protective sleeves that you would use like a report. So I just picked it up at an office supply company. But the negatives when they print, will come out, ah, I lost a sheet, will come out, and like I said so here's one with that green tint. Here's ...
one with the, so that's for a platinum or a cyanotype, and there's the brown for a van dyke print. This one I don't think you can see it, but there's actually scratches and dings that have come up and it's because it was just left on the table. And so as things got put on or taken off, it's still a very fragile medium surface. So you're still gonna wanna take care of 'em. So I've gone ahead and I store mine in plastic sleeves. And then I have, on my main set at home, I have a set of stickers. And what I identify with on the sticker is just that this is for a van dyke print, and what kind of paper the negative was for. So that was, I'm flipping through the book, if I know I want to print it, I can see it was a van dyke negative because this one's for platinum is green. This one can be for cyanotype because they have the same green tint to 'em. So it's hard to identify. But you're gonna wanna somehow store these. And if you just lay them on top of one another, like this, they will start to scratch. So you do wanna have some level of protection. But I don't worry about the archive ability storage. Like I said my traditional negatives go in archive sleeves, archive envelopes, because I don't want them to off gas and get damaged over time. So, once you make that print, you go into a sleeve. You're gonna wanna store 'em. I brought this one in, so this is for one of the cyanotype's I did, but this one I forgot to invert. So, this one actually looked a lot like the actual photograph. So, when you print this, you actually end up with an invert of, so the darks are light and the lights are dark. And so you end up with a kind of negative positive print. So it was kind of a cool print. But, things will come out. Once you've printed a couple of these you'll get used to what a negative looks like versus leaving the invert off. So if something comes out and it just doesn't look quite right usually it's the invert that was forgot to get turned on because you were making some edit, and you couldn't make it while the edit was there. So, you're gonna store your negatives though in these sleeves. Now I store them up until the point where we're getting actually ready to print. Because what I don't wanna do is pull the negative out throw it down on the table. Now I'm starting to assemble the darkroom, starting to get things put together. Something gets spilled on it, I gotta go reprint it. Something gets scratched, I gotta go reprint it. And, while on the scheme of photography, not the most expensive thing, but we're looking at, you know, $1.50 probably to print. And depending on the size, it could be significantly more than that. So it's still something you wanna treat with some level of care. The slick side, what ends up being the dull side, doesn't have any ink on it, so that's not gonna mark or anything. But it will hold fingerprints. So you do wanna treat this like a negative or like you would an actual print. You wanna hold it by the edges. Grabbing out there will get fingerprints in there. It will actually imbed into the ink. And then, literally little fingerprints can show up in your image. And I know somewhere out there somebody's like, so that'd be cool. Yes it would be cool. But for normal photographs if you don't want your thumbprints to be in there, you wanna stay off of the ink pieces for that. When we talk about the printing, we're gonna get down to the printing, in this process it's always ink side to the sensitizers side. So the emulsion side and the ink are gonna hit. So the other thing I like to do is in theory these are supposed to dry by the time they come off the printer. You can take your finger and rub across 'em, the ink's gonna be there. There's not gonna be any big issue or any problem. But, I like to let them print and then usually off gas or spend some time, so I usually try to print the negative at least an hour or two or a day before I actually go in to print. I haven't noticed any significant change in that with the normal digital print that I would make for gallery show or for expedition, expedition, up the mountain, for exhibition, we, I'll let those off gas for about 24 hours before they go through their final sealing process. But for this just a few hours. And that's not because I'm worried about smudging. But I just wanna make sure that there's no weird volatile reaction that would damage the negative after the fact. 'Cause if I've got a good negative I would just as soon print off the same negative over and over again. I don't make any extra copies or backup copies of the negatives. Because I don't really worry about a second copy 'cause I have the digital copy. I did mention and I wanted to show, so these, when they're printed, and one of the things in the digital file, is when we look at this file that's got that black border. So when the black border prints, that means no light's gonna get through to the sensitizer that's on the paper. So those brush marks we see will disappear. So you'll end up with a nice traditional kind of square formatted edge. When it's clear like this, you end up with the paint brush marks showing through. That's a complete artistic choice. I know some printers and they hate, hate those edges. So, they'll always print without them. In this case, I printed one, and on the negative wasn't quite big enough. So you could see the darker edges are there. And then this red material is called rubylith, and it's used by silk screeners. And you can just buy it from a silk screening supply shop. They sell it on Amazon. They sell it at, some hardware stores sell it. And this blocks UV light. So this is what we're gonna use in here. This is what's in my darkroom when I'm doing this kind of work. This is just taped over my lights at the studio. And so this blocks 100% of the UV light so this also builds a border. So even if you're gonna build an abstract border or change the size, you could use rubylith to create the edges. And because it's just an archive negative I just have it scotch taped over so it'll show up and then that'll block the edges. So you have a couple of options for blocking the edges. There's a couple of reasons from a contrast decision, like how contrast is created, and how do contrast, that would have people not wanna see the borders. But I would say in general most people want those borders to show up in the art, in the print, because that is part of the art form. It's a part of the way we create the image is to have those beautiful painted edges. It's kind of the signature mark. It's one of the things as you get started that, also you'll start to figure out, like how much of that brush mark do you wanna leave at the edge. And in some ways does become a signature of the way the photographer works. So, once you get 'em printed, I usually print all the negatives and then I get the darkroom set up. That gives 'em the time to get off gassed and do all their thing, and then I work from there.
I'm curious just in terms of your process Daniel, how many negatives then would you in a normal case be working on at once? Like if you were to, and what we'll see in the next segment, but, are you working with multiple negatives in any given session?
Yeah. That's a good question. And I do, my printing sessions are always about the creation of the multiple images. And so, I love very strong, very intense periods. So once I kind of get the darkroom set up I like to just go in and print and print and print and print. And what I, my workflow is, I will come in with a set of between eight and probably 20 negatives that are ready to go. And then I'll print all of them in one swoop. And then I'll make a decision about what is and isn't working in the specific images. And I'll go back to the digital darkroom, tweak the image, and then come back in and make the prints again. But on any given session, another reason I like the digital negative is, once I have the negatives, it's literally as fast as I can get them through the chemistry, and keep myself organized 'cause, like some of the processes, you might be in the light box for 15 minutes. And that gives you time to get the prints through the wash. You have one in the UV table. You're coating paper. So you're always kind of, have something going on in the process so, that's why I like to have a number of negatives just so I can kind of keep myself moving. And I also make a decision about a process for the day. I don't normally do cyanotype's in the morning and platinum printing in the afternoon. You absolutely could. But I like to kind of get in and get in a groove of, of experimentation. And then if something goes wrong, I have the resources and references at my fingertips to be able to like, okay, I'm focusing on cyanotype's, it's not, did I do something wrong before? Did I leave something in the tray? It's really focused on keeping myself organized that way.
Awesome. Thank you. And then just to kind of bring it all together, 'cause that was a lot to kind of comprehend, the curves and the, and getting to the point where we've got that digital negative, how long does it actually take you in the process to, where you were teaching us how to do all of this, but to prepare on average any digital negative?
If I'm starting without a known curve starting point in this process it takes, if I'm in my lab, and I'm, everything's set up, it takes a few hours. 'Cause I have the scanner. I have blow dryers and things that dry paper at an accelerated rate. So with the exception of the van dyke process I'll accelerate the drying of paper. So in a few hours I can get a curve that's close enough that I feel like I'm in a tweaking spot and can start producing some images to see how it looks. Is a few hours. But the benefit of that is I do have the, the technology. And it's not a high-end scanner. It's like a little $50 scanner. I didn't go out and buy $1,000 scanner. It literally is just the flat-bed piece. So a couple hours there. Then once the negative is, once the curve's ready, it's somewhere between 10 minutes and a couple hours depending on how much tweaking I do for the actual image to get the black and white processing to be right. And so, the other piece that kind of affects the time is the size that I'm printing. And so, because the coating process, bigger sheets take a little longer to coat, so that process slows the methodology down. But in general I can get kinda up to speed in four or five hours with the start of a curve to the point where I'm ready to finesse the final tuning. That can usually take a couple of more hours. If I can get help, the other part is I love the community aspect, so if I can get some help, then I can be on the computer, they can be on the computer, their person can be making the print. And then it's a matter of just, I made the tweak, how's it look? I made the, so two people definitely it is one a few numbers of people can speed the process up as well. And then, the last piece of that, if I have a curve that somebody has given me, I literally grab an image that I know I've printed before and I liked, I put the 21 step wedge on it, I print the curve. If the step wedge looks good, I start printing immediately. So that's literally a 20 to 30 minute process just to see how the image looks.