No matter how adept we might be at utilizing local printing controls such as dodging and burning, or using multiple contrasts, we sometimes still find ourselves faced with an image which either defies our best efforts, or makes us really strain to get things to come out right.
Have you ever wished you were an octopus? I’ve had several images where I had to have an assistant dodge one area of a print while I dodged another. Have you ever been frustrated trying to deal with a little part of an image, an important one, that’s just too small to even get a dodging wand into, much less control it accurately? If you have to make more than one or two prints of an image, do you have trouble getting the dodging or burning or bleaching on print number two to be the same as print number one? If you’ve experienced any or all of these aggravations you may feel you need the services of a shaman, but the following techniques, at least for me, produce more predictable results.
Having been charged with the responsibility (and pleasure) of printing Ansel Adams’ Yosemite Special Edition negatives for over 36 years, I have had to dedicate a great deal of time and effort in the cause of control and consistency. Over the years I’ve evolved a technique I have come to refer to as Selective Masking. I use the term “selective” because it is a physical, hands-on method, which has no relation to the purely photometric process of “unsharp” masking so popular in some circles in recent years. In its basic form, it’s not techno- anything; it simply is a means of solidifying your own dodging and burning preferences into a “package” which remains absolutely constant from print to print. You can change your mind about how you want that package to perform; you can dodge and burn in greater detail than with traditional methods and with absolute consistency from print to print.
Selective Masking techniques can be used to lighten or darken as many large or small areas of the image as desired, and advanced techniques can be used to replicate the effects of smooth, broad—area burns such as the method commonly used to gradually darken a sky toward the top of an image. The beauty of the technique is that it is easy and inexpensive, and it allows complete personal expression. Nothing is etched in stone. If you make an area too light, you can adjust it. If the area is still too dark, or if something else isn’t quite right, you can adjust it. In this article we’ll cover the basics of the method to lighten and darken specific areas. In a subsequent article we’ll cover the more advanced techniques for making graduated broad-area burns, and a third article will cover techniques for making “built-in” multiple contrasts on variable-contrast paper.