20×24″ prints are $1,250
30×40″ prints are $2,500
In 1989 Ruth and I went on another photo trip around the country for three months. On November 1st we found ourselves in Virginia, camped out in the beautiful Shenandoah Forest.
As usual, we were up before dawn looking for a potential photograph. The woods were dense and visually complex with many different species of trees. The sun was beginning to rise and I was not having an easy time finding a worthwhile composition. When I finally did, it was a mad dash to get the image onto film before the sun’s rays blasted the scene with extreme contrast.
I used the rising front on the camera to avoid converging verticals and as I was focusing on the ground glass I could see that the sun was already striking the tops of the trees. Taking my 1° spotmeter readings I understood that the contrast of the scene was pushing the range of my transparency film. It was necessary to base the exposure on the sunlit tree tops and let the rest of the image fall into darker values than I wanted. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make a luminous print that would reproduce the illumined forest I was experiencing but I’d have to figure that out later, if at all.
Using my Goerz 24” Red Dot Artar lens at f/64 I made a 6 second exposure on Fujichrome 100 film. Back in Oregon when I saw the processed transparency I was discouraged. The sunlit top of the image looked good but the lower 3/4 of the image was dark and sullen. Not at all the effect I was looking for. Could I find a way to pull this image out of the gloom?
I had been making contrast masks for six years and had progressed in my technical abilities through experimentation, calibrations and lots of printing experience. I loved the image but it had to glow. I needed to hold the lightest values without having them become pasty but raise darker values that would normally print as Zone III (very dark) to Zone VI (light skin tones).
It helped that I had worked professionally running drum scanners (Hell and DS Screen) and doing dot etching, which gave me an intuitive understanding of tone reproduction. I could visualize what I wanted but had to find a way to do it. I spent about a week, making and studying contrast curves of different types of masking films and then making contrast masks and test prints of this image.
I was finally able to get the effect I had hoped for and was able to utilize the knowledge I gained when printing other images later on. Even more importantly, when out in the field I could confidently photograph high contrast scenes, knowing I could resuscitate the transparency in my darkroom. The doctor is in! Remarkably, raising the lower values this much while maintaining full tonal separation throughout the scale can only be done through film/analog methods.
The Cibachrome prints are filled with the light I saw and experienced that morning and as I study the print it almost seems as though the forest itself is dancing and rejoicing, filled with life.