“What filter?”

According to Mr. Shore, “The tonal range of a black-and-white print is affected by the type of emulsion the print is made with. The composition of the film emulsion, the chemistry of the film and print developers, and the nature of the light source from which the print is made also determine the way shadows, mid tones, and highlights are described by the print; they determine how many shades of gray the print contains and whether these tones are compressed or separated.”

According to moi, each negative is a matrix, with a range of tones determined by the photographed scene, its quality of light, the film exposure and degree of development. In most cases all one wants to do is to extract as much as possible to the paper so that the image looks… believable.

Filters are numbered from 00 to 5, with half-steps in between (‘cept there ain’t no #00 1/2; a blessing in disguise, perhaps). Their colors cause different layers of emulsion on the paper to respond to different degrees. For some reason the #2 (or #2-1/2) filter is considered “normal,” pretty much how the paper responds without a filter, only faster. (The same is true of graded paper, which comes in packages of single grades and does not respond to filters.) When we adjust contrast whilst printing we are attempting to make the image look well. Think of it as counterbalancing the contrast set in the negative with a contrast level in the paper.

Generally, a negative with an overall extreme range of tones built into the scene (early-morning, raking light, snow in sunlight, silhouettes) will require a lower numbered filter, and a negative with relatively little range (gloomy days, dusk, fluorescent/ill-lit interiors, underexposed or underdeveloped film) needs a higher one.

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