View Full Version : Digital Negatives.... Sheesh

Doug K
01-01-2011, 07:20 PM
This isn't so much of a question, but more of a vent, and to get feedback to see what others are doing. I'm getting started in Alternative Process, mostly Gum Bicrhomate and Cyanotype to start, but I imagine I'll be visiting other processes as well. I've started down the road of digital negatives, and thought I was on the good track with Mark Nelson's PDN, but then I've started reading more, and there are all these other processes. I'm sticking with Mark Nelson since I've already invested into the process. But, really, there's a few systems out there, and people who swear by all of them, probably since they "bought the book".

What amazes me is how protective people are of information with patents and everything. Alternative process negative making can't be a hugely lucrative business. I'm not talented enough to sell any photography, let alone any alternative prints I might make. It just seems like a whole lot of protective behavior where there's not a lot of revenue. In some of my other interests, there's a lot more group activity to solve problems. In photography people seem so proprietary, and go it alone rather than look to a collaborative solution. Divide and conquer versus the controlling way. Maybe it's just the mentality of photographers.

I'm not against someone trying to recoup on their efforts, not by any stretch. It just seems that with digital negatives that there's this mystique around the knowledge, and add to it the whole crossover from art to geekery. It reminds me of the early days of PC computing, and if you had a little knowledge, you could hold it over everyone else, since computers were such a mystery. Any more, things work off the shelf.

Anyhow, just venting here. What's your experience with digital negatives?

01-01-2011, 08:16 PM
I might be making my first one by the end of the month.

01-02-2011, 11:01 AM

There are resources for digital negatives that do not require you to purchase a software package. Mike Ware's website is an example. Christopher James' book also can help to get you there. There are articles on the AlternativePhotography.com website. In my opinion, the learning curve for successful digital negatives is pretty steep, and requires rigorous record keeping and testing procedures. For this reason, I find that Mark Nelson's systematic approach is very helpful. It is not difficult to make a digital negative that makes a nice print. It is something else again to optimize the process for your own coating method, light source, paper, etc. By optimize, I mean that a person can make a negative that will print the full range of tones available to the process, and that the print will express the precise intent of the artist. I think that the bottom line is that we each must go through the testing process ourselves, and that there is no shortcut to success.

The processes that require a contact negative and a uv light source are so diverse, and the equipment varies so much that a negative that works well for me may not work at all for you, even with the same process. The artists that use these processes display different ways of working. A gum printer that builds up many layers of pigment does not require as perfect a negative as the worker in platinum/palladium, whose materials are very expensive, and whose process is capable of amazing subtlety in one exposure step. I have a whole collection of Photoshop curves from various sources, but none of them are optimized for my processes and my artistic intent. For this reason, I need to test and test and test until I develop what works for me. Anything that can get me there quicker and with less wasted materials is OK with me.

Doug K
01-02-2011, 10:54 PM
Thanks Earl. That helps. Being new at this part of the game makes me a little wary that I'm going to head down the wrong fork in the road. It's also a little frustrating when people who teach this put their support behind something, then you read them using something else in a forum somewhere. I am very wary of endorsements any more.

Anyhow, onward and upward. Have a house repair to do, then back to work on negatives.

Tom Persinger
01-03-2011, 08:49 PM
Hi Doug-
I've been using the Ratio Curve method as outlined/described by Clay Harman on the alternative photography site. It's so easy, and the results have been so spectacular I highly recommend it. I realize you've invested in the PDN system but you owe it to yourself to try this method. the only thing to be careful of is how the layers are stacked with the curve, inversion, and color screen applied. Once you get that down, i just put them all in a layers folder in PS and drag them into the different images I'm outputting. It makes everything so much easier. Check it out here: http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/negatives/digital-negatives-color-ratio/comment-page-1

Happy New Year everyone!

01-04-2011, 05:26 PM
In the article attached to your link in step 9 the author says, "Print the negative using the same prints settings outlined in the Schreiber article", the link for the Schreiber article doesn't work. Can you post here the print settings you are using.

Doug K
01-04-2011, 09:06 PM
Thanks Tom, I read through that, and it definitely looks simple. I'll be trying different things in the coming weeks to see how it all works out for me. First lets see if this LED UV lightbox is going to work...

Tom Persinger
01-05-2011, 11:16 PM
Chris- yes, i'll copy my settings and post tomorrow morning. to be honest, i dont recall the mention of the schreiber article! i must have skipped that part! but it worked great anyway ;)

Doug- what is an LED UV lightbox... you have my curiousity piqued!

Doug K
01-06-2011, 07:45 PM
Tom. I'm experimenting with UV LEDs as a light source for exposing alternative process prints. I started a thread here:


I've got all the parts, and I'm hoping to do some testing of the LEDs this weekend. Basically I took the idea I saw with what people did with fluorescent lights, and adapted it with LEDs. They're coming up in power, and dropping in price. Hopefully it works! I'll be posting in the thread linked above as I get results.

Tom Persinger
01-13-2011, 09:40 AM
just checked... looks great! thanks for sharing it - i can't wait to see more.

on the subject of digital negatives, there's also the free ChartThrob photoshop script. I just used it for the production of paper negatives and while it wasn't perfect the first time it got me very close (in 1 print!) and perfect on the 2nd. here's a link: http://www.botzilla.com/blog/archives/000544.html

01-15-2011, 05:54 PM
So, another little bit of a vent here! Apologies in advance.

I thought I'd weigh, for what it's worth. I purchased and spent a lot of time with the PDN system because I had read very good things about it, and am not afraid of putting in the time necessary to establish my own curves. I have done it successfully for VDB and cyanotype using the Reeder and Hinkel book. I'm pretty good at "reading and following directions". I wanted to use the PDN system for gum bichromate.

I don't want to sound "negative" (groan) but I really had trouble with the PDN e-book. I found it somehow over-engineered (too long, for one thing), not that well organized, and unnecessarily complex - or something. Mark is obviously a smart guy, but he needs an editor. There are also some annoying and confusing errors, such as captions not matching the illustrations. Part of my problem was that as soon as I bought it, Mark came out with curve calculator II, which is an additional cost. Maybe that makes it a lot easier, but I was bummed and sorta dug in my heels on putting more money into it. I have no doubt that it works well for Pt/Pd, cyanotype, silver, even photogravure, but gum is trickier because you can control the print with combinations of development, exposure, pigment, etc. Furthermore, each pigment is different so you need a curve for each one you use. That adds up to a lot of work. I knew the process would be tedious and painstaking but I almost went blind and crazy. As it turns out, printer settings are *crucial* and many people have trouble even getting started because printers and their drivers are so diverse. this from observing the traffic on the PDN Yahoo forum.

Honestly, I finally decided that for my way of working, I was better off using a tip we learned from Christina Anderson at the workshop at Photographer's Formulary last summer. For her shorter workshops (not her University courses, where she teaches PDN), to make things simple, she suggests a generic "10/80" curve. It's actually a straight line with values of 10,0 and 80,100 (output, input). It works amazingly well. I think the reason is that most alt processes tend to enhance contrast. This curve (not a curve, really, just a line) flattens the image. I routinely use it for tricolor gum with cyanotype as the blue layer. (My own cyanotype curve was for a different paper than I use for gum). I also print my negatives in color mode but it's a grayscale image in RGB mode. I don't use a special UV-blocking color. It's good enough for me. Check out my flickr stream and website for examples of my gum prints. My VDBs from a few years ago are curved with my own curve for that process.

Disclaimer: for yellow gum I do use both the 10/80 curve and a curve that Chris and some of us derived during the workshop. Yeah, it took about 5 of us working as a team to do the exposures, data entry, yada yada to get some curves made in short order. And to her credit she honored Mark's copyright by working only with those of us who had purchased his book.

Curves are great, and if you like doing that sort of thing (making a lot of test prints and getting it perfect), then by all means don't let me discourage you. I really liked the Reeder and Hinkel book.
As Earl said, each person has to decide for him-or-her-self.
I have more fun making prints.

OK, end of rant. It's a long one, too! ;)

PS. another online resource http://www.inkjetnegative.com/images/RNP/rnp.htm that I found helpful.

Doug K
01-22-2011, 11:22 AM
Mary, thanks for the rant. It seems like we have similar frustrations, and I'm glad I'm not the only one. Thanks a ton for the quickie curve tip. I'll be making some negatives shortly, and I'll be using it. I want to make some prints, and get a feel for the process before I get to hung up on perfecting my negatives. I'll eventually try to work through some of the PDN stuff, but for now I just want to make prints.

Also, thank you, and everyone else for the resources!