Local Landscape – Spotting a Print

The entire process of analogue photography and printing is one full of variables and occasional surprises.
Mishaps are not uncommon. I am guessing that most, if not all of those out there who develop and print their own work have experienced some kind of technical issue or setback along the way.

The photo I will be sharing with you today was taken on a local walk during the spring/summer of 2020. I was travelling light with just my Yashica mat loaded with a roll of FP4 and my trusty Sekonic Twinmate.
The sun was dropping and there were interesting things happening in the sky, as I climbed the sea wall, I turned to see incredible clouds and a brilliant glow bouncing off the water. I composed the shot, took a light reading and fired the shutter.

While inspecting the developed negative, I unfortunately discovered some kind of residue had attached itself to the film at some point. To this day I have no idea what caused this. I consulted a friend of mine with a wealth of experience. We explored every avenue but could not work out the cause.
I put the negative away from some time, reluctant to print it. Nowadays I tend to not let these things bother me too much so I resolved to work on a print with the intention of “spotting” the obvious marks on the print.

Here are the first test strips. I started at 10 seconds and exposed in 10 second increments (10,20,30,40,50). From this test print I determined that my exposure for the land and water part of the image was going to need to be somewhere very close to 10 seconds so I then produced more tests from 10 seconds adding a second each time (10,11,12,13,14). From this print I decided on an exposure time of 12 seconds.

If you look at both sets of tests you can see some of the white marks on the grass on the left of the print.

Next was to find out the correct exposure time for the sky. From the small part of sky at the top of the previous tests, I thought 30 seconds would be a good time to work around so I produced a strip of 20,25,30,35,40 seconds. 35 seemed about right to me so I was all set to make the first print. (Note: the test strips of the sky are slightly blurry as I moved the Paterson test strip maker at some point when making the print)

The first print turned out really well and to my surprise, I wasn’t actually too bothered about the white marks dotted around the print though they were distracting. So armed with a set of nylon fine detail brushes and a set of dusty old ‘Spotone’ retouching colours I set to work spotting the print.

I used the border of the print to test different tones. Lighter shades are achieved by diluting with water.

The two images below show a kind of before and after example of the print while being spotted. The areas look obvious here but did blend quite nicely when dry.

The Final Print

So there we have it. Although my spotting work leaves much to be desired, I feel I have saved the print.
After all, I am left with a print that I am really happy with, warts and all.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it and I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Local Landscape – Spotting a Print”

  1. Mike, seeing this post immediately caught my attention. You see I have made my living for over four decades as a photo retoucher. My specialty is difficult print correction using dye and brush. One particular client had his work printed point light source as opposed to diffusion head. What this meant was that every flaw in the negative would show but the gain in image sharpness was huge. Some of his prints took upwards of 5 to 8 hours of delicate and intricate brush work to hide the imperfections. I have several quick tips for you. 1) An “0” or “1” sized Windsor Newton Series 7 Red sable brush 2) Use blotter paper or a cheap untreated kleenex to spin the excess water and dye off of your brush. This spin blotting will help to train the brush to a precise point and help to reduce the chance of excess dye flowing onto a spot 3) Always use distilled water with the dyes 4) In light areas work slowly with a diluted tone to build up to the correct density. Don’t try to hit it in one pass. 5) After spotting in a dark area take a clean brush with only the distilled water and lightly apply it over the spotted area. This can help to reduce or eliminate any blushing that may have occurred due to heavy dye application 6) When putting the brush away load it up with a heavy amount of dye and spin blot it to a fine point then place a protective soft bristle cover over it.

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    1. Hi Bill, thank you so much for your comment and interest in the post. It sounds like you have a wealth of knowledge in this field and what a fantastic way to make a living. I’m new to traditional methods of photo retouching. I am accomplished in digital retouching as it’s part of my day job but traditional “analogue” photography and printing is my passion.
      I will take note of all your pointers to help me develop my skills with the spotting brush. Many thanks again, Mike

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  2. Mike, I just finished spotting an 11″x14″ studio produced wedding photo printed in 1954! That is one of the amazing things to me when it comes to silver gelatin prints. It responded to brush and dye as if it were printed yesterday. Anyway as I spotted the photo I realised I had left out a critical piece of information in my previous response. You need to create a spotting palette. Using a piece of 4×5 or 5×7 plain glass tape a white piece of artboard to the back and then add a cover flap using art paper that hinges at the top and folds down over the glass. Using an eyedropper place a couple drops of dye on the glass. Being sure the glass is level let the dye dry on the glass in a small puddle. You can also add a small amount of Windsor&Newton Designers Gouache, permanent white, and let it dry also. This gouache is used sparingly(watered down) to lightly touch any black spots that may be on a photo. I say sparingly because gouache is matte in finish and will leave a dull spot. This gouache is perfect for spotting matte ink produced digital pigment prints also. Just FYI. I used the gouache to delicately add faint catchlites into the couples eyes and this adds so much life to a person.

    Lastly you can write the name of the dye and gouache either on the cover sheet or the backing board(before taping). The advantage of the palette is that you can have numerous color of dyes on it for different toned prints. I have a separate palette for spotting color prints. I also have a palette with Epson K3/HD inks for spotting digital pigment prints. Don’t let anyone say different spotting is still needed to complete a photo.

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    1. Wow that’s brilliant Bill thanks for the information. I really appreciate the wisdom of your experience. I think I will make a palette when I get the opportunity. Funny enough I remember years ago when I first started at my current place of work (an independent photo lab), there was a palette just like you have described on site and the more experienced members of the team would often resort to spotting to save re printing a problem print. Nowadays we rarely encounter problem dust spots or specs of any kind as all our equipment is ink based, though I still prefer a silver halide print.

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