Category Archives: Large format

Influences.

Which photographers do you enjoy looking at? What inspires you? Do you have friends who share your enthusiasm, either in your locality or online?

I think it is always interesting to discover that another photographer really appreciates the same historical or contemporary photographers as yourself, or is a fan of the same style of work as yourself. It establishes a connection and deepens a friendship to have things to share.

It suddenly occurred to me today that I had a long list of names that I very rarely get a chance to talk about and that I should write a little about them. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I will be interested to read your responses.

Should you welcome the influence of other photographers? Most University and College photography courses in the UK force students to work in the style of a short list of contemporary photographers and the criticise them for not being original. I’m glad that wasn’t the case when I studied photography.

In my early days as a student I found myself easily influenced by any photography that I saw. I wanted to develop a style that was my own and didn’t want to be influenced by anything that had gone before, so I made a conscious decision to stay away from as much of it as I possibly could. I avoided exhibitions, books and magazines (there wasn’t anything else in those days, except for TV and that was rubbish). I couldn’t keep it up, because photography is everywhere and I had to think of another strategy. I decided on the polar opposite approach: To look at as diverse a range of work as I possibly could, and lots of it. This had the effect of giving me an enormous range of styles and techniques to choose from, and it really opened my eyes to what was possible.

You will I expect, be able to spot one or two of my influences in this list and that is fine. I have not tried to deliberately copy them, but I love the style of work they do and enjoy working in that style sometimes. I make no apology for this, after all, there is more than one band playing blues music.

There are quite a number of photographers in this list and I can’t include all the pictures that I love (I’m not even sure of the copyright issues with that), so instead of putting them in this blog post, I am going to give you a link to my Pinterest page where you can see a large and diverse selection.

I don’t have space here to say why I love the work of these people, but I hope that the images work for you too. I also hope that you discover work that you were unaware of. Please comment and let me know what you think, and perhaps recommend other photographers I might have missed.

Photographers
Richard Avedon, Roger Ballen, Bill Brandt, Zeke Berman, Harry Callahan, Trevor Crone, Robert Demachy, Baron Adolf De Meyer, William Eggleston, David Eustace, Lee Friedlander, Horst P Horst, Rhodri Jones, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Josef Koudelka, Wright Morris, William Mortenson, Leonard Missone, Raymond Moore, Arnold Newman, Robert Parke Harrison, Irving Penn, Sabastiao Salgado, Edwin Smith, W. Eugene Smith, Frederick Sommer, Edward Steichen, Josef Sudek, Jerry Eulsmann, Bradford Washburn, Albert Watson, Edward Weston, Minor White, Joel Peter Witkin. Francesca Woodman, Ion Zupcu,

 

My Pinterest page of photographers work;  https://uk.pinterest.com/andrew2499/photographers/

Contrast control.

I promised in an earlier post that I would tackle the subject of contrast control. My original idea was to explain the methods I use in the darkroom, but I think I need to mention why you might have contrast problems in the first place.

Are you having problems with excessive contrast in your negatives? are you finding it difficult to print them in the darkroom without a lot of messing around with filters? I could give you some pointers for methods to create good prints from them (and I will), but perhaps we should look at why those negatives are so contrasty in the first place.

The first thing I would like to say, is that you might find it strange that exposure is not the cause of your contrast problems. By that I mean that overexposure is not your problem, gross underexposure might give you very thin negs which are difficult to pull detail from, but I am referring to excessive contrast. You only get heavy negs if you overdevelop, and this is the real crux of the problem; Film development is where the contrast is caused. Over development causes increased contrast and grain.

Where are you getting your dilution, time and temperature information from? Some random person who wrote on Flickr? Something another student told you? Check your information with a reliable source, but still be cautious.

Following the developing instructions on the box or the bottle will get you a result, but your negatives could still be over developed if your thermometer is a little bit out, your measuring jugs are not very accurate and if you tend to ‘give a little bit more, just to be sure’. Another thing I’ve seen with students is, they take too long between pouring out the dev and getting the stop bath in, adding another 30 seconds to a minute to the development time. All of these things can make a difference and if you have a combination of them you might be quite a bit out from the ‘norm’. Remember; Over development causes increased contrast and grain.

So perhaps this is one area you might need to look at. If high contrast negatives are giving you problems, then I would suggest running a test film through and processing for 15% less time than normal (this is just a rough estimate, as I have no idea what your negs look like).

Normal and high contrast negatives (simulated).

Normal contrast

High contrast

Printing

If you have negatives in your files which are dense, how can you get a better print from them?

Split grade printing can be very useful for difficult negatives. There are many conflicting ideas about split grade printing, but I shall give you a simple and effective method. The secret to getting good results is in making the Grade 00 exposure first (I am assuming you know how to do the basics). Find out the exposure time for the subtle highlight detail you need, remembering that many papers dry slightly darker. Once this time has been established (and it could be a long exposure if the light has to get through your dense neg and the filter). Next, expose another strip of paper for this amount of time, put a Grade 5 filter in place and do a series of test exposures over the top. These exposures will not be as long as the Grade 00 because you are printing the thinner parts of the negative.

When this two part test has been developed and fixed, look for the point where the black appears, and you will have your Grade 5 exposure. Give the print these two exposures, working in the same sequence as before and develop the print.

The reason this method works better is that the Grade 5 exposure is not increased by the Grade 00 coming after it. (The effect is slight but it does happen).

To add to the technique above, you could pre-flash the paper to lower its contrast, though to be accurate, you would need to pre-flash the test strips and the final piece of paper to the same amount of light. If you want to get really ambitious, you can pre-flash through a mask to confine the pre-flash exposure to the highlight areas! This technique is a bit too much for this article, but I’ll be happy to explain and demonstrate if you would care to come for a workshop.

Let me know how you get on and write to me via the comments here or on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook;  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Sanderson-Photography/243287612520814
Instagram;  http://instagram.com/andrewsandersonphotography
Twitter;  https://twitter.com/PHOTOSANDERSON

 

 

 

 

Is your metering method causing you problems?

Following on from my previous post on comparisons between meters, I thought it important to point out that HOW you use your meter has a significant effect on the exposure you get on the film. There are basically two ways to meter a scene, but a few variations on how those measurements are actually taken and interpreted;

The two main ways of taking a light reading are Reflective and Incident. Reflected readings are measurements of how much light is falling ON THE SCENE and Incident readings are measurements of how much light is falling ON THE METER. Spot meters measure small areas, but are still reflective types and when you take a reading through the camera lens (TTL metering), you are also taking a reflected reading. The trouble is, your choice of subject, or the angle that you shoot from, will influence the brightness that the camera reads. For instance, If I point my camera at a bunch of trees from thirty feet away, I will probably get a reasonable reading from the camera. If I then walk up to the nearest tree and lie underneath it, pointing the camera up through the branches at the sky, I will get quite a different reading, even though the light levels are the same.

In another scenario; I have in front of me two garage doors. One of them is painted black, and the other is white. If I stand some distance away, my reflective reading will average out the lights and darks, giving me an exposure somewhere in between. If I then walk towards the garage doors and take a reading from each, I will have TWO OTHER readings, even though the light levels are still the same.

This kind of subject influenced reading happens on sunny beaches, snowy landscapes, stage photography, night photography, or whenever you photograph any object, scene or person with a predominance of dark tones, or light tones. Given the infinite range of everyday lighting situations and possibilities for error, it is amazing that most shots come out at all. The reason they do, is because film is so forgiving, especially if you are scanning from your negatives and working on the images in photo-editing software. When I say film, I am referring to black and white, or colour negative films. Colour transparency film is far less forgiving and needs more careful metering.

The other method of metering  I mentioned was the incident reading. With this, there is usually a white plastic cone which goes over the light cell and this then allows the meter to read the light falling on the meter, and this is not affected by the tone of the subject. Incident readings are a quick and very accurate way of establishing a reading and are correct in most situations. If used in a back lighting situation, they will favour the shadow tones and give you an exposure which will show the lit areas as overexposed, so use them intelligently.

There is one rule when taking incident readings, and that is that you must point the cone from the scene towards the camera, -not towards the light source. The reason the white thing is a cone, and not a flat disc, is so that in side lighting, one side will be lit and the other shaded, the meter can then average them out. If you point the meter at the light source, it will not take shaded areas into account and you will have an underexposed shot.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 16.57.05

If you have a meter with the facility for taking both types of reading, you can take two readings beginning with an incident, then decide if the reflective is giving you a proper mid tone. I usually take an incident and check that against a reflective reading off the grass, or tarmac on the road, both of these are very close to mid grey.

In certain weather conditions, fog for instance, or snow scenes on a grey day, the light remains constant for a number of hours and one meter reading will be sufficient for many shots. Take one incident reading and the light will be the same for every shot.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 16.51.51

Spot metering. The spot meter is an excellent invention, but needs careful thought when being used. Typically it will take a reflected reading from a small area, indicated by a circle in the viewfinder of the meter. Anything outside of this area will not be metered, though they do pick up a bit of stray light if you have areas of brightness nearby, or are pointing into the light.

Some people think that all you have to do is take one reading from the shadows, and another from the highlights and put your setting right in the middle. This can be done, but it will depend on how high your bright areas go. Are you reading off a white painted door, or the clouds nearest to the sun? A far more accurate way to do it is to read the exposure for the darkest tone that you would like detail in and underexpose from that reading by two stops.

The important thing to remember is that exposure determines shadow detail and development determines highlight detail.

Just let that sink in a bit; Exposure determines shadow detail and development determines highlight detail. There is no shadow detail that can’t be rendered on film if given enough exposure. Leave the shutter open long enough and the film will record light that your eyes cannot detect. Okay, we’ve got that, but what about contrast? Well, if you have exposed so that the shadow detail will produce some pale greys on the negative, but you have areas where a lot more light reached the film, say for instance, a gap in dark woodland with a sunlit area beyond, this area will have obviously received an excess of light. This will only become unprintable if you keep it in the developer long enough for it to go to black. You don’t want that, you want a dark grey that you can print through, so the answer is to cut back the developer so that this doesn’t happen. I’ll be covering this subject in my next post.

Metering through the camera lens (TTL). This is a quick and practical way to get your exposures pretty close to correct as long as you understand a few things; What you point the camera at for the picture, doesn’t have to be exactly the same thing you point it at to take a reading. For instance, if you were shooting tall buildings in the city from ground level, you would most likely be pointing the camera up and getting lots of sky. Point the camera at the building, excluding sky, take the reading and use that for the up shots. If you are shooting a band on stage, exclude the lighting rig from the frame when you take the reading, then set it and fire away.

For street shooting, a 35mm camera is ideal, but you won’t have time to take a reading as you compose the shot. Think about the tonality of the scene, take a reading from something typical, then set it and forget it.

Metering in low light.

Metering in situations where there is low, even light only requires a good incident reading, a reciprocity chart and a tripod. Metering in situations where there are areas of deep shadow, coupled with hotspots of intense light, such as a concert needs a different approach. Uprating is commonly used in these situations, but this creates negatives of higher contrast, requiring very careful metering. Whenever I see images online and the photographer is claiming that the film was rated at 12500 ASA / ISO or some such high number, my first thought is; Yes, but where did you meter from? If the shots are taken at a concert, or some dark restaurant or club, there will be areas of deep shadow and very bright spots of light. In that kind of situation, a 12500 ASA reading from dark clothing in the corner of the room will give pretty much the same exposure settings as a 400 ASA reading from a well lit face. TTL metering will give you a result, but if the shot is important, then a carefully taken incident reading would be better.

Outdoors in changeable weather conditions: If you have one of those days when the sun is in and out every two minutes messing up your readings, remember that the exposure will only drop by one to one and a half stops when a small cloud comes over. Proper storm clouds will take much more light away, but a typical British summer day with fleeting clouds is easy to meter; If you meter the grass for the sunny areas, the shadows from the clouds will be 1.5 – 2 stops darker than mid grey, but if you meter for the grass when the cloud comes over, the sunny patches will be 1.5 – 2 stops brighter than mid grey. Meter the scene according to the look you are after.

Go out and try these methods and let me know how you get on. If there are any other lighting situations you are having difficulty with, then please leave a comment or question.

 

Testing light meters.

I am normally rather laid back about posting on this blog. I don’t bust a gut trying to get two posts a week out there, I post things when I feel I have something worth saying (and the pictures to support it). Recently, I have been thinking about how metering, exposure, measuring chemicals, temperature and processing all have an effect on the final quality of your images. I wanted to address that by writing about those aspects and pointing out areas which need to be thought about. My first idea was to write about light meters and make a comparison between different types, and this research is shown below. But I realised that all of the other aspects were so important that I had to post the other topics either at the same time, or shortly after. I have decided to write all of the articles in one go, then publish them here in short succession, so here is the first;

Meters and metering.
How reliable is your meter or your metering method? I thought I had my technique all sorted and knew what I was doing, but recently I was using a Nikon F4 camera and the in camera meter was giving me readings which I wasn’t convinced were correct. I checked it against a light meter app on my phone and there was quite a difference. As I wasn’t too far from home I decided to go back and check against my trusty Lunasix F analogue meter. The surprise was that I now had three different readings!

I decided to do a proper test, using a number of cameras, meters and a couple of phone apps. The following results show that you shouldn’t just believe that your meter is always correct. Also, an accurate meter is only any use if you use it properly, so make sure you give that some thought too.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 23.56.54
The following cameras, meters were compared in various lighting conditions and under varying levels of daylight;
Gossen Lunasix F Analogue meter

Sekonic digital

Sekonic analogue

Pentax Spotmeter (analogue)

Pentax LX camera

Nikon F4 camera

Minolta Dynax 9 camera

To establish a base line of exposure, I used a digital meter: the Sekonic L-308S. I painted a large piece of card grey and positioned it in a variety of locations at different times of the day. I used white card for the higher values. I didn’t want tungsten lighting to throw in another variable, so these were all daylight readings. I will be writing a separate post on metering and shooting under tungsten light at a later date.
After spending a number of days compiling this data, I noticed that the readings did vary in places, though not as much as I had expected. My original problem of three different readings was down to two factors: Firstly, I was using a Nikon F4 with a non Ai fitting lens, which meant that I had to press the depth of field/stop down button to take a TTL reading. I have since discovered through these tests, that this is inaccurate most of the time. The second problem was that the battery in the Lunasix-F was nearly dead, so it wasn’t reading correctly.

So before these test readings were complete, I had solved my original problem, but I thought that I would post the information anyway because there are a few discrepancies. As I said, these readings were taken from a large grey board in less than scientific circumstances and readings taking under scenic conditions could vary more, depending on angle of view and colour sensitivity.

Out of interest, I also later compared two iPhone metering Apps: myLightMeter and Light Meter. Both are using the same hardware and probably the same, or similar software, but as this is not my area of expertise, I have no real evidence, and only refer to how useful they actually are, and how close the readings were compared to the Sekonic digital. Before I began this second phase of testing, I did a little research and discovered another App which was getting good reviews; FotometerPro. This proved to be the best of the three, but still had its limitations. I have not included the phone readings here, the phone apps will be covered in a later post.

So, to the testing,..

You might think that after a few decades of dedicated monochrome photography, I might have a workable, reliable metering system, and to a large extent this is true, but when working with a number of cameras, unexpected variations show themselves in wrongly exposed negatives, sometimes months later (by the time I get round to processing them), and it is not always possible to remember how the frame was metered. My trusted method is to take an incident reading, and apply that to the camera. I don’t usually rely on camera meters unless I am working really quickly. My second method of establishing a reading is to take a reflective, or spot reading from the shadows and underexpose by two stops. More on this in a later post, or read an earlier post on metering;  thewebdarkroom.co.uk/2011/04/21/using-light-meters-intelligently/

I had suspected that one or two of my cameras gave unreliable readings, but hadn’t put the time aside for proper testing until now. I already knew that the meter in my Pentax LX was exactly one stop out, so when shooting I always set the ASA to the number above. The readings in the table are with the ASA setting altered to give the reading I would normally get. The results are as follows. The x denotes correct, or matching exposure.
Table.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 23.53.45

So it would appear that some meters are good at the lower light levels and inaccurate as levels increase, and some others have this problem in reverse. There are blips in the readings and I can’t understand these, as I was very careful about measuring consistently and did them a number of times over.
A slight inaccuracy in a meter is not a huge problem if it is the only one you use. If you have tailored your reading method and processing to give the results you prefer, then why worry? The problem will come when you take a reading with another camera, another meter, or rely on someone else’s exposure.
I think the important message from these comparisons is that we should never assume that our equipment is properly calibrated. This kind of test or comparison should always be undertaken when buying a new meter, or camera. The variations I found are not too far from ‘correct’ for normal black and white work, apart from the Pentax, which I have already allowed for. But they could make a big difference if you were shooting transparency. I did discover though, that metering through old lenses on the Nikon F4 was not a good idea.

Another factor which needs to be mentioned is the accuracy of your shutter. If your meter is giving you readings which lead you into overexposure, and your shutter is firing slower than it should (a leaf shutter problem mainly), then the combined overexposure could be very significant, and if your processing is out, you could be making the situation even worse!

My next post will cover the topic of how your metering method might be more of a problem than the accuracy of your meter and how you can remedy that.

Shallow depth of field on 5×4

Today I was looking for a lens to put on my MPP 5×4 to shoot a still life in the studio, and I picked out a 150mm f2.8 lens which originally came from a photocopier. The reason I know it’s origins is because about 15 years ago, a slightly eccentric neighbour was breaking up an old photocopier outside my house, so I asked him if he would give me a lens if he found one inside. I got it and I’ve had it sitting in a box of odd lenses and unusual bits of glass since then. Putting it on the camera, I really liked the shallow focus and beautiful soft background, but with a fixed aperture of 2.8, I had to find some way to control the exposure. I decided that some very slow X-Ray film and a diffuser over my tungsten light would give me a manageable exposure which I could time in seconds. I cut some strips of X-Ray film and put them in a dark slide, then did a couple of test shots, one at the exposure I expected and one with more exposure. The second one gave me the kind of negative I was after, so I cut a piece of film to the full 5×4 size and exposed it. I took it into the darkroom and processed it in a tray of paper developer for a minute and a half, gave it a quick stop and fix, then washed it. The negative looked much softer in the background than it looked on the focusing screen (this is something I’ve noticed a lot) and I thought it would make a nice print. Then I remembered that somewhere in my studio I had a 150mm f2.8 projector lens which gave really nice out of focus softness, probably better than this one I’d just shot, so I thought I’d expose a second shot through it and compare them.

I had a faint idea that I’d read somewhere that two lenses with the same focal length and aperture should produce the same depth of field, so I was interested to see if it was so. After shooting and processing the second sheet of film through the projector lens, I could see immediately that they were quite different. The projector lens had a much shallower focus and was far softer in the out of focus areas, so I must have misremembered the thing about comparable focal lengths.
Anyway, I present the two images here for comparison.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.42.54 Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.42.17

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.42.02  Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.41.45

2 Comments

  1. Keith

Posted 21/11/2014 at 7:22 am

This makes me want to get my old MPP Mk VIII out of the box and take some still-life.
I only have a 150mm Xenar lens though.

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 27/11/2014 at 5:38 pm

Could you give some advice how to attach the lens to the camera and e.g. which lens to which camera?
Kind regards,
Thomas

1923, 1988, 2014

Alongside my eclectic collection of cameras which have built up over the last 35 years, I have been acquiring negatives and prints wherever I find them. Much of the collection sits in boxes that have not been opened for twenty years or so, but last week I rediscovered a box of them whilst looking for something else. I lifted a few out and held them up to the window to see what was on them and of the first two I looked at, one looked rather familiar. After contact printing it I realised that it was of a farmhouse which I had photographed in the late eighties, when it was very dilapidated. I found the negative and did a print off it too, noticing that I had stood almost in the same position as the first shot, taken 65 years previously.
I remembered that the house was renovated a few years after I had photographed it, so I revisited it this week to get another shot from the same viewpoint. I think the three images make an interesting set.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.45.45

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.46.51

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.48.02

 

2 Comments

  1. Dave Burrows

Posted 17/11/2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink | Edit

Hi Andrew
I really like the comparison between the images as a piece of history, you where lucky to find the 1923 negative, how did you find it.
Glad you are back and writing.
Wish I had interesting projects to work on such as this one.
I posted a link to your website the other day on my face book page telling people. they should check you out as a fine artist and master printer I hope you don’t mind.
Regards Dave
Regards Dave

2. Paul Blanchard

Posted 05/12/2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink | Edit

Have just found your site, Superb comparison of the Farmhouse in the spirit of ‘How Buildings Learn’ I am working my way through the wealth of posts and shall leave any comments, when worthwhile, as I know from personal experience that it is hard to get them!/Paul

Making use of old paper

Over many years I have bought, swopped and had given a wide range of darkroom papers. Some are rather old and not really much good for making quality prints, but they still have their uses. I don’t throw out old papers, I’ve found that they can be used for Photograms, Paper Negatives, or just for creative experimentation. I have one box of very old Ilford single weight paper which has a base colour like it has been soaked in tea. If you choose the right kind of negative for it, the paper is gorgeous, but it is no good for certain other types of shot. If you want a punchy image with clean whites, -forget it, but for a still life or a portrait I think it brings a nice quality.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.07.15

Some of my favourite papers are lacking in contrast, that is to say, they have a lower grade now than the number on the box would suggest, this is because papers lose contrast with age. Not all though, -some last a long time, and I have examples from the sixties which are still ok. But some other papers are losing contrast at a much quicker rate, for instance, after only seven years. I have up to date papers which I use if I want a full range of tones, but the older ones are used if I want something different.  The flat, low contrast can impart a mood to the image, especially if the print is toned, in fact, I would say that this is essential. An untoned print of low contrast can look to be just a lot of greys, but a slightly sepia toned, or Selenium toned print is a different matter.

Recently I have been using some Ilfobrom Grade 4  for paper negatives in the 10×8 camera. I think it dates from the early seventies and has a contrast now of about grade 1, which is perfect for paper negatives. Here are three from yesterday morning in the mist.

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And here is Winnie, patiently waiting for me while I set up and shoot.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.04.00

So don’t throw those old papers away, try them as photograms or paper negatives. Try overprinting them and bleaching the highlights back (perhaps I’ll do this for the next post). Whatever you do, don’t just waste paper, if you really don’t think you can use it, send it to me -I’ll find a use for it.

7 Comments

  1. Thomas

Posted 14/03/2014 at 9:44 am

I am happy that I have got some Kentona yet. Unfortunately it is only 10×12.
But I do not have very old papers like you because I never did buy in bulk. Nor do I buy old papers on ebay. Should I try this? And what sort of papers?
I would like to have greater format of Kentona but all stock is emptied.
Thomas

2. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 14/03/2014 at 1:02 pm

Kentona is a lovely paper for prints, even now, but it is also excellent for paper negatives! So you will have to decide which is the best way to use it.

3. Andrew

Posted 14/03/2014 at 5:32 pm

Your point about low-contrast paper being good for paper negatives is brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that…

Andrew

4. Cahit

Posted 04/05/2014 at 6:35 pm

I have a bunch of expired papers. Is there a way to overcome printing whites as grays? Or more clear classification of alternative/creative uses of expired papers. (For example: type of scenes or negatives to print for better results)
Thanks

5. Mark Peeters

Posted 03/11/2014 at 1:22 am

I have a whole bunch of graded paper that came with a bunch of dark room equipment. but I only have multigrade developer from Ilford, can you develop graded paper with the multigrade developer?

Thanks

6. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:17 pm

Dear Mark, please excuse my very late reply to your question on Thewebdarkroom. You can use Multigrade developer for graded paper without any problem.
Regards, Andrew Sanderson.

7.Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:24 pm

Dear Cahit, If you are using old papers to make prints, you may have problems with greyed whites. This could be a problem if you are expecting whites, but if you window matt the image and frame it, you could find that it looks really interesting as a new way to print.
If you are making paper negatives from the paper the greyed whites are not too much of a problem. You just print them using a higher contrast grade.
Regards, Andrew.