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I shoot a lot of night scenes and would like to ask a question of someone who knows selenium toner. Specifically - what fiber paper would lend itself to a rich selenium tone? and can you get a rich color from such tone?

Thank you for your questions and looking to us for answers. We are always pleased to try and help people with their phtoography. Yours is not an easily answered question, and I will try to give you enough information to help you make an informed decision. This may sound like a "cop-out", however, I have had very good results with several different papers, tones of papers, and paper surfaces. It depends upon what results I want to achieve in an image. I had to experiment with a number of images, papers, densities in a print, and dilutions to determine what works best for any particular image type.

There are, unfortunately, no short cuts in traditional photography with the plethora of fine imaging papers available to us today. Most serious printmakers will try out (test) different papers and toners with some "standard" negatives they have made. If a different paper or toner, or a paper undergoes a change in formulation, then I will test some prints to understand what effect I will obtain from similar negatives when printed on that paper. I have also found subtle differences in formulations of toners, water quality of various locales, and dilutions all have an effect on image appearance. What works for one image may be totally unsuitable in another....thus, the subjective part of our art form. This begs the question: "What am I trying to achieve with this print/image?"

You told us that you work with night scenes and are looking for a rich selenium or color tone. Exactly what tone are you looking to achieve? What is the purpose of toning for you? Archival preservation? Changing the print tone, temperature, or color? Is it an emotional response from the viewer that you are trying to achieve in an image? Any and all of these are legitimate concerns and may even be combined for you. Are you looking for a "style" or signature tone? So, first, what drew you to selenium rather than, say, sepia or Viradon (a mixture of both)? Why not a color toner such as blue or copper/red? Or, what about Sistan, an archival image stabilizer that does not change the print tone or temperature?

You, and only you, can truly answer these questions for your images. I may only humbly suggest these questions and other information for you to consider. This drove my students at the university nuts, but they became better photographers for it. They saw there was no "one size fits all" answer for our art form and imagery. And, most importantly, learned to make informed judgements and trust their instincts about the processes they worked on their prints.

Now that I have given you a lot to think about, let me go back to your original questions and see if I can give you some technical guidance. Selenium toners are made by several companies, and we carry Fotospeed Toners, distributed by Luminos, as well as the Agfa toners. We like to use chemicals that are as environmentally safe as possible, and take care to discard those that are not in the proper manner. After all, we are all in this together...and this planet is my home and my work space.

One may dilute toners in different solutions to achieve various results in tone and temperature changes. Of course, toning usually affects the density of a print as well, so one must also make at least two prints of different densities to understand how each would look with a particular dilution. (One to mess up and one to keep!) Also, you must understand that time in the toner will also affect tone, temperatures and densities. Such a lot to keep up with!! But a good notebook in the darkroom for recording info on the prints, and one at the toner table will help you when they are all dry. (HINT: Use a pencil to LIGHTLY put info about the paper, developer, and exposure on the back of the print (unless you are toning directly after the final wash).

So, I suggest making several small test prints and your own "sample book" that contains examples of the prints, solutions, times, etc. all written on the back of each sample. That way, you can simply choose the effect you want, until you have done this enough for the knowledge to be second nature. I would also suggest that you make this with several prints from different papers, and then you would also have a good picture of what paper reacts with which dilution well. Then, when you want to make your images look a certain way, you may simply look up the effect in your "booklet" and print away to your heart's content!

If you know others who would want to have this information, you could all purchase one different type of paper and toner each, and then share with each other in a few nice group sessions. This way you get to experience different papers and chemicals without having to get them all yourself. Also, this is a lot of fun for everyone involved...and such a learning experience! Everyone will come away a better photographer or printer!

Now, as to what I use....hmmmm, well, I use (or have used) Luminos Variable Contrast Fiber base papers, warmtone and neutral, semi-matte; Ilford MG IV FB warmtone and neutral, glossy; Forte Elegance Fiber base, warmtone, glossy; Agfa Multicontrast Fiber base, neutral, semi-matte, as well as Bergger papers. I have used Fotospeed, Berg, Agfa, and Kodak chemistry. Simply, between all of us here at PhotoArts, we have possibly used most everything to hit the markets in the past several decades.

Do I have a favorite? That is hard to say....it really depends on what I am trying to achieve in the image. If I want deeper blacks and stronger whites with a tad more contrast, I may choose Luminos neutral semi-matte. If I want a normal contrast with a different tonal range in the grays or a less stark white, then I may choose Ilford neutral in a glossy surface. For exhibition weight, I would most likely choose the Bergger papers on the pure rag paper that I have here. There is superb tonal range and good working weight with a variety of surface qualities in the neutral and warmtone papers.

If I want a colder tone, then I dilute the toner differently than if I am trying to get a warmer tone. If I am looking for only minimal color change and more to archiving the paper, then I mix toner and time the toning process in another manner. If I do not want to change the color or tone of a print, then I choose the Agfa Sistan silver image stabilizer. This solution reacts with the silver in the paper (and negatives) and makes it stable and archival without any changes.

As you can see, there are endless possibilities! The most important thing is to remember to have FUN while you are doing this! It is generally an adventure and one can learn much from these processes about one's imagery and self. I hope it is a good one for you....enjoy the ride! Let us know if you need any more info or help.


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