A contact print is a photographic image produced by laying the film, typically a negative, directly against photographic paper and exposing the paper to light. The term “contact print” derives from the process of creating direct contact between the film and paper. The result is a print that is the same size of the film. A contact print can often result in richer detail as enlargers can cause some loss in details depending on the distance between enlarger and paper and quality of the lens used in the enlarger.
How to Make a Contact Print
To make a contact print, you simply need a darkroom and a light source, such as an enlarger, and the chemicals to develop the paper. Place the negative (film) emulsion side down directly on top of the light-sensitive paper. It would be advised to also use a clean piece of glass to ensure the film and paper lay flat. However, you must be careful if using glass as dust or dirt on the glass can negatively affect the final print. Turn on your light source to expose the paper, and after a set period of time, turn your light source off and proceed to develop the paper. To assist in determining the proper amount of time to expose the paper, consider first creating a test strip.
As previously stated, and contact print is limited by the size of the film in use and typically works best using medium format film or large format film so that a larger print can be obtained. When using 35mm film, contact prints are generally used solely to create a contact sheet, which allows the photographer to view a preview of all the negatives and determine which may be best to print larger.
Difficulties of a Contact Print
While contact prints are rather simplistic to create and can maintain higher detail in the final print, there are some difficulties you may encounter. For instance, the exposure value – or the ratio of all possible exposure settings – is greater in film negatives than in prints. Therefore, a contact print may often have more contrast, highlights, or overly dark shadows. Burning and dodging contact prints is also more difficult and tedious as you are working with a smaller print surface (depending on the size of your film) and need to be very finely detailed.