Cefn Coed

I have travelled this road many times on return from Pembrokeshire and this bridge is right next to the Head of the Valleys road at Cefn Coed in South Wales. It is such a splendid piece of Victorian industrial architecture that I had kept it in mind for a photograph and on this particular day the light was especially good. Feeling somewhat self-conscious of the traffic thundering by, I made my way along the modern road bridge to this point. Each arch in the bridge presents a different angle and the pillars rise from the dark canopy of trees.

BW photograph at Cefn Coed, Wales

Print A The straight print on grade 2

There was no need for tripod as it was a bright day and I used a 80mm lens on a Hassleblad, set at 1 / 60 th second at f11 with Plus-X. The film was later developed in D-76 with spare negatives bracketed a stop either side. I was so confident in the viewpoint that I didn't even bother to look at different angles, which suggests that perhaps I ought to revisit the site at some point. The main problem with this site is the inevitable intrusion of the 20 th century by way of pylons.

Black and white hand print Cefn Coed

Print B The sky and horizon darkened but revealing a patch of light clouds on the top right

Print A shows a straight print with no dodging or shading, using grade 2 on Agfa Multicontrast FB paper. The balance of the print is good since the lowest part of the bridge sits about a third in from the edge of the print and the skyline and arches are a third down from the top of the frame. I find a good trick to test balance is to turn the print through 360 o re-examining the print at each point. To my eye at least, the bridge sits very snugly in the frame. From this inital print the sky looks a little washed out and it is obvious that this needs to be darkened and the bridge itself looks rather flat and so would benefit from more contrast. However, by increasing the overall contrast to grade 3 it will have the effect of rendering the sky even lighter. To compensate for this, the sky will need to burnt-in, but at a lower grade to avoid the clouds looking too harsh and unnatural.

hand print cefn coed

Print C The end of the printing process but there is still much retouching needed

In the next print the grade is 3, exposed for 12 seconds and I have burnt in the sky and horizon for an additional 8 seconds at grade 1 1 / 2 using a large piece of card as a mask. This has helped to define the edge of the hills against the paler sky but reveals that the sky in the top right needs further exposure to produce an even density across the top edge. In the next print I gave this triangle of sky an extra 4 seconds exposure, moving the card continuously to seamlessly blend the effect. Other areas would need to be darkened: the grass field bottom left, the right end of the bridge and the grass paddocks to the left: these are detailed on the printing schematic.

At this point I was reasonable happy with the print but the trees in the foreground had become a large block of dark tone and there was plenty of detail in the negative, which could reveal some foreground interest and help break up this block without upsetting the overall balance. I decided to work with nature by lightening an area of foliage that was already picked out by the sunlight. During the basic exposure I used a homemade dodger (a disc of cardboard taped to a length of wire) to lighten this.

Print diagram by Alistair Baird

The printing plan

To finish the print required a good deal of patience and dexterity. I had chosen a matt finish paper because I needed to use a scalpel to remove the numerous pylons from the skyline. These may not be visible on a magazine page but on the 12 x 16 paper were every bit the eyesore they are in the flesh. I recommend a blade with a round profile rather than a pointed one. One needs to use a sweeping motion to gently whisk emulsion off the surface without stabbing and leaving an impression that is impossible to disguise. If too much emulsion is removed the base white of the paper is revealed but spotting dye or graphite can hide this.

On the other side of the coin there were a number of highlights that had to been toned down using spotting dye. There are telegraph poles amongst the trees and a number of brightly lit buildings seen through the arches that distract from the line of the bridge.

In all I spent about an hour retouching the final print at the end of which I was rather blearly eyed but the effect was well worth the effort.

Fine art bw print cefn coed

Print D After much careful retouching distracting pylons and highlights are removed