He used to explain to me what was going on, why he did exactly what he did, all the time. Burning, dodging... the use of this tool and that, and also trying to explain the art of picking the right paper for the current negative.
As time went by I found that picking the right grade of paper for the current negative was not exactly a constant with a definite right or wrong answer. He would always find a quite good reason for picking one, but there were times I thought he contradicted his own words told just a few days before.
You have to keep in mind that this was before I even knew multigrade papers existed. My father never mentioned them, for whatever reason. He has never been too keen on testing out "new" things and techniques anyway, so that could very much be why. Multigrade (in a simpler form with only three available filters) has been available since around the second world war, as it happens, so he would surely have heard or read about them at some point before I arrived on the scene.
He would more or less constantly use the lack of the right paper grade as an excuse why the final print did not get the looks he was after, and I certainly can and will not blame him. It's a tricky path, as it happens, and very much a question of the eye of the beholder and what you like, and do not like.
I still use old fashion graded papers from time to time, and they will certainly not fit every negative. That's just a fact. And you will need a good variety of grades to get things the way you want them, and even then you may run into a pitfall every now and then.
So, what would be the best way to deal with grades then? Well, still the answer is very much blowing around in the wind, I think. The big difference these days is that most of us usually got all kinds of available grades hidden inside one paper, which is both a good thing but also sort of a curse at times.
Sometimes I find myself just more or less pointing my finger in the air, picking a grade around what seems to fit the negative, just to find out after some trial and error (also known as test strips, or in my case usually a few small single pieces of paper) what looks the best for whatever I'm looking for in that particular print. It's not always the easiest approach, as you will have to adjust times according to how much filtering you are using for the particular grade you are working with. Still, with some experience, you could end up with a print you might like. From there things will hopefully evolve, as you get more experienced and find your way to do things.
There is a slightly different way to search for something close to the best fitting grade as well. I don't use it all the time, but I find myself using it more these days than I used to do a few years ago.
If you use only the softest (00) and the hardest (5) grades, you can mix them to find something slightly useful and maybe fitting to the final result. I would use the softest grade to get things right in the highlights, and grade 5 to hopefully nail the shadowy bits of the snap. It's a bit weird in the beginning, and you will not always end up with something like a masterpiece, but even I seem to learn as I move along this path. There should be hope for all then, I would think.
The final print as sort of explained below. My younger daughter all dressed up in her traditional costume for the Norwegian constitutional day on the 17th of May, 2016. Rolleiflex 2.8E TLR camera and some old and expired ORWO NP22 film. I could have used something better, I know, but that's what was loaded this day.
I used this approach on the snap above. It's probably not the best example in the world, just to make you all aware of that, but it's the only one I got available with the test papers and everything right here and now. Please find the test papers for the grades 00 and 5 below, then compare them with the final result. Beware the fact that the scanner wants to make everything look the same grade, so I had to do a few minor tweaks to the files to make them look a bit similar to the original results.
Grade 00. In this case I would look for the very fine transition between the white shirt and the light background. I find it hardly visible here, but the print is a bit more defined than the scan. It's quite important to only look in the highlights and not much more. It's always good if there's not much extra work to be done on the print when it comes to dodging and burning and stuff like that. It can be done, of course, but it makes everything a lot worse.
Grade 5. This is where to look inside the shadows only, and you will more or less have a very black and white and contrasty image to look at. This seems to be a bit overdone on my screen, but in the actual print you can just barely tell apart the outlines of the hair and such inside the deep shadows to the right.
A crop of the combined result of the two grades melted together in a final print. As soon as the times for both grades has been determined it's just a matter of going for it. You will have to print the thing in two stages, but sometimes I find it worth the hassle.
It would probably also be possible to figure out the final grade based on the times used for each grade of the two above. The end result would be the same, but you would then be able to do the print in one session. I have not been reading too much about the theory around that, but I would find it hard to believe if there's not some kind of table or explanation around the internet showing you how to do stuff like that.
I know, it's not exactly a great tutorial, but then again you'll most likely find plenty of that all over inside the usual places if you go check. I never do that, as I think I learned everything I ever need to know about things like these some time back in the 70's... Not the multigrade stuff though, as I found out about that some time between the day my father walked out of his darkroom for the last time and the introduction of internet as a useful tool for finding answers on things you do not know too much about. The problem these days seems to be the total overload of stuff out there, and thinking about it I just added even more to the ever increasing pile of nonsense.
Well, that been said it's not all nonsense, as a few people out there actually have something useful to say. It's just the fact you have to find it that gives me some light breathing trouble at times.