Uprating, developing methods compared.

Many, many years ago I experimented with uprating HP5, I was a student and it fitted the look I was after at the time. In those days, information was difficult to find and I relied on advice from friends. As a student, the mysteries of film and processing were fascinating and strange. I tried all sorts of things, but didn’t know what was really going on. I knew that uprating meant setting a higher speed (ASA in those days) on your light meter and then giving it a longer development time. In my ignorance, I thought that if you doubled your film speed, you should double your dev time. Ha! – I ended up with negs that were too dense to print!

Later, when I understood it more and did some research, I was able to get rather impressive results using a little known method devised by William Mortensen. These days, the method would be known as semi stand development, but at the time it hadn’t been given a name. The whole process took over an hour and gave very impressive results, but I eventually drifted away from it to pursue other types of photography and processing.
Last year, a photographer friend was shooting social documentary work and he was struggling for light with his indoor shots. I contacted him and told him about this impressive Mortensen uprating technique. As I hadn’t done it for over thirty years I thought I had better run a few films through and test it again.

My first results were as impressive as I had remembered, so I thought it would be interesting to compare it to other uprating methods. I could run a series of films through different developers to see which uprating method gave the best results. At the very least it would be interesting to see how each one handled shadow detail and contrast.

I didn’t have access to a model who would sit in a poorly lit room (the reason for looking up the method in the first place was social documentary pictures of people in their homes) for the duration of my tests, so I placed a white, plaster of Paris bust on my settee, some distance from the window. The difference in brightness between the lit head and the dark bookcase behind was really going to show what these developers would perform like.

Taking an exposure reading.
One thing that compounds the problem of shooting in low light is the method of metering the scene. In a concert venue for instance, it is not practical to go up on stage and take an incident light reading to determine how much light is falling on the performers, so most people rely on through the camera metering from an audience position. This can cause readings to be really wide of the mark, because the back of the stage might be very dark, but spotlights might be shining into your lens. Problems with accurate metering can also happen in a room lit only by one small window. The exposure for a person sat 2ft from the window will be quite different for one with the subject sitting at the far end of the room, 8 to 10 feet away.

For my test I placed a bust on my settee in the middle of the room. I took an incident reading from the position of the head, then exposed a number of films with every frame at the same exposure. I took 1600 ASA/ISO as my test speed, I figured that if I got heavier negs with any particular process I could run another test with the film speed set higher.
I then processed the films in five different ways;

  • Mortensen semi stand 1 hour ten minutes
  • Rodinal 1+100 stand 1 hour
  • ID11 stock solution 14 minutes

and an interesting version of two bath processing -see below.

The fullest negative (therefore the highest speed) is found with the Mortensen process, details of which I shall give later. The second best, and no slouch was ID11 stock solution at 14 minutes. The third was Rodinal 1+100 1 hour. I found this quite amusing, because the Rodinal method is the one that always gets bandied about on social media, I suspect, by people who are really only repeating what they have read in an effort to sound intelligent. It produces negatives that are good enough for scanning, but they are a bit lifeless in the shadow areas. One other thing about these negatives surprised me, the Rodinal was not the sharpest as you would expect, the Mortensen method produced the sharpest detail, followed closely by ID11 stock, the Rodinal was last. The difference isn’t huge, but it is worth noting.

One thing I didn’t do with this test, was to include something in the frame which was more than four stops brighter than mid tone. If I had placed a mirror on the settee so that we could see a bit of sky it would have shown which process would cause blocked up highlights, and which was best for controlling them. Looking at the density of the brightest part of my set up, the right side of the head, I can see that the Mortenson technique is giving more density here, and If I had a brighter area in the scene it could have been too dense. The ID11 stock development seems to be very good at rendering these bright areas, so perhaps that would be the choice for a concert venue with bright lights.

Whilst I was doing these tests, I noticed on social media that a friend in Germany was experimenting with uprating in a different way, one which I had not considered. When I saw his impressive results I got in touch. Rudiger Hartung was experimenting with two bath development, but he was running the film through the two baths two or three times, I was amazed, I didn’t think this was possible. As soon as you introduce any of bath B into Bath A, you have ruined your two bath developer, so how was he doing it? I contacted him and asked about his method. Rudiger replied that he used stop bath and a wash in between, which allowed him to go back into bath A without contamination. I was very interested to see if this method would work with any of the film that I had exposed, so I asked him if he would put some of my test exposures through his chemicals. I sent him a film that I had exposed for the test and let him cut it into sections for different processing tests, and the results were great. There was a definite speed increase, it wasn’t as much as I was getting with the two methods in ID11, but his own successes were with another Ilford film. Amazingly, he was getting the best results from Kentmere 100 film, taking it up to 1200 ASA/ISO! He was getting a 3.5 stop increase in speed, and the quality was really good.

Rudiger cut my test film up into four sections and processed them all differently. He also tried HC110 and Pyro. The HC110 and the Pyro negs were not good enough to include here, but I am thankful that he took the time to try them.

All negs compared

The Mortensen method.

  • Dilute ID11 stock at 1+3.
  • Get the temperature to 20ºC.
  • Pour into the tank, start clock and agitate for 30 seconds.
  • Agitate three gentle inversions each 30 seconds for the first ten minutes.
  • Leave standing, untouched for 50 minutes.
  • Agitate every minute for the next ten minutes.
  • Stop and fix.
  • Wash.

One other thing that I think is rarely, if ever considered, is that uprated films that are left unprocessed will lose some of the latent image in the thinner areas. This will degrade the shadow areas that uprating is designed to bring up. If you are considering uprating films, prompt processing is recommended.

Final conclusion.
For general day to day uprating, when you don’t have the luxury of time, the standard recommended time in Ilford ID11 (14 minutes) produces superb results. If you want a bit more on your negatives and are prepared to spend quite a bit longer processing them, then the Mortensen method is the one for you. The two bath method is very interesting, but you need to mix everything up from scratch, and it takes a long time to do the process correctly. If you are busy, or lazy, the Rodinal 1 + 100 stand method is for you. All of the processes produced negatives that were full enough for scanning, but a couple of those did not have enough density for darkroom printing (HC110, Pyro). I did manage to make pretty good prints from all of the other negs, using split grade filtration. I did test prints on 7×5 RC paper, Then a full 10×8 print of the Mortensen neg on top quality Ilford MG Warmtone FB paper.

These images are from scans of the negatives.

This is a split-grade 10×8 inch print from the film processed with the Mortensen method.

If you have enjoyed this post and the information here and elsewhere on my blog, would you consider a small donation via Ko-fi please? You can send as little as £3.00, or more if you are feeling generous. This money goes towards materials used for the tests and printing for these articles. The link is; Ko-fi.com/andrewsandersonphotography

12 thoughts on “Uprating, developing methods compared.

  1. Keith

    Thanks for sharing this Andrew. The Mortensen method seems similar to the dilute/static method described in your Night Photography book. After trying some liquid developers lately, I will be returning to D76/ID11. I have never tried much in the way of uprating film speeds, but something to bear in mind if I get in an experimental mood.
    Nice to see you’re posting here again.

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    1. andrewsandersonphoto Post author

      Hi Keith, you are correct about it being the same process as the one mentioned in the night book. Good luck with your tests.

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  2. Keith

    Just a thought Andrew, this method could also be used for processing films which have been exposed and left in a Camera, but long forgotten about (years maybe). Probably well worth considering.

    Cheers,

    Keith.

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    1. andrewsandersonphoto Post author

      Hi Keith, I think that would be a very good idea. I don’t know why it has never occurred to me before. I have a few old films. perhaps I’ll give it a go.
      Regards, Andrew.

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  3. Rüdiger Hartung

    It is not the Mortensen method but Barry Thornton two-bath, Andrew.
    Sorry for not seeing it before but I am in Mortensen mode as well at the moment 😉

    Have a look into my blog below…

    Sorry for any inconvenience!
    Rudy

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    1. andrewsandersonphoto Post author

      Hi Rudi, it wasn’t your process I was referring to, it was the semi-0stand method with ID11.
      Regards, Andrew.

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  4. Sideways eye

    Thanks Andrew. Very informative. Interesting to hear about pyro. Was the pyro sample with reduced agitation or ‘standard’?

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    1. andrewsandersonphoto Post author

      Hi Tony, it was Rudiger who did that process for me, I will have to check with him.
      Regards, Andrew.

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    1. andrewsandersonphoto Post author

      Hi Greg, it should be possible because DD-X is very similar to ID11. I would begin by mixing it at quarter strength (1+16) and then follow the same sequence.I would shoot the test film at a few different speeds between 800 and 3200 and see which one responds to the process best. Regards, Andrew.

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  5. JTK

    Hey Andrew,

    thanks for the marvellous article and insights!
    I’m planning to give the Mortensen method a go on the weekend. Just to clarify: Am I correct to assume it follows the same compensating principle as the Rodinal 1:100 method in that I don’t change any of the variables regardless of emulsion, speed rating etc.? Could I develop a roll of Tri-X pushed to 1600 and roll of FP4 rated at 100 following the same instructions?

    Thank you very much!
    All best,
    Jasper

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    1. andrewsandersonphoto Post author

      Hi Jasper, I have never got round to trying the process with a range of films. I would expect that many will perform just as well, but there might be the odd film that doesn’t behave properly. The only way to tell is to run a test film. I think you meant rate the FP4 at 400?
      regards, Andrew.

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