The best mid range enlarger for split grade printing.

Philips PCS 130 color/black-white enlarger and Philips PCS 150 control unit.

The Philips PCS 130 is a very underrated enlarger. If you are a fan of split grade printing, but have not quite got your head round it, this enlarger will make it really simple for you. Launched in 1979, this enlarger was aimed at the home colour printing enthusiast. Their Tri-One colour system, being additive (red, green, blue), rather than subtractive filtration (cyan, magenta, yellow), was said to be more precise and to offer better colour saturation.

The enlarger can take negatives from 35mm, up to 6×7 cm, though the correct condensers and negative masks might not be easy to locate.

Now that colour is almost totally in the digital domain, these enlargers are no longer used for colour printing. Many enlargers with colour heads are employed by black and white printers to make split grade prints, however, subtractive filtration is often confusing and differs from one manufacturer to another. This particular control unit, having red, green and blue lights, each controlled separately, is perfect for split grade printing.

For those of you who are new to Multigrade papers and filtration, I need to give you a bit of information about the paper; In the old days, papers came in fixed grades, that is to say they had a fixed contrast and this was given as a number on the box. Grade 2 was normal contrast and was designed for printing a properly exposed and processed

negative. Lower grades were for contrasty negatives, and higher grades were for flat negs, or underexposed negs.

Multigrade paper was designed with two layers (actually three, but these two are the most important). One layer is sensitive to blue light, and gives a high contrast image, the other layer is sensitive to green light and gives a low contrast image. The Multigrade filters are subtractive, they take out some, or all of their opposite colour. The same thing happens with enlargers with colour heads using dial-in filtration. The dedicated Multigrade enlarger heads work with blue and green lights and this is what the Philips has. The beauty of this control unit is that each lamp can be switched on or off individually. The red light does not affect the paper, but it is useful when focusing, because all three lights combine to give white light.

This is the control unit for the three lamps, with the timer on the left. The black buttons above the dials turn each lamp on or off individually.

Okay, are you all with me so far? This bit is quite simple, but when I discovered it, it was a game changer. Split grade printing had never been easier.

A negative is in the enlarger, the focus is done, the lens is a couple of stops down and you are ready to do a test strip. Find an area of the image where you have thin or empty parts of the neg, -the shadows. Now look for an area of density which represents the highlights. Can you place your test strip so that it spans both areas? This is where the test needs to go. Do the test exposure with all lights on.

Now the direction that you move your card as you do the individual exposures, should provide a bit of both extremes of tone on each strip that you expose. Each exposure on the test strip should tell you what is happening in shadow and highlight areas.

When the test is processed and in the fix, lift it out to check the result. Count along and see where the black first appears (the shadows). What exposure was that? Write it down and put a B next to it. Look at the test again and count along to see where the tone in the highlights looks correct. Write that number down and put a G next to it.

Put a full sheet of paper in the masking frame/easel. Turn all of the lamps to off. Set your timer to the time you wrote for B, and expose your paper with just the blue lamp turned on. Now set the timer for the G time, and expose your paper with just the green lamp. Process the paper and check the print, it should be pretty damn close to correct. This is split grade printing with one test strip!

I often do extra work on an image after this stage, but that is an individual choice, you may prefer a straight print. Nevertheless, this method, with this enlarger, saves a lot of time and testing. I don’t check the auction sites for enlargers because I have four different types in my darkroom and I don’t need any more. I have no idea how often these enlargers come up for sale, but I’m willing to bet that they don’t fetch high prices, because most people don’t realise how good they are.

If anyone reading this has a spare one, please leave a comment below, because I am sure that somebody reading this will want one.

I wish you well with your printing.

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

Sunny 16 is not always correct.

Sunny 16 
 
I have been meaning to write this post for about two or three years. I pick up the subject, do a few test shots, write a bit, then shelve it. I don’t know why that is, perhaps because I’m doing it out of annoyance, rather than because I am excited to share something with you all. 
The thing that has been annoying me is the constant advice on social platforms to beginners that you can just shoot ‘Sunny 16’ and all will be perfect. There are a few myths in photography that regularly crop up in articles, blog posts and comment sections, and If you try to suggest that any of these commenters might be mistaken, you are immediately pounced on by a number of people who are totally convinced of the thing, despite never having tested it. The Sunny 16 Rule is one such myth in my opinion. Perhaps I should qualify that statement and say that it’s not so much a myth, because it does work sometimes. More a mistaken belief that this method is going to produce perfect results all of the time.
 
The sunny 16 rule is very old, and was originally devised as a way of shooting transparency film at a time when light meters were less common, and not very reliable. It was important to avoid overexposure with transparency film, so slight underexposure was preferable. Exposing for negative films is different, they benefit from slight overexposure (but not over development).
Let me explain what Sunny 16 actually is for those of you who do not know. The rule states that; ‘In sunny conditions, the camera can be set to f16, and the shutter speed will be the same as the ASA/ISO’. My preferred film is Ilford HP5 400 ASA/ISO, so for the purposes of this article I will be using that as a example. In sunlight the setting would then be a 400th of a second at f16. Now there are no cameras that allow you to manually select 400th of a second (actually I can think of just one, -Mamiya RB67), so most people go for the nearest speed, which is 500th. If you wanted to compensate for this slightly faster speed you could open your aperture to between f11 and f16, but it is my belief that you will still be underexposed in a number of situations (and anyway, that wouldn’t be sunny 16 would it?).
 
I shoot Ilford HP5 every day (Inland in the UK), and I’m consistently getting 125th at f16 in sunny conditions. This is two stops away from the sunny 16 setting and I’m not getting really overexposed negatives, this exposure gives me just enough shadow detail for the type of negative I like to print from. When I am at the coast, I get 250th at f16, and only at mid day there, with the sun behind me do I get 500th at f16. 
 
The difficulty with a statement that suggests all exposures to be the same, is that location is not taken into account, never mind the time of day. brightness of the sun is not constant from the Arctic to the equator, and even varies a full stop between coast and countryside. In the UK, bright sunny days are not common, so the rule might not be any use for 80% of the year anyway.
In the UK in summer, if you are near the sea, you might just get sunny 16 if you have the sun high in the sky and it is directly behind you. Inland, earlier or later in the day it will be less, and if you turn 90 degrees to the sun it will be reduced even more. Extra exposure is needed to bring tone to the areas not lit by the sun, so the rule does not apply any more. This is never mentioned when the rule is suggested, the advice is passed on because the reader saw it somewhere, but never tested it.
 
If you photograph in a city, you may be getting extra light reflected off pale concrete and large glass covered buildings, so you might find my setting quite different from your own. From my tests it would seem that the best time of day to get enough light for sunny 16 to work is mid day, but the harshness of the light at that time is not good for photography. Personally, I think it is the worst time of the day for pictures, but street photographers might disagree with me on that one. There is a fashion among current street photographers for solid black areas in pictures. This is basically underexposure with the highlights lifted afterwards. If this is the look you are after, then sunny 16 is probably fine for you. 
 
One thing that needs clarifying here is that most new film photographers these days are scanning their negatives, rather than printing in a darkroom and underexposed negatives can be easily rescued in Photoshop. if you have never tried to print your negatives in a darkroom, and have only used software to make images, then you might not be aware that your negs are a bit underexposed. Printing in a darkroom requires negatives with more density and a different approach to estimating exposure. If you make the switch from scanning to printing, you may find your negatives are not dense enough.
 
You may think that I am making this up, but you can test it even with a digital camera, and they don’t need as much exposure as a negative. Set your camera to 400 ASA/ISO, set the aperture to 16, and your shutter to 500th, it’s the setting that most people use when shooting sunny 16 with a 400 speed film.  Go out and shoot a number of frames in different directions, and don’t chimp, don’t look at the pictures until you have done 10 or 12. If the theory is correct, then all of your pictures should be perfectly exposed. I’m betting that they are not.
 
The first of these digital shots was taken at 1/500th at f16. The camera was set to 400 ASA/ISO. The second shot was with aperture priority and the camera chose 1/140th.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Now try shooting in sunlight with film. Take one shot at ‘sunny 16, and then take an incident reading and do a shot at that setting. If you have the time, repeat this with a number of situations and with the sun behind you and also to your side. Process your film and look at the difference in the negatives.
 
 
Some of the comments I have seen online illustrate the attitude many have; Sunny 16 is ‘incredibly reliable’, and ‘It has been the standard for over a century’, (actually only since 1960 when ASA standards were set). ‘It’s not foolish to believe in Sunny 16, because it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact’, -It’s not a fact, it only applies in limited situations.
One person even showed a picture with the details; ‘Sunny 16, Kiev 4AM (camera)’ -the picture was a night shot!
 
Don’t believe what you read, test things for yourself and make your own mind up.
 

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

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

A film and development test to improve your negatives. One roll of film.

I was asked the other day by my friend Luis GV Caso, if there was a way of doing an exposure and development test using one roll of film. I knew how I would tackle it if I was working in my own darkroom, but I realised that I had never written this down. After I had sent it to him, I thought it would be useful to post it here.

Hi Luis,you asked if there was a way to do a full test on one roll of film. There is, but I think you would need to use 35mm, as you will need to cut the film into three sections after shooting. Doing this with medium format would leave short, curly bits of film which could become loose in the tank. Firstly, you need to think about the sort of lighting that you usually shoot in, or prefer. It is no use doing this test in full summer sun if you prefer shooting on foggy autumn days. Choose the appropriate scene and light (hopefully constant, and not likely to change for the duration of the test).

With the camera on a tripod, take a meter reading the way you normally do. This might get a lot of other photographers saying: ‘oh no, you need to do an incident reading’, or: ‘You have to do a range of spot metered readings and average them out’. This test is meant to help you get the best out of your way of working, not to get tied up in other people’s methodology or obsessions. Once you have your reading, draw out a range of camera settings which will give you a sequence of exposures from 4 stops under, all the way up to 4 stops over (see the diagram below). Shoot these nine frames, then cover the lens and shoot four blank frames. Shoot the same nine exposures then another four blanks. Shoot the last nine frames and one blank then rewind the film.

In the darkroom you will need to have something light tight that you can store sections of the film in, unless you have three tanks. Cut the leader off, then cut the film into three roughly equal lengths. The blank frames should give you enough space for error. The last length needs a small cut in the end (where the last blank frame was) to identify it. Load the first length into the dev tank and store the middle and end for now. Process this for 20% less than the recommended time. Stop, fix and wash as normal. Process the middle section for your normal time. Process the final length for 20% more than your normal time. When dry, do a contact sheet (longer paper needed for 9 frames, or tape two bits together). The test exposure to determine the correct time (for all 3 strips) should be the shortest possible exposure that will produce black under the clear edge of the film. Wash and dry the final contacts and look for the ‘correct’ frame. It should be frames number 6, 18 and 30, but your results might differ slightly. Contact printing is only an indication of the area you should be working in. You will have quite different choices for printing, depending on whether you are using a condenser or diffuser enlarger. Use the indicated frames to make test prints, but be prepared to see better results in the last section if you are using a diffuser enlarger, and in the first section if you are using a condenser enlarger.

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

Cutting back development to reduce contrast.

On July 9th 2015, I posted an article about metering and referred to the old adage of; ‘Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights’. In that blog post I referred to the technique of cutting back development to reduce contrast. To beginners, the idea of cutting back, or reducing development is rather worrying. A fear of under development often causes people to go into over development just in case they don’t get anything on the film. This causes the negative to begin to ‘block up’ in those areas which have received the most light. An added problem that students have, is that they take too long between pouring the developer out, and pouring the stop bath in. This adds more time to the process and more density to the negative. Extra density in the heavily exposed areas, such as a white dress, or sunlit clouds is a bad idea, as it prevents light passing through at the printing or scanning stage. This isn’t just a matter of a longer print exposure to push enough light through to expose the paper, it also degrades the image, -with increased grain and ugly tonality in the mid tones, and loss of detail in areas of light grey or near white on the print.

So, if you are going to try cutting back, then how much should you try? Well if your negs are regularly dense, then the film will probably cope with losing up to 10% of the total time without suffering too much, but this depends on how much you are currently over developing. If your negatives generally print ok on a grade 2 Ilford Multigrade paper, then you don’t need to do anything. If you find that you are using Grade 1 or less quite regularly, or are split grade printing to get your light tones and whites to come in, then you should think about cutting your time back.

A simple way to test this is to set up the camera on a typical day, depending on the weather in your location. Sunny conditions will give a more accurate test result, but if you never shoot in bright sun then don’t test in it. Take an incident reading if possible, or establish the exposure of the scene with your light meter by reading from a mid grey (grass is good for this). Don’t use your digital camera as a meter for your film shots, it won’t be accurate.

Fire off a whole roll of 36 exposures at this setting and take the film back to be processed. Cut off roughly a third of the film and load it into a tank. Keep the rest somewhere totally light tight, you will need to process another bit later.

Process this at your normal time. Stop, Fix, Wash and dry.

Process another third of the film, but at 10% less time. Stop, Fix, Wash and dry.

Process the final third of film at a time which is 20% less than your normal time. Stop, Fix, Wash and dry.

Take a strip of negs from the first process, the one which is your normal time. Put it in the enlarger and set it up as you normally would. Pull the negative across slightly so that you can see the blank gap between frames. Make a series of test exposures to determine print time, but look for the first appearance of black where the gap between shots is. You are trying to find the shortest possible exposure to give black for the clear areas of the negative. Once you have established this, do a full print at that exposure. Before you put it in the developer, write ‘Normal dev’ on the back in pencil.

Put a strip of negatives in the enlarger from the film that had 10% less development. Do a full print at the same exposure as the first print. Before you put it in the developer, write ‘10% less dev’ on the back in pencil.

Put a strip of negatives in the enlarger from the film that had 20% less development. Do a full print at the same exposure as the first print. Before you put it in the developer, write ‘20% less dev’ on the back in pencil.

Process all three prints for the full time and then lay them out side by side. The print with the best highlight detail and tone is the indication of what your development time should be from now on.

Let me know if this post has been helpful to you.

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

Influences.

Which photographers do you enjoy looking at? What inspires you? Do you have friends who share your enthusiasm, either in your locality or online?

I think it is always interesting to discover that another photographer really appreciates the same historical or contemporary photographers as yourself, or is a fan of the same style of work as yourself. It establishes a connection and deepens a friendship to have things to share.

It suddenly occurred to me today that I had a long list of names that I very rarely get a chance to talk about and that I should write a little about them. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I will be interested to read your responses.

Should you welcome the influence of other photographers? Most University and College photography courses in the UK force students to work in the style of a short list of contemporary photographers and the criticise them for not being original. I’m glad that wasn’t the case when I studied photography.

In my early days as a student I found myself easily influenced by any photography that I saw. I wanted to develop a style that was my own and didn’t want to be influenced by anything that had gone before, so I made a conscious decision to stay away from as much of it as I possibly could. I avoided exhibitions, books and magazines (there wasn’t anything else in those days, except for TV and that was rubbish). I couldn’t keep it up, because photography is everywhere and I had to think of another strategy. I decided on the polar opposite approach: To look at as diverse a range of work as I possibly could, and lots of it. This had the effect of giving me an enormous range of styles and techniques to choose from, and it really opened my eyes to what was possible.

You will I expect, be able to spot one or two of my influences in this list and that is fine. I have not tried to deliberately copy them, but I love the style of work they do and enjoy working in that style sometimes. I make no apology for this, after all, there is more than one band playing blues music.

There are quite a number of photographers in this list and I can’t include all the pictures that I love (I’m not even sure of the copyright issues with that), so instead of putting them in this blog post, I am going to give you a link to my Pinterest page where you can see a large and diverse selection.

I don’t have space here to say why I love the work of these people, but I hope that the images work for you too. I also hope that you discover work that you were unaware of. Please comment and let me know what you think, and perhaps recommend other photographers I might have missed.

Photographers
Richard Avedon, Roger Ballen, Bill Brandt, Zeke Berman, Harry Callahan, Trevor Crone, Robert Demachy, Baron Adolf De Meyer, William Eggleston, David Eustace, Lee Friedlander, Horst P Horst, Rhodri Jones, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Josef Koudelka, Wright Morris, William Mortenson, Leonard Missone, Raymond Moore, Arnold Newman, Robert Parke Harrison, Irving Penn, Sabastiao Salgado, Edwin Smith, W. Eugene Smith, Frederick Sommer, Edward Steichen, Josef Sudek, Jerry Eulsmann, Bradford Washburn, Albert Watson, Edward Weston, Minor White, Joel Peter Witkin. Francesca Woodman, Ion Zupcu,

 

My Pinterest page of photographers work;  https://uk.pinterest.com/andrew2499/photographers/

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

Are your film negatives good enough?

Are your negatives ‘good’?

As a film user, do you process, then scan, or do you print in a darkroom?
How do you know if your exposure and processing method is giving you the best negative for the kind of work you wish to produce?

If you use a scanner, followed by photo editing software to bring your pictures to life, you can manage with negatives that are way off the mark for exposure, processing, or both. Because of the tremendous ability of software to control and alter the contrast range of an image, many film photographers are producing negatives which are technically incorrect, then ‘pulling’ images out. I see this quite often when a picture is put online in an Face Book group, Twitter, or shared on Google +, I can see at a glance if a shot has poor shadow detail or is overdeveloped. Recently, someone had posted two images and had also included the negatives. It was obvious that the negatives were two stops underexposed, but the photographer was showing the shots as examples of his great talent.

Last year I did a little research into stand development and in a few places on the web there were photographers claiming that all monochrome films could be stand developed in Rodinal for an hour and all of them would be perfect. yesterday I watched a video in which the photographer claimed that two hours was the correct stand time for Rodinal. It didn’t take many films for me to realise that these opinions were started and perpetuated by people who were not printing them in a darkroom. When you print your negatives in a darkroom, you very quickly find that poor exposure and development of your negatives causes difficulties in contrast control and tonal representation. The better your negatives are, the easier and more productive your printing session will be.

So how do you know if your negatives are good?
A difficult question to answer using only the written word. Depending on subject matter, the negative should have a range of tones that run from clear film base, through the tones, up to areas of quite dark grey. You should NOT have any areas that are jet black, even if the subject or scene has the sun in the sky. If you have solid black, you have over processed, either by having the developer mixed too strong, or the temperature too high, or by giving it too long. Beginners often give their films longer in the dev because they are worried about not having anything on the film, but they create negatives which are a real headache to print. Many beginners don’t realise they are over developing, because they like the contrasty look that they get. High contrast negatives can be very creative in the right hands, but how many of us have the graphic vision of Bill Brandt, or Mario Giacomelli? Both of these photographers overexposed and over developed their film (grossly overdeveloped, in the case of Giacomelli), but made very strong work.

The way to prevent over dense negatives is to lower your dev times. This is where beginners start to panic; What if I cut back too much and there is nothing on the film? Well hopefully the detail and tone has been established by proper exposure, so you would have to cut back development severely to lose it all. Taking your processing time down by 25% will make a difference, but won’t lose the images unless your original time was wrong in the first place.
If you are a darkroom worker there is a simple test which will help you determine if your exposure and development regime is within acceptable limits (whatever they might be). Of course this can come down to personal taste, but this sequence will help you get it nearer to the middle mark.
Load your favourite 35mm film into your camera and find a normal scene with a good range of tones. Take a meter reading in the way you normally do and take a shot underexposed by two stops. Take the next shot one stop underexposed, then one at the indicated exposure. Follow this with one frame shot at a stop over and the next, two stops over. You now have a bracketed sequence of five frames with the indicated exposure in the centre. Repeat this sequence until the film is finished. (it is worth wasting one film on this, as it will clarify a number of things).
In total darkness, pull out the whole length of the film and cut it into three roughly equal sections. Load them into separate developer tanks (or, if you only have one tank, load one and store the other two bits in something totally light tight until your tank is clean and dry).

Now develop the first length of film at 20% less than the time you would normally use, keeping temperature and dilution the same. The second section of film should be processed as you would normally do, and the third section should get 20% extra dev time.
When the films are fixed, washed and dried, a contact print should be made of a five frame sequence from each of the three strips. The important thing though, is to realise that you must expose these for the shortest possible time that will give you a black under the clearest parts of the film, ie; the edge of the film, or the gaps between frames. So, your test exposure and the way you read it, must be done in a way that will give you this information. The exposure should be the same for each of the three strips. When the time has been established, contact all three strips (or sections of) on the same piece of paper. Look at the finished contact print and see which frame gives the best representation of the full tonal range of the scene. There should be one frame that looks right and some that are too flat and others that are too contrasty. This will tell you how far out your exposure or processing is. Try that frame as a print, using the same criteria that you used to judge the test for the contact sheet; Choose the first exposure that gives you a black in the clearest part of the film. Check the test, the highlight detail should be the same as the contact sheet. Make a full print at this exposure and compare it to your previous work. Adapt to the new information and establish a repeatable method for creating good negatives from that point forward..

 

Good luck with it all and let me know how you get on.

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