Category Archives: Experimental


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.

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;

Contrast control.

I promised in an earlier post that I would tackle the subject of contrast control. My original idea was to explain the methods I use in the darkroom, but I think I need to mention why you might have contrast problems in the first place.

Are you having problems with excessive contrast in your negatives? are you finding it difficult to print them in the darkroom without a lot of messing around with filters? I could give you some pointers for methods to create good prints from them (and I will), but perhaps we should look at why those negatives are so contrasty in the first place.

The first thing I would like to say, is that you might find it strange that exposure is not the cause of your contrast problems. By that I mean that overexposure is not your problem, gross underexposure might give you very thin negs which are difficult to pull detail from, but I am referring to excessive contrast. You only get heavy negs if you overdevelop, and this is the real crux of the problem; Film development is where the contrast is caused. Over development causes increased contrast and grain.

Where are you getting your dilution, time and temperature information from? Some random person who wrote on Flickr? Something another student told you? Check your information with a reliable source, but still be cautious.

Following the developing instructions on the box or the bottle will get you a result, but your negatives could still be over developed if your thermometer is a little bit out, your measuring jugs are not very accurate and if you tend to ‘give a little bit more, just to be sure’. Another thing I’ve seen with students is, they take too long between pouring out the dev and getting the stop bath in, adding another 30 seconds to a minute to the development time. All of these things can make a difference and if you have a combination of them you might be quite a bit out from the ‘norm’. Remember; Over development causes increased contrast and grain.

So perhaps this is one area you might need to look at. If high contrast negatives are giving you problems, then I would suggest running a test film through and processing for 15% less time than normal (this is just a rough estimate, as I have no idea what your negs look like).

Normal and high contrast negatives (simulated).

Normal contrast

High contrast


If you have negatives in your files which are dense, how can you get a better print from them?

Split grade printing can be very useful for difficult negatives. There are many conflicting ideas about split grade printing, but I shall give you a simple and effective method. The secret to getting good results is in making the Grade 00 exposure first (I am assuming you know how to do the basics). Find out the exposure time for the subtle highlight detail you need, remembering that many papers dry slightly darker. Once this time has been established (and it could be a long exposure if the light has to get through your dense neg and the filter). Next, expose another strip of paper for this amount of time, put a Grade 5 filter in place and do a series of test exposures over the top. These exposures will not be as long as the Grade 00 because you are printing the thinner parts of the negative.

When this two part test has been developed and fixed, look for the point where the black appears, and you will have your Grade 5 exposure. Give the print these two exposures, working in the same sequence as before and develop the print.

The reason this method works better is that the Grade 5 exposure is not increased by the Grade 00 coming after it. (The effect is slight but it does happen).

To add to the technique above, you could pre-flash the paper to lower its contrast, though to be accurate, you would need to pre-flash the test strips and the final piece of paper to the same amount of light. If you want to get really ambitious, you can pre-flash through a mask to confine the pre-flash exposure to the highlight areas! This technique is a bit too much for this article, but I’ll be happy to explain and demonstrate if you would care to come for a workshop.

Let me know how you get on and write to me via the comments here or on Facebook and Twitter.






Intensifying thin negatives

We try our best as film photographers to get a correct exposure every time, but occasionally there are times when we inadvertently cock it up.
It may be because we have forgotten to add extra exposure for bellows extension or a filter factor, or the fact that long exposures need a calculation for reciprocity failure. Sometimes light meters may be set to the wrong ISO/ASA. Then of course there might be a problem in processing with temperature drop, out of date chemicals or just bad luck.
Whatever the reason, we have a thin neg and it is a problem to get the tones that we require in the print.

There is a way to rescue these negatives though, they can be chemically enhanced to increase density and this is most easily done by toning the negative, giving a brown colour to the negative image. The brown image blocks more light for blue/green sensitive papers so the negative is effectively darker and denser and this prints lighter.

To illustrate this technique, I took a second rate 10×8 negative and chopped it in half. I Bleached one half in the standard sepia toner bleach bath (formula at the bottom of the article) until all the silver had gone, this left me with a pale pink negative.


After a ten to fifteen minute wash, I immersed the bleached negative in the toning solution and In less than a minute it had gone a deep brown.


I then washed it for twenty minutes and hung it from one corner to dry. I contact printed the two halves on one sheet of 10×8 paper to see the comparison and this was the result;

Toned split neg

Split print

You can see quite clearly that the right hand side is much improved.

Some darkroom workers tone their negatives using Selenium rather than sepia, and this works just as well (when using Selenium, the bleach does not need to be employed).

The bleach is made up of two chemicals; Potassium Ferricyanide and Potassium Bromide. Measure 100 grams of the Ferricyanide and stir into 1 Litre of water. When it is all dissolved, add 50 grams of Potassium Bromide to the solution and stir until that is also completely dissolved. The bleach is ready to use immediately and works quite quickly.

The toner I used was a Thiocarbamide toner, though a Sulphide toner works just as well. This is made as two stock solutions which are mixed together before use.

Stock A. Water 1000 ml, Thiocarbamide 100 grams.

Stock 2. Water 1000 ml, Sodium Hydroxide 100 grams.

Take 200 ml of each and mix together, immerse the bleached print and gently agitate. The print will be toned within a minute.

Wash negatives for 20 minutes and hang up to dry. The mixed solution can be kept for months if tightly stoppered and stored in the dark.

If toning prints, wash for 20 minutes (RC), or 40 minutes (FB).



Demystifying photography

  Today’s blog post is taken from my book ‘Home Photography’ Published By Argentum in 2003.

The quality of photography that you produce is dependent on the amount of time that you are willing to devote to it. So the obvious question is: are you shooting enough? A possible reason for not producing many good pictures is that you are probably not taking enough — the more you do it, the better you get. I don’t mean pick up the camera once a month and run off a number of films at a sporting event or whatever. Shoot every day, think about pictures every day, use the camera every day.


The ability to see pictures comes from exercising that part of your mind as much as possible; any period of abstinence causes you to become ‘rusty’. It is definitely not like riding a bike, the ability does not stay with you unless you use it. One way to keep it functioning well is to look at the work of good and great photographers. Avoid looking at the work of poor photographers, as this will also influence your vision. Seek out high quality photography and think carefully about how it was done. Many times there are big clues in the picture. For instance, ask yourself where the light is coming from, are there two or more sources of light? If so, then how has that been achieved, by the use of artificial light, or reflectors? Is there a hard edged shadow or a very soft one, is it midday sun or late/early in the day when the sun is lower? Can you estimate the focal length of the lens used? Is it a wide angle shot or standard? Perhaps a longer lens? Has it been shot on 35mm or a larger format?


Look closely and see if there is plenty of depth of field throughout the photograph, indicating a small aperture. Perhaps the picture shows very little evidence of depth of field, indicating a wide aperture and probably a fast shutter speed. If there is subject movement in a shot displaying shallow focus, then this would suggest low light or a very slow film. There are many more ways to extract the information from photographs, but to list them would get boring. You must work it out for yourself. This is a useful exercise which helps to demystify photography. Asking these questions puts you next to the photographer at the moment of exposure. The important thing to bear in mind after the technical information has been extracted is: it is essential that you ask yourself whether this picture would have worked if any of these details had been different. Would the picture have been poorer had a larger or smaller format been chosen? And so on. Once the essential points have been established, you have a valuable reference point for creating strong images in a similar situation. This kind of detective work saves a lot of wasted film and can be a fascinating exercise which can be enjoyed whilst reading a magazine or watching a film. Old black and white films are rich in such details.

Stand development with Ilfotec DD-X

Since mentioning stand development in an earlier post last year (about devising a stand development time for some of the films I was testing for Ilford), I have had a few requests to share the information. Before I do so, I must just say that my results are limited to less than ten films, and I didn’t use the technique with all of the Ilford film types.

The developer I was provided with for the job was the excellent Ilfotec DD-X. This dilutes at 1+4 and produces excellent results with Delta 400,  Kentmere 100, Kentmere 400, HP5, FP4 and SFX. I found that Pan F was very good, but could do with perhaps 15% shaving off the recommended time though I’ve not properly tested this yet (more about Pan F in a later post).
The problem I had mainly, was that Delta 100 has a time given as 12 minutes, but I found it much too dense and contrasty, and I found it to be better at 8 minutes (all of these times are for 20ºC).

Delta 3200 though, was too thin at the time given of 9.5 minutes. With this film, I was getting nowhere near the shadow density I needed to get a decent print. This is when I thought I would experiment with a stand development and roughly estimated a 1 + 9 mix, one full minute of agitation and then leave it standing for the next 45 minutes. The results were excellent and I found that I had printable negatives rated at 800, 1600 and 3200 all on the same film. The best results were for a speed between 1600 and 3200, and I was very pleased with how it performed. The negatives are easy to print and have a very prominent, though pleasing grain with 35mm film. I will be trying this with the roll film version and I expect it will produce very good negatives. The emulsion is the same for both sizes, so the only possible problem I can foresee is perhaps some streaky, or unevenly developed areas in flat areas of tone.

Delta 3200, rated 3200 ISO. Stand development in Ilfotec DD-X developer.

Delta 3200, rated 3200 ISO. Stand development in Ilfotec DD-X developer.

The stand development technique is a useful method to employ for a few reasons; 1. The dilution is weaker, making the process cheaper per film. 2. The negatives have a better range of tones, and there is a bit more leeway for slight over or under exposure. 3. The process can be left to do it’s thing whilst you get on with other jobs, such as loading up other developing tanks, or making prints.

Delta 3200, rated 3200 ISO. Stand development in Ilfotec DD-X developer.

Delta 3200, rated 3200 ISO. Stand development in Ilfotec DD-X developer.

One of the reasons I got back into stand development was because I’d seen something online which claimed that all monochrome films, whatever speed, could be developed for the same time in Rodinal 1-100 for an hour. I tried it with a couple of different films and found it to be untrue. Whoever had been propagating the idea had not tried to print the negs in a darkroom, so had no real idea if the density was correct or not.

The dilution and time I gave my tests was as follows;

Dilute Ilfotec DD-X 1+9 and get temperature to 20ºC.  Pour in developer, agitate continuously, but not too vigorously for one minute, then leave to stand for 45 minutes. Stop and fix as usual.

This should give you a good tonal range and some speed increase, so alter your exposures a bit for your first film and make notes. Choose the negative frames which give you the look you prefer and adopt the film speed that the chosen images were shot at.


Shallow depth of field on 5×4

Today I was looking for a lens to put on my MPP 5×4 to shoot a still life in the studio, and I picked out a 150mm f2.8 lens which originally came from a photocopier. The reason I know it’s origins is because about 15 years ago, a slightly eccentric neighbour was breaking up an old photocopier outside my house, so I asked him if he would give me a lens if he found one inside. I got it and I’ve had it sitting in a box of odd lenses and unusual bits of glass since then. Putting it on the camera, I really liked the shallow focus and beautiful soft background, but with a fixed aperture of 2.8, I had to find some way to control the exposure. I decided that some very slow X-Ray film and a diffuser over my tungsten light would give me a manageable exposure which I could time in seconds. I cut some strips of X-Ray film and put them in a dark slide, then did a couple of test shots, one at the exposure I expected and one with more exposure. The second one gave me the kind of negative I was after, so I cut a piece of film to the full 5×4 size and exposed it. I took it into the darkroom and processed it in a tray of paper developer for a minute and a half, gave it a quick stop and fix, then washed it. The negative looked much softer in the background than it looked on the focusing screen (this is something I’ve noticed a lot) and I thought it would make a nice print. Then I remembered that somewhere in my studio I had a 150mm f2.8 projector lens which gave really nice out of focus softness, probably better than this one I’d just shot, so I thought I’d expose a second shot through it and compare them.

I had a faint idea that I’d read somewhere that two lenses with the same focal length and aperture should produce the same depth of field, so I was interested to see if it was so. After shooting and processing the second sheet of film through the projector lens, I could see immediately that they were quite different. The projector lens had a much shallower focus and was far softer in the out of focus areas, so I must have misremembered the thing about comparable focal lengths.
Anyway, I present the two images here for comparison.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.42.54 Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.42.17

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.42.02  Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.41.45


  1. Keith

Posted 21/11/2014 at 7:22 am

This makes me want to get my old MPP Mk VIII out of the box and take some still-life.
I only have a 150mm Xenar lens though.

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 27/11/2014 at 5:38 pm

Could you give some advice how to attach the lens to the camera and e.g. which lens to which camera?
Kind regards,

Ilford XP2 -An under appreciated film

Having recently worked intensively with the whole range of Ilford 35mm films, I thought that I would write a few articles on the special qualities or quirks of some of them.

In this post I’d like to discuss a film which I think is under appreciated; Ilford XP2. This film is a little out of the ordinary, both in the look which it gives and the way it is processed. It is a Chromogenic film, this means that the silver grains are converted to dyes during processing, giving it a unique quality. There is a smoothness to the tones in the mid tones, going up through to the highlights. It looks virtually grainless in these areas, especially on medium format negatives.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.22.46

With conventional films, when you have a grainy neg from overexposure and over development, the grain of the film is not what you see on the print. Light passes between the grains to expose the paper, so what you are seeing is the gaps between the grains.

With XP2, overexposure is an advantage. The image is formed in the same way as with normally developed negatives, but during processing the film grain is replaced by overlapping, semi dense ‘platelets’ of dye. Because they overlap in the heavily exposed areas, there is no actual gap between the grains, and hence, no impression of grain on the print.
In areas of shadow, less of the platelets are created, allowing more light through the larger gaps. This gives a grainy look.
So the shadow areas look grainy and the lighter tones look smooth and grain free. This is an exaggerated reversal of the grain problem found with normal films. Burning a sky in from a 35mm negative on a conventional 400 ISO film can result in heavier grain which some find unpleasant. A burned in sky from an XP2 negative is smooth and creamy. This quality is also apparent in other images where light tones are important, such as a wedding dress, or a portrait. Snow scenes also have a lovely smoothness.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.22.30

It needs to be processed through C41 Colour chemicals, this means it can be processed by any lab. I have used XP2 since it’s very first release (as XP1) in the early eighties. I’ve always loved it for certain types of image when it gave me great negs and great prints, but that wasn’t always so. It took me a while to understand how to use it properly as it needs to be used with its own special properties and quirks in mind.

With conventional films, quality suffers with overexposure if development is not reduced and this shows as harsh grain. the opposite is true of this film. White hair, white dresses, skies etc, all have a beautiful, smooth tonality, which will come as a pleasant surprise if you are used to seeing the bleached out highlights of a digital image. Portraits on XP2 also have a different look, the lighter tones of  the image: the skin etc, display a very smooth tonality. The shadow areas, such as dark clothing will show the grain (with 35mm film), but this is not too much of a problem, in most prints you would have to look closely to see it. From a medium format negative it really wouldn’t be a problem.

So if over exposure produces better results, then XP2 is best over exposed. For instance; rated at 200 ISO. The important thing is to not alter the processing, let the lab treat the film as normal. Your negs will be a bit denser than usual, but this is an advantage. If you wish to check this for yourself, just shoot two frames of the same subject, one rated 400 and the next frame overexposed by one stop (i.e. rated 200). Make a print from each frame and compare, you will see an improvement in the one rated at 200.

I believe XP2 to be an exceptional film when used for many applications and always have some in my film bag for the times when I want that look.

Oh, and I almost forgot, -it is amazingly sharp.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.22.13


  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 17/06/2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink | Edit

Thank You for this, Andrew!
Normally I stick to the films I am used to and I never tried XP-2 because of the C41 process.
I am very concerned about the durability of my negatives and I have my doubts about that in case of XP-2. Or are my doubts for no reason?

2. Paul Hillier

Posted 23/06/2014 at 6:47 am

I used XP1 when it first came out and then XP2 . They were great films and being able to process it in C41 was great for when I were traveling. We had alot of our XP1 turn green over the years and appear to lose some of its density. I haven’t had access to this film for quite a few years now so I am not sureof its current state.

Another one of my favorite films was Kodak’s Panatomic X. This film was so sharp and great film.

Cheers Paul.

3. Keith

Posted 11/07/2014 at 3:37 pm

XP2 Super is a film that I never cared cared for personally, but I am glad that you like it, as it does have it’s fans. However, I am not one of them.

4. Mark Magin

Posted 16/07/2014 at 2:58 am

Recently found your site and am enjoying reading it. There is so much stuff out on the web to sift through a jewel such as this is easily missed. Hope you continue!

5. John Panya

Posted 02/08/2014 at 10:17 am

Thanks for your nice post.
I’ve used nearly every kinds of Ilford film that still be available in the market but XP-2. It’s the film I’ve never tried because of C41 process. And I thought there was no special thing I could get from it.

But I may be wrong.
The quality it create impress me.


6. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 07/08/2014 at 8:46 am

After returning from a 2 week holiday with a lot b/w films to develop in ID-11, I realized an other advantage of this film:
Just give it to your local photo shop and let it develop under perfect standard conditions and save time!
So I will try some for the next time.

7. Mark Voce

Posted 26/08/2014 at 12:01 pm

Thank you for the interesting post Andy, I’ve never used XP2 and knew sod all about it. Sounds like it could have it’s uses though

8. JR Smith

Posted 29/08/2014 at 7:53 pm

Just stumbled across your site and found it very interesting! Nice job!

9. cr mayer

Posted 16/09/2014 at 3:44 am

I just discovered your blog. Very interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing your work.

10. Steve

Posted 19/09/2014 at 5:03 pm

Also never thought to try this. May pick some up and stuck it in my Contax G1 and see how it fares. Sounds like it’s best for hi(gher) key subjects/treatments?

11. Keith

Posted 07/10/2014 at 6:32 am

Hi Andrew, when will you write a review about the other Ilford B&W films?

Very soon I hope.

Thanks for your excellent articles.