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.
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; https://uk.pinterest.com/andrew2499/photographers/
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).
The contrast is caused by allowing the dense parts of the negative to develop too long. This extra density prevents light getting through, either when printing, or scanning, leaving those areas to be totally white and without detail as a positive image. By careful control of temperature, volume and time, you can stop development at the correct point, giving you a negative with a long tonal scale that will print or scan properly.
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). Put a Grade 00 filter in, and do a test strip in the densest part of the image. 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), expose a strip of paper for this indicated time Next, put a Grade 5 filter in 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. Make this second test in a shadow area of the image.
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 full 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.
Following on from my previous post on comparisons between meters, I thought it important to point out that HOW you use your meter has a significant effect on the exposure you get on the film. There are basically two ways to meter a scene, but a few variations on how those measurements are actually taken and interpreted;
The two main ways of taking a light reading are Reflective and Incident. Reflected readings are measurements of how much light is falling ON THE SCENE and Incident readings are measurements of how much light is falling ON THE METER. Spot meters measure small areas, but are still reflective types and when you take a reading through the camera lens (TTL metering), you are also taking a reflected reading. The trouble is, your choice of subject, or the angle that you shoot from, will influence the brightness that the camera reads. For instance, If I point my camera at a bunch of trees from thirty feet away, I will probably get a reasonable reading from the camera. If I then walk up to the nearest tree and lie underneath it, pointing the camera up through the branches at the sky, I will get quite a different reading, even though the light levels are the same.
In another scenario; I have in front of me two garage doors. One of them is painted black, and the other is white. If I stand some distance away, my reflective reading will average out the lights and darks, giving me an exposure somewhere in between. If I then walk towards the garage doors and take a reading from each, I will have TWO OTHER readings, even though the light levels are still the same.
This kind of subject influenced reading happens on sunny beaches, snowy landscapes, stage photography, night photography, or whenever you photograph any object, scene or person with a predominance of dark tones, or light tones. Given the infinite range of everyday lighting situations and possibilities for error, it is amazing that most shots come out at all. The reason they do, is because film is so forgiving, especially if you are scanning from your negatives and working on the images in photo-editing software. When I say film, I am referring to black and white, or colour negative films. Colour transparency film is far less forgiving and needs more careful metering.
The other method of metering I mentioned was the incident reading. With this, there is usually a white plastic cone which goes over the light cell and this then allows the meter to read the light falling on the meter, and this is not affected by the tone of the subject. Incident readings are a quick and very accurate way of establishing a reading and are correct in most situations. If used in a back lighting situation, they will favour the shadow tones and give you an exposure which will show the lit areas as overexposed, so use them intelligently.
There is one rule when taking incident readings, and that is that you must point the cone from the scene towards the camera, -not towards the light source. The reason the white thing is a cone, and not a flat disc, is so that in side lighting, one side will be lit and the other shaded, the meter can then average them out. If you point the meter at the light source, it will not take shaded areas into account and you will have an underexposed shot.
If you have a meter with the facility for taking both types of reading, you can take two readings beginning with an incident, then decide if the reflective is giving you a proper mid tone. I usually take an incident and check that against a reflective reading off the grass, or tarmac on the road, both of these are very close to mid grey.
In certain weather conditions, fog for instance, or snow scenes on a grey day, the light remains constant for a number of hours and one meter reading will be sufficient for many shots. Take one incident reading and the light will be the same for every shot.
Spot metering. The spot meter is an excellent invention, but needs careful thought when being used. Typically it will take a reflected reading from a small area, indicated by a circle in the viewfinder of the meter. Anything outside of this area will not be metered, though they do pick up a bit of stray light if you have areas of brightness nearby, or are pointing into the light.
Some people think that all you have to do is take one reading from the shadows, and another from the highlights and put your setting right in the middle. This can be done, but it will depend on how high your bright areas go. Are you reading off a white painted door, or the clouds nearest to the sun? A far more accurate way to do it is to read the exposure for the darkest tone that you would like detail in and underexpose from that reading by two stops.
The important thing to remember is that exposure determines shadow detail and development determines highlight detail.
Just let that sink in a bit; Exposure determines shadow detail and development determines highlight detail. There is no shadow detail that can’t be rendered on film if given enough exposure. Leave the shutter open long enough and the film will record light that your eyes cannot detect. Okay, we’ve got that, but what about contrast? Well, if you have exposed so that the shadow detail will produce some pale greys on the negative, but you have areas where a lot more light reached the film, say for instance, a gap in dark woodland with a sunlit area beyond, this area will have obviously received an excess of light. This will only become unprintable if you keep it in the developer long enough for it to go to black. You don’t want that, you want a dark grey that you can print through, so the answer is to cut back the developer so that this doesn’t happen. I’ll be covering this subject in my next post.
Metering through the camera lens (TTL). This is a quick and practical way to get your exposures pretty close to correct as long as you understand a few things; What you point the camera at for the picture, doesn’t have to be exactly the same thing you point it at to take a reading. For instance, if you were shooting tall buildings in the city from ground level, you would most likely be pointing the camera up and getting lots of sky. Point the camera at the building, excluding sky, take the reading and use that for the up shots. If you are shooting a band on stage, exclude the lighting rig from the frame when you take the reading, then set it and fire away.
For street shooting, a 35mm camera is ideal, but you won’t have time to take a reading as you compose the shot. Think about the tonality of the scene, take a reading from something typical, then set it and forget it.
Metering in low light.
Metering in situations where there is low, even light only requires a good incident reading, a reciprocity chart and a tripod. Metering in situations where there are areas of deep shadow, coupled with hotspots of intense light, such as a concert needs a different approach. Uprating is commonly used in these situations, but this creates negatives of higher contrast, requiring very careful metering. Whenever I see images online and the photographer is claiming that the film was rated at 12500 ASA / ISO or some such high number, my first thought is; Yes, but where did you meter from? If the shots are taken at a concert, or some dark restaurant or club, there will be areas of deep shadow and very bright spots of light. In that kind of situation, a 12500 ASA reading from dark clothing in the corner of the room will give pretty much the same exposure settings as a 400 ASA reading from a well lit face. TTL metering will give you a result, but if the shot is important, then a carefully taken incident reading would be better.
Outdoors in changeable weather conditions: If you have one of those days when the sun is in and out every two minutes messing up your readings, remember that the exposure will only drop by one to one and a half stops when a small cloud comes over. Proper storm clouds will take much more light away, but a typical British summer day with fleeting clouds is easy to meter; If you meter the grass for the sunny areas, the shadows from the clouds will be 1.5 – 2 stops darker than mid grey, but if you meter for the grass when the cloud comes over, the sunny patches will be 1.5 – 2 stops brighter than mid grey. Meter the scene according to the look you are after.
Go out and try these methods and let me know how you get on. If there are any other lighting situations you are having difficulty with, then please leave a comment or question.
I am normally rather laid back about posting on this blog. I don’t bust a gut trying to get two posts a week out there, I post things when I feel I have something worth saying (and the pictures to support it). Recently, I have been thinking about how metering, exposure, measuring chemicals, temperature and processing all have an effect on the final quality of your images. I wanted to address that by writing about those aspects and pointing out areas which need to be thought about. My first idea was to write about light meters and make a comparison between different types, and this research is shown below. But I realised that all of the other aspects were so important that I had to post the other topics either at the same time, or shortly after. I have decided to write all of the articles in one go, then publish them here in short succession, so here is the first;
Meters and metering.
How reliable is your meter or your metering method? I thought I had my technique all sorted and knew what I was doing, but recently I was using a Nikon F4 camera and the in camera meter was giving me readings which I wasn’t convinced were correct. I checked it against a light meter app on my phone and there was quite a difference. As I wasn’t too far from home I decided to go back and check against my trusty Lunasix F analogue meter. The surprise was that I now had three different readings!
I decided to do a proper test, using a number of cameras, meters and a couple of phone apps. The following results show that you shouldn’t just believe that your meter is always correct. Also, an accurate meter is only any use if you use it properly, so make sure you give that some thought too.
Pentax Spotmeter (analogue)
Pentax LX camera
Nikon F4 camera
Minolta Dynax 9 camera
To establish a base line of exposure, I used a digital meter: the Sekonic L-308S. I painted a large piece of card grey and positioned it in a variety of locations at different times of the day. I used white card for the higher values. I didn’t want tungsten lighting to throw in another variable, so these were all daylight readings. I will be writing a separate post on metering and shooting under tungsten light at a later date.
After spending a number of days compiling this data, I noticed that the readings did vary in places, though not as much as I had expected. My original problem of three different readings was down to two factors: Firstly, I was using a Nikon F4 with a non Ai fitting lens, which meant that I had to press the depth of field/stop down button to take a TTL reading. I have since discovered through these tests, that this is inaccurate most of the time. The second problem was that the battery in the Lunasix-F was nearly dead, so it wasn’t reading correctly.
So before these test readings were complete, I had solved my original problem, but I thought that I would post the information anyway because there are a few discrepancies. As I said, these readings were taken from a large grey board in less than scientific circumstances and readings taking under scenic conditions could vary more, depending on angle of view and colour sensitivity.
Out of interest, I also later compared two iPhone metering Apps: myLightMeter and Light Meter. Both are using the same hardware and probably the same, or similar software, but as this is not my area of expertise, I have no real evidence, and only refer to how useful they actually are, and how close the readings were compared to the Sekonic digital. Before I began this second phase of testing, I did a little research and discovered another App which was getting good reviews; FotometerPro. This proved to be the best of the three, but still had its limitations. I have not included the phone readings here, the phone apps will be covered in a later post.
So, to the testing,..
You might think that after a few decades of dedicated monochrome photography, I might have a workable, reliable metering system, and to a large extent this is true, but when working with a number of cameras, unexpected variations show themselves in wrongly exposed negatives, sometimes months later (by the time I get round to processing them), and it is not always possible to remember how the frame was metered. My trusted method is to take an incident reading, and apply that to the camera. I don’t usually rely on camera meters unless I am working really quickly. My second method of establishing a reading is to take a reflective, or spot reading from the shadows and underexpose by two stops. More on this in a later post, or read an earlier post on metering; thewebdarkroom.co.uk/2011/04/21/using-light-meters-intelligently/
I had suspected that one or two of my cameras gave unreliable readings, but hadn’t put the time aside for proper testing until now. I already knew that the meter in my Pentax LX was exactly one stop out, so when shooting I always set the ASA to the number above. The readings in the table are with the ASA setting altered to give the reading I would normally get. The results are as follows. The x denotes correct, or matching exposure.
So it would appear that some meters are good at the lower light levels and inaccurate as levels increase, and some others have this problem in reverse. There are blips in the readings and I can’t understand these, as I was very careful about measuring consistently and did them a number of times over.
A slight inaccuracy in a meter is not a huge problem if it is the only one you use. If you have tailored your reading method and processing to give the results you prefer, then why worry? The problem will come when you take a reading with another camera, another meter, or rely on someone else’s exposure.
I think the important message from these comparisons is that we should never assume that our equipment is properly calibrated. This kind of test or comparison should always be undertaken when buying a new meter, or camera. The variations I found are not too far from ‘correct’ for normal black and white work, apart from the Pentax, which I have already allowed for. But they could make a big difference if you were shooting transparency. I did discover though, that metering through old lenses on the Nikon F4 was not a good idea.
Another factor which needs to be mentioned is the accuracy of your shutter. If your meter is giving you readings which lead you into overexposure, and your shutter is firing slower than it should (a leaf shutter problem mainly), then the combined overexposure could be very significant, and if your processing is out, you could be making the situation even worse!
My next post will cover the topic of how your metering method might be more of a problem than the accuracy of your meter and how you can remedy that.
Sometimes, a simple solution to a problem takes ages to appear. I’ve been using a couple of cameras that rely on zone focusing for many years and the depth of field scale on them has been vague and difficult to work out. I have got used to them now, but the other day it suddenly occurred to me that I should look up the actual depth of field for these lenses online and find out what they were capable of when stopped right down.
I went to the website; ‘Depth of Field Master’ and put in the various settings until I had worked out maximum depth of field for these two cameras and my 24mm lens. The brainwave came when I realised that I only had to colour code five aperture markings; f5.6, f8, f11, f16 and f22 and I could establish a quick and easy way to set the lens for depth of field without any calculations or messing about.
I decided to mark f5.6 as dark green, f8 as light blue, f11 as red, f16 as light green and f22 as yellow. If I put the colours next to the apertures, and also at the point on the lens where the hyperfocal distance was, I could get away not worrying about focus.
I used Humbrol enamel paint which is sold for model painting and I applied it with a fine brush (stir well first).
I’m not bothered about the resale value of these cameras, I expect to use them for the rest of my life, so why not make that job simpler?