Category Archives: Pinhole

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.






Ilford/Harman print sales

Ilford (Harman Technology) have recently launched a new venture called The House Of Ilford. This is a service aimed at the public, enabling them to buy photographs by established photographers for display in their home. Prints are made on real photographic paper and can be ordered in a range of sizes. Ilford are also offering a framing service.

I was invited to be a part of this exciting new venture last year when the idea was first discussed. The site has now gone live and they have done a really good job with it. Take a look here:

I have twenty three images offered on the site, with more planned. The other photographers include my friend Mark Voce, Leon Taylor and Dave Butcher alongside a number of others.

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Spürsinn two bath developer

I was recently asked to give my professional opinion of one of a range of developers made by a company called Spürsinn. These are well known in Germany where they are produced, but I had not heard of them. Looking at the accompanying literature for the two bath developer I had been sent, known as HCD-S and HCD-2, I could see that they had done extensive testing. There were development times and detailed dilutions for 38 films and some of those had a long list of possible ratings and dilutions, -for instance there were 22 for Efke 50 alone.

They claim good results rating many of the films at a wide range of ISO settings. HP5 for instance can be rated between 25 and 25600 ISO. They also claim that these developers have excellent edge sharpness, good tonality and low chemical fog at all ratings. AND they have excellent keeping properties.  My first thoughts were that these were amazing and possibly exaggerated claims, so I began my tests hoping to be astounded, -but at the same time prepared for a disappointed thump of reality. These developers couldn’t be as good as they claim, could they? I needed to find out for myself.

I began my tests with the best film in the Ilford stable for sharpness and fine grain: Delta 100 and I shot 35mm because I wanted to use maximum enlargement to evaluate the quality. The first couple of films were very dense and I thought I had done something wrong. I checked my times and dilutions, shot another couple of test films, and after processing found exactly the same results. I contacted Spürsinn and they were extremely helpful, they looked into it and let me know pretty quickly that I had been working to a misprint (which apparently, 500 previous customers had not noticed!), and they supplied me with corrected time/dilutions, which worked better. The test prints from some of these negatives looked very crisp and the mid tones were punchy –what some refer to as micro-contrast and I found that the crisp detail that this developer produced showed one of my lenses to be not as sharp as I had previously thought!

I set about processing a few other films that I had in my darkroom. Next was FP4, this too turned out with punchy tonality, -ideal for low contrast subjects, but perhaps a bit too punchy for scenes of high contrast, or overexposed frames. This punchy quality is great for showing texture in low contrast subjects, like the mid to dark areas of a scene where you have similar shades, for instance: in weathered wood , like this old block.

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Having processed a few films with the HCD-S / HCD-2 combination, I can see that these developers do produce clean shadow areas and enhanced sharpness, but with the enhanced grain that this micro contrast brings. Personally, I think this is a nice quality in 35mm photographs and one of the reasons why I shoot 35mm. In medium format negatives the grain would be much less noticeable and with even greater sharpness, so that is probably where this developer would really come into its own. I don’t know if you can see from this crop of the 35mm image above, but the detail is very good.

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Density and contrast.

I am of the belief that what is considered correct tonality in a monochrome print is not absolute, but varies from region to region. In Eastern Europe for example, there seems to be a preference for higher contrast in their images. I think that this developer is designed for that kind of approach, but for the British photographer who, I think prefers a longer, smoother tonal range, it might be a little harsh. If you are getting negatives which are of a higher contrast than you are used to, the normal technique is to reduce the development time by 20%. If your negatives are still of a higher contrast than you would prefer, try a reduction of 25%. The instructions for the two bath process here, should, if it were a conventional two bath, need adjusting only in the second bath, but the instructions say to alter both. What they recommend is that you alter your dilution (both baths) but keep the time the same. So calculating 20% off a 1-24 dilution gives roughly 1-30.

Reducing the time should bring the density in the highlights down, with very little effect on shadow detail and would produce a negative with the same sharpness, but with a longer tonal range. I put my theory to the ever helpful Michael Weyl at Spursinn and he was interested in the idea, suggesting that he is going to start work on finding different dilutions for ‘British’ tastes soon.

When I printed from the Delta 100, Delta 400 and FP4 negatives I had processed for this test and review, I found the contrast was requiring pre flash and split grade printing to get a full range out of the negative. The FP4 being the most dense. I then calculated a new dilution with a reduction of 18%, keeping all other factors unaltered. The results were much better, but they were still more dense than the sort of negatives I am used to. The next test will be with a greater reduction.

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It is important to note that this developer, and the others that Spurrsin make, are quite sensitive to dilution and agitation, so once you have established the correct time and dilution for your tastes, good processing technique is important. Working with a quality developer like this requires accuracy in exposure readings, focus and careful control of measurement/dilution/temperature and agitation in processing. Variations in local water hardness can have an effect on outcome, but methods to get around this are explained clearly in the extensive instructions. To reduce the possibility of this happening I would suggest using de-ionised water to make up your developers.

I have not had time to test a lot of films in this developer, but I shall continue to experiment with it. With the huge range of ISO ratings for so many films, there are possibilities for some quite interesting styles of photography. From (I would expect, but I’ve not tested yet) Ilford Pan F rated at 320 ISO for high contrast effects, through to Ilford HP5 rated at 25 ISO for a long, smooth tonal range. I am also interested to see if Ilford Delta 3200 rated at ISO 12800 will produce an exaggerated grain effect. I will be testing these ideas soon and will post my findings here when I have my results.

A friend of mine, Bruce Robbins writes a blog on film based photography which is very informative and has tested the Acurol-N developer from Spur. He can be found at:

Currently, The Spursinn developers can be bought from:

Keyphoto –

MacoDirect – ,

Photoimpex –

and Spurrsin themselves in Europe –


  1. Andrea Ingram

Posted 05/07/2013 at 2:53 pm

Looks like something worth trying I must say

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 05/03/2014 at 2:42 pm

In the past I have tested several negative developers and always returned to ID-11 which I use since 35 years and know best. (Which is in opinion the most important thing in using negative developers.)

2. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 06/03/2014 at 11:36 pm

Dear Thomas, I think I am beginning to come to the same conclusion. I was trying out some other developers last week (Pyrocat, Microphen, Ilfotec DD-X) and my results were not consistent.

Reciprocity failure

Recently I have been doing a lot of pinhole photography, and due to that I have had to explain to a number of people (unfamiliar with the more technical parts of photography) what reciprocity failure is.

Reciprocity is the relationship between shutter speeds and apertures, which means that as you reduce exposure with a change in, lets say the shutter speed by one stop, then increase the exposure by one stop with the aperture, you will have exactly the same exposure. Each one-stop adjustment of the shutter speed, is equivalent to a one-stop adjustment of the aperture. This holds true throughout the normal use of the camera in most lighting situations.

This linked relationship begins to slip away with exposures longer than one second, and the longer the indicated exposure, the more of a difference there is between the indicated exposure and what is actually needed. Many years ago I included in my book on night photography, a chart for working out the amount of exposure correction you might need in situations where exposures were between 1 second and 17 minutes. I have been referring to this chart for my extended pinhole exposures, and I include a link to a word document here which shows the full chart:

Walker Titan Pinhole 5×4

Using the Walker Titan pinhole 5×4.

I have been using the Walker pinhole camera for a few months now, though not exclusively because I’ve been busy with a lot of paper negative stuff. Having shot with it in a few different locations, I have really grown to love it.

When I’ve shot pinhole stuff before, I’ve always enjoyed making the cameras, -and for me this has been an important part of the satisfaction at the end result. I thought at first that using an ‘off the shelf’ camera would be less likely to satisfy and wouldn’t have the quirks of a home made one. I have been surprised to find that this simple plastic box is actually one of my favourite pinhole cameras of all time, -and I’ve been making them since 1978!

Angle of view. I prefer wide and super wide pinhole cameras over ones that mimic a standard lens, mainly because I enjoy the distortions that occur when objects are placed close to the camera. The Walker has an equivalent angle of view to a 70mm lens on a 5×4 camera and considering that 90mm is a pretty wide lens on this format, it would seem that this was in the realm of super wide. It is roughly equivalent to an 18mm lens on a 35mm camera, so that gives you some idea. Previous to using this, I had been using a home made 10×8 pinhole camera which had an angle of view equivalent to an 11mm lens on 35mm. This really did distort and had quite dark vignetting in the corners. Mike seems to have got the angle of view exactly right with this camera, as there is sufficient distortion (yes, I know it’s rectilinear, -no pedantry please), but virtually no vignetting.

Using it is simplicity itself. A standard 5×4 dark slide fits in with a pleasing click and you are ready to expose by removing the tethered plastic cap. With home made pinholes, especially if made from tins or cardboard boxes, there is always the problem of positioning and stability. Unless you go to the trouble of gluing a threaded nut to the base of your tin (no point doing it with cardboard), you are limited to shooting from the ground or any place you can rest it, -this severely limits your compositional options. With a properly made camera you are provided with a tripod bush -two in fact on the Walker Titan, so shooting from a tripod becomes the normal method and opens up all sorts of image making possibilities.

All of the shots I have shown here, were done on Ilford Ortho film. It is great for this kind of thing because long exposures give nicer results (Ortho is 25 ISO -or less, if you want more tonality out of it). I like long exposures for pinhole, because things happen during the exposure which you hadn’t planned for, and provide unexpected and interesting results.

All exposures were all 90 seconds, and during that time people have stood in the scene for a while and then wandered off, leaving a ghost (beach scene) and the boats sitting in the corner of the harbour were bobbing about violently, as the sea was quite rough and have become very indistinct on the pinhole shot.

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