Tag Archives: 35mm

Using light meters intelligently

First posted 21 April 2011

Looking at an analogue or digital hand meter for the first time can be very confusing, there are many options and often an overload of information. There are multi metering modes on advanced modern digital types which I find confusing even after using meters for thirty years, so I thought I might write a little about how to simplify matters and ensure consistent results.
Firstly, whatever you point a light meter at is read by the meter as a mid grey. It does this so that the whites are white and the blacks are black and to do that, it puts the exposure in the middle. To make this work, there must either be a range of brightness in the scene, or something which is already a mid grey.

Any and all light meters do this, and this is why when shooting in snow the hurried metering method often gives grey and underexposed areas where white should be the predominant tone. Another common mistake amongst beginners is to take shots looking up at trees or buildings without thinking of how bright the sky is. This causes the meter to read far too much brightness in the scene and the subjects end up as silhouettes against a grey sky. Even when a hand meter is used, false readings can arise from simple mistakes, such as having your shadow over the meter.

So let’s look at the different ways of metering; Reflected, Incident, Spot and Average.

Reflected is simply pointing a meter at something and seeing how bright it is, how much light is reflected from it. The problem though, is that if you point it at something rather dark, you will get an overexposed shot and pointing it at something light will give an underexposed shot.

Incident is a method which reads how much light is falling ON THE METER. This avoids the problems above. When using a hand meter, taking an incident reading will produce an excellent negative 99% of the time (it’s not much good with backlit subjects).
An incident reading is when a white plastic cone is fitted over the light cell allowing the meter to read light falling on the meter, rather than light reflected off the subject. The important thing is that the meter should be pointed towards the camera from the position of the subject, not pointed at the light source. If you are unable to stand in the position of the subject then simply point the meter in the same direction, but from a manageable position. As long as the direction of the light is the same where you take the reading and in the scene, the exposure will be the same.

One of the most reliable methods is spot metering. Not for taking a number of readings to average out the exposure as some meters permit you to do, as this can often lead to an incorrect reading (Because the important brightness is always two stops up from deep shadow, not half way between deep shadow and bright white). Finding the all important deep shadow tone, ( Zone III ) takes practice. If you can identify this tone in a scene and read it, you then underexpose that reading by two stops, which gives you zone V – which is two zones along. This may seem confusing, as the explanation is more complicated than the doing.

A simpler method is to set the spot meter to a film speed two stops higher than you are actually using, take a reading from deep shadow, set the camera accordingly and shoot. The film rating is not actually changed, so no alteration of dev time is necessary.

Because the meter is set two stops higher, it reads the shadows brighter than they are, the meter then suggests a faster shutter speed/smaller aperture. Shooting at this exposure causes the deep shadows to be two stops underexposed (from mid grey) which is exactly where you want them.

The explanation as I say often seems complicated, but in practice it is quite easy. give all methods a go and see which works best for you.


  1. Posted 02/05/2011 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for this explanation. Although I’ve been using an old-fashioned hand-held meter for years, I did not really understand all the implications of this, and I guess I’ve just been lucky with my shots (though it does explain a few overexposed anomalies now), or fortunate to have been using film with a wide exposure latitude. My recent move into shooting slide film will probably be more telling!
    As my meter is so old, I’m guessing it’s measuring reflected light rather than incidental light – it doesn’t have one of those cones. Maybe I’ll have to start thinking about an upgrade to my kit.

  2. mark lacey
    Posted 06/07/2011 at 12:49 am

    For black and white your technique of spot meter deep shadow and open two stops is dead right, I’ve been doing that for 30 years and my negs have always been really easy to print, which to me is the point of the exercise. Don’t know anout colour, I don’t use the stuff! All good advice, it’s nice to see it expressed simply, some people turn the zone system into rocket science and I suspect in the process forget to take a good photograph.

  3. Posted 07/10/2011 at 9:35 pm

    I read Mark’s comment, and I had to stop and think about it for a moment. You wouldn’t OPEN two stops from the meter reading if you’re metering a deep shadow. The meter would look at that shadow and (as you explain so succinctly) give a reading to render it a middle gray – which would require either a slower shutter speed or wider aperture. Either way, in order to properly render the deep shadows properly using the spot meter technique described, you would STOP DOWN two stops – not open up… Your explanation of “underexpose that reading by two stops” is the same way of looking at the situation.

    I just wanted to clear it up because I put up a link to this great article, and then some questions as to whether the proper thing to do is OPEN the aperture – or stop down…

  4. Posted 05/04/2012 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you. These are some good insights.

  5. Philp Toal
    Posted 15/08/2012 at 5:29 pm

    I usually take a spot reading of the shadow area and over expose by 1-2 stops and develop N-1/-2 (depending upon the shadow area I want to show up), and then print down to Z3 because Z´s 1 – 3 expose as black on any paper unlike the the wider Zone range of say 1-18 of all films. Paper in general, barely goes beyond Z10 and with N development Z3 would render only black as well.

Long lasting

First posted 1 June 2010

Have you amassed a large collection of negatives since you began photography? how about transparencies, prints, your camera collection? What is going to happen to all this stuff when you die?

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 00.12.48

I have amassed a very large collection of all of the above, plus a collection of other photographers prints, glass negatives, books and ephemera. I have my fathers negatives and those of an elderly gentleman who died about ten years ago and who’s equipment I was buying off a relative. I took the negatives because the family had already burned all of his medium format transparencies and were considering doing the same with the negs.

A lot of my junk is of no importance to anyone but me, but I’d like to think that my negatives would be valued and preserved. How does one go about ensuring that a lifetimes work is treated with respect?

barbie's legs

I can visualise with horrible clarity a situation where my negative pages and prints are sold off for a pound each on a junk stall as some ancient old curio, as many old photos are these days.

Should I leave them to my kids in my will? None of them know how to print, so what will they do with them? I can either leave them a valuable archive or a storage/disposal nightmare.

Should I make top quality prints from all my favourite negatives and destroy the rest so that nobody can print my work badly? How can I know which ones are going to be of value in the future?

All of this has been buzzing round my head for quite a while and I don’t have a simple answer for it.

I would be interested to hear other photographers comments.


  1. Michael

Posted 01/06/2010 at 6:28 pm

Interesting thoughts. I went through that a year or so ago. I have a terminal illness and wanted to make sure my grandchildren and possibly their children could get an idea of who I was. One of my sons stepped up and offered to take the negatives when I pass and organize them and try to find some organization that will preserve them.

  1. Carl Radford

Posted 01/06/2010 at 6:45 pm

If none of your children are able to print well then you have failed The recent program on Brian Duffy springs to mind – his lad making images from his negs. There is plenty of time for the work that you are creating to gain the recognition it deserves and then it should be an issue.

  1. Carl Radford

Posted 01/06/2010 at 6:47 pm

The fact that I am sitting scanning in images of our niece escaped me – doh. I am making a project of her first year – all the selected images will end up as digital negs and out as plt/pd prints and given to her parents in trust as a first year birthday present – I will also give them all the negs as hopefully they might be important to her in the future.

  1. Slabby-J

Posted 01/06/2010 at 7:19 pm

I have thought about this for a while myself and am in exactly the same boat: thousands of negatives, slides, prints and family snapshots going back nearly 100 years. Sadly, I have to assume that it will mean nothing to others (we have no kids of our own) and have come to odd terms with continuing to photograph for myself while acknowledging that little of what I am doing will survive my death. I plan on asking the next generation if any of them care, but if not, I’m not sure what plans to make for it all.

  1. daiv guest

Posted 01/06/2010 at 9:51 pm

you could bequeath them to the museums dept and hope that they got the respect we gave to the equivellent some years ago, (even if it was for only a couple of years). or you could leave them to me and know the headache was passed on for a few years with the off chance that there may be a print or two made with care and attention, although, probably to a slightly different recipe.

  1. Wiesmier

Posted 02/06/2010 at 10:01 pm Ah the dilemma.
My feelings are that if anyone can make sense of my negs – or even find them, they are happy to them. Otherwise, I shall leave them to someone I don’t like with instructions to take great care of them.

For you Sir, I suggest leaving them to the kids.

  1. David Ellwand

Posted 03/06/2010 at 1:13 am

Bret Weston celebrated his 80th birthday by burning all but 12 negatives which he donated to the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Brian Duffy also had a good old blaze. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8287779.stm

  1. Les Dix

Posted 03/06/2010 at 2:51 pm

I think this is where having your best work carefully presented in a series of portfolios or even blurb books makes it easier to have it preserved for posterity. I think that if all my work was a pile of loose prints and negatives they would eventually end up in landfill.


  1. Richard Littlewood

Posted 14/06/2010 at 5:43 pm

Fancy a joint back garden bonfire?


  1. Chris Finch

Posted 21/06/2010 at 3:59 pm

Hi Andy,

One suggestion I might have is to ask for a massive coffin when you pass on,
and as to be buried with all the images that you didn’t manage to pass on to
a reliable source before you die… slightly eccentric of an idea perhaps .

The only thing I could think of seriously, is trying to either sell them or give them
to galleries, collectors, young (trust worthy) photographers, whom you know will
take good care of them and will make the best use for them in your name.

It is worth noting that a lot of the most well recognized and admired photographic
practitioners have all become acclaimed with their work after they died, which is
quite sad when you think about it. Though even then, it shows that if your work is
good enough and if you are a lucky dearly departed, then someone will discover your
work and it will become highly acclaimed. Usually it does so because of a recurring element with the work that is unique to itself, a recipe instigated only by the skills,
craft and the uniqueness of the photographer him/herself.

  1. terrorkitten

Posted 05/12/2010 at 12:41 pm

I shall leave them to the person that means the most to me at the time in the hope that they will do the same when their time comes.

I guess being bought for a quid in a car boot is some level of success and anything that brings enjoyment is fine by me

  1. Rolo

Posted 16/02/2012 at 11:36 am

I suppose we all think about this from time to time.

Start on the premise that negatives are worthless and of of no interest to anyone. They will be a burden to the next generation. What on earth would they do with them ? They are yours, a record of your activity in a raw form. If you’re a Magnum photographer, or a frequently hung artist that can compete with Ansel Adams in a commercial sense, or a collection at the V&A, that’s different.

On the other hand, the finished work we’ve created can live on. Prints and books have a future, so frame a few of the most interesting, create a high quality portfolio in a book/s and give them to anyone you think might look at them in 10 years time. Realistically, it should contain the history of your life with many portraits of you and your family. What a drystone wall looked like on a winters morning is not of interest to family, sorry.

My best friend of 25 years died suddenly and his family couldn’t bear to throw his work away. They didn’t want it, had no room for his equipment and no desire to develop the skills to process them . So, the negs came to me and I cut the 23 binders down to 4. Now after 10 years of never being required, it’s going to the rubbish tip on the next clear out.

Photography is a hobby; a pastime; a profession and the satisfaction belongs to the creator. If one’s images are not in demand during your life, they won’t be after. Even Flickr will only accept a 2 year subscription. Make some books.

Snow scenes again – the images

First posted 30 December 2009

I have been out on a number of occasions since writing the last post. Some of the films are processed, but not all. We have had days when I could get to my darkroom and lots of days when I could not. I have had to scan the negatives to show the results here, but intend to print them at some point on high contrast matt FB paper, as I think this will really suit the look of them. Hopefully, they will look like pen and ink drawings.

contact sheet

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 23.36.10      Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 23.35.57


  1. Posted 30/12/2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful photos Sandy!

  2. Posted 16/01/2010 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Looks a lot like Giacomelli, I’m curious to know how you achieved this rendering!
    Did you use a specific extremely contrasted film (forgot the name)?
    Or just extreme pushing/long development/very high filters/long exposure when printing?
    probably a combination, but I’d love to know if you’re willing to share :)

    Greets from Belgium

Snow scenes again

First posted 21 December 2009

It’s almost a year since I started this blog and one of the first articles I wrote was about shooting in the snow on Ortho film (See ‘High contrast snow scenes’, Feb ‘09). I also wrote another article on achieving higher contrast by altering the film ISO and increasing the development time (see ‘Flexible film’ October 2009).

After doing the tests on these films I had a result which I was eager to take further, unfortunately the snow went rather suddenly and I could do no more (The images used in the October article were shot at the same time as the ortho tests in Feb). Here in the UK we have had heavy snow again and I’ve been wanting to continue my tests.

I like the effect of having black shapes floating in a white space, the images are abstract, but recognisable. Here’s one from last time;

square field

I prefer overcast days with white skies for this kind of shot, there are no strong shadows to distract from the forms.

To get high contrast the trick is to over process the film so that the heavily exposed areas become black on the film. The exposure is determined by an incident reading to ensure that the large areas of white don’t influence the meter too much.

With the Delta 100 film I rated it at 800 ISO and developed for 24 minutes in Ilfotec DDX diluted one to four. The resulting negatives print well on a normal grade of paper, but will give more tonal separation if printed on a hard grade.

I’ll be going out tomorrow with the Delta 100 loaded, but this time I’m planning on shooting with a long lens so that I can pick out shapes in the distance and reduce the angular distortions that come with wider lenses. This hopefully will add to the abstraction.

We’ve not had great snow here for around twenty years, so this has been a great opportunity to add to my snow scenes. I’m going to continue with the high contrast shots on 35mm Delta 100, but I’ll also be taking other snow landscapes on medium format loaded with HP5 rated at 200 to give a beautiful long tonality.

This is a 35mm shot from 1983 (I think).

210 snowy gate


Night photography

First posted 16 November 2009

Although the weather is turning much colder now here in the UK, I really want to get out and do some more night photography. I’ve not done any serious night stuff for a while now and keep seeing shots while I’m driving or at other inconvenient times. I try to make a mental note of the location with the intent of going back with camera and tripod, but you know how it is, it doesn’t always happen. So I’ve decided I’m definitely going out this week.

prospect road, nottingham

I prefer cool, slightly misty Autumn nights for shooting. This is because it gets darker earlier, giving me longer to work and the misty air separates the tones as they recede into the distance (known as aerial perspective). This gives a better sense of depth and drama to a scene and suppresses the bright highlights of distant lights.

10 night back lane

Autumn also brings a colour change and the orange brown leaves reflect the street lighting better. This year I have missed the best of the Autumn colours as we have had some really windy weather, which has stripped many of the trees bare.

Coming back to night photography after shooting other subjects and styles for a while, I was thinking about approaching it in a different way this time. Previously I had shot mainly on 35mm and medium format. Now I think I would like to shoot on 10×8 using a 300mm 5.6 lens. This would be used at it’s widest aperture to give a very shallow area of focus which I think will accentuate the theatricality of the lighting, making each shot look like a stage set. I’ll post some images when I’ve done them.

copleys bakery

If you are thinking of doing any night photography and the lights where you intend to shoot are the common sodium type, then you might find chart 1 useful. These are the starting point exposures for Ilford HP5 under ordinary sodium lighting (orange lights).

The much brighter high pressure sodium lamps which are seen along motorways and in many city centres are paler in colour and twice as bright.

Use chart number 2 for exposures with such lighting.

As can be seen from the charts, the exposures increase dramatically as you use smaller and smaller apertures, this is down to reciprocity failure. This is a problem with exposures longer than one second, where extra exposure has to be added.

For anyone interested in taking night photography further, I wrote a book on the subject which has now sold out, but you should be able to find used copies on Amazon.

Chart 1

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 17.19.16

Chart 2

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 17.19.26

star trails

old railway station

night mist


  1. Posted 16/11/2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Firstly I can recommend Andrew’s book on Night Photography – mine came via ebay and I am sure a little patience would pay off there.

    Andrew have you ever used any of the Fuji films where reciprocity failure is said to be negligible and it may be possible to use 100ASA film and still get shorter exposures than HP5+?

  2. Posted 16/11/2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Posted 18/11/2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Amazing as always :)


Consistent negative quality

First posted 15 October 2009

One of the most important areas of photography is the processing of negatives. The quality of your images is dependent on how much care and attention you take with your developer, dilution, times, temperature and agitation. Following much of the literature which has been published on the matter though, could give you too many things to fuss over and possibly inconsistent results in some cases.

Each established darkroom worker has their own way of doing things which they have adapted over time and which they have found to work for them and I am going to share mine with you. I can offer a few tips and hints collected from over thirty years of processing. If you have a well tried and tested method, then you don’t need to change a thing, but if you are having some inconsistencies then it might be worth seeing if anything I have in my routine may help.

Beginners often have negatives which are very dense and contrasty, often mistakenly believing that to ‘give a little bit extra time in the dev, just to make sure’ is a good thing. It is not.

Over development causes the most heavily exposed areas of the film to develop to a black, meaning that very little light can pass through at the printing stage. This causes prints to have a very high contrast, ensuring that burning in of skies or white clothing becomes almost impossible. Negatives need to have their development curtailed when the densest areas are dark grey, so that any tone, texture or detail there can be easily printed through. Slight underdevelopment is actually preferable (correct is best).

The other problem beginners have is pale, empty negatives. Thin negatives are more often than not caused by underexposure. Cameras with automatic exposure or users who don’t understand where to point a light meter often get underexposed negatives as a result of too much sky being included in the frame. Shooting towards the light or pointing up at a building will cause the light meter to misread. The meter recommends a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture because of the brightness of the sky, but this prevents enough light from reaching the film in the non sky areas, leaving them empty, this prints as very dark or black.

A simple and accurate way to meter in many situations is to read from the grass. The camera will give a very accurate light reading from grass, as long as it is receiving the same light as the intended subject.

Another method which takes a little longer, but gives really nice results is to use a spotmeter. With this, the reading is taken from a very dark tone in the scene (not completely black) and then adjusted up two stops. If the meter says the reading is 125 at f8, the correct reading is 125 at f16. This sounds a little more complicated than it actually is -but it soon becomes second nature.

Once the light level has been established, the image can be composed and exposed, regardless of what the light meter in the camera now indicates. Once the film has been properly exposed, the important part can begin, -the processing.

The following is my own personal method which has been adapted as I have gone along. It produces consistent results if I stick to the important points.

I have all three of my solutions mixed up, with the developer at slightly more than the necessary quantity. During agitation the developer can often froth up quite a bit and cause underdevelopment along the top edge of the film. I get the developer to 20.5 C because in the UK a darkroom is often colder than 20C As the developer goes into the tank it drops about half a degree to 20 and is then at the working temperature.

Agitation is ten times at the start, then three times each minute, with a twisting action to get the developer flowing along the length of the film as well as up and down through the spiral. This gives much more even development.

I don’t bother getting the stop bath to the correct temperature, it will work perfectly well through a wide range. Some believe that having too much of a temperature difference between dev and stop will cause reticulation, but it is actually the strength of the stop bath which causes it (the sudden change from alkaline to strong acid contracts the emulsion), not the temperature, this is why I always mix it weak. My stop bath is lighter in colour than lager. Because of this it becomes exhausted more quickly, but I usually have a large quantity mixed up and I can discard and replace as necessary.

Similarly, I don’t worry about the temperature of the fix. Temperature does affect how quickly or slowly the fixing action takes place, but there is a simple way round this; As soon as the fix goes into the tank, start the timer. Agitate the tank vigorously for a minute and then remove the lid. Check the film to see if it is still milky, if so, put it back in and continue the agitation checking occasionally.

When the milky look has gone from the film, check how much time has elapsed. Double this time in the fix and you will have a properly fixed film every time. When fix times exceed 8 minutes for ‘rapid fixer’ the fix is exhausted and needs replacing.

The wash sequence is as normal, washing for ten minutes, changing the water a few times, using hypo eliminator and final wash for ten minutes. The films are hung to dry overnight in the darkroom where they will not be disturbed.

There are many other ways to process films, but this is the sequence I have settled on for roll and 35mm films.

Changing formats

First posted 21 September 2009

Earlier this year I was shooting a lot of 10×8 and was convinced that I’d never pick up a 35mm camera ever again. By August I was fully in love with the 35mm format once more! Now, in September I am shooting 5×4, seeing pictures everywhere and producing images that I am really happy with.
I can’t explain this aspect of me, I have to follow these urges and make the work that inspires me at that moment.
There are distractions; Usually a gift or a find in a junk shop, an old or unusual camera which I have to explore. Some turn out to be quite good, most are left on the shelf after two films, but occasionally there are special examples, cameras which have a life of their own and which possess a special magic.
I am trying to cut down on these distractions though, I don’t hunt out old cameras as much as I used to, mainly because I have so many that are hardly ever used and I don’t think I should clutter up my studio any more. I’ve made a kind of resolution to clear out a lot of the stuff that I don’t need -For instance, the other week I was looking for something and found four 35mm cameras that I had forgotten even buying!
So for the moment it is 5×4 and who knows what it will be in a few weeks?

An unproductive time

First posted 7 July 2009

My posts have been delayed recently because I have been away a couple of times and had a number of teaching workshops to do.
In my personal work, I have been using a 5×7 inch Kodak Specialist camera with old Ilfospeed paper in the back. This technique can produce lovely results, but often the paper negatives are difficult to print.

Recently, I acquired a box of old Ilfospeed RC paper from the photographer David Ellwand (author of the book ‘Fairie-ality’). I tested it and found out the effective speed, then shot a tree in my garden as a test. I discovered that it had an unusual texture (when used as a negative) and I liked the look of it.

Our tree

I had also been playing around with various lenses on the 5×7 camera and managed to grab myself half a day to go out and do some tree shots. I thought the combination of this paper with one particular lens would give me a really nice result.

That evening I processed the negs and did contact prints.
The resulting images were really disappointing, there was one neg which had potential, but the other seven were terrible. What had I done wrong? I was really hacked off with my wasted half day and had a good old moan to my wife later in the evening.

She wisely suggested that I spend the evening watching a programme on a photographer online (Annie Leibovitz). We watched it together and I immediately knew what I had done wrong,  -I was concentrating too much on the process of photography and not actually looking for things that needed photographing.

The next morning I grabbed a 35mm camera and spent 15 minutes at most walking around the garden taking pictures of things that looked interesting. The experience was electric! – I shot a curled up hosepipe, a plant, some interesting pebbles collected on holiday last year and one or two other subjects and totally enjoyed finding pictures instead of playing with equipment.

I can see now that this has happened before and I have allowed myself to get too wrapped up in an enjoyable, but distracting area of photography.

The next free day I have, I will let the picture dictate the appropriate equipment, not the equipment dictate the picture. A valuable lesson learned.