Tag Archives: Darkroom

Back to gum printing

I’ve been promising myself for a while that I would get back to doing some gum printing. For one reason or another it hasn’t happened, though I have written articles on the subject on a number of occasions, -but for those I have used existing prints, done quite a bit ago.

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In October, I was in conversation with a friend; Maxwell Doig, who is a very good painter. I was at his house and he had an old gum print of mine framed on the wall in his studio. It was so old I had totally forgotten doing it, but it was nice to see it from the viewpoint of a newcomer. We got into conversation about the process and Max encouraged me to do more with it. I had intended to get right onto it, but only got as far as pre shrinking the paper until yesterday when I made gum prints all day. It was a real treat to get back into it again and having so much uninterrupted time meant that I could fully concentrate on it. Gum printing is quite a slow, labour intensive process, but it is very rewarding. It requires the image to be printed more than once to give depth to the tones, and the images shown here have all had four separate coatings and exposures.

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The greatest difficulty in the process is devising some way of getting your negative back in registration with the image for the second, third, or fourth exposure. Even though I had pre shrunk the paper by soaking it in alternate hot and cold trays of water, it still altered size enough to ruin a number of prints.

If you fancy having a go at it, there are many videos on Youtube, but they don’t give you much information about the finer points. I will put a PDF copy of a recent article in Dropbox here, for those who wish to read more on it.



  1. Oscar Carlsson

Posted 07/01/2014 at 7:37 pm

I really like that last image, it is very tender and carefully treated.

  1. wayne

Posted 11/01/2014 at 4:23 pm

The gumprint of the dog and girl is stunning

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 05/03/2014 at 1:43 pm

The technique fits to the image of the trees shown very good. I like it very much.
I am interested in alternative processes but only have experience in lith-printing.
Often my own images are too sharp, too much like a photo, but I do not know how to alter this.
I have seen some cyanotypes and like those too.
The reason I do not comment often is, because english is not my mother tongue.
I am usually only reading, but this time I pushed the comment button

  1. Chris

Posted 13/03/2014 at 3:39 pm

Love these pictures. Will have to give it a go once my darkroom is built. Thanks for posting these.

  1. Vanessa Marsh

Posted 20/03/2014 at 10:08 pm |

I am a photographer working in Oakland, CA and just came across your blog and website in my research on paper negatives. Thank you for providing this wonderful resource!

  1. Bob

Posted 28/06/2014 at 6:08 pm

A good rag paper hardly moves but even the cheapest watercolour paper can be tamed by saturating the BACK of the paper with water using a brush. The important thing happening here is that the size WON’T WASH OUT, and with a good well sized rag paper and the useful amount of preshrinking you should have very little problem with reregistering.

View Camera Magazine

I was recently contacted by a writer / photographer in the USA asking if I would like to be included in an article in View Camera Magazine. The article is on photographers using unusual film types, such as duplicating film and X-Ray. I have been shooting on X-Ray film since 1988 and have written a number of articles on the subject, but was surprised and flattered to be asked.

The article is called Alternative Films, Extraordinary results. and is in the July/August 2013 issue.

It is also mentioned on the esc4p.org blog, -resources page

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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: http://www.theonlinedarkroom.com

Currently, The Spursinn developers can be bought from:

Keyphoto –  http://www.keyphoto.com/latest-news.html?article=109

MacoDirect – http://www.macodirect.de/spur-acurol-250ml-p-2510.html?language=en&osCsid=782e362bc991eab30a270f24c72cd642 ,

Photoimpex – http://www.fotoimpex.de/shopen/chemistry/spur-acurol-n-250ml.html

and Spurrsin themselves in Europe – http://www.spuersinn-shop.de/index.php?page=product&info=681


  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.

Making large copy negatives for alt processes

When I need to produce a Gum print or a Cyanotype, I sometimes use large format original negatives. More often than not I use copynegs made from an RC print as this gives me much more control and flexibility.

The first thing I do is make an RC print to the size that I need my final gum print to be, with all the burning in and dodging that the image requires. I then place that face down on a sheet of either; Lith film, Line film, Ortho film, X-ray film or medical Subtraction film (All of these have different properties, ISOs and contrast, so stick to one and understand how to get the best from it. I would suggest using Ilford Ortho film as it is easy to obtain and works really well). This is placed in a contact printing frame or under thick glass and exposed under the enlarger. An exposure is given and the film is developed for around 1 minute in paper developer under red safelight (shorter times give lower contrast, -longer times give more contrast). Stop and fix as usual. A 5 minute wash in running water is adequate for these types of film. Be aware though that x-ray film has a very soft emulsion and is easily damaged.

To begin with, make a few negatives of varying contrast and density, then when you have become more proficient, you will have an idea which kind of negative works best for the process you are using. I prefer to make two negatives when Gum printing, as this gives me better separation in the tones.

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The advantages of this method are that you can make a large negative from any size original, you can get the contrast exactly right for your process and you don’t have to worry about damaging your negative when working with the alt process. I also prefer having a large border around my copy negatives, as this gives a better margin for attaching masking tape when re-aligning for multiple printing.


  1. Clive France

Posted 30/07/2013 at 10:37 am

Thanks for the excellent advice. Before I start, I just want to check that Aristo Ortho Litho film can be developed in normal paper developer. Freestyle suggests “for high contrast negatives, use this film with Arista A&B Lith developer or any standard lith developer.”

  1. sandy

Posted 24/09/2013 at 11:53 am

Dear Clive, I have not used Arista, but I expect it will behave in a similar manner to the others I have experience of. If you are wanting a longer tonal range, Ilford Multigrade, or similar paper developer will give you this if used at half strength. Experiment with different dev times to get the contrast you require.
Regards, Andrew.

Print exposure using a metronome

First posted 11 July 2012

I recently gave a printing masterclass at Warwick College here in the UK. I do these quite regularly on behalf of Ilford / Harman technology and one of the things that I talked about, gave me the idea for this blog post. I was explaining how I prefer my students not to set their darkroom timers to exposures of less than five seconds when making a test strip. I insist on this because I have seen too many situations where a student’s test does not match their print.

When an enlarger is switched on it doesn’t give full illumination immediately, there is a build up of brightness -which although short in duration, can be a problem. Similarly, at the end of the exposure there is a tailing off of illumination from maximum to nil. When longer exposures are given these slight differences are not important, but if a student was to do a test strip in one second exposures and then decide that ten seconds was the correct exposure, a ten second burst of light would be quite different from ten times one second exposures. For this reason, as I already stated, I don’t like to see my students setting darkroom timers for less than five seconds.

Another method to overcome this problem and the method I prefer for my own printing, is to switch the enlarger on for a few seconds to warm up (with a piece of black card under the lens to block the light path), then uncover the lens to begin the exposure, timing the exposure with a metronome. This way, the light intensity is constant even for very short exposures. With cold cathode enlargers I leave them switched on all through the printing session, as they take longer to reach full, and consisitent brightness.

Using a metronome allows for an even, consistent light source, no matter how long, or short, the exposure is. The important thing to remember is to move the card exactly on the second. This is obviously most important when short exposures are being used, such as when burning in. For this situation, -say when a number of different exposures are needed within the one image, I don’t have to stop and re set the timer between each exposure. I just cover the lens, then uncover when I’m ready and count the appropriate time.

I have used a hand held digital metronome for a long time, but recently it gave up the ghost and refused to work. I had been promising myself for years that I would buy an old mechanical one, as I much prefer the old ticking sound to a digital beep. Instead, I asked my brother to record an old metronome and I now have the sound on my phone. I can use it in any darkroom, I have it to hand at all times and I can hear it through an earphone if I’m working in a busy teaching situation.

For those of you interested in trying this method, I have a 35 minute recording available for download;   https://dl.dropbox.com/u/88621650/tiktok.mp3


  1. Posted 12/07/2012 at 6:13 am

    Andrew ,
    Just wanted to say thank you for your continuous sharing of your expertise with the rest of us.
    I stumbled on your blog by chance about a year ago and since then have pretty much read it from cover to cover. What you do, your teaching and your art is very much needed this day and age.
    Looking forward for more articles from you.
    Thank you.

  2. Posted 12/07/2012 at 8:33 am

    Brilliant post. I have used a metronone for a few years now. Since I came to your day of teaching I moved up here and the damp sea air [the sea is only a few hundred yards away] played havoc with my electronic timers so I got a metronome and no more probs!

  3. Posted 16/10/2012 at 4:02 pm

    I’ve had an old fashioned mechanical metronome in my darkroom for years! I never reaslised anyone else would be timing their exposures by the same method!

A return to paper negative

First posted 23 January 2012

Firstly, let me apologise for the late update of my blog. I have had much to think about for the last few months and feel like a different person now. Circumstances have forced upon me a new perspective. Consequently, I have been unable to pursue my usual interests in life and work for a number of months.

For many years I have cycled through all kinds of photography and printing methods, trying to increase my skills and abilities in each incrementally. There is so much that one can do in photography and so many styles to follow. I have been fascinated by virtually every aspect of photography that I have seen, and tried my hand at most of them. All of this takes many years, and I have woken up to the fact that I cannot do everything that I want to.

I have found that time is not as abundant as it once was, so I have to let some things drop. I have decided to concentrate more on my paper negative work, my portraiture, my darkroom workshops and if I still have time I’ll do some more gum printing. If anyone comes to me for a workshop I will of course cover whatever subject or style I have knowledge of, but my personal work has to be narrowed down or it will not grow. The paper negative work is going to be my main focus though, so expect some coverage in the photographic press over the next year or so,…

Workshop enquiries; andrewsandersonphoto@googlemail.com

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  1. Posted 24/01/2012 at 3:05 pm

    Good to hear you’ll be doing more paper neg work. Love that side of your work. Would love to see how you might approach something along the lines of ParkeHarrison’s – The Architec’s Brother

    Take very good care

  2. Carl Radford
    Posted 24/01/2012 at 9:18 pm

    Nice to have you back Andrew.

  3. Gary Liggett
    Posted 24/01/2012 at 10:44 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes the array of photographic processes can make me feel like a ‘kid in a candy store’ in wanting to try them all. I soon discovered the dangers of spreading myself too thinly! You are a very talented artist, Andrew, and it’s good to see you back. Not only that, but setting a very high standard with these lovely and timeless photographs.

  4. Posted 09/03/2012 at 9:22 am

    Have been thinking about you lots and hoping your internet hiatus was more ennui with all the faff than an actual missing Sandy, and like everyone else I’m very glad to see you back.

    Have a little packet of Harman +ive paper but currently no darkroom. Would love to take you up on that offer you made last year, but take it easy, and please keep in touch.

  5. Posted 15/05/2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi Andrew, hope all’s well with y’all.
    Interesting that we think occasionally in similar ways, and to me it makes great sense that you should play to your strengths, putting your paper neg stuff first.
    Any how we need a chat.

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.

Harman direct positive paper

First posted 28 September 2010

I have just written a technical review of the new Harman Direct positive Paper for Black and White Magazine here in the UK. The piece will probably be in the January issue, but I thought I’d like to share my enthusiasm for it here.

The paper comes in RC and FB versions and is pretty high contrast if used straight out of the box, though a pre flash will bring the contrast down dramatically, as seen in this test shot;

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For my test I loaded a 5×4 darkslide with a sheet of the FB paper and pulled the darkslide half way out. I preflashed the paper in camera by exposing through a sheet of white paper (this needs to be metered correctly, -see upcoming magazine article), then I pulled the darkslide out all the way and did the main exposure. As you can see from this example, the pre flash makes a huge difference to the tonal range.

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Because of the short latitude of this paper, a good, reliable hand meter is recommended. An incident reading will give you the quickest accurate reading, though a spotmeter could give more information once the range of the paper has been established using your own developer.


Always use fresh developer, Only develop under red safelight and don’t turn on the lights until the print is fixed.

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The paper is really great for photograms too, as you can see from this image of a jar.

When used in camera, it produces images which are reversed left to right and for portraiture this is often flattering to the sitter as they always see themselves that way in the mirror, so they view these images as being more accurate.

I intend to do a lot more with this paper, I think it has a lot of potential. I hope they consider producing a lower contrast version in the future if this is at all possible.


  1. Posted 28/09/2010 at 11:55 am

    I rather like the stuff too. I develop in really weak developer which seems to tame the contrast as well as the pre-flash. Might even buy B&W to read your article!

  2. Posted 03/10/2010 at 12:43 pm

    I usually get my B&W about 4th hand, but yes, I’ll be buying this one too. Thank you.

  3. Posted 19/10/2010 at 2:53 pm

    Great post and fantastic imagery! :)

  4. Andrew Sanderson
    Posted 28/10/2010 at 9:14 am

    Thanks, good luck with your fisheye stuff, I went wild with my first one too! -but that was years and years ago, I’ve not used one for so long now. Seeing your shots reminds me I should dig it out again.

  5. Posted 10/01/2011 at 11:10 pm

    Interesting post, I’m dying to try this paper for pinholing so I shall no doubt buy B&W as well!

  6. Dan Smith
    Posted 13/04/2012 at 4:07 am

    Where do I find a copy of the article you wrote about this paper? I looked on the B&W(UK) site and did not see an article listed on the magazine cover for January.
    Is it posted online for me to read?

    Or, can you let us know for sure which issue it is published in so I can order that issue to be delivered to the US.



  7. David Linton
    Posted 07/06/2012 at 3:33 pm

    I come across this sometime after the January magazine has been published. Is it possible you could add some more detail to the level of pre-flash you have experimented with.

  8. Andrew Sanderson
    Posted 20/07/2012 at 8:58 am

    Dear David, I will be doing a follow up article here sometime soon. I’m currently busy with Gum printing which takes up quite a bit of time.

  9. Andrew Sanderson
    Posted 20/07/2012 at 8:59 am

    Dear Dan, I’ll have a look through my back issues and drop you a line when I find it.

  10. Posted 19/07/2013 at 12:59 am

    Do you have any reference or follow-up on the use of DPP for photograms?
    The image you posted is fantastic. However, typically photograms are left in the sun for hours and treated with fixer only, no developer or caffenol etc. I have been able to get fairly good images with limited exposure (1 hour+), but even gold will not preserve the image and Hypam following only produces a completely white paper. Image lost or in hiding. Would not take selenium toner either.
    I there is no need to pre-flash if using natural UV, but where to go from there once the image forms? Thank you!

  11. Andrew Sanderson
    Posted 24/09/2013 at 11:55 am

    Dear Mariana, I haven’t tried this paper for daylight/UV photograms in this manner. I think the long exposure will totally overexpose the paper and once gone, it will not return.
    Regards, Andrew.

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?

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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.

Split grade printing

First posted 12 March 2010

Split Grade printing in it’s most basic form is a process whereby two exposures are given, one through a Grade 5 filter and one through a Grade 00 filter. These two exposures can be varied in order to arrive at the correct contrast for almost any negative. I have another, simpler version which I will write about at a later date, but for now I’ll explain this method.

As I said, there are two exposures given, one through a Grade 5 and one through a Grade 00. That is the theory anyway, -but in reality some negatives only need one filter to print. This is especially true with extremely thin negatives which can only be printed on a Grade 5.

Let’s go back to basics: To simplify, the photographic emulsion in a Variable Contrast or Multigrade paper is made up of two light sensitive layers. One is sensitive to green light and gives a long range of greys from pale white through to dark grey, it won’t give a deep black unless it’s grossly overexposed. The other layer is sensitive to blue light and gives a very high contrast result, consisting of mainly black and white, with very few intermediate tones.

White light gives roughly equal amounts or both green and blue light, so exposing without a filter activates both layers giving a contrast between the two extremes, -roughly grade 2, depending on enlarger type. Using a Grade 2 filter also activates both layers equally, but reduces exposure time because of the density of the filter.

When two different exposures are given, one of the layers is activated more than the other and this moves the contrast away from grade 2.

Because this subject needs a full explanation beyond the space I have here, I have made a demonstration video which should make the point more clearly.

The video is currently unavailable, but I will restore it soon and give the link here. Please accept my apologies.