Tag Archives: Ilford HP5

Uprating, developing methods compared.

Many, many years ago I experimented with uprating HP5, I was a student and it fitted the look I was after at the time. In those days, information was difficult to find and I relied on advice from friends. As a student, the mysteries of film and processing were fascinating and strange. I tried all sorts of things, but didn’t know what was really going on. I knew that uprating meant setting a higher speed (ASA in those days) on your light meter and then giving it a longer development time. In my ignorance, I thought that if you doubled your film speed, you should double your dev time. Ha! – I ended up with negs that were too dense to print!

Later, when I understood it more and did some research, I was able to get rather impressive results using a little known method devised by William Mortensen. These days, the method would be known as semi stand development, but at the time it hadn’t been given a name. The whole process took over an hour and gave very impressive results, but I eventually drifted away from it to pursue other types of photography and processing.
Last year, a photographer friend was shooting social documentary work and he was struggling for light with his indoor shots. I contacted him and told him about this impressive Mortensen uprating technique. As I hadn’t done it for over thirty years I thought I had better run a few films through and test it again.

My first results were as impressive as I had remembered, so I thought it would be interesting to compare it to other uprating methods. I could run a series of films through different developers to see which uprating method gave the best results. At the very least it would be interesting to see how each one handled shadow detail and contrast.

I didn’t have access to a model who would sit in a poorly lit room (the reason for looking up the method in the first place was social documentary pictures of people in their homes) for the duration of my tests, so I placed a white, plaster of Paris bust on my settee, some distance from the window. The difference in brightness between the lit head and the dark bookcase behind was really going to show what these developers would perform like.

Taking an exposure reading.
One thing that compounds the problem of shooting in low light is the method of metering the scene. In a concert venue for instance, it is not practical to go up on stage and take an incident light reading to determine how much light is falling on the performers, so most people rely on through the camera metering from an audience position. This can cause readings to be really wide of the mark, because the back of the stage might be very dark, but spotlights might be shining into your lens. Problems with accurate metering can also happen in a room lit only by one small window. The exposure for a person sat 2ft from the window will be quite different for one with the subject sitting at the far end of the room, 8 to 10 feet away.

For my test I placed a bust on my settee in the middle of the room. I took an incident reading from the position of the head, then exposed a number of films with every frame at the same exposure. I took 1600 ASA/ISO as my test speed, I figured that if I got heavier negs with any particular process I could run another test with the film speed set higher.
I then processed the films in five different ways;

  • Mortensen semi stand 1 hour ten minutes
  • Rodinal 1+100 stand 1 hour
  • ID11 stock solution 14 minutes

and an interesting version of two bath processing -see below.

The fullest negative (therefore the highest speed) is found with the Mortensen process, details of which I shall give later. The second best, and no slouch was ID11 stock solution at 14 minutes. The third was Rodinal 1+100 1 hour. I found this quite amusing, because the Rodinal method is the one that always gets bandied about on social media, I suspect, by people who are really only repeating what they have read in an effort to sound intelligent. It produces negatives that are good enough for scanning, but they are a bit lifeless in the shadow areas. One other thing about these negatives surprised me, the Rodinal was not the sharpest as you would expect, the Mortensen method produced the sharpest detail, followed closely by ID11 stock, the Rodinal was last. The difference isn’t huge, but it is worth noting.

One thing I didn’t do with this test, was to include something in the frame which was more than four stops brighter than mid tone. If I had placed a mirror on the settee so that we could see a bit of sky it would have shown which process would cause blocked up highlights, and which was best for controlling them. Looking at the density of the brightest part of my set up, the right side of the head, I can see that the Mortenson technique is giving more density here, and If I had a brighter area in the scene it could have been too dense. The ID11 stock development seems to be very good at rendering these bright areas, so perhaps that would be the choice for a concert venue with bright lights.

Whilst I was doing these tests, I noticed on social media that a friend in Germany was experimenting with uprating in a different way, one which I had not considered. When I saw his impressive results I got in touch. Rudiger Hartung was experimenting with two bath development, but he was running the film through the two baths two or three times, I was amazed, I didn’t think this was possible. As soon as you introduce any of bath B into Bath A, you have ruined your two bath developer, so how was he doing it? I contacted him and asked about his method. Rudiger replied that he used stop bath and a wash in between, which allowed him to go back into bath A without contamination. I was very interested to see if this method would work with any of the film that I had exposed, so I asked him if he would put some of my test exposures through his chemicals. I sent him a film that I had exposed for the test and let him cut it into sections for different processing tests, and the results were great. There was a definite speed increase, it wasn’t as much as I was getting with the two methods in ID11, but his own successes were with another Ilford film. Amazingly, he was getting the best results from Kentmere 100 film, taking it up to 1200 ASA/ISO! He was getting a 3.5 stop increase in speed, and the quality was really good.

Rudiger cut my test film up into four sections and processed them all differently. He also tried HC110 and Pyro. The HC110 and the Pyro negs were not good enough to include here, but I am thankful that he took the time to try them.

All negs compared

The Mortensen method.

  • Dilute ID11 stock at 1+3.
  • Get the temperature to 20ºC.
  • Pour into the tank, start clock and agitate for 30 seconds.
  • Agitate three gentle inversions each 30 seconds for the first ten minutes.
  • Leave standing, untouched for 50 minutes.
  • Agitate every minute for the next ten minutes.
  • Stop and fix.
  • Wash.

One other thing that I think is rarely, if ever considered, is that uprated films that are left unprocessed will lose some of the latent image in the thinner areas. This will degrade the shadow areas that uprating is designed to bring up. If you are considering uprating films, prompt processing is recommended.

Final conclusion.
For general day to day uprating, when you don’t have the luxury of time, the standard recommended time in Ilford ID11 (14 minutes) produces superb results. If you want a bit more on your negatives and are prepared to spend quite a bit longer processing them, then the Mortensen method is the one for you. The two bath method is very interesting, but you need to mix everything up from scratch, and it takes a long time to do the process correctly. If you are busy, or lazy, the Rodinal 1 + 100 stand method is for you. All of the processes produced negatives that were full enough for scanning, but a couple of those did not have enough density for darkroom printing (HC110, Pyro). I did manage to make pretty good prints from all of the other negs, using split grade filtration. I did test prints on 7×5 RC paper, Then a full 10×8 print of the Mortensen neg on top quality Ilford MG Warmtone FB paper.

These images are from scans of the negatives.

This is a split-grade 10×8 inch print from the film processed with the Mortensen method.

If you have enjoyed this post and the information here and elsewhere on my blog, would you consider a small donation via Ko-fi please? You can send as little as £3.00, or more if you are feeling generous. This money goes towards materials used for the tests and printing for these articles. The link is; Ko-fi.com/andrewsandersonphotography

Flexible film

First posted 19 October 2009

Different photographers have different expectations from a film. They may buy a particular brand because they have seen that someone they admire has used it, or because it is a new type. Some buy films looking for good latitude, others for speed, acutance or fine grain. Others may be expecting contrasty, gritty results.

Buying a film and exposing/developing at the manufacturers recommended settings will usually produce negatives that are a compromise between all of these expectations. Producing the results you really want depends on an understanding of what happens when film is treated differently.
One of the first ways that new photographers try to get different results is by uprating. They read somewhere that a 400 ISO film can be exposed at a higher speed such as 1600, and then stewed in the dev to bring up the image.
This does indeed work, but occasionally at the expense of quality (not always a concern for some). Uprating can produce quite acceptable results with dilute/static processing (see the section at the end of this article) and I have rated Ilford HP5 at 1600 ISO and got results almost as good as when rated at 400.

But if the developer is one which is vigourous, the grain can be exaggerated and contrast can increase to a point where printing becomes difficult and burning in highlights is impossible. This is not always a bad thing, if you look at the work of Bill Brandt you see what can be done creatively with a film which is mistreated in this way.
Going the opposite way, if a film is downrated a couple of stops and the development time is reduced, a finer grain and a longer tonal range is produced. This can look absolutely stunning with larger negatives, especially when photographing subjects with a lot of subtle highlights such as sunlit clouds, or snow scenes at night.
The importance of agitation.
When I did lots of different ratings and development times in the early years of my career, I also found that agitation could alter the look of a negative.
Normal agitation is usually taken to be three inversions of a tank every minute and increasing the number of inversions/agitations will increase contrast. BUT, taken to an extreme, with continuous agitation, contrast actually drops!
I think it is because the developer is not allowed to sit on the surface and work properly when constantly in motion, -but I’m not a scientist, I’m a photographer, so I may be wide of the mark there.
Whatever the reason, there is a marked drop in contrast with continuous agitation as I have just mentioned, and when coupled with downrating produces a negative which has amazing latitude for highlights or overexposure. This means that a reading can be taken from the shadows to ensure detail, and the highlights will never be blown out.
Here is a composite image of four frames of the same film, The film was Ilford HP5 and the developer was Ilford ID11 stock solution at 20C with continuous agitation for four minutes.

all four

These frames are; top left 100, top right 50, lower left 25 and lower right 12 ISO. As you can see, any of these frames could be printed. From this you can understand how the technique could produce a ‘flexible negative’ (to quote my late friend Barry Thornton), and therefore how well they could compress a high contrast scene.

Dilute/static development (also known as stand development, though there are many different methods of this).

Mix up a 1 – 3 solution of Ilford ID11. That is, one part of stock solution (normal strength) mixed with three parts of water.
Get the temperature to 20C
Pour into the tank and agitate ten times.
Start the clock.
Give three inversions every 30 seconds up to ten minutes.
When ten minutes have passed, put the tank down and do not move it at all for 50 minutes. Try to keep the temperature fairly constant.
When that time has elapsed, agitate the tank three times and repeat this agitation each minute.
After ten minutes pour the developer away and use a normal stop bath (Not too strong, weaker is better).
Fix as normal, wash and dry.

With this development method, Ilford HP5 can be rated at 1600 ISO and can produce very good results.

Here is a scan from a 10×8 print made on a Grade 2 paper from one such negative. On the print you can see detail in the dark corners and the sunlit highlights.

 Train carriage

Medium format as an ‘all rounder’

First posted 2 June 2009

I have just returned from a weeks break in Brittany, France. I couldn’t resist doing lots of landscapes and portraits there, so I now have a much bigger backlog of films to process. I shot Ilford HP5 120 rated 200 ISO and Ilford FP4 120 rated 50 ISO. I only took medium format on this trip (and a digi compact for family snaps and short video), because there wasn’t enough room in the car for the big stuff. I took a Yashicamat 124 G 6×6 cm and a Pentax 6×7 cm with two lenses, standard and wide.

will, lily, alice

I have been pretty single minded about large format and particularly 10×8 for the last year, but I have a real affection for square medium format. It gives high quality, coupled with ease of use. The 5×4 and the 10×8 are heavy, cumbersome and slow cameras to use and we offset that inconvenience with the excellent quality that they provide, but if you only plan to print to 10×8, medium format is a great choice.

Each type of camera that we as photographers choose, has its own special method of use. Each different viewfinder contributes something to the shooting experience and thus the final result. Large format images are viewed upside down and for those who are new to them, they are confusing to use.

6×6 cameras mostly have a left/right reversal of the image in the viewer which is odd to the beginner, but after a while, I believe this adds to the result. Arriving at a scene and pointing the camera in the general direction, I glance down at the screen and see the arrangements of shapes and tones in a totally different way. I then move the camera around a little whilst looking through the viewfinder and check if a slightly different composition would be an improvement. Looking at the image reversed through the viewfinder gives me visual surprises and often I see a shot which I had not considered when looking around with my eyes. This is a special way to compose, and working this way means that the final print often surprises me.

This happened with the shot below and I deliberately put the focus at the back of the picture to draw the viewers eye to the black cow in the top right.

cow on a hill

So I suppose what I am trying to say is that there is still very high quality from a medium format negative and the cameras are so much easier to use. (Well why didn’t you just say that at the beginning then? ).