Tag Archives: Landscape

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.

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1923, 1988, 2014

Alongside my eclectic collection of cameras which have built up over the last 35 years, I have been acquiring negatives and prints wherever I find them. Much of the collection sits in boxes that have not been opened for twenty years or so, but last week I rediscovered a box of them whilst looking for something else. I lifted a few out and held them up to the window to see what was on them and of the first two I looked at, one looked rather familiar. After contact printing it I realised that it was of a farmhouse which I had photographed in the late eighties, when it was very dilapidated. I found the negative and did a print off it too, noticing that I had stood almost in the same position as the first shot, taken 65 years previously.
I remembered that the house was renovated a few years after I had photographed it, so I revisited it this week to get another shot from the same viewpoint. I think the three images make an interesting set.

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  1. Dave Burrows

Posted 17/11/2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink | Edit

Hi Andrew
I really like the comparison between the images as a piece of history, you where lucky to find the 1923 negative, how did you find it.
Glad you are back and writing.
Wish I had interesting projects to work on such as this one.
I posted a link to your website the other day on my face book page telling people. they should check you out as a fine artist and master printer I hope you don’t mind.
Regards Dave
Regards Dave

2. Paul Blanchard

Posted 05/12/2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink | Edit

Have just found your site, Superb comparison of the Farmhouse in the spirit of ‘How Buildings Learn’ I am working my way through the wealth of posts and shall leave any comments, when worthwhile, as I know from personal experience that it is hard to get them!/Paul

Ilford films, -the results

So I finished the task, (see previous post) -though I did need to ask for a weeks extension. All of the images were shot over five weeks and I spent another week working late into the night producing over 100 10×8 proof prints. The final selection has not been made, but I present my favourites below. I would be interested to hear your responses,…

Although I was very lucky with some days regarding the changeable British weather, I also had odd days which were a bit of a disaster, with shutter problems on one camera, meter inaccuracies on another and a misaligned focusing screen on a new camera I purchased on ebay, which meant I lost a number of shots. I also discovered a couple of inaccuracies in the processing information for one of Ilford’s film developers and worked out a new ’stand’ process for a couple of the films and this has proved to work very well. All of this will give me enough material for a number of future blog posts.

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  1. Keith

Posted 29/05/2014 at 1:55 pm

Well done Andrew, obviously you undertook was a long task for Ilford.

Which of the Ilford film developers did you find that the information was inaccurate?

The stand development may also be of interest to followers of your blog.

  1. Alex

Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:04 pm

Congratulations on completing such a difficult job. I hope you will share your detailed objective conclusions with us.
A comparative analysis of different films in some kind of spreadsheet form could prove to be a great source of information for many of us.
And of course, the new stand development is always an interesting topic.

  1. Tom Kershaw

Posted 16/06/2014 at 6:06 pm

Hello Andrew,

Perhaps an odd question, but what was the aim of this comparison, simply to show a variety of results or make aesthetic judgements?

I have considered doing something similar for my own purposes in the past but have now decided on using a small number of film & developer combinations, centred around XTOL. I would think about using DD-X if I didn’t want to work with a powder.


Making use of old paper

Over many years I have bought, swopped and had given a wide range of darkroom papers. Some are rather old and not really much good for making quality prints, but they still have their uses. I don’t throw out old papers, I’ve found that they can be used for Photograms, Paper Negatives, or just for creative experimentation. I have one box of very old Ilford single weight paper which has a base colour like it has been soaked in tea. If you choose the right kind of negative for it, the paper is gorgeous, but it is no good for certain other types of shot. If you want a punchy image with clean whites, -forget it, but for a still life or a portrait I think it brings a nice quality.

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Some of my favourite papers are lacking in contrast, that is to say, they have a lower grade now than the number on the box would suggest, this is because papers lose contrast with age. Not all though, -some last a long time, and I have examples from the sixties which are still ok. But some other papers are losing contrast at a much quicker rate, for instance, after only seven years. I have up to date papers which I use if I want a full range of tones, but the older ones are used if I want something different.  The flat, low contrast can impart a mood to the image, especially if the print is toned, in fact, I would say that this is essential. An untoned print of low contrast can look to be just a lot of greys, but a slightly sepia toned, or Selenium toned print is a different matter.

Recently I have been using some Ilfobrom Grade 4  for paper negatives in the 10×8 camera. I think it dates from the early seventies and has a contrast now of about grade 1, which is perfect for paper negatives. Here are three from yesterday morning in the mist.

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And here is Winnie, patiently waiting for me while I set up and shoot.

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So don’t throw those old papers away, try them as photograms or paper negatives. Try overprinting them and bleaching the highlights back (perhaps I’ll do this for the next post). Whatever you do, don’t just waste paper, if you really don’t think you can use it, send it to me -I’ll find a use for it.


  1. Thomas

Posted 14/03/2014 at 9:44 am

I am happy that I have got some Kentona yet. Unfortunately it is only 10×12.
But I do not have very old papers like you because I never did buy in bulk. Nor do I buy old papers on ebay. Should I try this? And what sort of papers?
I would like to have greater format of Kentona but all stock is emptied.

2. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 14/03/2014 at 1:02 pm

Kentona is a lovely paper for prints, even now, but it is also excellent for paper negatives! So you will have to decide which is the best way to use it.

3. Andrew

Posted 14/03/2014 at 5:32 pm

Your point about low-contrast paper being good for paper negatives is brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that…


4. Cahit

Posted 04/05/2014 at 6:35 pm

I have a bunch of expired papers. Is there a way to overcome printing whites as grays? Or more clear classification of alternative/creative uses of expired papers. (For example: type of scenes or negatives to print for better results)

5. Mark Peeters

Posted 03/11/2014 at 1:22 am

I have a whole bunch of graded paper that came with a bunch of dark room equipment. but I only have multigrade developer from Ilford, can you develop graded paper with the multigrade developer?


6. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:17 pm

Dear Mark, please excuse my very late reply to your question on Thewebdarkroom. You can use Multigrade developer for graded paper without any problem.
Regards, Andrew Sanderson.

7.Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:24 pm

Dear Cahit, If you are using old papers to make prints, you may have problems with greyed whites. This could be a problem if you are expecting whites, but if you window matt the image and frame it, you could find that it looks really interesting as a new way to print.
If you are making paper negatives from the paper the greyed whites are not too much of a problem. You just print them using a higher contrast grade.
Regards, Andrew.

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.

Kirk Toft

It’s not very often that I do a post on another photographer, but recently I had a visit from an old friend who I don’t see often enough, and who’s work I think deserves more attention. Kirk is a photographer who has devoted himself to one process and knows it inside out, he also has a really good eye for a classic composition.

He visited recently to give me a large format camera which he was planning to throw out. I said I’d be happy to give it a good home and have been using it a lot recently, so I’d like to say thanks again Kirk! His generosity is not the reason for this write up though. I genuinely think he deserves more attention. He showed me a selection of his oil transfer prints and they were really gorgeous. I managed to prise one from his grip and I’ll be getting it framed soon.

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Seeing this image here you get no sense of how subtle the tonality is and how the ink sits in the fibres of the paper. Oil transfer is a lovely process, -as are many of the alt processes when they are done well. These prints take a long time to make, and Kirk only produces them for a few months each year, when the humidity and temperature in his house are favourable. Each one is a special object.

One Comment

  1. Andrea Ingram

Posted 14/12/2012 at 10:21 am

What a lovely image. And such lovely work on the interweb too.
I have been wrestling somewhat unsuccessfully with this process recently. Coating paper with gelatine – only to have it fall off again. Now resorting to fixed fb paper! How humid should it be to do such things? It’s always damp here next to the sea!
Look forward to an online tutorial!
Greetings for the season.

A nice discovery

I was looking through a box of old lenses and collected junk earlier this year, with an idea to sell off some bits on Ebay. I had sold some unused brass lenses, enlarging lenses and old cameras, and was about to list a little lens I had found languishing in the bottom of the box. I had acquired it so long ago, that I couldn’t recall where from. When I did a little research to pad out my description it made me reconsider my decision. So before I listed it, I tried it on my 10×8 camera. -Wow! it almost covered the whole negative area, and the corner vignetting was rather interesting. I won’t be selling it now, and I am looking forward to doing more with this lens. It is a Taylor Hobson Cooke Series VIIb 108mm Wide angle Anastigmat. The information online states that it is meant for a 7×5 camera, but I like seeing what it will do at full stretch.

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