Tag Archives: Medium format

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.

Facebook;  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Sanderson-Photography/243287612520814
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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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.45.45

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.46.51

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.48.02



  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 XP2 -An under appreciated film

Having recently worked intensively with the whole range of Ilford 35mm films, I thought that I would write a few articles on the special qualities or quirks of some of them.

In this post I’d like to discuss a film which I think is under appreciated; Ilford XP2. This film is a little out of the ordinary, both in the look which it gives and the way it is processed. It is a Chromogenic film, this means that the silver grains are converted to dyes during processing, giving it a unique quality. There is a smoothness to the tones in the mid tones, going up through to the highlights. It looks virtually grainless in these areas, especially on medium format negatives.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.22.46

With conventional films, when you have a grainy neg from overexposure and over development, the grain of the film is not what you see on the print. Light passes between the grains to expose the paper, so what you are seeing is the gaps between the grains.

With XP2, overexposure is an advantage. The image is formed in the same way as with normally developed negatives, but during processing the film grain is replaced by overlapping, semi dense ‘platelets’ of dye. Because they overlap in the heavily exposed areas, there is no actual gap between the grains, and hence, no impression of grain on the print.
In areas of shadow, less of the platelets are created, allowing more light through the larger gaps. This gives a grainy look.
So the shadow areas look grainy and the lighter tones look smooth and grain free. This is an exaggerated reversal of the grain problem found with normal films. Burning a sky in from a 35mm negative on a conventional 400 ISO film can result in heavier grain which some find unpleasant. A burned in sky from an XP2 negative is smooth and creamy. This quality is also apparent in other images where light tones are important, such as a wedding dress, or a portrait. Snow scenes also have a lovely smoothness.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.22.30

It needs to be processed through C41 Colour chemicals, this means it can be processed by any lab. I have used XP2 since it’s very first release (as XP1) in the early eighties. I’ve always loved it for certain types of image when it gave me great negs and great prints, but that wasn’t always so. It took me a while to understand how to use it properly as it needs to be used with its own special properties and quirks in mind.

With conventional films, quality suffers with overexposure if development is not reduced and this shows as harsh grain. the opposite is true of this film. White hair, white dresses, skies etc, all have a beautiful, smooth tonality, which will come as a pleasant surprise if you are used to seeing the bleached out highlights of a digital image. Portraits on XP2 also have a different look, the lighter tones of  the image: the skin etc, display a very smooth tonality. The shadow areas, such as dark clothing will show the grain (with 35mm film), but this is not too much of a problem, in most prints you would have to look closely to see it. From a medium format negative it really wouldn’t be a problem.

So if over exposure produces better results, then XP2 is best over exposed. For instance; rated at 200 ISO. The important thing is to not alter the processing, let the lab treat the film as normal. Your negs will be a bit denser than usual, but this is an advantage. If you wish to check this for yourself, just shoot two frames of the same subject, one rated 400 and the next frame overexposed by one stop (i.e. rated 200). Make a print from each frame and compare, you will see an improvement in the one rated at 200.

I believe XP2 to be an exceptional film when used for many applications and always have some in my film bag for the times when I want that look.

Oh, and I almost forgot, -it is amazingly sharp.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.22.13


  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 17/06/2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink | Edit

Thank You for this, Andrew!
Normally I stick to the films I am used to and I never tried XP-2 because of the C41 process.
I am very concerned about the durability of my negatives and I have my doubts about that in case of XP-2. Or are my doubts for no reason?

2. Paul Hillier

Posted 23/06/2014 at 6:47 am

I used XP1 when it first came out and then XP2 . They were great films and being able to process it in C41 was great for when I were traveling. We had alot of our XP1 turn green over the years and appear to lose some of its density. I haven’t had access to this film for quite a few years now so I am not sureof its current state.

Another one of my favorite films was Kodak’s Panatomic X. This film was so sharp and great film.

Cheers Paul.

3. Keith

Posted 11/07/2014 at 3:37 pm

XP2 Super is a film that I never cared cared for personally, but I am glad that you like it, as it does have it’s fans. However, I am not one of them.

4. Mark Magin

Posted 16/07/2014 at 2:58 am

Recently found your site and am enjoying reading it. There is so much stuff out on the web to sift through a jewel such as this is easily missed. Hope you continue!

5. John Panya

Posted 02/08/2014 at 10:17 am

Thanks for your nice post.
I’ve used nearly every kinds of Ilford film that still be available in the market but XP-2. It’s the film I’ve never tried because of C41 process. And I thought there was no special thing I could get from it.

But I may be wrong.
The quality it create impress me.


6. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 07/08/2014 at 8:46 am

After returning from a 2 week holiday with a lot b/w films to develop in ID-11, I realized an other advantage of this film:
Just give it to your local photo shop and let it develop under perfect standard conditions and save time!
So I will try some for the next time.

7. Mark Voce

Posted 26/08/2014 at 12:01 pm

Thank you for the interesting post Andy, I’ve never used XP2 and knew sod all about it. Sounds like it could have it’s uses though

8. JR Smith

Posted 29/08/2014 at 7:53 pm

Just stumbled across your site and found it very interesting! Nice job!

9. cr mayer

Posted 16/09/2014 at 3:44 am

I just discovered your blog. Very interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing your work.

10. Steve

Posted 19/09/2014 at 5:03 pm

Also never thought to try this. May pick some up and stuck it in my Contax G1 and see how it fares. Sounds like it’s best for hi(gher) key subjects/treatments?

11. Keith

Posted 07/10/2014 at 6:32 am

Hi Andrew, when will you write a review about the other Ilford B&W films?

Very soon I hope.

Thanks for your excellent articles.

Vivian Maier

I was approached recently by Phil Boulton from Lip International (publishers) to do some 16×12 prints off a set of vintage negatives. He had purchased them online a few years ago and was keen to see what could be revealed in the prints. The images are street scenes in Chicago and New York and look to be from the fifties. Phil sent me one negative to begin with and as soon as I saw it I had a hunch that these were by Maier. After I had begun the prints, Phil revealed that they were indeed original Vivian Maier negatives!

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There are some really great images in the set and I’ve loved printing them. A few were very underexposed, and even printing on the maximum grade 5 I couldn’t get a decent print from them. For these, I scanned the negatives, boosted the contrast and retouched some horrendous marks out, before making a copynegative and then printing properly in the darkroom. The final print looked just as though it had been made from a normal negative. The image below is the one I am referring to.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.14.00

If you are not aware of who she was, then follow these links;

Her work has been attracting a lot of attention and I think she will eventually be seen as one of the most important photographers of the 20th century.


  1. Alex

Posted 24/03/2014 at 4:45 pm

Would you be able to elaborate a bit more on making a copynegative in one of your future posts? It seems like an interesting and useful process to know.
Thank you.

  1. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 24/03/2014 at 10:32 pm

Dear Alex, I will cover this topic soon.
Regards, Andrew.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.14.15

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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.14.51

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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.17.53

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.

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.

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