Tag Archives: Medium format

Night photography

First posted 16 November 2009

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

prospect road, nottingham

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

10 night back lane

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

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

copleys bakery

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

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

Use chart number 2 for exposures with such lighting.

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

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

Chart 1

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 17.19.16

Chart 2

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 17.19.26

star trails

old railway station

night mist


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

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

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

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

    Amazing as always :)


Consistent negative quality

First posted 15 October 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted camera

First posted 26 July 2009

For many, many years I have played around with putting odd lenses on cameras and making my own cameras out of whatever has been available. An interesting lens which I have used for many years is the Kodak Aero Ektar 178 mm f2.5 (7 inch).

I first acquired this lens back in 1981 when I bought an old wooden reflex camera locally. The lens was really beautiful for portraits and the camera took quarter plate glass in the dark slides, so some jiggering around had to be done to load them with film. Often the dark slides would scratch the film and ruin a shot, so I removed the back and built a crude 5×4 holder.

From that point onwards, I was able to get a more consistent result and shot many portraits on Polaroid type 55  (See the portrait section of my website at; http://www.andrewsanderson.com ), until the shutter finally gave up about ten years later. The camera laid unused on a shelf for many years and I thought about looking for another wooden reflex camera, but instead I had a bit of a brainwave;

I removed the mirror, screen and shutter mechanism from the broken camera and cut the back of the camera down. I then attached a Pentax 6×7 body. See picture;

Thornton pentax camera

I could now shoot hand held on roll film and get the same result, although the angle of view was reduced dramatically.

Here is a shot from the first film I took on it;

staring horse

The small image here doesn’t do the lens justice, it is really sharp on the eyelash of the horse and falls away quite quickly into softness. The ‘bokeh’ (a word I hate) is better with this lens than any other I have ever used.

I put this camera together in June of 2008 and used it for a few months until the 10×8 Walker Titan I had commissioned was delivered. Once I had that, sharp images took precedence, so the ‘Thornton Pentax’ was left unused.

Having said that, the camera got another outing this weekend after the paper negative images I mentioned at first. I went out to do some landscapes using this camera loaded with Ilford SFX. and an orange filter.

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? ).