Tag Archives: Metering

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

Printing

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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Is your metering method causing you problems?

Following on from my previous post on comparisons between meters, I thought it important to point out that HOW you use your meter has a significant effect on the exposure you get on the film. There are basically two ways to meter a scene, but a few variations on how those measurements are actually taken and interpreted;

The two main ways of taking a light reading are Reflective and Incident. Reflected readings are measurements of how much light is falling ON THE SCENE and Incident readings are measurements of how much light is falling ON THE METER. Spot meters measure small areas, but are still reflective types and when you take a reading through the camera lens (TTL metering), you are also taking a reflected reading. The trouble is, your choice of subject, or the angle that you shoot from, will influence the brightness that the camera reads. For instance, If I point my camera at a bunch of trees from thirty feet away, I will probably get a reasonable reading from the camera. If I then walk up to the nearest tree and lie underneath it, pointing the camera up through the branches at the sky, I will get quite a different reading, even though the light levels are the same.

In another scenario; I have in front of me two garage doors. One of them is painted black, and the other is white. If I stand some distance away, my reflective reading will average out the lights and darks, giving me an exposure somewhere in between. If I then walk towards the garage doors and take a reading from each, I will have TWO OTHER readings, even though the light levels are still the same.

This kind of subject influenced reading happens on sunny beaches, snowy landscapes, stage photography, night photography, or whenever you photograph any object, scene or person with a predominance of dark tones, or light tones. Given the infinite range of everyday lighting situations and possibilities for error, it is amazing that most shots come out at all. The reason they do, is because film is so forgiving, especially if you are scanning from your negatives and working on the images in photo-editing software. When I say film, I am referring to black and white, or colour negative films. Colour transparency film is far less forgiving and needs more careful metering.

The other method of metering  I mentioned was the incident reading. With this, there is usually a white plastic cone which goes over the light cell and this then allows the meter to read the light falling on the meter, and this is not affected by the tone of the subject. Incident readings are a quick and very accurate way of establishing a reading and are correct in most situations. If used in a back lighting situation, they will favour the shadow tones and give you an exposure which will show the lit areas as overexposed, so use them intelligently.

There is one rule when taking incident readings, and that is that you must point the cone from the scene towards the camera, -not towards the light source. The reason the white thing is a cone, and not a flat disc, is so that in side lighting, one side will be lit and the other shaded, the meter can then average them out. If you point the meter at the light source, it will not take shaded areas into account and you will have an underexposed shot.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 16.57.05

If you have a meter with the facility for taking both types of reading, you can take two readings beginning with an incident, then decide if the reflective is giving you a proper mid tone. I usually take an incident and check that against a reflective reading off the grass, or tarmac on the road, both of these are very close to mid grey.

In certain weather conditions, fog for instance, or snow scenes on a grey day, the light remains constant for a number of hours and one meter reading will be sufficient for many shots. Take one incident reading and the light will be the same for every shot.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 16.51.51

Spot metering. The spot meter is an excellent invention, but needs careful thought when being used. Typically it will take a reflected reading from a small area, indicated by a circle in the viewfinder of the meter. Anything outside of this area will not be metered, though they do pick up a bit of stray light if you have areas of brightness nearby, or are pointing into the light.

Some people think that all you have to do is take one reading from the shadows, and another from the highlights and put your setting right in the middle. This can be done, but it will depend on how high your bright areas go. Are you reading off a white painted door, or the clouds nearest to the sun? A far more accurate way to do it is to read the exposure for the darkest tone that you would like detail in and underexpose from that reading by two stops.

The important thing to remember is that exposure determines shadow detail and development determines highlight detail.

Just let that sink in a bit; Exposure determines shadow detail and development determines highlight detail. There is no shadow detail that can’t be rendered on film if given enough exposure. Leave the shutter open long enough and the film will record light that your eyes cannot detect. Okay, we’ve got that, but what about contrast? Well, if you have exposed so that the shadow detail will produce some pale greys on the negative, but you have areas where a lot more light reached the film, say for instance, a gap in dark woodland with a sunlit area beyond, this area will have obviously received an excess of light. This will only become unprintable if you keep it in the developer long enough for it to go to black. You don’t want that, you want a dark grey that you can print through, so the answer is to cut back the developer so that this doesn’t happen. I’ll be covering this subject in my next post.

Metering through the camera lens (TTL). This is a quick and practical way to get your exposures pretty close to correct as long as you understand a few things; What you point the camera at for the picture, doesn’t have to be exactly the same thing you point it at to take a reading. For instance, if you were shooting tall buildings in the city from ground level, you would most likely be pointing the camera up and getting lots of sky. Point the camera at the building, excluding sky, take the reading and use that for the up shots. If you are shooting a band on stage, exclude the lighting rig from the frame when you take the reading, then set it and fire away.

For street shooting, a 35mm camera is ideal, but you won’t have time to take a reading as you compose the shot. Think about the tonality of the scene, take a reading from something typical, then set it and forget it.

Metering in low light.

Metering in situations where there is low, even light only requires a good incident reading, a reciprocity chart and a tripod. Metering in situations where there are areas of deep shadow, coupled with hotspots of intense light, such as a concert needs a different approach. Uprating is commonly used in these situations, but this creates negatives of higher contrast, requiring very careful metering. Whenever I see images online and the photographer is claiming that the film was rated at 12500 ASA / ISO or some such high number, my first thought is; Yes, but where did you meter from? If the shots are taken at a concert, or some dark restaurant or club, there will be areas of deep shadow and very bright spots of light. In that kind of situation, a 12500 ASA reading from dark clothing in the corner of the room will give pretty much the same exposure settings as a 400 ASA reading from a well lit face. TTL metering will give you a result, but if the shot is important, then a carefully taken incident reading would be better.

Outdoors in changeable weather conditions: If you have one of those days when the sun is in and out every two minutes messing up your readings, remember that the exposure will only drop by one to one and a half stops when a small cloud comes over. Proper storm clouds will take much more light away, but a typical British summer day with fleeting clouds is easy to meter; If you meter the grass for the sunny areas, the shadows from the clouds will be 1.5 – 2 stops darker than mid grey, but if you meter for the grass when the cloud comes over, the sunny patches will be 1.5 – 2 stops brighter than mid grey. Meter the scene according to the look you are after.

Go out and try these methods and let me know how you get on. If there are any other lighting situations you are having difficulty with, then please leave a comment or question.

 

Testing light meters.

I am normally rather laid back about posting on this blog. I don’t bust a gut trying to get two posts a week out there, I post things when I feel I have something worth saying (and the pictures to support it). Recently, I have been thinking about how metering, exposure, measuring chemicals, temperature and processing all have an effect on the final quality of your images. I wanted to address that by writing about those aspects and pointing out areas which need to be thought about. My first idea was to write about light meters and make a comparison between different types, and this research is shown below. But I realised that all of the other aspects were so important that I had to post the other topics either at the same time, or shortly after. I have decided to write all of the articles in one go, then publish them here in short succession, so here is the first;

Meters and metering.
How reliable is your meter or your metering method? I thought I had my technique all sorted and knew what I was doing, but recently I was using a Nikon F4 camera and the in camera meter was giving me readings which I wasn’t convinced were correct. I checked it against a light meter app on my phone and there was quite a difference. As I wasn’t too far from home I decided to go back and check against my trusty Lunasix F analogue meter. The surprise was that I now had three different readings!

I decided to do a proper test, using a number of cameras, meters and a couple of phone apps. The following results show that you shouldn’t just believe that your meter is always correct. Also, an accurate meter is only any use if you use it properly, so make sure you give that some thought too.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 23.56.54
The following cameras, meters were compared in various lighting conditions and under varying levels of daylight;
Gossen Lunasix F Analogue meter

Sekonic digital

Sekonic analogue

Pentax Spotmeter (analogue)

Pentax LX camera

Nikon F4 camera

Minolta Dynax 9 camera

To establish a base line of exposure, I used a digital meter: the Sekonic L-308S. I painted a large piece of card grey and positioned it in a variety of locations at different times of the day. I used white card for the higher values. I didn’t want tungsten lighting to throw in another variable, so these were all daylight readings. I will be writing a separate post on metering and shooting under tungsten light at a later date.
After spending a number of days compiling this data, I noticed that the readings did vary in places, though not as much as I had expected. My original problem of three different readings was down to two factors: Firstly, I was using a Nikon F4 with a non Ai fitting lens, which meant that I had to press the depth of field/stop down button to take a TTL reading. I have since discovered through these tests, that this is inaccurate most of the time. The second problem was that the battery in the Lunasix-F was nearly dead, so it wasn’t reading correctly.

So before these test readings were complete, I had solved my original problem, but I thought that I would post the information anyway because there are a few discrepancies. As I said, these readings were taken from a large grey board in less than scientific circumstances and readings taking under scenic conditions could vary more, depending on angle of view and colour sensitivity.

Out of interest, I also later compared two iPhone metering Apps: myLightMeter and Light Meter. Both are using the same hardware and probably the same, or similar software, but as this is not my area of expertise, I have no real evidence, and only refer to how useful they actually are, and how close the readings were compared to the Sekonic digital. Before I began this second phase of testing, I did a little research and discovered another App which was getting good reviews; FotometerPro. This proved to be the best of the three, but still had its limitations. I have not included the phone readings here, the phone apps will be covered in a later post.

So, to the testing,..

You might think that after a few decades of dedicated monochrome photography, I might have a workable, reliable metering system, and to a large extent this is true, but when working with a number of cameras, unexpected variations show themselves in wrongly exposed negatives, sometimes months later (by the time I get round to processing them), and it is not always possible to remember how the frame was metered. My trusted method is to take an incident reading, and apply that to the camera. I don’t usually rely on camera meters unless I am working really quickly. My second method of establishing a reading is to take a reflective, or spot reading from the shadows and underexpose by two stops. More on this in a later post, or read an earlier post on metering;  thewebdarkroom.co.uk/2011/04/21/using-light-meters-intelligently/

I had suspected that one or two of my cameras gave unreliable readings, but hadn’t put the time aside for proper testing until now. I already knew that the meter in my Pentax LX was exactly one stop out, so when shooting I always set the ASA to the number above. The readings in the table are with the ASA setting altered to give the reading I would normally get. The results are as follows. The x denotes correct, or matching exposure.
Table.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 23.53.45

So it would appear that some meters are good at the lower light levels and inaccurate as levels increase, and some others have this problem in reverse. There are blips in the readings and I can’t understand these, as I was very careful about measuring consistently and did them a number of times over.
A slight inaccuracy in a meter is not a huge problem if it is the only one you use. If you have tailored your reading method and processing to give the results you prefer, then why worry? The problem will come when you take a reading with another camera, another meter, or rely on someone else’s exposure.
I think the important message from these comparisons is that we should never assume that our equipment is properly calibrated. This kind of test or comparison should always be undertaken when buying a new meter, or camera. The variations I found are not too far from ‘correct’ for normal black and white work, apart from the Pentax, which I have already allowed for. But they could make a big difference if you were shooting transparency. I did discover though, that metering through old lenses on the Nikon F4 was not a good idea.

Another factor which needs to be mentioned is the accuracy of your shutter. If your meter is giving you readings which lead you into overexposure, and your shutter is firing slower than it should (a leaf shutter problem mainly), then the combined overexposure could be very significant, and if your processing is out, you could be making the situation even worse!

My next post will cover the topic of how your metering method might be more of a problem than the accuracy of your meter and how you can remedy that.

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

11 Comments

  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?
Thomas

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.

Regards,
John

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.
Thomas

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.

Reciprocity failure

Recently I have been doing a lot of pinhole photography, and due to that I have had to explain to a number of people (unfamiliar with the more technical parts of photography) what reciprocity failure is.

Reciprocity is the relationship between shutter speeds and apertures, which means that as you reduce exposure with a change in, lets say the shutter speed by one stop, then increase the exposure by one stop with the aperture, you will have exactly the same exposure. Each one-stop adjustment of the shutter speed, is equivalent to a one-stop adjustment of the aperture. This holds true throughout the normal use of the camera in most lighting situations.

This linked relationship begins to slip away with exposures longer than one second, and the longer the indicated exposure, the more of a difference there is between the indicated exposure and what is actually needed. Many years ago I included in my book on night photography, a chart for working out the amount of exposure correction you might need in situations where exposures were between 1 second and 17 minutes. I have been referring to this chart for my extended pinhole exposures, and I include a link to a word document here which shows the full chart:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/88621650/Reciprocity%20chart.doc

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.

5 Comments

  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.

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.