Tag Archives: Portrait

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.22.41

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.23.04

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.23.22

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.23.48

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.24.04

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.24.23

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.25.00

3 Comments

  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.

Tom

A return to paper negative

First posted 23 January 2012

Firstly, let me apologise for the late update of my blog. I have had much to think about for the last few months and feel like a different person now. Circumstances have forced upon me a new perspective. Consequently, I have been unable to pursue my usual interests in life and work for a number of months.

For many years I have cycled through all kinds of photography and printing methods, trying to increase my skills and abilities in each incrementally. There is so much that one can do in photography and so many styles to follow. I have been fascinated by virtually every aspect of photography that I have seen, and tried my hand at most of them. All of this takes many years, and I have woken up to the fact that I cannot do everything that I want to.

I have found that time is not as abundant as it once was, so I have to let some things drop. I have decided to concentrate more on my paper negative work, my portraiture, my darkroom workshops and if I still have time I’ll do some more gum printing. If anyone comes to me for a workshop I will of course cover whatever subject or style I have knowledge of, but my personal work has to be narrowed down or it will not grow. The paper negative work is going to be my main focus though, so expect some coverage in the photographic press over the next year or so,…

Workshop enquiries; andrewsandersonphoto@googlemail.com

Screen Shot 10

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.45.49

5 Comments

  1. Posted 24/01/2012 at 3:05 pm

    Good to hear you’ll be doing more paper neg work. Love that side of your work. Would love to see how you might approach something along the lines of ParkeHarrison’s – The Architec’s Brother
    http://www.geh.org/parkeharrison/index.htm

    Take very good care
    Andrea

  2. Carl Radford
    Posted 24/01/2012 at 9:18 pm

    Nice to have you back Andrew.

  3. Gary Liggett
    Posted 24/01/2012 at 10:44 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes the array of photographic processes can make me feel like a ‘kid in a candy store’ in wanting to try them all. I soon discovered the dangers of spreading myself too thinly! You are a very talented artist, Andrew, and it’s good to see you back. Not only that, but setting a very high standard with these lovely and timeless photographs.

  4. Posted 09/03/2012 at 9:22 am

    Have been thinking about you lots and hoping your internet hiatus was more ennui with all the faff than an actual missing Sandy, and like everyone else I’m very glad to see you back.

    Have a little packet of Harman +ive paper but currently no darkroom. Would love to take you up on that offer you made last year, but take it easy, and please keep in touch.

  5. Posted 15/05/2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi Andrew, hope all’s well with y’all.
    Interesting that we think occasionally in similar ways, and to me it makes great sense that you should play to your strengths, putting your paper neg stuff first.
    Any how we need a chat.
    Rich

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.

Portraits

First posted 27 April 2010

Portraits have the potential to be amongst the strongest photographs we ever produce, but often the results are dull and lifeless. A look at the average family album will show a mixture of portraits taken indoors and out, but not many will be of any interest to anyone outside of the family.

It’s not just amateur photographers who produce unimaginative portraits, Many pro’s are guilty of it too. Just sitting someone in front of a commercial background and firing a studio flash at him or her will obviously produce a picture of a person, and strictly speaking will produce a portrait, but will it have the extra quality, which transforms a shot of a person into something powerful and magical?

david quirke

How is that extra quality added to the picture? Is it a matter of shooting on a better camera or a larger format? Is it a case of having expensive lighting?

I believe that it is very rarely these things. The picture must have a mood. How to put mood into a picture is not really something that can be explained in 300 words, but I can put forward my own approach and principles. Much of my portraiture is not commercial, I don’t have to flatter the subject, and I just use their features and my darkroom skills to produce something that hopefully will grab the viewer.

Sometimes that means I am free to exaggerate a particular feature for dramatic effect instead of having to suppress it for the sake of the sitter. (Think of the paintings of Francis Bacon)

Lighting can be employed to emphasize features and dramatic lighting is easy to achieve. Sometimes I use lighting in a dramatic way and sometimes I have to work with flat daylight. In such a situation, compositions and the arrangement of shapes can vastly improve a shot. I recently watched a documentary on the war photographer James Natchwey and he is a photographer who most definitely understands the importance of shapes in composition.

bob

Another element, which I perhaps ought to mention, is that often the technique or the materials will dictate the direction of the finished image.

When I work with a camera I always work out what are the particular qualities and quirks of the lens/camera/film/process before shooting so that I may use that to my advantage. If a lens works more creatively wide open rather than stopped down then I won’t shoot in really bright light. If the film emulsion is blue sensitive I need to know how that will work with red hair and freckles.

I can plan ahead to a certain extent, but always I like to leave a little room for the unexpected, for fate to take hand. This way I get images which surprise and delight me, though not all the time I should add. Being non-commercial allows me to have images which don’t work occasionally.

Perhaps another important element in my approach is that I often only take a few frames of a person, (making sure that I have thought it through before shooting) rather than taking a number of rolls and editing down later. Even when shooting 120 roll film I find it hard to expose a whole roll on one person.

nicola with ashtray

2 Comments

  1. Posted 29/04/2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    The third portrait is just magical. It has a Pictorialist quality – it could have sat in the recent show of images by Margaret Watkins and wouldn’t have been out of place. Does it grab the viewer – this one is very much grabbed!

  2. Posted 30/04/2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Nice article. I find portraits one of the most interesting subjects. Getting a ‘mood’ is oh so difficult.