Tag Archives: Printing

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

The contrast is caused by allowing the dense parts of the negative to develop too long. This extra density prevents light getting through, either when printing, or scanning, leaving those areas to be totally white and without detail as a positive image. By careful control of temperature, volume and time, you can stop development at the correct point, giving you a negative with a long tonal scale that will print or scan properly.

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). Put a Grade 00 filter in, and do a test strip in the densest part of the image. 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), expose a strip of paper for this indicated time Next, put a Grade 5 filter in 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. Make this second test in a shadow area of the image.

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 full 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
Instagram;  http://instagram.com/andrewsandersonphotography
Twitter;  https://twitter.com/PHOTOSANDERSON

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.

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!

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.12.49

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;
http://www.vivianmaier.com/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqajTVkjnjQ

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.

2 Comments

  1. Alex

Posted 24/03/2014 at 4:45 pm

Andrew,
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.

Making use of old paper

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 18.07.15

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.48.42

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.51.18

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.51.39

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 22.04.00

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

7 Comments

  1. Thomas

Posted 14/03/2014 at 9:44 am

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

2. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 14/03/2014 at 1:02 pm

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

3. Andrew

Posted 14/03/2014 at 5:32 pm

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

Andrew

4. Cahit

Posted 04/05/2014 at 6:35 pm

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

5. Mark Peeters

Posted 03/11/2014 at 1:22 am

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

Thanks

6. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:17 pm

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

7.Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:24 pm

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

Back to gum printing

I’ve been promising myself for a while that I would get back to doing some gum printing. For one reason or another it hasn’t happened, though I have written articles on the subject on a number of occasions, -but for those I have used existing prints, done quite a bit ago.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.31.48

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.32.49

In October, I was in conversation with a friend; Maxwell Doig, who is a very good painter. I was at his house and he had an old gum print of mine framed on the wall in his studio. It was so old I had totally forgotten doing it, but it was nice to see it from the viewpoint of a newcomer. We got into conversation about the process and Max encouraged me to do more with it. I had intended to get right onto it, but only got as far as pre shrinking the paper until yesterday when I made gum prints all day. It was a real treat to get back into it again and having so much uninterrupted time meant that I could fully concentrate on it. Gum printing is quite a slow, labour intensive process, but it is very rewarding. It requires the image to be printed more than once to give depth to the tones, and the images shown here have all had four separate coatings and exposures.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 21.33.05

The greatest difficulty in the process is devising some way of getting your negative back in registration with the image for the second, third, or fourth exposure. Even though I had pre shrunk the paper by soaking it in alternate hot and cold trays of water, it still altered size enough to ruin a number of prints.

If you fancy having a go at it, there are many videos on Youtube, but they don’t give you much information about the finer points. I will put a PDF copy of a recent article in Dropbox here, for those who wish to read more on it.

 

6 Comments

  1. Oscar Carlsson

Posted 07/01/2014 at 7:37 pm

I really like that last image, it is very tender and carefully treated.

  1. wayne

Posted 11/01/2014 at 4:23 pm

The gumprint of the dog and girl is stunning

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 05/03/2014 at 1:43 pm

The technique fits to the image of the trees shown very good. I like it very much.
I am interested in alternative processes but only have experience in lith-printing.
Often my own images are too sharp, too much like a photo, but I do not know how to alter this.
I have seen some cyanotypes and like those too.
The reason I do not comment often is, because english is not my mother tongue.
I am usually only reading, but this time I pushed the comment button
Regards,
Thomas

  1. Chris

Posted 13/03/2014 at 3:39 pm

Love these pictures. Will have to give it a go once my darkroom is built. Thanks for posting these.

  1. Vanessa Marsh

Posted 20/03/2014 at 10:08 pm |

I am a photographer working in Oakland, CA and just came across your blog and website in my research on paper negatives. Thank you for providing this wonderful resource!

  1. Bob

Posted 28/06/2014 at 6:08 pm

A good rag paper hardly moves but even the cheapest watercolour paper can be tamed by saturating the BACK of the paper with water using a brush. The important thing happening here is that the size WON’T WASH OUT, and with a good well sized rag paper and the useful amount of preshrinking you should have very little problem with reregistering.

Print exposure using a metronome

First posted 11 July 2012

I recently gave a printing masterclass at Warwick College here in the UK. I do these quite regularly on behalf of Ilford / Harman technology and one of the things that I talked about, gave me the idea for this blog post. I was explaining how I prefer my students not to set their darkroom timers to exposures of less than five seconds when making a test strip. I insist on this because I have seen too many situations where a student’s test does not match their print.

When an enlarger is switched on it doesn’t give full illumination immediately, there is a build up of brightness -which although short in duration, can be a problem. Similarly, at the end of the exposure there is a tailing off of illumination from maximum to nil. When longer exposures are given these slight differences are not important, but if a student was to do a test strip in one second exposures and then decide that ten seconds was the correct exposure, a ten second burst of light would be quite different from ten times one second exposures. For this reason, as I already stated, I don’t like to see my students setting darkroom timers for less than five seconds.

Another method to overcome this problem and the method I prefer for my own printing, is to switch the enlarger on for a few seconds to warm up (with a piece of black card under the lens to block the light path), then uncover the lens to begin the exposure, timing the exposure with a metronome. This way, the light intensity is constant even for very short exposures. With cold cathode enlargers I leave them switched on all through the printing session, as they take longer to reach full, and consisitent brightness.

Using a metronome allows for an even, consistent light source, no matter how long, or short, the exposure is. The important thing to remember is to move the card exactly on the second. This is obviously most important when short exposures are being used, such as when burning in. For this situation, -say when a number of different exposures are needed within the one image, I don’t have to stop and re set the timer between each exposure. I just cover the lens, then uncover when I’m ready and count the appropriate time.

I have used a hand held digital metronome for a long time, but recently it gave up the ghost and refused to work. I had been promising myself for years that I would buy an old mechanical one, as I much prefer the old ticking sound to a digital beep. Instead, I asked my brother to record an old metronome and I now have the sound on my phone. I can use it in any darkroom, I have it to hand at all times and I can hear it through an earphone if I’m working in a busy teaching situation.

For those of you interested in trying this method, I have a 35 minute recording available for download;   https://dl.dropbox.com/u/88621650/tiktok.mp3

3 Comments

  1. Posted 12/07/2012 at 6:13 am

    Andrew ,
    Just wanted to say thank you for your continuous sharing of your expertise with the rest of us.
    I stumbled on your blog by chance about a year ago and since then have pretty much read it from cover to cover. What you do, your teaching and your art is very much needed this day and age.
    Looking forward for more articles from you.
    Thank you.

  2. Posted 12/07/2012 at 8:33 am

    Brilliant post. I have used a metronone for a few years now. Since I came to your day of teaching I moved up here and the damp sea air [the sea is only a few hundred yards away] played havoc with my electronic timers so I got a metronome and no more probs!

  3. Posted 16/10/2012 at 4:02 pm

    I’ve had an old fashioned mechanical metronome in my darkroom for years! I never reaslised anyone else would be timing their exposures by the same method!

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

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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