Tag Archives: Processing

Flexible film

First posted 19 October 2009

Different photographers have different expectations from a film. They may buy a particular brand because they have seen that someone they admire has used it, or because it is a new type. Some buy films looking for good latitude, others for speed, acutance or fine grain. Others may be expecting contrasty, gritty results.

Buying a film and exposing/developing at the manufacturers recommended settings will usually produce negatives that are a compromise between all of these expectations. Producing the results you really want depends on an understanding of what happens when film is treated differently.
One of the first ways that new photographers try to get different results is by uprating. They read somewhere that a 400 ISO film can be exposed at a higher speed such as 1600, and then stewed in the dev to bring up the image.
This does indeed work, but occasionally at the expense of quality (not always a concern for some). Uprating can produce quite acceptable results with dilute/static processing (see the section at the end of this article) and I have rated Ilford HP5 at 1600 ISO and got results almost as good as when rated at 400.

But if the developer is one which is vigourous, the grain can be exaggerated and contrast can increase to a point where printing becomes difficult and burning in highlights is impossible. This is not always a bad thing, if you look at the work of Bill Brandt you see what can be done creatively with a film which is mistreated in this way.
Going the opposite way, if a film is downrated a couple of stops and the development time is reduced, a finer grain and a longer tonal range is produced. This can look absolutely stunning with larger negatives, especially when photographing subjects with a lot of subtle highlights such as sunlit clouds, or snow scenes at night.
The importance of agitation.
When I did lots of different ratings and development times in the early years of my career, I also found that agitation could alter the look of a negative.
Normal agitation is usually taken to be three inversions of a tank every minute and increasing the number of inversions/agitations will increase contrast. BUT, taken to an extreme, with continuous agitation, contrast actually drops!
I think it is because the developer is not allowed to sit on the surface and work properly when constantly in motion, -but I’m not a scientist, I’m a photographer, so I may be wide of the mark there.
Whatever the reason, there is a marked drop in contrast with continuous agitation as I have just mentioned, and when coupled with downrating produces a negative which has amazing latitude for highlights or overexposure. This means that a reading can be taken from the shadows to ensure detail, and the highlights will never be blown out.
Here is a composite image of four frames of the same film, The film was Ilford HP5 and the developer was Ilford ID11 stock solution at 20C with continuous agitation for four minutes.

all four

These frames are; top left 100, top right 50, lower left 25 and lower right 12 ISO. As you can see, any of these frames could be printed. From this you can understand how the technique could produce a ‘flexible negative’ (to quote my late friend Barry Thornton), and therefore how well they could compress a high contrast scene.

Dilute/static development (also known as stand development, though there are many different methods of this).

Mix up a 1 – 3 solution of Ilford ID11. That is, one part of stock solution (normal strength) mixed with three parts of water.
Get the temperature to 20C
Pour into the tank and agitate ten times.
Start the clock.
Give three inversions every 30 seconds up to ten minutes.
When ten minutes have passed, put the tank down and do not move it at all for 50 minutes. Try to keep the temperature fairly constant.
When that time has elapsed, agitate the tank three times and repeat this agitation each minute.
After ten minutes pour the developer away and use a normal stop bath (Not too strong, weaker is better).
Fix as normal, wash and dry.

With this development method, Ilford HP5 can be rated at 1600 ISO and can produce very good results.

Here is a scan from a 10×8 print made on a Grade 2 paper from one such negative. On the print you can see detail in the dark corners and the sunlit highlights.

 Train carriage

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.

Thwarted by lack of raw chemical!

First posted 28 April 2009

This weekend I put aside a few hours to processing some of the remaining Scotland 10×8 negatives. I discarded the old two bath developer from February and as I poured it out it occurred to me that perhaps I should check to see if I had enough raw chemical to mix up some fresh.

Sure enough, when I got out the scales and the chemicals I was almost out of Sodium Sulphite!

I spent some considerable time racking my brains to think who I knew who still mixed their own dev.

The next day I had arranged to meet a young photographer who had recently moved into our town and as we sat talking cameras and film in a local cafe, he revealed that he was still shooting on Polaroid Type 55. This was an instant print material which also gave a High quality negative. after shooting and processing the neg is separated from the print and dipped in a clearing solution of.. Sodium Sulphite!

He very kindly offered to donate some, so later that day I managed to mix up and process the other negatives and the negs look great.

So thank you Johnathan.

Back from Scotland

First posted 20 April 2009

I’ve just returned from a two week break in the West of Scotland shooting mainly 10×8 landscapes. I shot almost every day and now have a lot of sheets of film which need processing separately. I intend to use the two bath process as this gives me the most even development where there are large areas of even tone, such as skies.

When I first began processing 10×8 film in IDII, I was occasionally getting blotchy, uneven marks in the sky. The two bath process though longer, is superb for smooth tones and I have not found a high contrast situation yet where it couldn’t cope. When I need punchier images I either print on a hard grade from a two bath neg or, – (I hope you are sitting down) I occasionally process in Multigrade paper developer!

I know that many people are going to be horrified by that statement, but with such large negs, the grain increase is not noticable and the quality is actually really good. I will show some Images illustrating the differences in a later post.

When processing for salt printing or other alternative processes, the paper developer method is ideal. You get a bit more contrast and the slight grain increase is of no consequence with these processes. The only time I definitely wouldn’t use paper developer is in high contrast situations, as it tends to be quite vigorous.

Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 15.08.59

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I also took a 35mm kit with a few lenses and a digital compact with me on my trip. The 35mm didn’t get much use, but I did quite a bit on the compact. I used it for comparison shots to use in forthcoming magazine and blog articles and also to take pictures of what I could see on the focusing screen, as a sort of polaroid.

10×8 snow negs contact printed.

First posted 12 Feb 2009

I contact printed my 10×8 negs onto some grade 3 Forte Fibre Based paper today (this paper is slightly less contrasty than a grade 3 on Ilford Multigrade). the main reason I chose it was that the exposure for the shadows can be determined by a simple test and the highlight detail can be controlled by development. This made it perfect for these large format negatives, because of the full shadow detail and long tonal range.

I was impressed with the technical quality of these negatives and the tonal range this developer gives. I really enjoyed making the contact prints and I’m very pleased with the shots themselves.

10×8 snow negatives processed

First posted 10 Feb 2009

I finished my printing this morning, so I put the 10×8 sheet film through the two bath developer. I process individual sheets in trays, so it takes quite a while, but the results were astounding!

The tonal compression that this method gives is just amazing.

I will do some prints as soon as I get a bit of time.

High contrast snow scenes

First posted 6 Feb 2009

I had an idea today to put Ortho film in one of the cameras, shoot some graphic contrasty snow scenes, over process the film and get a really high contrast result. This I hoped, would print as black and white with no mid tones.

I had a roll of 35mm Ortho film which I’d been saving for something and this seemed like a good cause. I went out with an old Nikkormat and a 20mm lens and ran the roll of 25 ISO film through. Later I loaded the tank and gave it one minute in fresh Ilford Multigrade developer at 1-9 dilution @20ºC.

The agitation was constant for the first 20 seconds, then I let it sit for 20 more. This was followed by ten seconds of agitation and ten seconds still.

You have to be quite fast at getting the developer out and the stop bath in, so I pour out into a print tray for speed (the developer can be used again).

Stop bath was as normal and then fix by inspection; This means that I start the timer as I pour in the fix, agitate fairly vigorously for one minute then inspect the film. I know it won’t be done yet, but I pop it back in, giving another thirty seconds of agitation then inspect again. I keep giving 30 sec / check – 30 sec / check again until the milkiness has cleared from the film (with some films it is as little as one and a half minutes, others up to 5 minutes). I then look at the clock to see how long this has taken. I give the film the same amount of time again with only occasional bursts of agitation. This ensures that the film has received the proper amount of time in the fix for that particular emulsion.

The Ortho film turned out just right, -that is to say, just right for images with normal tonality, not as contrasty as I had seen in my head, but a further 30 seconds of development with the next film will do the trick. I have one more roll of 35 mm and one roll of 120, so if the snow is still looking photogenic, I may go out tomorrow.

Ortho snow scene

I have quite a bit of writing to do this week for magazine articles I have promised and around 15 prints at 16×12 inches for Ilford. The prints are all from different negatives and each is on a different paper, so it isn’t straightforward.

They are to show the range of Kentmere papers at ‘Focus on Imaging’ at the N.E.C. in Birmingham (in the UK).

I am also booked to give a talk there to a number of photo educators from around the UK on the future of Analogue photography in education, so I need to take some time out to write a piece for that.

Snow shots on 10×8

First posted 4 Feb 2009

The picture possibilities today are not ideal, the snow has been messed up on the roads, but not cleared enough to get anywhere. I would like to take the 10×8 out and do some snow scenes, so I’ll stop writing and go and load some darkslides.


I did manage to get out with the 10×8, but it was hard going, the ground was slippy and I couldn’t find a strap for the tripod, so I was carrying a large tripod in one arm, the bag with the 10×8 in the other and a big bag over my shoulder containing darkslides, filters, meter etc.. You can’t get far with an awkward load like that without stopping for rests.

Anyway, enough whingeing, I did manage about 8 shots, which wasn’t too bad. I was a bit short of time because I had to be back to collect the kids from school.

I intend to process the sheets of HP5 in Barry Thornton’s two bath. This gives me a really long tonal range. I got to know Barry just six months before he died. He was a very good photographer and his two books are full of really useful information. The first one was called ‘Elements’ and the second was ‘Edge of darkness’.


Bath A. Metol 6.2 grams and Sodium Sulphite 85 grams in 1 litre of distilled or de-ionised water.

Bath B. Sodium Metaborate 12 grams in 1 Litre of distilled or de-ionised water.

Mix the Metol in about 700 ml of water at 38 degrees C and once dissolved, mix in the Sodium Sulphite and top up to 1 litre with cold water. Do the same with the Sodium Metaborate. Give films around 4 minutes in each bath. In the first bath, the film must be gently, but constantly agitated. In the second bath there is a little agitation to begin with, then leave standing. A slight agitation at 2 minutes is all that is needed to avoid streaking, then leave alone until the fourth minute. Stop and fix as usual.