Tag Archives: Processing

View Camera Magazine

I was recently contacted by a writer / photographer in the USA asking if I would like to be included in an article in View Camera Magazine. The article is on photographers using unusual film types, such as duplicating film and X-Ray. I have been shooting on X-Ray film since 1988 and have written a number of articles on the subject, but was surprised and flattered to be asked.

The article is called Alternative Films, Extraordinary results. and is in the July/August 2013 issue.

It is also mentioned on the esc4p.org blog, -resources page

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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.

Snow scenes again

First posted 21 December 2009

It’s almost a year since I started this blog and one of the first articles I wrote was about shooting in the snow on Ortho film (See ‘High contrast snow scenes’, Feb ‘09). I also wrote another article on achieving higher contrast by altering the film ISO and increasing the development time (see ‘Flexible film’ October 2009).

After doing the tests on these films I had a result which I was eager to take further, unfortunately the snow went rather suddenly and I could do no more (The images used in the October article were shot at the same time as the ortho tests in Feb). Here in the UK we have had heavy snow again and I’ve been wanting to continue my tests.

I like the effect of having black shapes floating in a white space, the images are abstract, but recognisable. Here’s one from last time;

square field

I prefer overcast days with white skies for this kind of shot, there are no strong shadows to distract from the forms.

To get high contrast the trick is to over process the film so that the heavily exposed areas become black on the film. The exposure is determined by an incident reading to ensure that the large areas of white don’t influence the meter too much.

With the Delta 100 film I rated it at 800 ISO and developed for 24 minutes in Ilfotec DDX diluted one to four. The resulting negatives print well on a normal grade of paper, but will give more tonal separation if printed on a hard grade.

I’ll be going out tomorrow with the Delta 100 loaded, but this time I’m planning on shooting with a long lens so that I can pick out shapes in the distance and reduce the angular distortions that come with wider lenses. This hopefully will add to the abstraction.

We’ve not had great snow here for around twenty years, so this has been a great opportunity to add to my snow scenes. I’m going to continue with the high contrast shots on 35mm Delta 100, but I’ll also be taking other snow landscapes on medium format loaded with HP5 rated at 200 to give a beautiful long tonality.

This is a 35mm shot from 1983 (I think).

210 snowy gate

 

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.

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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.