B&W FILM PROCESSING 05

PART 5 OF 5

The Test Roll

Everything we have done up to now is to set the stage for the evaluation of the film, developer and time combination.

The first thing to do is go into the darkroom and make a test wedge of a part of the roll so that we can produce an accurate depiction of what’s happening on the film.

Test wedge

Take a short strip of the test roll approximately 5 to 6 frames and using grade 2 of your paper choice begin to make a stepped exposure wedge.

Firstly, stop down the lens on the enlarger so that you can end up with an exposure time of approximately 35 seconds. The steps in the wedge should be 5 seconds apart. That way we end up with a step wedge showing an exposure from 5 seconds to 35 seconds in 5 second steps. My reason for suggesting 35 seconds in total is because it gives you a sufficient amount of time for dodging and burning in the future.

How to evaluate the exposure wedge

The first thing you are looking for in the step is which step creates ‘maximum black with minimum exposure’. Redo this step until you have approximately a 35 second exposure for maximum black. This is done by stopping down the enlarging lens and or raising the enlarger head. Note that you should be looking at the rebate (sprocket hole area of the film NOT where the image is) and that you should be doing it in 5 second steps.

Its important to remember that when you have decided where that is and what the exposure is you should always repeat the exposure in 5 second bursts as photo paper has a reciprocity failure and 7x 5 second bursts is different to one 35 second exposure burst.

This is called ‘Minimum exposure for maximum black including film base plus fog’.

After doing the above the next step is to create a contact sheet of your test roll using this 7 x 5second bursts totaling 35 seconds. Mark the spot on the height of the enlarger and take notes of enlarger lens and f stop as you will use this from now on. This is done for consistency and repeatable contact sheets from now on.

Firstly, don’t worry if the images on the sheet look too light or conversely too dark as we need to know exactly what the film/development/time combination produces.

What we can learn from the contact sheet

  • Did the camera under/over expose?
  • Do we have a desired amount of shadow detail?
  • Are the highlights blocked up or conversely so underdeveloped that they just look grey?
  • Shortcomings in our processing technique.

Shortcomings in our processing technique

You can get a variety of the following; we all have from time to time. All of the following can be cured when we review and modify our film handling during processing.

  • Pump streaks; caused by excessive agitation which shoots the developer through the sprocket holes and creates areas of higher density
  • Bromide drag; this looks like mottled, dirty uneven highlights. Its caused by insufficient agitation. Sometimes associated with stand development and it is also more noticeable on sheet film development.
  • Air bells; these look like dark round spots. They are caused by not tapping the tank at the end of the agitation cycle on your bench. As I have previously said the tapping of the tank after agitation is to release the bubbles from the emulsion so that they rise to the top of the developer.
  • Crimping the film when loading it into the reel. This results in high-density areas.
  • The film sticks in small areas to itself during loading into a reel. This shows as areas of undeveloped film
  • Static marks; these look like star bursts on the film and usually happen during winter months when the air is too dry. This happens in camera and is associated with our handling of the film when it’s loaded into the camera.

So what does our contact sheet look like?

This evaluation step is critical and you should take notes of what you see.

  • If the images look too dark overall and remember you exposed the film at half the manufactures recommended ISO. You need to reduce the ISO and redo (shoot another roll of film and develop it). You have to do this until you get a contact sheet that looks good to you. It’s worth noting that any density below zone 5 (all the shadow density) is created by exposure and not so much influenced by development.
  • If the images have good shadow detail but the highlights are grey and muddy you will need to increase the development time. Then re-shoot a new test roll and review the results. If the development time starts to become excessive then you should change the developer dilution so instead of D-76 at 1:2 change it to 1:1.

Note: This is the most important!

You should only change one thing at a time and then re-shoot another test roll. So that you can either, rule out and continue the way you exposed/developed the first test roll and change another parameter to further refine your processing.

This will be the last posting of the development cycle. I will revisit the pages as this blog progresses and update with new information. The new information will be highlighted to make it easier to locate and read.

My next post will be about what I’m thinking about and listing upcoming book reviews from my own shelf. I will only review books I have purchased in the last 6 months and are on my shelf.

I would encourage anyone who has questions regarding the development of B&W films to leave comments and I’ll get back to you.

All future posts will be titled ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’.

Have a good one and see you soon.

Tom

Part 01

B&W FILM PROCESSING 04

PART 4 OF 5

Exposing and developing the first roll of film

Exposing film can be done many ways, with the meter in camera, a hand held meter (spot or average, reflective or direct from the subject). I hate to carry anything unnecessary when I’m out and about so whenever I’m shooting 35 mm I use the in-camera meter.

I use a very old Pentax Spotmatic meter, when I’m exposing sheet film as I can use the zone system to great effect. I purchased it through the Fred Picker Zone VI studios many years ago. We could use the zone system, which is really good once you can get a handle on it.

For those that want to learn the zone system I would recommend “The New Zone System Manual” by Minor White, Richard Zakia and Peter Lorenze.

The New Zone System Manual.

However, as we are talking about 35mm film and the need to expose multiple frames in a way that is useful over a potentially huge range of subjects, I suggest a short cut which I first learned some 50 years ago at the studio of Fred Picker in Newfane Vermont.

For those unfamiliar with Fred Picker you can read about him here and here.

So the short cut.

Fred said and I have come to agree with him that the ISO that film manufactures assign to their individual films is wildly inaccurate in practice due to all the variables that are introduced by the user. The manufacture assigns an ISO based on the film being exposed directly to light with nothing between the light source and the film. Thus ignoring all the variables a camera can introduce, such as lazy shutter and poor glass etc.

So, what is the first step, and its very easy just half the manufactures ISO recommendation. Therefore, TRI-X 400 should first be tested at ISO 200. This recommendation goes for any film that you decided to use. Then you take a meter reading of the palm of your hand and open up 1 stop.

All of this sounds like overkill for the film but in practice it isn’t and its not a slow way of working either once you become familiar with it, it becomes quite a fluid way of working.

So go out and shoot that test roll!

The test roll

TRI-X 400 with the ISO set to 200.

The Development cycle

  • 1 minute, Water pre soak (68 degrees) tap water is fine for this as long as it’s at the same temperature as the following chemicals.
  • 8 minutes Developer D-76 at 1:2 dilution (68 degrees)
  • 1 minute, Stop bath (68 degrees) Constant agitation
  • 4 minutes, Fixer (68 degrees)
  • 10 minutes, First water wash (68 degrees)
  • 1 minute, Hypo clear agent for (68 degrees)
  • 30 minute, Final wash (68 degrees)
  • Photo-flow, just dip the film into a diluted solution of photo-flow and then remove and hang. Don’t use a squeegee on the film as this can create scratches which will give you black lines on the film. Tip: when making a print with scratches on the negative, nose grease can remove most of them. Take some grease from the outside of your nose with your finger and rub it on the film side, not the emulsion side.

We now have our first test film exposed and developed.
The next step is evaluating our results so that we can make intelligent guesses as to what we need to adjust to get the combination exposure/development we desire.

See you next time

Part 03

Part 05

B&W FILM PROCESSING 03

King Street, Toronto. TRI-X, by Tom Rice-Smyth

PART 3 OF 5

So lets begin, I will be using the following:

  • 35 mm film TRI-X 400
  • Stainless steel reels and tanks
  • D-76 at a dilution of 1:2 (1 part concentrate, 2 parts water)

Stepping through the process:

  • Water pre soak (68 degrees) tap water is fine for this as long as it’s at the same temperature as the following chemicals.
  • Developer D-76 at 1:2 dilution (68 degrees)
  • Stop bath (68 degrees)
  • Fixer (68 degrees)
  • First water wash for 10 min. (68 degrees)
  • Hypo clear agent for 1 min. (68 degrees)
  • Final wash for 30 min. (68 degrees)
  • Photo-flow

Agitation

When you use steel reels and tanks you have to use a Taurus motion, which is a combination of inversion while twisting the tank. Then at the end of the agitation you have to put it down on your table with a bit of a thud. This is to stop the bubbles created during agitation to float to the top and don’t stick to the emulsion of the film. If they stick to the film during a development cycle they will create air bells that produce overdeveloped circles on the film and they show up as a reduced density creating black spots in your print.

Water pre soak ( 1 min with continuous agitation)

This step helps reduce the number and severity of developer marks. These marks range from bromide drag to uneven development. This also helps to bring the film to the correct temperature (68 degrees) and swells the emulsion so that the developer can infuse into the emulsion without creating uneven development.

Development (start with continuous agitation for 1 minute)

Once the developer has been poured into the light tight tank the first agitation cycle should begin. I have found that the first 1-minute of continuous agitation is preferable and thereafter 10 seconds in every 30 seconds until the development time is reached. Remember to put the tank down with a thud at the end of each agitation cycle. This will release the air bubbles from the emulsion side of the film.

Stop bath (I minute)

This stage should have continuous agitation to stop the development cycle and should last at least 1-minute.

Fixer

This should last for 4-minutes with continuous agitation for the first minute and 10 seconds in every 30 seconds

First water wash (10 minutes)

This is done for 10 minutes so that the chemicals can be flush from the surface of the film.

Hypo Clear agent (1-2 minutes)

I recommend this stage as it reduces water usage, and chemical fog on the film, which can introduce blocked shadow details. It also is an efficient way to archival wash film.

Final wash (30 minutes)

Photo flow (2 or 3 min with gentle agitation)

Film Development times

This is a tricky one as we are using D-76 at a dilution that is higher than Kodak recommends. Each developer/ film combination will be different based on the manufactures recommended times. So we have to sort of guess a bit. Kodak indicates 6 ¾ minutes at full strength for TRI-X 400 and as we are diluting it 1:2 I would recommend starting at 8 minutes and then adjust as necessary from there.

The next installment will be about exposing the film based on everything we have seen to now.

“You learn things through taking photographs; photography is your teacher. The main thing is to keep on taking photographs for ever and ever.”

Nobuyoshi Araki

Part 02

Part 04

B&W FILM PROCESSING 02

PART 2 OF 5

Film stock choice.

There are not as many film choices as there used to be, but the main ones haven’t changed for years. I will just discuss the 3 main choices as I see it. If you decide to choose one of the many new start-up film types you should go through the same processes, for the sake of this article I will discuss only my choices.

Your choice of film should be based on your personal preference and not based on what others say that they are for.

Kodak TRI-X 400

Kodak’s Tri-X is the film the great photographers love. Anton Corbijn, Don McCullin and Sebastião Salgado tell Bryan Appleyard why.

Ilford HP5

This was and still is Kodak’s main competitor in the field. Although: I have not found it to be as effective as the Kodak TRI-X 400 in all areas.

Ilford FP4

This is a medium speed film, which can produce very fine grain and good highlights. However, it has more contrast than either TRI-X or HP5 and will need more careful processing, exposure and you will also need to have better shooting habits to maintain sharpness. I personally only used it with a tripod or when the lens was wide open and only in 120 format.

Chemistry (Developer)

For the purpose of this article I would recommend starting with a standard developer such as Kodak D-76 for roll film; Kodak HC-110 for sheet film.

Stock solutions change characteristics much faster than developer concentrates diluted just before use. I know Kodak used to recommend D-76 straight with TRI-X but I always got very good results with it diluted 1:2 (1 part concentrate and 2 parts water).

There are many specialised developers that have different characteristics. One such developer is Rodinal which is a high acutance developer. I would recommend not using them until you are comfortable with the results from the standard developer. My experience with Rodinal is that it can enhance the appearance of grain and sharpness of the final image. It can also be used as a compensating developer (a developer that exhausts itself very quickly in high activity areas of film such as highlights and yet keeps developing in the shadow areas where there is less activity, resulting in greater density and contrast in the shadow areas.) depending on dilution, giving a longer tonal scale. You will have to go through the same process as with D-76 and then make your own mind up.

Part 01

Part 03

B&W FILM PROCESSING 01

John Steinberg. 4×5 TRI-X, by Tom Rice-Smyth

PART 1 OF 5

We all have to start somewhere.

I know, I know, everyone wants to skip the boring basics and get on with making prints like:

But everyone starts at the same place and gets to where they are through consistent good practice. Oh and a lot of practice. I still remember waking up one morning some 40 years ago and saying to my wife at the time, with absolute excitement ‘I know what zone 4 toast looks like!!’ It didn’t go down well at 7:00 am.

To start I would recommend everyone begin using 35mm. The equipment is inexpensive and everything you learn from it is applicable to every other format. Thus making your transition to larger format (if you decide to) less daunting and “sort of” trouble free. I say sort of half joking as there is always hurdles to overcome that are unique to larger formats.

What you will need:

Equipment for processing film

  • Reels to roll the film (my preference is for stainless steel not plastic)
  • Tanks to develop the reels of film
  • Film washer
  • Enough clips, one for each end of the film and a safe place to hang them
  • Either a completely dark room or a light bag to roll the film into the reels and put them into the tanks
  • Suitable thermometer

Chemistry

  • Developer (Kodak D-76)
  • Stop bath
  • Fixer
  • Hypo clear agent
  • Kodak Photo-flo (wetting agent)

Consistent

I have used this word a few times now and it’s probably the most important methodology in film processing. You have to be consistent every single time with everything. Otherwise you will chase your tail in a circle of frustration. I should know I chased my tail for years trying to figure out what went wrong!

Why stainless steel reels and tanks

  • Yes, I know, they are harder to get the hang of than plastic but and this is very important they can be cleaned of chemistry so much easier than plastic and they come up to temperature much faster and more consistently.
  • They can also be washed, dried and re-used much quicker than plastic reels and tanks
  • Due to their conductivity they are more consistent when it comes to temperature control

I realise this is rather short and you probably already know this stuff, but I want to start from the very beginning. I think if you can afford it you should start over with stainless steel for the reasons I have outlined above.

So check back again in a couple of days and I will publish the next installment.

All the best

Part 02

Isla Plana, Spain. Fuji X-100

Isla Plana, Spain. Fuji X-100, Tom Rice-Smyth

Hello

So this is going to be my new blog in which I will post photos, essays, tips, and insights about B&W and colour photography. I will also review books as I add them to my library. These reviews will not be formal reviews as I’m not a writer but will be based on my response to the book and what it has to offer.

I want to dispel a lot of myths and bad practices about B&W film processing and printing. My first article will be a 5 part ‘How to’ for all B&W film shooters. It will go into choice of film, developers and what to use and how to develop you film for a classical look (full-scale image). You will then be so familiar with the process that you will be able to manipulate the entire process to get the look you want.

There will be articles about getting started, how to calibrate film and best practices as I see it, along with descriptions of the kind of random marks on film from processing. I will get into film choices ‘where and why’, chemistry choices. You may see it differently so please chime in with your comments. I would like to build up a community of film and digital lovers as I see both co-existing, with both having plus and minuses.

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think and what suggestions you think I could incorporate!

So I will start with an overview of film processing and how you should start this journey.

All the best and I look forward to our future journey together.

I’ll leave today with a quote from Luigi Ghirri, an artist who’s work I admire greatly.

“When I travel, I take two kinds of photographs: the typical ones that everyone takes, and which, in the end, I’m hardly interested in; and the others, the ones I really care about, and the only ones that I really consider ‘my own’. In this second category of photographs, the subjects are every day objects, things found in our ordinary field of vision – images that we are used to looking at passively. Isolated from the reality which surrounds them and presented in a photograph as part of a different discourse, these images become laden with new meaning.”

“When I travel, I take two kinds of photographs: the typical ones that everyone takes, and which, in the end, I’m hardly interested in; and the others, the ones I really care about, and the only ones that I really consider ‘my own’. In this second category of photographs, the subjects are every day objects, things found in our ordinary field of vision – images that we are used to looking at passively. Isolated from the reality which surrounds them and presented in a photograph as part of a different discourse, these images become laden with new meaning.”

L. Ghirri (2016) The Complete Essays 1973-1991

Mack: London Cardboard Landscapes: 1973, Luigi Ghirri.