Thursday, 19 January 2017

What to do about it

So the other day I was reflecting on how I've been having a good old look at the state of play in my negative folders, observing the general poor state of things there and how a distinct softness abounds. Not the case for every neg, of course, but too many. As a result, I find myself printing at grades 4 and 5 in order to put some sparkle into into my prints.  I should perhaps say that I'm not a big fan of super-contrasty prints, but you need a bit of punch to them otherwise they're just lifeless and dull.

I've been wondering why I haven't rumbled this earlier.  I can't blame it completely, but I suspect it's my workflow that's partly to blame.  Usually the first thing I do once the film is dry is cut and scan it.  I pull the tif files into an old version of Photoshop and usually do a 'Auto Contrast' on them, before saving as jpeg. Then I decide which warrant messing about with in the darkroom and which don't.  I suspect this workflow has been masking the general rubbishness of my work - basically, the software is too good at pulling something decent from what essentially is a poor negative.

So, what to do about it?  I suppose the default is nothing, but that's not going to solve anything, right? No, the first step, I think, is to actually spend more time actually looking at the the quality of the negatives themselves - and not the subject matter.  I'm also thinking it might be good to forego the scanning process completely, and revert back to printing contact sheets, as was the norm a few years ago.  I like the sound of that.

Another 8x10 Kentmere print of The Dwight D Eisenhower Expressway, cutting through Oak Park in West Chicago.  Taken from one of the bridges that you aren't allowed to loiter on (so the notice said).  I'm guessing the wire mesh is there for a couple of reasons...

The solution is probably something simple, y'know - like letting a bit more light in through the glass.   Lots of peeps out there in Internet-land suggest rating the film at half the box speed (so around 80 for FP4+, 200 for HP5+), meter as normal and then cut back slightly on developing times.  That sounds like a decent enough plan, but in essence the trick is to find a system that works - reliably - for yourself.  Let's see what happens.


  1. Hey, hey! Now we're going places :)
    The coffee is ready over here, Michael, so just bring the facts and words to the table and I should be ready to take it all in.
    Reducing the speed of the film would be a nice enough trick to get more light onto the film itself, and that would essentially be the same thing I've been trying to do the last couple of months as well. Deliberately over exposing the manual way is what I've actually done, but it's the same thing more or less. Using these manual cameras it's more a case of feel than anything else, but I think the quality has improved a tad anyway. Hard to say, as I've been snapping away on unknown film lately. I will, of course, keep on to check if I might get a bit more punch and oomph out of the old HP5, FP4 and the PAN400 batch I have in stock.
    I'm waiting for more to come some day soon :))
    Take care, mate!

    1. Well Roy I appreciate your enthusiasm (and optimism) mate, but I'm not sure I'm going anywhere with all of this analysis stuff. Used to be, not so long ago, I could figure things out. Just spent an afternoon printing contact sheets and trying to see what pearls of wisdom I can glean from it all...let's just say so far they are a bit thin on the ground. You can read all about it when I get my head around it - what I mean is, if I get my head around it :)

      But yeh, a bit of over-exposure is the key, I think - for these lovely B&W films that we like using, at least. Maybe that's all that one needs to say about the thing...but I'm sure I'll find some more words soon ;)

  2. A bunch of years ago, when I lived in Terre Haute, a fellow driving on I-70 was killed when someone threw a large rock off an overpass and it struck the driver's windshield.

    *This* is why overpasses are blocked with chain-link fencing.

    1. Yes I reckon that was the primary reason, Jim. We had a spate of that sort of thing over here too a few years ago. Just kids being stupid, but with pretty disastrous consequences if you happened to be driving under at the time. Fortunately that particular problem seems to have been resolved, at least for now.