Friday, 30 March 2018


When in doubt, a nice snap of some trees usually does the trick:

Mountsandel Wood on Warmone fibre paper, after bleach and re-development in hot lith.

Not that there's anything particularly nice about this shot, but there's a story behind it.  It's on Warmtone fibre paper and was a rescue job.  I know - I'm getting plenty of practice at rescuing poor prints these days, aren't I?  But anyway, the first print (developed in Multigrade) was a dull as dishwater so I went and mixed up some copper sulphate bleach, as per Tim Rudman's instructions in one of his books.  Then I dunked the print in it for a minute or two.  It's slow to start but soon gathers pace so you have to watch it carefully if you don't want everything bleached out.  Not that there's anything wrong with bleaching back to white paper if that's what you want...just sayin'.  Then a dunk it some hot lith developer and this was the result.  Lovely warm tones and while the 'lith' look isn't very strong that's as much to do with the subject matter as anything else.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

I think I got there...

You might recall that I was faffing about with a certain negative a week or so ago - the one of Rita Ray of The Darts, a group that came to Portrush a few years ago (1978, so not that long ago in the Grand Scheme of Things).  Well you might be glad to know that I did eventually get back in the darkroom to test my theory relating to the dullness of the print after drying (when compared to the wet print, that is).  I reckoned that about a half a stop less under the enlarger and - after exhaustive tests (well, I was exhausted by that stage anyway) - about a half-a-grade harder in contrast would give me what I was after...a print with a bit of sparkle to it.

I think I got there:

So these were the best of the crop, after drying and mounting.  On the left we have a 'vanilla' print.  On the right, one after a dunk in Pot Ferri for about a minute, re-fixing, re-washing and then a further dunk in hot Selenium (1+5) followed by another short wash.  Not sure which I prefer - the one on the left has a bit more depth to it, I think but the one on the right certainly has brighter highlights.  The forearm needs a little toning down (you can almost hear those fingers clicking as she belts out her notes) but other than that I'm pretty with things as they stand.  So...that's the end of Dear Rita for now, folks - you'll be glad to hear I bet! 

And Easter - and April - is nearly upon us!  How did that happen, eh?  Still cold as a cold place here in The Liberties, mind you, but the evenings are longer and there's generally a bit more light around the place, which is very welcome.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Not the 39 steps

Graffiti caught on a walk around the walls of Derry-Londonderry last year:

Ilford Warmtone paper, with a sepia tone
Posts are a bit thin on the ground this week as I’m away from the office. Visiting an old friend in sunny Glasgow. With luck I’ll have a snap or three to show on my return.

Friday, 16 March 2018

A testing time

Spoiler alert: today I'm writing about some testing I did with regard to dry-down so it's a bit of a boring post if you are just here for the snaps.  Anyway, following up from Monday's post of Rita Ray I spent most of Wednesday in and out of the darkroom comparing various prints for the effects of dry-down.  That is, the difference in how a print looks after it has dried compared to how it looks when it comes out of the wash - only applicable to fibre paper, as far as I know. For the record, the paper I'm using here is Ilford's Fibre Warmtone paper - the semi-matt finish.  Other fibre papers I've used from Ilford and Foma don't seem to have as much of a problem as the Warmtone, for some reason.

First off I printed my base print - standard print which looked nice and punchy in the wash, deep blacks and good highlights.  Next up I printed a second version, identical, and after a short wash I dried it in the microwave.  The original, still wet print is on the right, the dried version on the left:

Both prints base exposure, left is after drying, right is wet.

Big difference, eh? The dry version looks flat and horrible, with dull highlights.  I'd say the dry-down here is 'significant' :)

So off I went on the dry-down challenge, making a series of prints with successively smaller amounts of exposure.  I kept the contrast settings the same - grade 2.5.  The timer I use works in 1/10 of a stop so the series below (left->right) shows dried prints at base, -0.2f, -0.3f and -0.4f.  If you prefer seconds, base was 33.9s, then 29.1s, 26.9s and 24.9s:

Decreasing exposure from left to right (dry prints).  On the right hand side is a wet print showing what I would like the final (dry) print to look like.  I don't know why these have a blueish cast and the shot above has a brownish cast - must be my phone camera anomalies.

I felt by -0.4f I was getting closer to the target.  Although the black background wasn't looking so good, the highlights were coming good.  Reading around the forums some people suggest a reduction in 1/2 a stop, more or less where I got to.  Les McLean is a bit more conservative and reckons that an exposure reduction in the range 8-12% is more accurate (link here).

So, what's the point of all this?  Two-fold, I guess.  Firstly to give me an indication of what the reduction in exposure should be for the next negatives I print on this paper.  Secondly, I'd actually like a bright, crisp print of Ms Rita Ray here!  So where to next, then... I could run more tests varying the contrast and probably I should, but I took a bit of a detour at this stage and thought I'd see the effects of Pot Ferri and selenium toning - Pot Ferri to brighten the highlights a little more and selenium toning to deepen those blacks.

As much as for my own record as anything else, the Pot Ferri mix was 20ml of 10% PF with 640ml water, room temperature.  Selenium was diluted 1+5 at about 25 degrees.

Left to right: -0.4f, -0.5f exposure reduction (with Pot Ferri & Selenium, after drying).  Base print (wet) on the right.

  As expected the Pot Ferri wash had a significant effect on the highlights.  Just to see, I did a print at -0.5f (the middle of the prints above).  Perhaps I left it in the Pot Ferri too long but some detail has now been lost in the highlights, most noticeably in the singer's teeth.  The print on the left got left a little long in the selenium and so a subtle reddish tone has developed, but it's not significant or unpleasant.

However, in spite of the selenium bath the prints have still lost some contrast so the next step is to do another couple of tests at a higher contrast to see how things pan out.  That's the plan for tomorrow!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Feargal Sharkey (Undertones)

Another band shot for you today: Feargal Sharkey, lead singer of The Undertones back in the day, on 11"x14" Ilford Warmtone Fibre paper:

It's a miserable day here in The Liberties today - wet and dreary.  I donned the waterproofs this morning hoping to get to the beach with The Hound, but it really is horrible so I've chickened out.  The Hound will be 13 this year and he doesn't seem to mind the odd day when all he gets is a couple of walks down the road.  Only one thing for it...darkroom time.  That might just take my mind off my toothache - the second time I've had root canal work done in the last 3 months and I'm getting mightily fed up with the whole thing.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Rita Ray of The Darts

A project has been formulating in my tiny head recently and for once I decided to act and not just kick it about as an academic sort of exercise.  You might recall (some time ago now) that I posted shots of the various bands that came to The Liberties back in the late 1970s - bands like Ian Dury, Dr Feelgood, XTC, The Undertones and The Darts.  Anyway, the thinking is to create a series of prints from those negatives and see what they looks like as a coherent set.  If nothing else, it'll make a pleasant change from the random stuff that I usually do.

I decided to print a little larger than usual - I've a bunch of 11"x14" Ilford Warmtone fibre paper lying about that I got from a professional who was selling all his darkroom stuff a while back.  It's the matt, or semi-matt finish and at first use it seems a bit dull and lifeless compared to the warmtone gloss RC paper that I would be more familiar with.  Too big to scan, so I took one of the prints outside to catch some early morning light and captured it on me phone-thing:

Rita Ray, of The Darts, c1978
It may be that this is as good as it gets with this paper, but since I was under the impression that it had a bit more punch in the darkroom it might well have suffered from the dry-down effect that is common when using fibre paper.  My next move is to do a few test prints to see if things can be improved.  From what I read, the general idea is to reduce the amount of time under the enlarger (around 12% seems to be the magic figure bandied around) which should mean the lighter tones, once dry, keep some of their sparkle.  The blacks can be returned to their deepest black though a little selenium toning, if required.

Rest assured I shall keep y'all updated on my findings...

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Rescuer

I thought I would share some more before and after prints on the Pot Ferri story.  Here's an old one you might remember, of Roosevelt Street somewhere west of old Chicago Town, near where the brother lives:

It's not the best of negatives, to be honest.  It's very low in contrast and one that is ripe for some intensifying which might be next on my list of 'things to try'.  Anyway, I came across a test print I had made and was keeping for, well, not quite sure for what but I was glad I did 'cos I dunked it into the weak Pot Ferri solution and this is what happened:

Ignoring the stain at the top which was already present (and the fact that the crop is slightly different&wonky to boot), there is, as you can see, quite a change.  Yes it's over-cooked but that's OK 'cos I'm learning, see.

Just to note that both the above prints were on RC paper.  Next up we have one of Missy which you might have seen recently.  Here's the 'before':

And here's the 'after':

A bit more subtle change on this one but even so I'm slightly unsure about the result.  Yes the second print is brighter and the scan may look better when viewed on a computer monitor, but I think I prefer the original print.  It's a close call but the original has a little more warmth about it and perhaps a little more mystery (it was on Warmtone fibre paper, just for the record).  The after print has lost a little magic, I think.

The moral of the story? Use sparingly. Less probably is more.  Early days but I'm getting the impression that dunking a whole print in Pot Ferri is really only for rescuing the odd print that is almost beyond help.  From what I read it's more commonly used to dab on certain areas of the print that need a little encouragement - using a small brush or cotton tab.

Monday, 5 March 2018

A weak solution

So finally I got round to using some of those raw chemicals I purchased a while back.  The snow and ice were thick on the ground last week, which meant I was virtually housebound.  I had a few prints that I thought needed a little something to inject some life into them so after reading a couple of chapters of Tim Rudman's books on printing and toning I mixed up a solution of 10% Potassium Ferricyanide, or Pot Ferri as it is known in the trade.  The crystals are a lovely crimson colour, in case you were wondering and it's not as dangerous as the name might suggest (unless mixed with strong acid, I understand - like all chemicals caution is required). Anyway, I started by dabbing some very dilute solution onto a few prints and at first glance it appears to do exactly what it says on the tin - it lightens the highlights significantly.  So far so good.

Then I remembered I had this print lying about that I'd done months ago, on Foma fibre paper.  The print was horrible - just murk & dark. Anyway, nothing to lose here I thought so I dunked it (the whole print) into a bath of weak Pot Ferri solution to see what happened.  By weak I mean about 5ml of the 10% solution mixed with close to a litre of water.  It took a while (generally a good thing - easier to lift the print out before it runs away with you, although I understand redevelopment is possible if that happens and too much of the print is bleached out) but by the end I was impressed. 

Firstly, the print in its original form - not one you've seen on this place before, for obvious reasons:

No redeeming features whatsoever.  So, a dunk in the magic mix and here's what it looks like afterwards:

Now granted it's not going to win any awards, but that's not the issue. The point is, the print has got a whole lot more interesting that it was - it's got some light-ish bits where previously there were none and there's even a suggestion of a highlight or two. Given the original print that's a heck of a  transformation.  Mr Rudman tells us that virtually all his prints get the Pot Ferri treatment in one form or another.  It is sometimes referred to as liquid light. Interesting stuff.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Getting older

Herself.  Getting older, but still our baby:

This one on Ilford Warmtone fibre paper for a change and it came out rather nice to my completely unbiased eyes :)  Bear in mind this is a crappy 2-minute scan...

I've only just noticed the heart in the background - it's a decoration on a thingamy that my wife must have put out over Christmas.  Perfectly placed for this snap - totally by chance, of course.  And yes, this one's going on the wall - did you even have to ask?