The seed of a blog post, lack of good contrast!
Recently I uploaded a video about Barry Thornton’s two-bath developer, a rather good developer that helps to make well balanced negatives quite simply. It generated some questions and one in particular seeded the idea for this blog post.
It was a rather good question (so many are!). Had I ever measured the zone densities of my negatives with the Thornton two-bath because they weren’t getting enough highlight punch? This was an intriguing question for me because, frankly, I don’t have a densitometer and never have had. I know some people do and do good work with them so why hadn’t I?
Firstly, why have I never used one?
The answer to that question is buried way back in my distant past. You see, when I learned photography and darkroom work you couldn’t buy a densitometer for love nor money, at least not the love or money people could afford (BTW they’re still crazy expensive!). So, back then, we had to do without and work with our photographs by eye. It was simple enough. If there wasn’t enough contrast in the print we used a higher grade paper. If we were consistently using a high grade of paper we weren’t developing our negatives long enough.
The silver rule is: more development, lower grade paper required, it was that easy.
There was a good rule of thumb that a 35mm negative should print (with a full range of tones) on grade 3 and a 120 negative should print on grade 2. I suspect a large format should print on grade 2 as well but have never been able to afford one to test that theory. Note: Open to donations!
So, long story short, if my highlights didn’t have the punch I wanted I used a higher grade of paper or developed the negatives longer. It also meant we had more than one development time for a film – unheard of these days. Take D23, an old favourite of mine, especially the replenished variety. Six minutes is good for a sunny, contrasty day. Eight and a half minutes for a duller flatter kinds of day. Somewhere in between for those average Scottish days or perhaps Roundhay Park during the rains of a Yorkshire summer. These multiple development times were normal. It’s simply what we did then without thinking, it’s what I do now. Densitometry changed all that! As soon as someone started measuring the zones of a step wedge it got less of an art and more of a technology proof of concept. No, not for me, it’s still an art to me, I use grades, my eyes, my gut, all three.
“Learn you developer well and write down those three developing times”
The final message …
So, what’s the final message in all this? It’s learn your developer well and write down those three developing times. Dull day time, medium day time, sunny day time. As a start use the 30% rule. For dull days increase your development time by 30% (which for the densitomatrist is about a grade in old school).
Finally, how do I do that with Barry Thornton’s two-bath, a developer that treats all negatives individually? Well you can by two methods. First you could use time again. I’d develop in bath A for 20%-30% longer before using B (no need to change B). This is because bath A is an actual developer and is developing the film throughout its few minutes. By increasing the time in A you push the values up in the negative before B finishes them off. The second way is to increase the alkalinity of bath B. Use 20g per litre of metaborate instead of the 12g/litre. I’ve tried this and it does work, increasing the contrast of the negatives by about 1/2 to 1 grade.
Ok, that’s enough of this old school nonsense. How do you adjust the contrast of your negatives?
Take care my friends,