Friday, May 10, 2013

Piste-off (Part 2)

Mornin' Turnips! 
Regular yawners will note that last week I took them on a long and documented photographic journey into some semi-wild country . . . with a very large camera . . . well, this week we are going to see the evidence.
It is hard opening up oneself like this and bearing all, after all, most photographers generally keep their contact prints to themselves, like a private collection of vacated snail shells (a hobby so unusual that any mere mention of it would have the thought-police around).
Well, rather than just saving the best and posting them in a ooo-aren't-I-clever sort of way, I thought I would just show you the mistakes that can be made, and the final triumph of a handful of prints you are happy with held high as you dash across the finishing line.
So here goes.
Film was Kodak TMX 100, which I exposed at EI 50 (so half the recommended speed). Why? Well, to be honest, although manufacturers recommended speeds are their recommended speeds, I would rather deal with a negative that had a bit of bite to it, in that it has been well-exposed, rather than a thin, sorry, battered whippet of a negative skulking in a corner.
Will I get 'blown' highlights? probably, but then again, with some basic darkroom dodging and burning, even a well-cooked negative can be salvaged. And actually, my eye, which is what I am using to view life, does get beset by flare. Bright sunny sky, gosh that is hard on the eyes. What I am trying to say, is that to me for a photograph to work, the skies don't  have to be a wonderful interlaced-lattice of mystical clouds. Yes clouds are important, but sometimes they are the be-all and end-all in a landscape photograph, and to be honest, unless you are capturing the majesty of them with an incredible grey scale and broad range of tones (a la Adams - and God is it ever so difficult), then why not try and let them burn-out, flare, whatever.
The photograph is a dimensional world between you and the real world.
It isn't life.
It is the world, narrowly caught by light and glass and chemistry onto a sensitized piece of plastic, so why not (at times) let it be obvious that it is a photograph and a print, rather than trying to be a soulful mirror.
Developer for this was that aged Rodinal I have been writing about recently. Dilution 1:25, temperature 20° Centigrade.
Each negative was tray developed individually - yes it takes bloody ages, but then I don't like the eel-effect, of trying to handle several sheets of film at once.
Stop was Kodak Max stop, Fixer was Agfa AgFix . . and that's about all you need to know!

Well, that's the evidence - sorry about the orange cast - I don't possess a lightbox and it was pre-dawn when I took this, so you have an orange blind behind the negative holder. Oh and as you can see, it is a PrintFile holder - they're nice and soft.
And the proof of the pudding:

Contact print.

Well, what have we here?
Yep, four big negatives.
The contact is on Ilford RC multigrade, a paper I am not fond of, and the contact was printed at Grade 2 and about a stop darker than it should be. Muddy isn't it. I have no idea why, every time I do a contact on MG it looks muddy, but it does. I also find I have to slightly overexpose MG for some reason, but them's the breaks, I have little choice . . .
The chronological sequence they were made in is:

Negative #1 - Top Right
Negative #2 - Bottom Right
Negative #3 - Top Left
Negative #2 - Bottom Left

Right, we've got that sorted!

A word about metering:
Now this is interesting for me.
I use the Zone system, in a strange way, but it works for me. To me it is the most accurate and wonderful way of envisaging print tones. I am not going to go on about it, however if you have a scout around, there's a TON of great articles online, or indeed, for the olde fashioned, in books.
My meter is a Gossen Lunasix 3S. It is fairly old (1980's), but was refurbed by Gossen a few years back and it is a great light-meter. It can take reflected or incident readings and with the addition of attachments can be used as a lab meter, or a spot-meter. I have the spot attachment and it is very useful, however, in recent times I have thought, why not (in trying to get a fairly natural representation of what I sort of see) use incident readings from the main subject matter of the photograph, place the LVs on the Zone you want and let the rest of the picture deal with itself from there. In other words, say you were photographing rocks as I was in Negative #3. Use an incident reading from the rock, place it on Zone VI (1 stop overexposed) and let it all roll out from there.
Most landscape photographs are made with spot-meters. Generally, this is because Ansel Adams and all the guys said they found it easier and more accurate, however accuracy is not necessarily my intention.
I half-close my eyes, look at a scene, imagine the Zone values in my head and take it from there.
I have spot-metered for more years than I care to think of, and I have made a lot of very poor imitations of The Masters.
I rather like the incident way, because you aren't necessarily going to render your shadow detail as a Zone III (although most people should read Bruce Barnbaum on this, or indeed watch his talk about it on YouTube) or Zone IV, it'll just fall how it falls, but the weird thing is, it is incredible how consistent Light Values are, and you can often get a good idea of where things will go.
Anyway, as you can see from the following snippet:

I incident-metered the lightest values on the gate's wood and placed them on a Zone VI and took it from there - the result is a fairly decent looking Zone VI (that is the darkest parts on the negative above) Some of those shadows (the lightest parts) have fallen away to a Zone II/Zone I and that is fine by me!
 I am using the film's latitude too - it is amazing how irreverent and abusive of exposure you can be, however, when in doubt develop  the film more rather than less - there is nothing in this world worse than an underexposed AND underdeveloped negative.

Right, just to refresh things again:

Contact print.
Chronology is:
#3 - Top left                        #1 - Top Right
 #4 = Bottom Left           #2 - Bottom Right

As I have said, the contact is about a stop darker than it should be, hence the Zones don't look correct . hey ho!

Warning . . here comes the techy bit!

Exposure and development details:

#1 - Lens: Schneider Angulon - 90mm f6.8
     - Reading: Incident. Wood of gate placed on Zone VI
     - Exposure: 4 seconds (extended to 6 seconds to deal with reciprocity) at f45, front tilt on camera.
     - Development: Rodinal 1+25. 6 minutes at 20° C. 
     - Agitation - constant first 30 seconds, then 15 seconds each minute.                                    

#2 - Lens: Schneider Angulon - 90mm f6.8
     - Reading: Incident. Wood of gate placed on Zone VI
     - Exposure: 2 seconds (extended to 2.5 [OK, say 3] seconds to deal with reciprocity) at f45, front tilt on camera
     - Development: Rodinal 1+25. 6 minutes at 20° C.
     - Agitation - I lost count of the time (easy to do) so, constant first 30 seconds, then 15 seconds each minute. To deal with my panic, I thought I had better stop agitating, so, I either stopped at 5 minutes and let the negative sit, unagitated in the developer until 7 minutes, or (more likely) stopped at 4 minutes and let the negative sit, unagitated until 6 minutes. Looking at densities, I think it could well be the latter.

#3 - Lens: Schneider Angulon - 90mm f6.8
     - Reading: Incident. Stone of Cairn placed on Zone VI
     - Exposure: ½ a second (extended to 1 second just because) at f45, front swing on camera. The wind was gusting to approximately 40/50 mph . . Ever heard a View Camera hum? The negative isn't that sharp, but neither is it that bad.
     - Development: Rodinal 1+25. 6 minutes at 20° C.
     - Agitation - constant first 30 seconds, then 15 seconds each minute, however at 4 minutes I gave 30 seconds agitation and then let the negative stand, unagitated to 6 minutes. This has worked well in terms of compensation, as the light was all over the shop.   

#4 - Lens: Kodak 203mm f7.7 Ektar.
     - Reading: Incident. The cotton of the curtain placed on Zone VI
     - Exposure: 1 second at f32, no movements
     - Development: Rodinal 1+25. 6 minutes at 20° C.
     - Agitation - constant first 30 seconds, then 15 seconds each minute.                                  
Agitation is a very strange thing, but thinking about it, it can be used creatively to help or hinder a photograph . . this could be the most snooze-tastic FB ever . . hmmm, must think about that one.
Well the proof of the pudding as they say - here's the results.
I didn't print negative #1, because it is the dullest photo I have ever seen, but here's the rest.

Caravan To Nowhere
Adox Vario Classic, Kodak Polymax Developer
Grade 1.

I initially printed this on a Grade 3, however it didn't work, so I did something I have never done before and printed on Grade 1, and you know what? Slightly overdeveloped negative/soft paper grade = Vintage Tone!
I was surprised. Oh and here's a sectional enlargement - the performance of the lens is superlative, same with the TMX 100/Rodinal combo. I struggled to find any grain printing a 10x8 print.

Sectional Enlargement of print - 800DPI

Ah yes, a tale of two prints - first is shite.

Cairn Of Barns
Adox Vario Classic, Kodak Polymax Developer
Grade 4

Rubbish - over exposed print. Grade 4 was useless too, so guess what . . grade 1 again:

Cairn Of Barns
Adox Vario Classic, Kodak Polymax Developer
Grade 1
Selective Bleaching

Now I will admit I had to do a fairly extensive bleach on this, firstly the whole print into a fairly weak solution, then refix, wash a bit, out and use a brush.
With bleaching, I'll paint some on and wash off with a shower hose, repeat and repeat until the desired effect is achieved and then fix, however if you want to get a blammo extra-bright bleach just add the print with the bleach still on it straight into a bath of fixer. It works.
I am chuffed with this actually. I left the vignetting from the lens at the left side, because it is a photograph.
And now for my final print.
This is printed down slightly, simply for the fact that I like it that way.
The gate wood is a nice Zone VI and as I mentioned before, everything else has fallen into a decent representation of how I saw the scene in the first place. Metering this way, has given me the Wynn Bullock look (not that I can photograph like him, but he's a hero and there's no harm in trying to emulate them in the furtherance of your own artistic endeavours).
I like this photograph. The little Angulon (widely disparaged as a cheap and fairly hopeless lens) has done a beautiful job.

Broken Gate, Coremachy
Adox Vario Classic, Kodak Polymax Developer
Grade 3.
Selective Bleaching.

I did, overprint a tad too much, so good ol' Pot-Ferry came to my rescue on the gate. As you can see from the sectional enlargement below, results are pretty fine!

Sectional Enlargement of print - 800DPI

And that is it folks - hope you've enjoyed this - if you want any more detail, drop me a line and I'll do my best to answer - no FB next week, the Highers are here and Alec Turnips needs the computer . . .
Take care, God bless and thanks for reading.


  1. When I saw last weeks digisnap of the view camera against the broken gate I wasn't expecting anything as good as the print you've shown here! I am truly surprised.

    When you say you took an incident reading and placed it on Zone VI, do you mean you overexposed by a stop over the metered value?

    Thanks for writing up the journey, Phil. It was an enjoyable read.


  2. Hi Omar -thank you - I really appreciate the comments!
    yes, basically in Zone terms, take a meter reading of anything, and that will equate to the average reading - in B&W terms that means a mid-grey, or Zone V.
    Zones below this are darker tones, hence the usual 'place shadows on Zone III', or 2 stops underexposed from that normal reading.
    Zone VI is one stop over-exposed and is an easy one to remember as it pretty much equates to Caucasian skin, stone and concrete. In this case I took it for the lovely weathered-silvering of the wood.
    There are plenty of articles on using the Zone system out there - it is a very fine way of seeing things and since I started using it, I have never looked back.

  3. Good stuff Phil. I love the caravan shot. The range of tones you're getting in these is great. I think Omar is maybe suggesting that an incident reading just meters the light falling on the whole subject rather than an individual part of it. You can take a reflected light reading of a specific part of a scene, open up a stop and place it on zone six but you can't do that taking an incident light reading (unless there's some weird spot light effect going on). If you do an incident reading and open up a stop you're placing the whole scene a zone higher than mid-grey with no reference to individual parts. I now you know this but just for anyone else reading.

  4. Thanks Bruce - yeah you've pretty much summed it up there. The meter is facing the camera, and the reading taken. I then base my Zone placement upon what I think the tones of that subject should equate to. Obviously subjects aren't flat, so actually, I forgot to mention that half-closing your eyes is a good way of understanding the tones that will be rendered. In this case, some bits will fall on Zone VII or higher, some on Zone V and lower. it does seem to work, and at the end of the day, you can always jimmy it around in the darkroom to achieve what you want. I suppose really I could achieve the same thing by taking a spot reading of a highlight and letting everything else run from there, however I have tried doing that for a long time and it hasn't worked as well as this method has for some reason.
    I used to (pre-spot days) move my meter around a scene in reflected mode and then base the lowest reading I got as a shadow placement. It was hit and miss.
    Writing this you have forced me to have a think in my Sunday-morning, beer-addled brain, and you know what . . here goes: meter the highlights, and place them on Zones including and higher than V.
    Does that make sense?