Friday, September 30, 2016

4K Burning Moggie

Morning folks . . well, in an unprecedented move here's another post . . .and in the words of a disgraced TV personality from the 1970's . . "whacka, whacka, whacka . . . . can you tell what it is yet?"

OK, so that's enough mystery for one day . . . the title of this blog is deliberately obscure just because. But anyway, the more Cryptic Clue-minded amongst you will have worked out, that seeing as this blog is mostly about photography,  and seeing as yer Sheephouse is mostly not quite all human, then the title "4K burning Moggie" can only relate to one thing . . oh yes . . PYROCAT-HD!

Pyro-wtf? Eh? Wot?

Yes, Pyrocat-HD, Sandy King's wonderful and really rather rooty tooty developer, that's what . . . so all I can say is fasten your safety belts, get your rubber trousers on (preferably before the safety belt) take a good swig of tea/coffee and prepare to be amazed!

Now the well-read amongst you will know that I have long extolled the virtues of Rodinal/R09 - I have loved this developer dearly for many years now and for sheer convenience and longevity, there's little can touch it . . but you know what it's like when you've broken your arm, and there's a wee crawly thing, crawling away under the cast and you're enraged and want to scratch it and you cant . . . well photography is like that. What if I had a better lens or better camera, or developer?
Well seeing as I've explored the former rather too thoroughly, I thought I would explore the latter. 

Over the years I've used, D76, ID11, Rodinal, Barry Thornton's 2-bath, HC110, Rodinal, R09, D23 and did I mention Rodinal? But I dunno, one day I woke up and thought, I must try that . . the that being Pyrocat. 
And then I started looking around and discovered that I could only buy industrial-sized quantities of Pyrocatechin from Silverprint and seeing as I was going to just be trying it, why did I have to spend around 50 squid on chemicals?
And I nearly gave up, but then a thought occurred to me and I did a wee bit of ebay searching and sure enough a kit came up - this link will take you to an ebay shop:

100% feedback helped me make my choice, so I ordered some - it was very reasonable (this was pre-Brexit, so it was really reasonable)! 
OK - chemicals off ebay . . hmm, yes, however, Vincenzo, the vendor, was incredibly helpful (and thus comes Sheephouse-recommended) with my requests about mixing instructions, and when his kit arrived, I was really surprised at how well put together it was
It looked like it was meant to be used professionally if you know what I mean; everything was pre-measured in sturdy plastic vials and the instructions were clear and concise . . . in other words, apart from the fact it wasn't in a box, it looked like something you could have bought from a 'proper' manufacturer. 
Seriously - I recommend having a go with his kits!
Allied to this, I also made the executive decision to mix Part A in Glycol, which apparently extends the life considerably. Now I could have ebay'd that too, however having bought some dodgy borax before, and given that Glycol is now used in production of e-cigarette vape, I took another executive decision and bought it and some distilled water from a place called Darrant Chemicals. They're a 'proper' chemical distributor to labs and schools and so on but don't mind dealing with normal bods too!

And so, it came to pass one Saturday morning I started mixing. 
The hardest thing about the whole process was getting the Glycol hot enough to dissolve the chemicals in. I had to use a double boiler (in my case a jug in a pan of boiling water) which resulted in me over-heating it! My thermometer was reading a constant temp and then all of a sudden it jumped sharply - so if you are doing this, take care, CONSTANTLY MONITOR YOUR TEMPERATURE and try not to rush (which is what I was doing).
Rushing this is definitely not recommended, just because it'll take you a while to do it properly, and if you rush and don't concentrate enough you run the risk of spoiling all those lovely chemicals.
The second hardest thing was mixing the Potassium Carbonate in. It took a lot of stirring. But don't let me put you off - it is an adventure. And a worthy one!
When it was mixed, I think my overheating of the Glycol and the mixing in of the chemicals for Part A had partially oxidised the solution it had the faintest pinky/purple hue to it, but I had made it, and I was determined to use it, so ahead I went.

The first films (expired sheets of 5x4) I developed in it seemed awfully under-developed (based upon times found on the net) and the usual dilution of 1+1+100, so I moved to 2+2+100 which was good but very very contrasty. 
This set me back a bit, but after some convos with Ian (lostlabours on FADU) we concluded I must have oxidised Bath 1 . . . I still didn't want to give up, so I thought about it and came to the conclusion (based on his times) that I needed a new approach.
A quick word here - most times you find on the net these days are for scanned negatives - they can afford to be thinner. We are printing . . we need meat and potatoes, so if you are getting a time off the net, make sure someone has actually printed some negatives from it and not just developed and scanned..

Anyway, my first move was to cut box speed to half, and the next was to extend the development time massively (I figured if it was hard to blow highlights with it, then the only thing I was going to do was lift the shadows . . . same with the new film speed). 
Anyway, what this meant is that my new times for Delta 400 (which I have been using recently) are EI 200 and with PHD at 1+1+100 and 20 C, I develop for 19 minutes. This consists of continuous gentle agitation for 30 seconds then 3 gentle inversions every minute up to 17 minutes, then let it stand to 19 or even 20 minutes. 
This is longer than the old days of dilute Perceptol!!!!

So where does all this tomfoolery get us? 
In a new space where film development takes a lot longer, but where you'll struggle to burn-out any over-exposed highlights and where, with a modicum of technique tickling you can produce negatives that are just about damn near perfect. 
 Now you read about the perfect negative a lot - certainly the Reverend Sir Barry Of Thornton did his best to produce such things and I know he did, but some of them proved that you needed to be a little pernickity with your technique. As good as BT 2-bath is, I found that for all it's ability to even out exposure times into one homogenous whole, it somehow lacked contrast, whereas I can honestly say with Pyrocat, you'll regain that contrast, but also you'll gain balance.
Yes care is still needed - it's like giving birth (not that I ever have to a human, but there's things men give birth to that put women to shame . . .  anyway . . . hope you've still got some savour left for that croissant.
And how have I come to this conclusion about PHD? 
Well, go on, have a gander at this.

This is a straight print. 
No dodging or burning, just a print made direct from the negative in a glass carrier printed onto some ancient Adox Vario Classic (now long gone) paper - I filtered to a Grade 3 because of its age. 
Chemicals were bog standard: Fotospeed developer, Kodak Stop and Ilford Fix, a very light toning for archival purposes in Kodak Selenium and that was that.
Admittedly I am using one of the finest MF lenses ever made - the 60mm Zeiss Distagon*** which can do pretty much anything required of it, from pin-sharp detail, to easy to use hyper-focal measuring (very handy in the semi-twilight of an abandoned building) to wonderful, creamy out of focus stuff, to micro-contrast, to gorgeous greys and a massive tendency to flare, but all the same . . . .

If you look closely at the print, the lens (and developer) have managed to do a sterling job of capturing a really hard lighting situation: the wall at the right was in bright light, the wall to the left was in shadow and overshadowed by dense vegetation, and the bit at the end of that wall was in a half-light. 
It would have proved soot and whitewash with many setups, but this is balanced
Not only that but the Zeiss has somehow managed to capture pin-sharp detail and contrast and blended it with some of the nicest out of focus stuff I have seen, but that has been captured with less contrast and somehow lends an overall 'older' feel to the image whilst still retaining the sharpness and contrast of a modern lens. 
When I saw this as a negative I was bowled over - it looked gorgeous, and the same happened with the print too. 
CHUFFED is not the word . . add a FECKING to the start . .
This was taken whilst on holiday in June and is a looong story that involved me walking countless miles to try and reach an old Norman Motte and being defeated every time, by fences and walls, bulls, rain, crops, more walls and some of the tallest, wettest bracken you have ever seen, so I gave up. And then before you could say bunga-ahomogenius-tomato I came across a sad (yet wonderful) semi-derelict cottage. 
At least, it could be even more beautiful were it not hard up against a road and if someone had taken it in hand a couple of decades back rather than let it slide into disrepair.

Here's some more pictures.

These exposures ran the gamut from 1/15th at f5.6 (the first print) to 145 seconds at f11 (the third, interior shot) . . BUT they're all on the same film. Now do you see what I mean about a near perfect developer.

Yes I know, they're hairy scans and there's a few rebate mistakes, but on the whole what do you think? 
They were easy as anything to print. No messing. No SP**-GR***. Nothing like that.

A Little Sheephousian Aside:
You know, I read some of my printing books and look at split-grade this and split-grade that and think, you know what? in 3 decades of printing (pretty much, minus the 15 year gap, but it does sound better than in a decade and a half's printing . . ) I've never seen any point in split-grade - it just seems like so much faff to achieve a print that really, could be done with a lot more basic techniques. yeah dodge and burn, selective bleaching and selenium or any toner you fancy. 
Seriously, printing is a craft skill that can be achieved by anyone with an eye for tone and quality.
The caveats I would add to this are try and make it fibre paper if you can, though to be fair the RC papers that are left are pretty decent, but there's something about a fibre print. Also, dare I say it, try and find graded paper - that narrows your options down massively, but if you don't feel confident, go MG paper. 
To be honest I have never used Ilford's ubiquitous MG in fibre. I used to use it a fair bit in RC and never really got on with it - maybe I am missing something. 
Ilford's Galerie on the other hand is probably top of the heap for paper quality these days - yes you have to re-mortgage to buy it, but honest, there's nothing like it anymore. 
At the end of the day I believe the cost to be worth it.
Another paper I do really like is Adox's take on Agfa MCC - it is pretty close, though not quite. The original Agfa papers were outstandingly beautiful AND kind to the printer, seemingly producing decent prints from even the most cack-handed of efforts.
How long have we got left as printers and printmakers? I really don't know. It all depends on the young and whether they feel they can justify spending nearly £90 on a box of 100 sheets of 8x10"!
How sad it has come down to this - in a world awash with imagery, does anyone care anymore about handling a physical print? Or are we at the narrow part of the pass - the vintage prints will carry on and be lauded, the work of the concerned and talented amateur, and I am talking to any of you out there who have cared enough about printing to actually make your own are destined for the skip of eternity. You know what it is like:
"I see your Uncle Ernie died . . I was sorry to hear that"
"Yeah, thanks. He was a funny old fucker really. Had all this old school photographic stuff and boxes and I mean boxes and boxes of pictures, big ones of all sorts of shit - trees and signs and strange things - it was so much to look through. In the end we didn't have the time 'cause we had to clean his house out and get it on the market before Winter. We chucked the whole lot in the skip. All that work of his. The only thing I saved was this picture he made - it's about 6x6" square and it's of a dog in a hat and the dog is looking right at the camera and I dunno . . it just makes me laugh. Ernie liked that sort of thing."

Back To The Point:

Anyway, where were we . . . ah yes Pyrocat-HD. 
Bloody marvellous stuff.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words . . so I'll stop now.
If anyone wants to know more, please leave a message at the bottom, or do some trawling - there's a lot of stuff written about it.
Suffice to say, I can see myself using this for a good while yet . . and next time I might even mix it with more care!

TTFN, and remember, around the ragged rock, the ragged rascal ran, until his trousers fell down

*** Why do I say this? Well, renowned Rollei fan, Helmut Newton. Now I like his photographs so I was rather surprised when I visited his museum, in Berlin that in a case with his other cameras, was a Hasselblad with a 60mm Distagon . . . food for thought!


  1. Another post so soon, Mr Sheephouse? You are spoiling us.

    Picture me, young and innocent but prematurely grizzled by your revelations concerning high definition hot pussy.

    An aside of my own, I like the way developer is called revelateur or such like in foreign lingo as spoken by those chaps from across the water. I think I also like the sound of it in German: "entwickler".

    I'm not quite understanding what's going on here. Is it the visual equivalent of audio compression? Restricting the highlights whilst boosting the shadows?

  2. Hi Julian -well it had to be done - I started writing this one back in July!
    Basically, Pyrocat HD doesn't burn out your highlights so, say in a very dark house, I was able to expose for the shadow detail on the wall, capture that on film and also the bright area from the window didn't just turn to a white burn-out with no detail which it sort of would have with most developers. . it is a partial staining developer - if you go to Sandy King's site, there's loads of info there.

  3. I'm still on the nursery slopes of my film developing learning curve so will leave the fancy, blindfolded, fire-juggling, high-wire, upside down, unicycle riding stuff to bold pioneering adventurers such as you. The concept of staining and the effect it can have on contrast does intrigue. As you said there is loads of info on Sandy King's site - three visits on and I'm struggling to assimilate it all.

    Re your Sheephousian aside:
    I don't think that the day of the entirely photographic print - that produced by using light and alchemy - is over. It's just that we as photographers / printers have to up our game.

    In my limited experience, a well produced print of a good image on RC gets a good reception. The same picture on fibre gets people positively rhapsodic. People will always want, for important images, something tangible, something they can hold. Even if they don't know why, they appreciate the quality. Fibre imparts gravitas.

    Disclaimer: My entire fibre based printing knowledge is from some very old Ilfobrom - it's not branded Galerie , it's that old. I also have a box of 5x7 Ilford MG Art paper which is new, heavily textured and not, in my view, entirely suitable for printing on at such a small size. Good job I only have a box of 50! Even so, it does give a certain something to whatever is printed on it - once you can work out which side has the emulsion! And being new, we don't struggle with fog, lack of contrast and we do get nicer denser blacks.

  4. Hi Julian - thanks as always for the input.

    The developing stuff - it's pretty easy, but just requires a bit more time and effort - if you want to try out some alternatives, Barry Thornton's old dilute Perceptol writings were what set me on trying different things. There's loads of info about it online, or of course in his two books - definitely worth looking into - you have compensation, very fine grain and a lack of highlight burn-out - all in all, given you can buy a box of the powder and it is simple to mix, a win win situation.
    Pyrocat does require some effort in mixing but so far seems to suit me fine - this being said the last film I developed was in July, so it might have gorn orff since then due to my poor mixing technique, but who knows!

    I was at a Scottish photographers meeting back in May - I took along some prints on old Agfa MCC - they looked bloody wonderful. Now the meeting was a little unusual, because along with the usual suspects who are all really nice people, there were a few folk from Glasgow who are trying to rebuild the Scottish Photographers name (a long story, involving a magazine and website . . the meetings I go to, were SP meetings till it sort of fell apart but we all got on and enjoyed it so continued). Anyway, the Glasgow folk - one of whom was a darkroom technician to Thomas Joshua Cooper, whilst they did seem to be impressed with the prints initially, when they asked me what developer I had used, probably expecting me to say Dr Beers or Amidol or one of these highly "arty" (don't mean that in a bad way) developers were utterly flumoxed when i said "bog standard Fotospeed" and lost interest after that . . . some you win, some you lose! The gravitas is definitely there in the prints, however I have produced fibre prints that weren't fit to wipe yer arse with . . so . . who knows!

    Glad to hear you are using fibre though - it can be quite something. If you fancy using older papers, go for a multigrade fibre and filter at Grade 4 or 5 . . it should work against the potential fogging. I've mixed Benzo with normal developer and it didn't work as I thought it would, in fact the prints that were printed a grade harder and developed with normal developer looked a whole lot cleaner.
    Oh and developer - you know what, I can really recomend Kodak's Polymax print developer - it is a liquid version of Dektol (Sir Ansel's favourite) and is very clean, long-lasting and economical, and it can rescue a poor print's blacks too - I've found that if you are developing a print and the blacks really don't look look like they're coming through enough, a squirt of neat developer into the tray can help things along . . not exactly archival darkroom practice, but it works!

    Emulsion side - easy peasy. Generally the back of the paper will provide more of a 'whisper' when you rub your thumb back and forth over it in the dark. There's other things too, like smoothness on the emulsion side, but the whisper has proved effective for me over the years, though it isn't always the case.

    I am not a fan of textured papers really - give me a nice old gloss finish, though this being said the old Kentmere stippled finish was actually not too bad.

    Coo, that was a lot of typing!

  5. Thomas Joshua Cooper - he's the chap who did those famous pictures of Nesscliff. That's just a couple of miles away from here as the crow, or indeed a member of any other of the numerous avian species, flies.

    Whilst not entirely approving of those who try to reproduce the work of those considered masters rather than seeing for themselves, I have had a go at a few shots there myself. I reckon the trees must have changed sufficiently to inject a little originality into whatever snaps I end up with. What I did get after developing and printing was a sense of how useful a tripod might be next time. Some with shake, some with a softness due to the wide open aperture.

  6. Julian - wasn't aware of those - they look atmosphery and VERY soft prints. Not sure if you have it, but can I recommend John Blakemore's Black and White Photography Workshop book - don't pay the rip-off prices on Amazon - I've seen it around quite reasonably. It really gets you into thinking about image and printing, and whilst pretty technical in places, I think it is one of the best printing books I've read.
    I wouldn't worry about not having a tripod - I think places like that can be shot with more immediacy sometimes, and it lends itself to the atmosphere. Just think to yourself that you don't really want to get below a shutter speed equivalent to your film speed and open up or stop down from there. I've done it and it works, 'course that was with the Leica and Summaron, but you can do it with a TLR too.

  7. Not a comment, but an off-topic question -- do you know what has happened to The Online Darkroom blog --

    Bruce was posting fairly frequently up until a few days ago, but now all I get at his site is a notice that the domain has expired.

  8. Hi Dave - no idea- not heard from him for a couple of weeks but have just emailed -hopefully an answer in the morning!



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