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Split grade printing on fibre based paper

split grade printing fibre based paper

This is the last in a series of three posts exploring a single, high contrast image, with the goal of making a silver gelatin fibre based print. The first post was Overdeveloped negatives – printing from difficult negatives and the second Contact Proof Prints-standard exposure time.

Split grade printing

I prefer to use the method of split grade printing, especially when dealing with difficult negatives. It breaks the printing down into, what are for me at least, more controllable steps compared to using a fixed paper grade approach. Using variable contrast paper you have the option of using either approach that fits you best. And just because you are using variable contrast does not mean you cannot also employ other contrast control measures like masking, flashing and two bath development to fine tune your prints.

Pre-flashing the print highlights

For this print I chose to pre-flash the lower two thirds of the image with non image forming light. The aim of the pre-flash is to boost highlight details in the forest understorey, by heightening the sensitivity of the emulsion to the main print exposure and thereby encourage more highlight detail to become visible in the print. Such a small pre-flash exposure does not affect the darker print tones to the same extent as it does the highlights.

Soft grade exposure first, then add the hard grade

When I split print I start with a soft light exposure to determine the correct exposure for an important area of print highlight. To that base exposure I might dodge (subtract) certain areas of exposure from the print or burn in (add) exposure. I then work with the hard light exposure, again using a base exposure with dodging or burning as required. Les McLean has written a short but excellent introduction to split grade printing in his “Articles” section on his web site. You will find his web site link on my Resources and Supplies page.

The images above shows the notes I write on the back of a print in china pencil before exposure, outlining all the steps I plan to make during the print exposure under the enlarger. The numbers next to the steps refer to exposure times, in this instance I am using an f stop timer, so a burn of 2/3 equates to additional exposure of 2/3 of a stop. A 6/3 burn in the last step during the soft light exposure equates to a 2 stop increase in exposure compared to the main print. Likewise the hard light exposure has its own steps.

In the top image there is fine textural detail visible in the sunlit karri hazel to the left and in the middle of the print, which is not clearly visible on the monitor reproduction. Likewise some of the shadow detail is not as clear on the monitor. I could have scanned the negative then manipulated it in photoshop to approximate the silver print, but I wanted to avoid that and show the unmounted, untoned 11×14 inch silver gelatin print complete with slightly curled edges!  The print will be trimmed and dry mounted, so I don’t print with generous white borders which would be a waste.

Overall I am pleased with the progress made on this difficult negative, given that the contact proofs were so uninspiring. The additional exposure given at the base of the footbridge has worked well in the print. I will view the print for a while, as I feel there are other areas of the print that I may wish to fine tune before I am satisfied I have done my best with it.

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Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse Australia

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is perched at the very tip of a rocky peninsula that pokes out like a little finger off Cape Leeuwin near Augusta. It is the most south-westerly point of the Australian mainland and as such is the first landfall to obstruct the wind, rain and storms generated deep within the southern ocean.

Made with my digital Canon 5D2 in 2012, it was published later that year to replace an earlier lighthouse image of 1997-98. That image had been published in 1998 and was a popular postcard, with tens of thousands being sold. It had also appeared in several publications and a book. However, I felt it was time for a new image. The early photograph had been made on velvia 50 iso film using an Olympus OM4Ti and a 300mm lens. Made in the evening, so I could photograph the lighthouse with its light on, the exposure was over several minutes. By comparison, the more recent image made at sunrise took only a second.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse was one of the last in the world to be manually operated until 1982, using a clockwork mechanism and kerosene burner. Its height is 39 metres and elevation 56 metres above sea level.

Both cards have since sold out.

Cape Leeuwin  Lighthouse Augusta



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Contact Proof Prints | Standard Exposure Time

contact proof print 2015

In this post I will be looking at establishing a standard exposure time for making your contact prints. This is the second post in a series of three, you can find the first post Overdeveloped negatives – printing from difficult negatives here.

Making a contact proof print

Contact proof prints are simply made by placing the negative onto a piece of photographic paper, placing a clear piece of glass over the top to hold the negative firmly in contact, then exposing with white light.

That first contact print above, was made in 1987 using a normal contrast, grade 2, fibre based paper called Guilbrom. It has been printed way too dark, the negative’s edges indiscernible from the paper’s deep black edge. In my enthusiasm and inexperience, to achieve maximum black at the film’s edge,  I overexposed my 1987 contact print. The result is terrible. The shadows in the forest understorey show very little detail, as do the sunlit areas, resulting in a print of high contrast.

Minimum exposure for  maximum black

Overexposing contact prints can be a trap to using the “minimum exposure time to achieve maximum black” method. A good contact print exposure time is one where the thinnest part of the negative (ie unexposed clear edge) yields close to maximum black on the contact print using a minimum exposure time. You are really wanting to achieve what I term “near black”, rather than maximum black.

Traps to beware

Establishing a minimum exposure time to yield maximum black can be tricky, as it is operating on the curve of the photographic paper’s sensitivity. Small changes in exposure can give disproportionately larger changes to print density (black). So it is easy to over expose the print as I have done here in 1987, resulting in a high contrast proof print which does not show all the possible detail recorded on the negative.

But the contact proof also tells me that the sunlit area adjacent to the foot bridge is blocked and lacking detail, even with this overexposure. The highlights of the negatives are overdeveloped and with hindsight reduced development would have assisted in retaining more detail in these bright areas on a grade 2 paper. Overall, in 1987, I was disappointed with my contact print, they were way too contrasty, lacking important detail in the shadows and highlights.

Less exposure reveals more shadow detail

The second contact print made in 2015 has received twice the amount of light I would normally use as my standard exposure time in creating a contact sheet. That tells me that this negative made over 25 years ago is at least one whole stop denser than my regular negatives I expose today. This contact proof print has been made on the equivalent of a grade two normal contrast paper. Notice that you can just make out the film identification notches in the upper right corner, that the edge is close to, but just off, maximum black.

The shadow detail is much more visible than the first contact print from 1987. You can see within the shadows of the she-oak and karri hazel understorey including leaf detail. There is an overall feeling of enveloping light which I had desired, but the proof still clearly shows that the sunlit areas are too dense and that they require additional print exposure on a grade 2 equivalent paper.

This second contact print is still far from ideal. If I wanted to reveal more shadow and highlight detail on the contact print I could use a softer grade paper like grade 1 or grade 0. But the purpose of showing these two contacts on grade 2 is that, apart from demonstrating the problems with a high contrast scene, care must be exercised when establishing a standard printing time for making contacts.

Importance of establishing a standard exposure

Establishing a standard exposure or proper proofing time can give you valuable information about your film characteristics such as personal film speed, accuracy of your exposure, image contrast, normal development times, expansion and contraction development times and equipment function.

At workshops I am asked: why do I expose 400 iso film at 200 iso and not at the manufacturer’s recommendations? Or how long should I develop brand X film for in brand Y developer? Or how can I determine proper expansion or contraction development times? All the answers can all be found in establishing a standard contact proof print time, and this can be made visually without specialised equipment.

Resources to help and guide you

I won’t reinvent the wheel here, because there are some excellent books out there on how to do this.  John Blakemore’s book Black and White Photography Workshop is an excellent reference for establishing proper proof times. My resources page has Blakemore’s book details as well as other books and websites from authors who offer a great deal of information about proper proofing and darkroom techniques.

I make my contact proofs on fibre based paper because it is the paper used in making a final print. If you are confident of your developing and exposure that you are giving a film, it is sometimes more useful in assessing contact prints made on softer, grade one equivalent paper. This shows more shadow detail on the proof, but gives an overall flatter, foggy feel to the contact print proof images of course. This was a method John Sexton shared in a 1995 lecture that I attended, and something I employ today.

A contact proof need not look like the finished print.

Unlike contact printing whose end purpose is to create a finished print with perhaps dodging and burning, contact proof printing has a different objective. At the end of the day, a contact proof print is not about it looking like your final print, but to give you as much information about your negative as possible so that you can plan your final print.

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Overdeveloped negatives | printing from difficult negatives

Overdeveloped negatives | printing from difficult negatives

Overdeveloped negatives, we all have them hidden away somewhere. You know, one of those bullet proof negatives that we look at despairingly knowing it is going to be difficult to print. And this is one of mine, which I have been putting off printing for several decades. You only have to see it on the lightbox above, overdeveloped highlights that look almost solid black. Its only redeeming feature are reasonable shadow details.

In this series of three posts I will be revisiting an image made under difficult light, assessing its contact sheet proofs and using split grade printing to make a 11×14 fibre based print.

Shannon National Park – Wista 4×5 field camera – Karri forest 

Step back to the summer of 1986/87. I had received my new Wista 4×5 wooden field camera from Zone VI Studios in the US several months earlier and was itching to get out and make some photographs with it. Armed with one wide angle lens and 12 sheets of black and white film and a tripod, I headed south to the forests. For five or six days I camped within the Shannon National Park, in the heart of the karri forest, one of Australia’s tallest hardwoods. The Shannon once had a small town site and timber mill, which eventually closed around 1968. During the early 1980s the area was a flash point between the State Government’s Forestry Department and conservationists, who were campaigning for the end to old growth logging. Referred to as the Shannon River Basin, it was eventually gazetted as Shannon National Park in 1988.

High contrast photography – forest scenes 

Each summer day during my stay at Shannon brought clear blue skies and the forest was flooded with hard, bright light with corresponding deep, hard edged shadows. Great weather for tourists but a photographer’s nightmare. To make it worse I found my subject is most interesting when I photograph into the sun, transforming the backlit leaves into translucent pearls of light. The light was bright and it was hard and I wanted to retain some of that feeling in my photographs. The contrast of the forest scene was very high, and my preferred vision bordered on photographic failure.  To make a successful image I would be treading a very fine line. High contrast scenes sit on the edge of the dynamic range of film and papers. Errors in development time and exposure become readily apparent.

Tray processing 4×5 sheet film and film reticulation

When I returned home I eagerly processed the negatives in open trays in a friend’s darkroom, in Fremantle. As the summer heat wave cranked on, the water coming from the old building’s cold water pipes was at 30ºC, so I cooled the developer to 20ºC with an ice block water bath. But there was no extra ice for the other solutions or for film washing. So the film had at least a 10ºC temperature shock going from the developer to the other solutions. It wasn’t until the film was hung up to dry that I noticed a reticulation pattern in the emulsion throughout all twelve films. My initial reaction was that this may have ruined my work. At the time I had no 4×5 enlarger, so no way to assess the affect of the reticulation pattern on the final print.

Next post I will assess contact sheet proofs made in 1987, with a second contact print made a quarter of a century later. I will also be looking at the importance of establishing a proper proof time and its role in determining your film exposure and development times.

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Bush – naming and possession

Bush Canning River Regional Park

The dust jacket of the book Gone Bush, edited by Roger McDonald, describes the Australian landscape as diverse. The writers’ essays in response to this landscape “explores a country defined by ideas of naming and possession”. In the next sentence if further elaborates that the collection of short stories by twelve Australian authors  also “… illustrates the fragility of an environment sometimes easier to hate than love….”.

The bush is a commonly used name for that area of relatively nondescript land covered in shrubs and vegetation. You can find remnants within the suburbs or it can also be a remote place far from any settlement. Unlike its fancier sister, Nation Parks, with her well defined borders, the bush is invisible on maps. Nor is it considered to hold any particular attractive natural feature or other value.

It is this invisibility and its relationship to the idea of naming and possession and therefore our perception of it that intrigues me. When further coloured with a love-hate sentiment it possibly flies under the radar of public scrutiny and enters the murky jurisdiction of bureaucrats. The area of land affected must be enormous. In European culture, maybe our problem is that we don’t have a name for this land. Not only does the nameless remain unspeakable, by definition it can be of no value and so it remains invisible to our psyches.

dumping rubbish bush canning river


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Perth Photography Workshops 2016 Canning River

Perth Photography Workshops 2016

Perth Photography Workshops 2016: here is the list of weekend workshops dates I will be running for the coming year.

  • March 12/13th
  • May 21/22nd
  • August 27/28th
  • October 29/30th

The workshops are for those who wish to learn about film based photography, using black and white film, chemistry and paper. We use large format 4×5 cameras down to medium format 6×6 and 35mm. You will be photographing on day 1 and developing and printing your work on day 2, hence the weekend time slot.

These workshops will be held here in Perth metropolitan area at Kent St Weir, on the Canning River, with nearby facilities including a cafe.

Workshop participant numbers are kept to a maximum of two people. We supply camera equipment, film and all necessary darkroom equipment and materials for you to make your prints.

For Perth Photography Workshops 2016 booking details please go to my workshops page. The dog costs extra.


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Ferns Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film

Ferns Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film. Polaroid is quite a remarkable photographic medium. Quite apart from the instantaneous imaging it could provide, the prints themselves are quite unique in their characteristics. Polaroid introduced the Type 55 P/N  film back in 1961. It produces both a positive print as well as a black and white negative which could be enlarged.

This image was made in my parents’ home garden one summer. I had just  purchased a Polaroid 545 film back for my wooden field camera and I was eager to try out some 4×5 Polaroid  film. My only previous experience of 4×5 sheet Polaroid was as a student at Curtin University in the 80s doing a photography unit elective as part of my science degree. Watching 4×5 polaroid develop in just a few seconds was magical stuff, was also expensive and was why the tutor used it sparingly.

Alas, Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film is no longer made. It was rated around 50 ISO on the box which, in my eagerness,  is what I exposed the image above at. Great for a well exposed print, big mistake for a negative if you want to print from it. In Ansel Adam’s Polaroid Land Photography, 1978, it states that there is more than one stop difference between the effective negative and positive print speeds. Their tests gave an effective print speed of 64 ISO and a negative speed of 20 ISO (page 288). This speed difference would in some way explain my difficulty in matching the polaroid print (in this instance) with an enlargement on fibre based from the polaroid negative. Indeed the polaroid negative is visually thin and would indicate underexposure.

Today I was printing from the Polaroid negative for the first time, using the Polaroid print as a reference. Try as I may, I could not achieve the same degree of tonal separation between the fern edges and the dark shadows. Yet the Polaroid print itself captures it beautifully. I have not given up though, I might have another try in the darkroom after a bit of thinking about it.

The Impossible Project ( are still manufacturing instant films in some formats.

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Photo Canning River Kent St Weir Perth recent rain

Kent St Weir Canning River

Photo Canning River Kent St Weir Perth.  Printed this morning in my darkroom, I made this image last weekend just after some recent rain. It was rather impromptu in one sense. I had been out earlier walking the dog, minus my camera, and noticed that in the late afternoon the weather had abated and everything was becoming wonderfully still. When I returned home I grabbed by 2 1/4 square camera and went back to the river in the fading winter light.

This image is of the Kent Street Weir, using my Bronica SQA and 105mm lens. Exposure time was 8 seconds at about f16. Film was TMax 400 developed with LC29, with slightly less than normal development. Scan is from a 7.5 x7.5 inch Foma RC print.

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Looking Glass Magazine Issue 8 Aug Sept 2015

Looking Glass Magazine issue 8 Aug Sept 2015
Looking Glass Magazine Tales from the Lens Alex Bond
Alex Bond’s photo essay published in Looking Glass Magazine 2015

Looking Glass Magazine – Tales from the lens -Batteries Not Included.  I am delighted to have several images and a short essay published in this month’s Looking Glass Magazine. That two of those images were made literally down the street from where I live in suburban Perth is even more satisfying!

Looking Glass Magazine is published in the US by Laura Campbell and is available for a small subscription. It has featured works by international photographers Paul Caponigro, Alan Ross, Ansel Adams, to name a few. If you are serious about the possibilities of new ways of seeing, then you need to view the images of serious workers. You can get further details off the Looking Glass website or facebook  links.

Looking Glass Magazine 2016
Essay and pics, Looking Glass 2016

Magazine front cover of Seal by David Roberts. Issue #8, Aug/Sept, 2015: George Tice, Kimberly Anderson, David Roberts, Gary Nylander, Chris Faust, Alex Bond, Gordon Undy, Scott Stillman


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Skink Bluff Knoll Stirling Range Western Australia

Skink Bluff Knoll Stirling Range. Beautifully camouflaged against the orange lichen flecked rocks, a skink warms itself on the summit of Bluff Knoll. The morning had started off with relatively clear skies, with the rocks receiving plenty of sunshine right up until mid afternoon. With diminished direct sunlight from the approaching cloud cover this skink was making the most of the latent heat stored within the summit rocks.

Bluff Knoll is the highest peak located within the Stirling Range National Park, about 90km north of Albany and the Southern Ocean. Bluff Knoll, at just over 1000m above sea level occasionally gets a very light dusting of snow. The Stirling Range National Park is a botanical island of worldwide significance.

On the day I made Skink Bluff Knoll Stirling Range I had with me a 35mm film Olympus OM4Ti with 24mm Zuiko lens and Velvia 50 ISO transparency film. I published this popular image, first in my Stirling Range postcard series and then later as a poster in 1995. Like my cards, the poster was printed here in Perth at a time when I was trying to make use of recycled paper stock. It was an exciting time to be making such a large drum scan and film separations from the relatively new 35mm Velvia.

For most publications and publishers, colour slide or transparency film was the standard as it was easier to compare the original with the colour image off a printing press. Velvia, with its fine grain, high resolution, colour saturation and convenient E-6 processing turn around time made it a hugely popular alternative to Kodachrome, which had to be sent to Melbourne for processing. I didn’t think I had any posters left, but during a recent rearrangement of my studio I found just a handful of 70x48cm posters in a folio case all in excellent condition.