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Modified Stand Development Ilford FP4 with Foma R09 and LC29

Modified Stand Development Ilford FP4

In my recent experiments with modified stand development I was surprised to find that I could not only reduce contrast in the highlights but actually improved middle and lower values separation with almost half a stop film speed increase. The following results are from stand developing FP4 4x5 sheet film with Foma R09 and Ilford LC29 developers.

Why use Modified Stand Development?

For those of you new to Modified Stand Development, it essentially involves minimal film developer agitation compared to more common film development agitation techniques.

The image above is an example where the use of a modified stand development in a high contrast situation helps to retain important tonal values. Here I used FP4 4x5  film which I stand developed in highly dilute Foma R09 developer. The camera was pointing directly into the sun just behind the paperbarks. A hand printed silver gelatin print was made on Fomabrom 16x20 inch fibre based paper.

For the past few months I have been trying out FP4 film in 4x5 format. In a previous post I discussed how to establish your personal film speed index and normal development time using a few step wedge tests. These tests do not require expensive densitometers. All exposures in these tests where made with Ilford FP4 rated at 64 ISO.

In this post I am exploring a modified stand development technique. High contrast situations abound in photography and one of the chief benefits of stand development is to lower contrast without loss in film speed.

Treading where others have gone before

It was whilst attending a John Sexton lecture in 1995 that I first heard about Sexton's use of minimal agitation and dilute developer in handling extreme contrast. He was photographing the space shuttle and Hoover Dam for his book Places of Power. Sexton outlined in detail his use of dilute HC110 developer. Not only did he achieve lower contrast but he found improved separation of middle to low print values.

More recently my interest was piqued by a reference to modified stand development in Bruce Barnbaum's "The Art of Photography" and Ray McSavaney's works.

You may ask why bother with a modified stand development? In high contrast situations you can shorten film development to suppress the development of dense parts of the negative, and therefore reduce overall film contrast. But shorter than normal development times, sometimes referred to as N-1 or N-2 development come at the cost of film speed. 

Shadow areas of the image receive less development when using a short development time.  The result is loss of shadow details and effective film speed and this has been well documented in Ansel Adams' photography series "The Negative". You can see this loss in my N-2 step wedge test below in Modified Stand Development comparison of low values.

Step wedges for comparison

To chart my results in a measurable way I reverted back my use of step wedges as previously described in my post on conducting film speed tests. Making a series of step wedge photos photographed in identical lighting  I exposed the films one after the other and put them aside for developing later under differing developing conditions. In this article I describe 4 different conditions for comparison.

1. Normal development 10 min with LC29 continuous agitation

My normal development for Ilford FP4 and LC29 is 10 minutes @ 20ºC with continuous development in a Jobo processor. I dilute 15mls of  LC29 concentrate with 585mls water. After development I follow with the standard stop bath and fixing procedures.

Continuous film agitation Jobo processor
Continuous film agitation Jobo processor

2. Stand development 30 min with LC29 developer

My first stand development tests with Ilford FP4 4x5 was with my regular developer of choice Ilford LC-29. Initially, my first development test was as short as 10 minutes, but after several tries I eventually settled upon the following: 30 minutes using 15 ml of LC29 added to 1400mls of water

  • Pre-soak the film for 3 minutes
  • First 20 secs pour developer into tank
  • Complete first minute agitating with one tank inversion every second
  • Stand  Jobo film tank in a 20ºC water bath
  • 2mins give 5 tank inversions in 5 seconds and return to stand in water bath
  • 10mins give 5 tank inversions in 5 seconds and return to stand in water bath
  • 20mins give 5 tank inversions in 5 seconds and return to stand in water bath
  • 30 minutes discard the dilute developer and proceed with normal stop bath and fixing
Water bath stand film development
Water bath for stand development

3. Stand development 30 min with R09 developer

  • 30 minutes using 6 ml of R09 added to 1400mls of water

All other steps the same as in test 2.

4. N-2 development 6 min with LC29 continuous agitation

N-2 development for Ilford FP4 and LC29 is 6 minutes @ 20ºC with continuous development in a Jobo processor. I dilute 15mls of  LC29 concentrate with 585mls water. After development I follow with the standard stop bath and fix steps.

About Step Wedges

These are contact printed step wedges made on grade 2 normal fibre based paper showing print values.

This 21 step wedge measures Zone 10 at step 1 and Zone 0 at step 21.

Each step represents a one half stop difference. Step 11 represent Zone 5, Step 7 represent Zone 7 and Step 5 represents Zone 8.

Modified Stand Development comparison of the high values

The top step wedge for FP4 10 mins LC29 continuous agitation shows normal development for the highlights. Texture would be held in Step 7/ Zone 7 but by Step 5/Zone 8 fades to just off paper white - indicated by red arrow. This is normal contrast as printed on normal - grade 2 - photographic paper.

The second wedge down is FP4 30 mins Stand development in LC29. It show good equivalent middle value at Step 11 compared to the top wedge. Its high print values at Step 5/Zone 8 show slightly more tone than normal, indication slightly less highlight development. The degree of contraction is about N-0.5

The third wedge is 30 mins Stand development in Foma R09. Notice the extended greys from Step 11/Zone 5 right through to Step 1/Zone 10. There is no pure white showing. Development of the negative receiving the greatest amount of exposure has been slowed right down. On this test it looks like the degree of contraction is N-4 or greater.

The bottom wedge is N-2 development 6 min LC29 continuous agitation. Step 1/Zone 10 has greater whiteness and hence negative density than the R09 wedge immediately above. However it grey scales extend much further from Step 11/Zone 5 to Step 1/Zone 10 than in the two wedges above it. Contraction appears close to N-2.

Modified Stand Development High Values Results

Modified Stand Development comparison of the low values

Now lets examine the low print values.

Step 11 represents Zone 5, Step 15 represent Zone 3 and Step 21 represents Zone 0.

The top step wedge for FP4 10 mins LC29 continuous agitation shows normal separation for the low print values.  Shadow texture would be held in Step 15/ Zone 3.  But by Step 18/Zone 1.5 - indicated by red arrow, it almost becomes indistinguishable from paper black. This is normal contrast as printed on normal - grade 2 - photographic paper.

The second wedge down is FP4 30 mins Stand development in LC29. It shows improved separation of values in especially around Step 17/Zone 2 and Step 18/Zone 1.5 when compared with the wedge above. On the paper proof expansion look equivalent to about one half stop, that is one whole step in the step wedge.

The third wedge is 30 mins Stand development in Foma R09. Again there are improved separation of values in especially around Step 17/Zone 2 and Step 18/Zone 1.5 when compared with the normal wedge above. Again, there is about half a stop in film speed gain. Step 11/ Zone 5 looks a little darker than Step 11 in the normal wedge.

The bottom wedge is N-3 development 6 min LC29 continuous agitation. Step 17/Zone 2 is darker than its equivalent Step 17/Zone 2 in the normal wedge. This would suggest a film speed drop of one half stop, consistent with the findings of other photographers.

Modified Stand Development Low Values Results


Modified Stand Development of Ilford FP4 4x5 film not only can reduce film contrast but can increase film speed with improved separation of low to middle tones. This was achieved with both Foma R09 and Ilford LC-29 developers when using 30 minute developing times. At 30 minutes development Foma R09 demonstrates a greater "compensating" effect than Ilford LC-29. The R09 at 30 minutes achieved a contraction in high values of at least 4 stops. In general longer development of film with subsequently less agitation assists in the production of improved separation of the middle to lower values. The technique allows for both normal film contrast and lower film contrasts to be achieved. Modified Stand Development is an important contrast control technique  and may also have great application to photographers using roll film.


Ansel Adams, The Negative, second volume of the Ansel Adams Photography Series, New York Graphic Society, 1981

Bruce Barnbaum The Art of Photography 2nd Ed, Rocky Nook California, 2017

John Sexton, Australia and New Zealand Tour 1995 Seminar Notes, Kodak Professional Imaging, 1995 Foma R09 can be purchased in Australia from Chris Reid at Blanco Negro

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Film speed test Ilford FP4 no densitometer

Film speed test Ilford FP4

Film speed test - use just 2 sheets of film - no densitometers

Film speed test using Ilford FP4 to establish your personal film exposure index and normal development time - no need for densitometers with this visual check using a graphic arts step-wedge tablet.

What I am going to explain below is a quick overview for one method of film speed development test and how to obtain your normal development time. It is particularly handy for 4x5 users as it minimises the amount of film used down to potentially two sheets to give you the necessary information.

A more in depth reference to this film speed test and where to obtain graphic arts step tablets are listed at the bottom of this page.

Step 1 Load step tablet and unexposed 4x5 sheet into a film holder

This film speed test uses a Stouffer step wedge as your calibration tool. Modify your step tablet by placing an opaque paper dot sticker above step 21 on the tablet. This will prevent any light being received by the film under the dot, giving you a clear film base reference point later.

The 21 step tablet or step wedge is a calibration device traditionally used in graphic arts applications. It has been carefully processed under laboratory conditions to give 21 steps of grey in 0.5 stop densities. Using a step tablet is one way to avoid the need for densitometers.

In a darkroom or film changing bag load an unexposed sheet of film overlayed with the Stouffer step tablet. The two are sandwiched together and carefully pushed into place within the sheet film holder. Due to the combined thickness of two sheets this can be a little difficult but can be achieved with patience and care. Treat the test tablet with the same care as film.

Step 2 Expose the film with step tablet with a Zone 10 exposure

Film speed test Zone 10 film exposure test
Exposing film with step tablet

A Zone 10 exposure is 5 stops more exposure than what your meter is indicating. Observe the following points:

  • Use a white card as your exposure subject and fill the viewfinder completely. If you use a darker object the exposure time required will be longer, hence use white.
  • Choose a normal focal length lens - wide lenses suffer from light fall off at the frame edges and can affect the test
  • Have your lens focused at infinity. The test object will not be in focus and focus is not desirable for this test.
  • Choose a day with consistent light, cloudless, south facing is best if in the southern hemisphere.

Step 3 Develop your test film in the developer of your choice

My current developer is Ilford LC-29. You should choose for your test the developer that you prefer or want to use with your film. Prepare it as you would normally would and be consistent with your film processing procedure so you can repeat the results.

For my processing set up, Ilford HP5 takes about 11 minutes to develop normally. Looking at the Iford tables for FP4 suggests that it develops in slightly less time that HP5. So I cut my time from 11minutes down to 10 minutes. Why? 10 is an easy number to work with. If I need to reduce or increase my development times further I will usually adjust by about 10% increments (1 minute) or 15% (90 seconds) or 20% (2 minutes).

Film speed test stouffer negative jobo film reel FP4
My developed film test at 10 minutes

Step 4 Analyse your results to get your personal film speed index

Film speed test stouffer negative


The first piece of information in a film speed test is at what ISO speed should I be exposing brand X film with my camera gear and development procedure.

This is where placing the opaque sticky dot near the 21st step is so helpful, circled in red. It gives you a clear film base reference where no exposure has been received. Step 21 on the wedge is also Zone 0. If it is the same density as the red circled clear film base then the film is not overexposed. If step 21 is equal to the circled area and there is consistent tonal separation between steps 20 to 11, then your exposure index is within the ball park. I exposed this test film at 64ISO and I am pretty happy with the tonal placement.

If steps 21, 20, 19 had been clear with no tonal separation between them, then I know the film was underexposed. I would need to reduce my ISO number by about half a stop and try the test again.

Conversely, if steps 21, 20 and 19 had definite grey tones I would need to decrease my exposure by increasing my ISO rating for the film.


Step 5 Proper proof time

From the previous step I am confident that an ISO of 64 is close enough for my camera and developer combination. Now I need to find out what is the normal development time.

proper proof time

A second sheet of FP4 which remained unexposed was also developed at the same time as the step wedge test for 10 minutes.

For all contact printing I have a standard enlarger head height I use in combination with one lens, f stop and neg carrier. My enlarger filtration is set for grade 2 normal contrast paper. I focus the light onto my enlarger base and then make tests strips from the contact print of the developed but unexposed film.

What I am looking for is the first almost black tone which shows very little discernible tonal difference to the next strip after it. This is in the region of the minimum print exposure required to print through the unexposed film to yield a black print value.

In my case above, I could see clear differences between the dark greys at exposures of 8.6 and 10.4 seconds. At 12.4 seconds I could see no appreciable change in blacks between 12.4 and 15.0 seconds. So I choose the 12.4 seconds as the minimum time to achieve close to maximum black.

A note of caution, this is a visual test and it is easy to be overly enthusiastic about achieving maximum black thereby overexposing when establishing your minimum time for close to maximum black.

Here we are working at an extreme end of the paper sensitivity where small changes in exposure can give large changes in density, so take care not to overdo it.

Remember that you want the exposure time just before there is no real appreciable difference in the black with next exposure time which follows.

Step 6 Establishing normal development - printing the step wedge.

This is the final stage, establishing what is a normal development time for your film, camera and developer combination. We need to make a contact print of the actual Zone 10 film exposed with the image of test tablet. Using the exposure determined above for the minimum time for maximum black (in my case 12.4 seconds) I  contact print the negative onto the photographic paper. The result is seen below.

contact print step wedge

In the image above I have shown in red letters the various print value zones and their respective step tablet numbers. Remember each step is 0.5 of a stop. Step 1 on the tablet is equivalent to a Zone 10 print value, Step 2 is half a stop lower at Zone 9.5 and Step 3 is Zone 9.0 respectively.

I like to have a good separation of tones from Zone 2 print value (Step 17) through to about Zone 8 print value (Step 5). After Step 5 - Zone print values 8.5 to 10, the scale remains paper base white. This is a normal contrast range. If the light grey scale ended earlier at say Step 7, this would indicate the film has been developed with higher contrast than normal of about one stop. This is referred to N+1 development. If the grey tones extended all the way down to Step 3, or Zone 9 print value, then this would indicate the film contrast is softer than normal. This is represented as N-1 development.

In this case above 10 minutes development has produced results which show normal negative contrast.

Film speed test Ilford FP4 in LC-29 developer conclusion

Using just 2 sheets of Ilford FP4 film I was able to determine that my personal exposure index is 64 ISO. Normal development is achieved (for me) at 10 minutes using my usual dilution and agitation methods consistent with my film processing procedures.

I have only used my results here as an example of the process. Your results may vary significantly and that's to be expected.

Having conducted my film speed test for my personal exposure index and normal development I can now go about photographing with my new stock of Ilford FP4. This gives me a genuine basis to compare results of my images with other films I have used and to observe characteristics particular to this film and developer combination.

Conclusion:  Film speed tests are necessary to understand how to best manipulate your creative materials - your photographic film and paper.

References Calibration and Transmission Step Wedges

Film Speed Test References.

Paul Wainwright has written a nice little pdf which you can download which goes into greater detail the technical details behind this visual test. Go to this page, scroll  to the bottom third of the page “Use Your Eyes, Zone System Testing Without a Densitometer” and download the pdf off the link.

Visit Stouffer Graphic Arts for details regarding transmission step wedges and photographic scales, the tools I rely on to avoid the need for using laboratory equipment like densitometers, often referred to in the Zone System film exposure and development method. Keep your references clean, handle with care (like negatives) and store carefully, these will last you for years and well worth having.

Film speed test Ilford FP4 4x5 sheet film

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Loading Sheet Film Double Darks 4×5

Loading Sheet Film Double Darks 4x5

Loading Sheet Film

Loading Sheet Film Double Darks 4×5. This is a very rough and basic video of showing the steps involved in loading 4×5 sheet film into a double dark film holder. Obviously these steps need to be made in total darkness, regardless of whether you are using black and white or colour film.

Loading Sheet Film Double Darks 4×5 • Alex Bond from Alex Bond on Vimeo.

Dust on sheet film

Dust is without doubt the biggest problem when handling and loading sheet films. Cleanliness is the key, along with some measures to reduce static electricity which attracts airborne dust to the film surface.

My personal preference is to load film in a darkroom where there is plenty of space and the film surface is unlike to contact another surface (such as in a change bag). If you don’t have a darkroom, use some cardboard and black out a small room (or toilet) and use it to load film at night when everyone has gone to sleep!

Film changing bags can be useful, look for the ones that have internal frames  that support the bag lining into the shape of a half dome. This helps stop the bag material from touching the film surface by creating a film “tent”.

Cleaning film holders with an air blower

Before attempting to load film, clean your film holders inside and out. Use an air blower or similar to blow dust particles off your film holders. Stack the cleaned film holders carefully on a clean flat surface ready for loading. You may want to use an anti-static gun to reduce static  on your holders before cleaning and loading.

Handle sheet film at its edges

Always handle your film from the edges. Finger tips deposit oils which will become obvious on developed film, so unless you want them over your images it is best to avoid touching the emulsion side.

Load emulsion facing you

Load your film holders with the film emulsion facing towards you. Make sure the film notches are in the top right hand corner as you look at the film in a portrait orientation.


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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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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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Sekonic L758D and the Zone System

4 readings displayed approx -2 to +3 indicating an exposure of 1/350th at F11 200ISO

Sekonic L758D and the Zone System: a quick guide explaining how to measure the contrast range of a scene to determine a Zone System exposure.

I am assuming general knowledge of the Zone System not covered here. You can find reference books here.

For information about how to determine your film speed and work out normal film development times without a densitometer  see my post Film speed test Ilford FP4 plus LC-29 developer


Clear the display first!!
Clear the display first!! I prefer to work in shutter priority display. Zero at the bottom display represents Zone 5 or middle grey.

Set up:

  1. Turn the meter on, and set it to the reflected light mode for 1 degree spot metering
  2. I am using Shutter Speed Priority display in this example
  3. Note “plus” and “minus” display along the bottom of display (you may need to set your display type in the custom setting). Note the middle “0” reading represents Zone 5 or middle grey and that the markings are plus and minus one stop deviations from middle grey.
  4. clear any previous readings using M.CLEAR button, until only the middle indicator is flashing at zero.

Example: (see pics below)

  1. take a low light reading for Zone 3 (dark grey, just seeing texture) and store in MEMORY
  2. take another two readings of a general area of interest (middle values) and store in MEMORY
  3. take a high light reading for Zone 7 (luminous grey, with texture) and store in MEMORY
  4. There will now be 4 indicator bars equal to the number of readings along the bottom display
  5. Hold the MID.TONE button down and turn the jog wheel, all indicators will move to the left or right depending on the direction the wheel is turned.
  6. Turn the jog wheel to place low reading (Zone 3) on the -2 and note how the other indicators fall along the bottom of display, especially the highest value (furtherest to right)
  7. Keep hold of the MID.TONE and read off the f stop and shutter speed, this is your exposure for your chosen placement.
  8. If your high value (furtherest to right) exceeds +2 Zone 7, then reduce development accordingly (ie N-1, N-2)
    1st light reading for dark Zone 3 placement
    1st light reading for dark Zone 3 placement
    2nd light reading for middle placement
    2nd light reading for middle placement
    3rd light reading for middle placement
    3rd light reading for middle placement
    4th and brightest reading for Zone 7 placement
    4th and brightest reading for Zone 7 placement. Note how the first is at the middle  “0” and the last is 5 stops brighter than the first.

    4 readings displayed approx -2 to +3 using the Mid.Tone button and jog wheel to move indicators within range - an exposure of 1/350th at F11 200ISO
    4 readings displayed approx -2 to +3 using the Mid.Tone button and jog wheel to move indicators within range – an exposure of 1/350th at F11 200ISO

I have used a Pentax digital spot meter for over 30 years and in 2009 had the entire circuitry replaced when the display suddenly stopped working. It is my understanding that Pentax no longer make this meter, so I purchased the Sekonic L758D as a back up. It has multiple functions, but its menu and display are no match for Pentax’s simplicity of use. I currently use both meters.


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Film Workshop Heathcote Gallery learn to develop film

film workshop Alex Bond Photography Exhibition

Last Sunday at Heathcote Museum & Gallery I conducted a film workshop offered during the course of my exhibition “dissociation”. We started by making a 4×5 exposure inside the gallery of the workshop participants, using my 4×5 field camera and a wide lens. The exposed negative was then transferred to a daylight tank and processed, during which the development steps were discussed and questions asked. After the final rinse the 4×5 neg was passed around the table for everyone to view (wet!).

This is a scan from that neg. HP5 EI 200, 65mm Nikkor 1 second f11. Developed in Blanco Negro Fomadon R09 1+50, 6.5min at 27ºC. It was fun, with that little exclamation of surprise from the participants when I pulled the 4×5 inch negative from the tank, with their image on it.

I will be holding one more film workshop at Heathcote on Saturday April 11 at 1pm. It too booked out quickly. Don’t forget I offer workshops during the year, so check my workshop web page for dates  or leave your email to be notified of future workshops.

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Old English wooden enlarger for 6×8 inch glass plates

Old English wooden enlarger for glass plates

Just came across this old photo of mine. Looking more like a guillotine this was my first large format enlarger. It is an old English wooden enlarger for glass plates purchased 25 years ago just outside Launceston, Tasmania.

Made for glass plates up to about 6×8 inches, with two heavy window weights to counterbalance raising the head, brass gearing, fittings and lens. The light source (missing in pic) was a metal box with 5 globes and diffusing glass. Must have got damn hot. I replaced it with a Zone VI cold light head and stabiliser with a 180mm Schneider Componon-S lens. I made exactly 2 16×20 prints from 4×5 negatives before realising I had a major problems with edge to edge sharpness from lens board misalignment which I could not repair. Wood borers had created a bow in the enlarger.

After 12 months or so of hiking around Tasmania’s central highlands I came home to Perth with this old monster in the back of my old station wagon. I boxed it up and gave it to a friend to live out its remaining days in his camera museum. You may come across my old English wooden enlarger one day.

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Traditional Silver Gelatin Fibre Based Prints

traditional silver gelatin

Traditional Silver Gelatin Fibre Based Prints are made by hand and involves the use of traditional darkroom, light sensitive materials and chemistry.

In a darkroom you project an image onto photographic paper, much like you would project an image onto a wall with a slide projector. When making black and white prints the photographer can work under a red or amber safelight which the paper has reduced sensitivity to, hence the red in the darkroom images. A more detailed explanation follows.

Traditional Silver Gelatin fibre based prints

Making Traditional Silver Gelatin fibre based prints

Silver gelatin prints I make are made on Czechoslovakian silver gelatin fibre based photographic paper. There are only a few remaining manufacturers of this silver rich paper remain worldwide. The technical benefits of fibre based baryta paper is greater detail and definition, extended tonal range and excellent archival properties. It is the standard for fine art photographers worldwide.

All prints begin with a black and white film negative. The negative image is projected via a light source and focused with a lens onto the photographic paper under darkroom conditions. Controlling of image detail and contrast within the print employs tradition techniques of holding back exposure in some parts of the print while giving additional exposure to other parts. This is all done by hand placing objects into the light path of the projected image to affect a change.

After exposure and still under darkroom safelight the paper is placed in a developing tray where the silver image develops. The paper is then transferred to another tray of stop bath, to arrest development, then a third tray to fix the print by dissolving away the remaining light sensitive parts of the print. It is then washed in water where it can be inspected under normal room light.

After the initial wash the print is treated in a solution to help remove any residual fixer within the paper fibre, then washed for a further 2 hours. When the wash is completed the print is air dried face down on plastic screen mesh.

The final stage improves archival permanence. The print is toned in selenium, then rewashed and dried again before dry mounting onto 100% cotton rag museum boards. The photograph’s title and signature is penciled under the print on the front, the rear of the board is stamped, signed and includes the negative number and the date the print was made. The museum board and print is then placed behind a window mount and glass within an aluminium frame.

The entire process to complete one print can take several days.

My direct involvement with the materials and technique for making an expressive photographic print is of importance to me, so I continue to develop my own films and hand print all my black and white silver gelatin prints in my darkroom.