I started to think about some of the more common technical questions I get asked about film development and printing techniques.
Below is a list of books and web sites on photographic technique which I have found useful. If any web site links become broken please let me know.
(Suit beginner to intermediate)
Beginners Guide to Darkroom Techniques
If you absolutely need to start at the beginning, I can think of no better book. I came across this book in my teenage years and it created a lasting impression. Hattersley is an educator, able to convey information and theory without overwhelming those who are not technically minded. The book is a complete guide for the amateur photographer on the creative and practical skills of developing, printing, and retouching black and white photographs. Regardless of how little gear you may own or how makeshift your darkroom set up is, Hattersley will guide you through the basic steps, suggesting solutions for the amateur working from home. Above all, Hattersely demonstrates throughout the book that regardless of what stage you are at in photography, you can work cleanly, neatly and take pride in your darkroom work. I love this book, there is not a Zonie in sight! It is out of print but easily available online secondhand for a few dollars.
Hattersley, R 1976, Beginners guide to darkroom techniques, Robert Hale, London.
Zone VI Workshop
This is a good little reference book for the newcomer to film, who, at some stage, will want to learn just how long they should develop their B&W film for and what ISO (exposure index) should they set the light meter to for optimal quality. Fred’s methodology will work well for those who scan their negs or use diffusion or colour head enlarger light sources or contact print. His method may lead to over-development of negatives used in enlargers with condenser light sources and would need to be adjusted accordingly.
This book will cover exposure, the zone system, determination of a personal film speed, development procedures, development time test and the proper proof. The last is possibly the most important concept upon which everything else hinges. I still use this concept today when testing a new film or just making a contact print of my developed negatives. The proper proof is the departure point from which you can make comparisons about film grain, tonal range, development time, exposure index, camera and meter function and so on.
I first came across Zone VI studios and Fred Picker as an undergraduate at Curtin University in the 1980s. I was able to add a little garnish to my science degree with the only photography unit then offered by the Arts Faculty, and my tutor gave me a Zone VI newsletter by Fred Picker to read. About twelve months later I bought my 4×5 wooden field camera from Zone VI, which I am still using nearly 30 years later. Fred was often controversial with his opinions, and I can’t say I would agree with everything he said, but I still have his newsletters which can be highly entertaining at times! That aside, Zone VI Studios also made some innovative darkroom gear. The book is out of print but available second hand online, usually for just a few dollars. Now and then his newsletters also surface for sale.
Picker, F 1974, Zone VI Workshop, The fine print in black and white photography, Amphoto, New York.
(Suit intermediate upwards)
Creative Black and White Photography
McLean’s book is essentially about how to conduct your film test to determine your film exposure index and development time, and how to translate that into a fine black and white print. McLean uses a zone system methodology and a visual basis to conduct and assess his tests, using nothing more than what you would normally have in a darkroom. A greater part of this book provides plenty of good examples of fine prints with accompanying text and explanations, as well as a chapter devoted to case studies in how he set about making some of these prints. This later section would suit intermediate to the more advanced, and illustrates the control and quality one can achieve in darkroom printing. Again, it may be out of print but is easily available second hand online. Also visit his web site for other articles.
McLean, L 2002, Creative black and white photography, David & Charles, Devon.
In some fundermental aspects, Mulligan’s book is similar to McLean’s above, they are both filled with excellent examples and descriptions, and both use an exposure and development system based upon the zone system. Mulligan and McLean have different personal approaches to the zone sytem, yet both are equally valid, as are the other methods described on this page, demonstrating that there is no single “correct” approach. Where Mulligan’s book departs from McLean’s (other than personal technique) is that he broadens his discussion to include equipment choices, working in the field and ideas about presenting and displaying images. Dispersed through the chapters are images and cameos, providing detailed insight into why he has chosen a subject, the technical decisions he had to make, and the final results. If you have the basics under your belt then this book will help you move up to a new level. Currently available new and second hand online.
Mulligan, S 2006, Black and white photography a practical guide, Photographers’ Institute Press, East Sussex.
(Suit intermediate to advanced)
Way Beyond Monochrome
Overall, this is an excellent reference book to have on hand and one I have found most useful in recent times. The authors are not afraid of the science behind photography and go into considerable detail with diagrams and formula, covering a comprehensive range of topics from print presentation through to advanced printing techniques and of course film exposure, development and the zone system, to name but a few.
As far as determining your film speed and development time testing, the authors provide several solutions from simple to more complex, and there are parallels in some aspects to what is described in the Zone VI Workshop.
In excess of 500 pages, with intelligent tips, this is definitely a go to book for when you need pithy, indepth explanations. The book is in print and available online.
Lambrecht, RW & Woodhouse, C 2011, Way beyond monochrome advanced techniques for traditional black and white photography, 2nd edn, Elsevier, Amsterdam.
John Blakemore’s Black and White Photography Workshop
By far one of the best books to date of the explanation of making a fine print. It’s like being in the darkroom with Blakemore, watching and listening while he makes one of his prints. You see the various stages of the print in its making and read Blakemore’s detailed rationale behind his choices.
The print examples Blakemore uses are some of his best images. This alone makes it is a pleasure to view his print making in various stages. It would seem Blakemore is trying to get you to feel your way into the print first.
But be under no illusion, Blakemore is a master of his materials. Some of his examples appear deceptively simple in their tonal structure yet express great technical command which is grounded in the zone system. This approach, which he covers in mid to late chapters is one of the best and most direct I have read for a long time.
If you don’t have a master printer living near you then this book is highly recommended. I think it is now out of print but second hand copies are available online.
Blakemore, J 2005, John Blakemore’s black and white photography workshop, David & Charles, Devon.
Determining your Film Speed and Development Times
Another variation on determining your personal film speed and development time. This method is particularly suited to 4×5 sheet film users as it uses a 4×5 step wedge from Stouffer (see below), although its principles can be applied to other film formats as well. Download his pdf at the bottom third of the page “Use Your Eyes, Zone System Testing Without a Densitometer”
Developing 4×5 Film in a Paterson Tank
Review of MOD 54 large format film processor by David Tatnall for Large Format Photography In Australia. A 4×5 sheet film spiral designed to fit a Paterson Super 6 tank, holding 6 sheets of film.
Darkroom Equipment – Timers
RH Designs was established in 1994 by Dr Richard Ross and has been manufacturing high quality enlarger timers, darkroom exposure meters and other accessories. They manufacture the Analyser Pro meter, a highly-acclaimed enlarging meter-timer combo featuring a patented grey scale print tone indicator which shows you the tonal range of the print, so you can place important tones and preview the look of the print without the need for endless test strips. Since Dr Ross’s retirement , his meters are now being manufactured and sold by Second Hand Darkroom Supplies in the UK.
Print Finishing – Dry Mount Press
Preparing your work for exhibition – a series of images I placed on my blog showing the step by step process of dry mounting fibre based prints onto museum board.
Loading Jobo 4×5 2509N Developing Reels
Film and Darkroom User Org UK
A short description on loading 4×5 Jobo Reels for daylight processing in Jobo drums.