Lefroy Brook Pemberton Wattie tree karri forest understorey

Wattie tree Lefroy Brook Pemberton

Wattie tree Lefroy Brook PembertonLefroy Brook near Pemberton meanders through spectacular karri forest following parts of the Bibbulmun Track. A Wattie tree forming part of the karri forest understorey arches gracefully above the brook’s winter rapids. There are trout and marron farms along the brook and it serves as Pemberton’s water supply.

This image was made within the Gloucester National Park, using a 90mm lens using Zone VI wooden field camera and velvia 4×5 film. It has been published in my Pemberton Wine Region Western Australia book and in my Southern Forests postcard series.

Wattie tree Lefroy Brook is available as a 16×20 inch photograph and larger.

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Darkroom Printing – a typical session

photographic darkroom printing

I thought I would describe a typical darkroom printing session. When I go into the darkroom to make a silver gelatin print I usually like to start pretty much first thing in the morning, so I can take my time. I don’t like to be in a rush when I’m printing, it’s a mental state that is counterproductive in my experience to being creative and receptive to the materials you work with. In my case I print exclusively on baryta base (otherwise known as fibre based) papers. When I step into the darkroom I will have one, or at most, two negatives I wish to make exhibition prints from. I am usually armed with a contact print of the negatives in question, or an earlier print that I have tried to make but has failed to meet my expectations. These proofs or ‘failures’I use as departure points or guides as to where I might like to take the image and materials. When I am assessing a photograph or negative before creating an exhibition print I look for what I find visually exciting about the image and see how I can improve on it. By going to the area that most interests me I can quickly determine through test strips how far I can take the image before I destroy the very qualities or nuances in the print I am seeking. This process gives me a foundation on which to assess the remaining areas of the image in relation to the first. Printing in black and white is especially about how tones within the finished image relate to one another. This process of assessment may not suite everyone, others may prefer to look at highlights and low values of a print overall to begin their process, but apart from gross overexposure or underexposure I find this process difficult for me. I like to go straight to the feeling of the image.

Lefroy Brook Wattie tree karri forest Pemberton Australia

Typically on a 16×20 inch print like the Lefroy Brook one above, I will spend several hours making test strips. I will be searching for the highlights that make the print sing and the low values that anchor the tones to a deep baritone base, revealing the beauty and tonal depth of a silver gelatin print. In the process I will often find a few printing problems that will call on my darkroom craftsmanship to solve. Sometimes they remain unsolvable but instead present an opportunity to learn about fine tuning your craft and technique.

By midday I will start making the first full size images based upon a proper exposure to the highlights. Then I will begin the first series of refinements using various test strip information. This may include some addition exposure (burning in) of print areas or shielding of areas (dodging) from the base exposure.  This is an important stage because up to now  only test strips have been made and this is the first opportunity to see the print in its entirety and observe the overall relationship of tones. Further refinements of dodging and burning may be required to balance the print tones and maximise details in the soft creamy whites of the prints.

Printing notes Lefroy Brook

To keep track of these adjustments I write them down on the reverse side of the print with a black china marker. Once all the adjustments have been completed to my satisfaction, I then set about making 4 or 5 finished prints based upon the printing recipe I have constructed. Notes on how I made the print are kept for future reference in a notebook, illustrated above.

It is now about mid afternoon and I have made 4 or 5 prints from the one negative. All test strips and work prints are discarded, only the remaining 4 or 5 are washed, treated in hypo clearing agent to clear any residual fixer, then washed for several more hours. The wet print are then dried face down on plastic screen mesh where they air dry  for at least 24 hours at room temp. At a later stage I will selenium tone the prints and rewash and dry.

By the time the print is toned, trimmed and dry mounted onto 100% cotton rag museum board, then window mounted and framed you are looking at several days work, but I get a deep satisfaction when I view the finished images knowing that I have been responsible for every stage in bringing a print from just an idea into existence.

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Long exposures film or digital?

Lefroy Brook Pemberton Western Australia

Long exposures film or digital? When film exposure becomes greater than one second, you begin to enter the world of long exposures. Apart from the need to steady your camera, usually with a tripod, images created from long film exposures start to behave differently to shorter “regular” exposures and this requires a modified approach to successfully anticipate their outcome. Take the above example of three images which I made late one evening along the Lefroy Brook near Pemberton. The sun had set and the brook was deep in shadow with the light coming from directly above in a break between the karri forest canopy. I was exploring along the shallow pools of the brook which was now flowing at a pre summer low. The river’s bedrock was exposed in parts, but where the rocks remained wet they were slippery and they trapped the fallen leaves from the forest in a scattered pattern across their dark surfaces.

I set up my tripod and 4×5 wooden field camera. The best composition and most comfortable subject working distance was achieved with my Nikkor 210mm lens. I was using a Horseman 6×12 roll film back loaded with Velvia transparency film, rated at 50 ISO. The 210mm lens is slightly longer than normal focal length for 4×5 (and certainly for 6×12). It’s depth of field is shallow and with a close subject this characteristic becomes magnified. If I focused on the nearby leaves the remaining image was so blurry you lost the pattern of the leaves and their relationship with the moving water. If I focused on the far leaves, the foreground image suffered the same blurring, and again I lost the visual relationship I was after. Stopping the lens aperture all the way down to f64 is one way to increase this depth of field, but at the cost of introducing unwanted softness through diffraction. Even at f64 I could not achieve enough depth of field for the image I had in mind. One of the major advantages with the 4×5 is that I am able to alter the plane of focus so that a greater perception of sharpness is achieved in both the foreground and background. Coupled with a moderate aperture of about f22 this would afford me just sufficient depth of field.

But the rapidly fading light was adding to my problems. Not only was it becoming so dark that seeing any image on the ground glass was becoming seriously difficult (it’s already upside down and back to front), but the exposure was going to be long. According to my spot meter the brightest leaves had an EV of about 6, the darkest about 4, representing a 2 stop difference. The white water was slightly higher at around 7 EV. The base rock was mostly very dark and barely registering on my meter with EVs in the 2 to 3 range. My meter indicated an exposure of about 1 minute would be required at f22 with ISO 50 film. I added another 20 seconds to account for lens bellows extension and then I immediately doubled that to about 2 minutes 40 seconds,  to take into account my experience with the reciprocity effect in long exposures with Velvia film. In addition to reciprocity, I knew that there would be an increase in contrast in the final transparency compared to what I was seeing on the ground glass which I wanted to use to my advantage. By the time I had completed all three images in the fading light my exposures were getting up into the 5 minute range.

Film has to receive a base threshold amount of light energy before it can begin to record an image from very dark regions within an image. The contrast of the film increases in long exposures because, proportionately, less of the light energy received by the film in the shadow or dark regions of the image is available for image making, compared to a greater portion of image making light energy received from the brighter areas within the image.  That is to say that even though the film receives reflected light from both light and dark objects for the same amount of time, the resulting film density is not proportional in both light and dark regions, as the image highlights activate disproportionately more image forming silver halide crystals than the darker, shadow regions. This characteristic forms part of a film’s sensitivity curve:  a curved “toe” at the base, a relatively straight line mid section and a curved “shoulder”. Each film has its own exposure index /curve/ developer combination.  In this low light situation photographing Lefroy Brook,  Velvia’s contrast response to long exposures matched my vision to bring attention to the leaves whilst maintaining a dark background.

Had I used a digital camera to attempt these images the resulting raw files would have been quite different to film, there would have been an almost normal appearance of the brook and leaves as if it was photographed in full daylight. Low light exposures with digital cameras sensors coupled with their particular algorithms can give a greater perception of overall scene brightness, indicating a much more proportional exposure response than film (ie more straight line than toe or shoulder).  From my experience, this is one instance where film, by virtue of its inherent characteristics, behaves quite differently to digital. In this series of prints of Lefroy Brook I was able to achieve, in camera, with transparency film, the desired contrast of a long exposure and the necessary adjustment of the plane of focus afforded by a 4×5 field camera.

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