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 4×5 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 4×5 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 16×20 inch fibre based paper.
For the past few months I have been trying out FP4 film in 4×5 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.
2. Stand development 30 min with LC29 developer
My first stand development tests with Ilford FP4 4×5 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
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 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 of Ilford FP4 4×5 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