Overdeveloped negatives, we all have them hidden away somewhere. You know, one of those bulletproof negatives that we look at despairingly. You know 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 is reasonable shadow details. However, many years later, I can now resolve difficult issues of overdeveloped negatives with advanced printing techniques.
In the three articles I will be revisiting an image made under difficult light, assessing its contact sheet proofs and using split grade printing to make an 11×14
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
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 heatwave 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 effect of the reticulation pattern on the final print.
Next post, I will compare a contact proof made in 1987 against a new proof made a quarter of a century later. Let’s see how my overdeveloped negatives compare with time and technique. I will discuss the importance of establishing a proper proof time and its role in determining your film exposure and development times.