Stand Development film speed increase and contrast range

stand development film speed

Stand development film FP4: Bannister Creek Perth, hand printed silver gelatin 16x20in

With my stand development film experiments, I was surprised to not only find that I could not only reduce contrast up to 4 stops but also increase film speed by 50 percent. I obtained these results using the following stand developing method with Ilford FP4 4×5 sheet film with Foma R09 and Ilford LC29 developers.

What is Stand Development?

For those of you new to 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 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.

High contrast situations abound in photography and one of the chief benefits of stand development is to lower contrast without loss in film speed.

Going where others have gone before

It was whilst attending a John Sexton lecture in 1995 that I first heard about his 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 there was an 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 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 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 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

Stand Development Processing

Update: I later changed my procedure below to increase frequency without increasing Total Agitation

T 33 min to 30Pre-soak the film in water @ 20ºC for 3 minutes
T 30 min to T 29minPour the developer into the tank,
(I use 15ml LC29 plus 1375mls water = 1400mls)
invert tank 40 times in 40 seconds
T 28 min5 tank inversions in 5 seconds
stand tank in water-bath
T 20 min5 tank inversions in 5 seconds
T 10 min5 tank inversions in 5 seconds
Final 20 secsdiscard the developer and proceed with normal stop bath and fixing
Total 55 inversions in 55 seconds
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.

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

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 an improved separation of values in especially around Step 17/Zone 2 and Steps 18/Zone 1.5 when compared with the wedge above. On the photo 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

Summary

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.

Stand Development is an important contrast control technique  and may also have great application to photographers using roll film.

I’ll finish by quoting from THE DARKROOM COOKBOOK , 3rd Edition, Steve Anchell

There are several advantages to stand development. First, it maximizes adjacency effects creating negatives of the highest acutance. Another is that it has a compensating effect on highlights, which develop rapidly at first and then slow down as the developer exhausts. Meanwhile, low-density areas continue to develop. Yet another is that it tends to increase emulsion speed. These benefits also accrue with minimal agitation, mentioned earlier, but to an even greater extent using stand development.

References

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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Reader Comments

  1. Alex Bond

    Thanks Peter.I hope it helps a few people who may be thinking about trying stand development. Certainly longer/slower development compensated by highly dilute developer gives better separation between middle and low values. That’s pretty desirable for most printers. Then there is the contrast control as well.

  2. Stephen Hartsfield

    Eye opening results. For normal development the minimal stand process looks superior. What would be your process for N+1, or N+2? Would you use LC29 for minus development and have you worked out a process for that? The R09 development was quite a surprise since I have seen many use 5 ml of R09 to stand for 1 hour and proclaim they had a good negative. I too have taken John’s darkroom workshops (2 of them) and enjoyed them.

    • alexbond

      Hi Stephen, thanks for your comments. Yes I agree that the modified stand process gives a more desirable tonal separation than shorter development times with greater frequency and/or duration of agitation. The shorter times and higher agitation is a practical necessity especially if you are running a film and print lab.

      In my tests the R09 gave me better N-minus results than LC29. My LC29 results were possibly one half stop less than normal film contrast (for my set up). I could do further testing on LC29…. but I would rather be out photographing. As for N+1 and N+2 I use LC29 in my jobo processor, extending the development times by approx 20% for each additional zone. Take a look at my resource page http://www.alexbond.com.au/links-suppliers-resources-film-based-photography/ for additional information from a variety of photographers and photographic sources about modifying development times.

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