Stand Development proven film speed extended contrast range

Demonstrated film speed increase and extended contrast range. A simple film processing technique that could substantially improve your print quality.

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

What is Stand Development?

If by chance you have not heard of stand development, it involves using highly dilute developer with minimal agitation and long processing times. Initially, it may sound like a great recipe for a film developing disaster. But you might be surprised at the results and potential benefits.

Now there are plenty of online forums spruiking stand development. They have even gone as far a coining the term modified stand development. But there is little information giving objective measurements.

So, I thought I’d explore stand development to see if I could quantify its effects using my own materials and procedures. I conducted a series of simple film density tests designed to see what happens to the light and dark parts of the negative respectively.

Stand Development – Summary of my Findings

What I found out was impressive. Using this much slower method of development I could increase the film’s speed by about one-half stop. But there’s another benefit. Using the combination of Ilford FP4 and Foma’s R09 developer I could also achieve contrast contraction by 4 stops. That is N-4 in Zone System parlance.

Now, if you have a high contrast scene like the paperbark at Bannister Creek above, then this developing technique can be a highly useful contrast controlling tool in your photographic repertoire. You can read more about the making of this image here.

The problems with N-1 or reduced development

So why not just give a high contrast negative N-1 or N-2 development? Well, here are 3 good reasons.

Let’s say your normal film development time is 8 minutes. To achieve N-1 you could estimate 25% less development time, making a new time 6 minutes. Taking it further to N-2 would require another 25% reduction, leaving just 4.5 minutes of development time. That’s pretty short. Even with pre-soaks, you risk uneven film development for times of less than 5 minutes. Now imagine N-4, that would be about 2.5 minutes of development!

When development times are shortened it follows that shadow areas of the negative also receive less development.  This result is a loss of shadow details and effective film speed and this has been well documented in Ansel Adams’ photography series The Negative.

Weak shadow areas appear very dark with little tonal separation in the print. You can compensate for film speed loss by giving the image more exposure. But in a high contrast scene, you blow your highlights out further towards the opposite end of the tonal scale.

To compensate for additional exposure given to the highlights, you then need to decrease your development. You get the picture, we are chasing our tails.
Stand development offers a way out of this circle chase. High contrast situations abound in photography and one of the chief benefits of stand development is its ability to lower film contrast without loss in film speed.

stand development Canning River Sheoaks
Stand development 4×5 FP4 for 30 min in Ilford LC-29, sheoaks Canning River
Camera location of high contrast sheoaks image
Camera on location for the above sheoaks image, note the contrast

Treading where others have gone before

In 1995 John Sexton traveled the globe giving a series of lectures promoting Kodak Elite black and white products. I was lucky enough to attend one of John’s packed-out, full-day presentations.

During the day John Sexton discussed 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.

What really piqued my interest in stand development was a reference by Bruce Barnbaum in The Art of Photography. Barnbaum attributes the late Ray McSavaney as being a frequent user of stand development.

I purchased a copy of Ray McSavaney’s book Explorations. He is a master photographer and his photographs are stunning. In his technical notes, he briefly mentions the use of long development times with very dilute developer which he states, “gives me a compensating effect that allows me to hold more detail in the shadow and highlight areas”.

How does stand development work?

Basically, when you develop a negative, different parts of that negative develop at different rates. Those parts of the negative that have received large amounts of exposure have received a lot of light energy. They are hungry for the chemical developer and can deplete the immediate developer in close proximity to its chemical activity. Unless the negative in that spot receives more fresh developer via agitation, the development of the negative will slow. This is sometimes called the compensation effect.

Conversely, those parts of the negative that have received small amounts of exposure have received very little light energy. Their appetite for the chemical developer is pretty low. It takes much longer for the developer in close proximity to the film to lose its chemical activity. Hence development can continue for longer periods without the need for agitation. The result is that shadow detail keeps developing.

Developers which work well in this manner are referred to as compensating developers. Different developers with different film speeds produce varying amounts of compensation.

Using step wedges for tonal comparison

To chart my results in a measurable way I reverted back to 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 development later under differing developing conditions.

I will describe 4 different test conditions for comparison.

Normal development 10 min with LC29 rotary agitation -test 1

My normal development for Ilford FP4 and LC29 is 10 minutes @ 20ºC with continuous rotary development in a Jobo processor.
I dilute 15mls of  LC29 concentrate with 585mls water. After development, I follow the standard stop bath and fixing procedures.

Continuous film agitation Jobo processor
Fig. 1 Continuous film rotary agitation Jobo processor

Stand development 30 min with LC29 developer -test 2

My first stand development test with Ilford FP4 4×5 was with my regular developer of choice Ilford LC-29. After several tries, I eventually settled upon the following: 30 minutes using 15 ml of LC29 added to 1400mls of water

Stand Development Processing

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

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

Water bath stand film development
Fig. 2 Water bath for stand development

Stand development 30 min with R09 developer -test 3

30 minutes using 6 ml of R09 added to 1400mls of water
All other steps are the same as in test 2.

N-2 development 6 min with LC29 continuous agitation -test 4

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 the standard stop bath and fix steps.

Using Step Wedges as Visual Check for Print Values

I am more interested in print values on photographic paper rather than density values of a negative. Step wedges manufactured to predetermined negative densities allow me to perform visual checks without the need of a densitometer.

Each step wedge has 21 steps. Each step represents a one-half stop difference. Step 1 measures Zone 10 and Step 21 measures Zone 0. Likewise, Step 11 represents Zone 5, Step 7 represents Zone 7, and Step 5 represents Zone 8.

All the step wedges were given my standard proper proof time of 15 seconds on grade 2 paper.

Comparison of the high values

To help with visual comparisons I have grouped all the high-value results together.

Fig.3 Step wedge for FP4 10 mins LC29 continuous agitation shows normal development for the highlights. The texture would be held in Zone 7 but by Zone 8 fades to just-off paperwhite. This is normal contrast as printed on normal, grade 2, photographic paper.

Fig.4 FP4 30 mins Stand development in LC29, shows good Zone 5 equivalent middle value at Step 11 compared to Fig.3. Its high print values at Zone 8 show slightly more tone than Fig.3, indicating slightly less highlight development. The degree of contraction is about N-0.5 or half a stop.

Fig.5 30 mins Stand development in Foma R09. Notice the extended greys from Zone 5 right through to 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.

Fig.6 N-2 development 6 min LC29 continuous agitation, Zone 10 has greater whiteness and hence negative density than the R09 wedge immediately above in Fig.5. However, its grey scales extend much further from Zone 5 to Zone 10, compared to Fig.1 and Fig.2. Contraction appears close to N-2.

Comparison of the low values

Now let’s examine the low print values. Again, to help with visual comparisons I have grouped all the low-value results together. Step 11 represents Zone 5, Step 15 represents Zone 3 and Step 21 represents Zone 0.

Fig.7 for FP4 10 mins LC29 continuous agitation shows normal separation for the low print values.  Shadow texture would be held in Zone 3.  But by Zone 1.5 it almost becomes indistinguishable from paper black. This is normal contrast as printed on normal, grade 2, photographic paper.

Fig.8 FP4 30 mins Stand development in LC29 shows an improved separation of values in especially around Zone 2 and Zone 1.5 when compared to Fig.7 above. On the photo paper proof expansion look equivalent to about one-half stop. That is one whole step in the step wedge.

Fig.9 30 mins Stand development in Foma R09, again there are improved separation of values in especially around Zone 2 and Zone 1.5 when compared with the normal wedge above. There is about half a stop in film speed gain. Zone 5 looks a little darker than Step 11 in the normal wedge.

Fig.10 N-2 development 6 min LC29 continuous agitation. Zone 2 is darker than its equivalent Zone 2 in the normal wedge Fig.7. This would suggest a film speed drop of one-half stop, consistent with the findings of other photographers.


Stand Development with 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 of 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 the film with subsequently less agitation assists in the improved separation of the middle to lower values.

Using different films and developers, this technique allows for the potential of both near-normal film contrast and lower film contrasts to be achieved.

Stand Development may particularly benefit roll film photographers who have a mix of image contrast ranges on the one roll of film.

Finally, I’d like to finish with a quote by Steve Anchell in The Darkroom Cookbook:

There are several advantages to stand development. First, it maximises 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.

Uneven Film Processing Stand Development

stand development problems
Uneven stand development

5 tips on how to avoid uneven film stand development

Uneven film development can occur during any film processing. Insufficient agitation is a major contributing factor to uneven development and can occur with stand development.

Uneven film development can occur with Stand development, a minimal agitation development technique. It offers uniques benefits of increased film speed and several f-stops increase in dynamic range. Unlike regular developing processes, stand development can suffer from the potential problems of uneven film processing. These problems can include froth and bubble developing patterns, bromide drag, air bells, reel spots, uneven negative density, and spots. I have suggested some possible solutions below.

6 Suggestions on how to avoid uneven film development with stand development film processing

  1. Pre-soak your film

    Use plain water at developing temperature to pre-soak your film.pre-soaking films

  2. Use sufficient developer volume

    Unlike other developing methods, processing solutions must cover the film entirely when the tank is left in vertical position for stand development.

  3. Use correct film developer dilution

    Developer activity is dependent on developer’s film capacity

  4. Give sufficient film agitation

    Avoid uneven film edge development, bromide drag and air bells.

  5. Control your developing temperature

    Use a water-bath for consistent processing temperature.

  6. Avoid short development times

    Developing times of less than 5 minutes is too short to ensure even development.

Use sufficient developer volume.

stand development error
Insufficient solution causing uneven development

Stand development uses larger fluid volumes in tanks than used on roller bases. The above image shows the result of a partially filled tank on film development. The lower half the film was immersed continuously while the upper half received less development. It leaves a distinct line across the film showing two sides with very different film densities.

stand development problems
Froth and bubbles leave developed froth and bubble patterns.

Always ensure that your solutions are at least one centimeter above the film reel, avoiding any film from protruding into the air. The fluid – air interface is the perfect position for froth and bubbles to accumulate on the film surface. Consequently, they create different rates of development, leaving a permanent density change on your negative. Even with minimal agitation in stand development bubbles and froth can still be formed. Then it sits on the emulsion for minutes between agitation. Avoid using water from aerating faucets when making your solutions up.

Calculating film developer capacity

film capacity stand development
Know your the film capacity of your developer

For effective stand development use a minimum amount of developer in a highly diluted form. However, you will need sufficient developer activity to potentially develop all of the exposed film properly. Using less developer than recommended by the manufacturer means you risk under-developing your film in the shadows and mid-tones. Under-developing film does not yeild the same result as stand developing.

What is the minimum developer I require?

You need two numbers to calculate your developer’s film capacity. Firstly, is the concentrate volume of the developer. Secondly, is the total number of films that concentrate can develop.

Let’s, for example, take a 250ml bottle of concentrated developer. On its information sheet (printed on the side of the bottle or manufacturer’s web site) it states one full bottle can develop a total of 12, 35mm films. In other words, the 250mls of concentrate has the capacity to fully develop 12 films. Dividing 250ml by 12 films (250/12) and you get 20.83mls per film. It is more practical to round this up to 21mls. So, you need 21mls of developer concentrate (stock solution) in your tank per film.

The final volume of water you use to dilute the developer concentrate is the working solution. For example, if you require 800mls of developer solution to cover your film, then your final dilution would be 800mls working solution minus 21mls concentrated developer = 779mls water. In other words, to make your working solution you would take 21mls of developer concentrate and add 779mls of water giving a total of 800mls.

Film Area Equivalents

Use the table below to help you calculate your developer’s film capacity. For example, if the total concentrate has a capacity of 12 x 35mm films, then equals 12 film equivalents. This is the same as 12 x 4 sheets = 48 sheets of 4×5 film. Likewise, the same bottle has the capacity of 12 x 1 roll film = 12 rolls of 120 film or 12 x 1 sheet of 8×10 film = 12 sheets of 8×10 film.

1 Film Area Equivalent=1 x 35mm film of 36 exposure
•based on 8×10 inch surface area=1 x 120 format roll film
=4 sheets x 4×5 inch film
=1 sheet x 8×10 inch film

Give sufficient agitation

uneven edge development
Slight drop in density of the right hand edge shows uneven development from film reel

Uneven Edge Development

Certainly, uneven edge development can be a frustrating problem with film developed in reels. To offset this problem you can try increasing the frequency of agitation without increasing the overall amount of agitation (film tank inversions) received.

For example, in the two tables below I have illustrated how to do this. Table 1 shows my stand developing times of 30 minutes total time, with a total of 55 tank inversions in 55 seconds. However, I have experienced some uneven edge development. So, I have increased the frequency of agitation as shown in Table 2.

Now instead of 4 main agitation periods in Table 1, I have 6 agitation periods in Table 2. In Table 1 I use 5 inversions in 5 seconds. Consequently, I have had to adjust for the additional agitation frequency and have reduced agitation to 3 inversions in 3 seconds. Both Table 1 and 2 have the same total number of 55 inversions in 55 seconds.

Adjusting Stand Development Agitation Frequency

Table 1Original Processing Procedure
Developing TimesUse a water bath for temperature control
T 33 min – 30 minPre-soak film in water at 20ºC
T 30 min – 29minpour in 1400mls working solution developer,
(15ml of LC29 plus 1385mls water)
invert tank 40 times in 40 seconds
T 28 mininvert tank 5 times in 5 seconds
T 20 mininvert tank 5 times in 5 seconds
T 10 mininvert tank 5 times in 5 seconds
final 20 secondsremaining 20 seconds pour out developer
Total 55 inversions in 55 seconds

Increase Frequency without Increasing Total Agitation

Table 2New Processing Procedure
Developing TimesUse a water bath for temperature control
T 33 min – 30 minPre-soak film in water at 20ºC
T 30 min – 29 minpour in 1400mls working solution developer,
(15ml of LC29 plus 1385mls water)
invert tank 40 times in 40 seconds
T 28 mininvert tank 3 times in 3 seconds
T 23 mininvert tank 3 times in 3 seconds
T 18 mininvert tank 3 times in 3 seconds
T 13 mininvert tank 3 times in 3 seconds
T 8 mininvert tank 3 times in 3 seconds
final 20 secondspour out developer
Total 55 inversions in 55 seconds

Avoiding bromide drag and air bells

Low agitation techniques such as stand development are more likely to suffer bromide drag than normal film processing. You will notice bromide drag more so in the heavily exposed area of negatives, rather than the thin underexposed portion of negative. Even though the negative below was developed using a temperature-controlled water-bath, it did not prevent bromide drag.

stand development bromide drag
Film negative showing bromide drag

Bromide drag

For example, look carefully at the section of the negative pointed to by the red arrow. Dots 1 through to 10 have heavily exposed circles which have developed black. Developer activity in the dense areas of the negative means the developer has been much more active here than in the thin shadow areas. In contrast, the immediate dot surroundings have received very little exposure and range from clear film base to light grey.

Bromide, a by-product of developing activity, has drifted slowly downward while the film has stood unagitated. Bromide inhibits development, so a lighter density streak has occurred under each dot, just visible in the very light grey areas. It is as if the white around the dot circles has been dragged or leaked out into grey parts of the negative. Bromide drag is not so obvious in the bottom circles as it is in the top circles. Bromide drag does not occur equally across a negative.

My personal tests, in contrast to website sources, indicate that temperature control alone does not reduce or eliminate bromide drag. This film was processed at 20ºC using a water-bath. My advice is that increasing agitation frequency reduces the presence of bromide drag.

Air Bells and Film Reel Contact

Air bells are formed by trapped air bubbles on the film’s emulsion. Consequently, they disrupt even development. Air bells form as underdeveloped, almost film base clear, circular shapes. They print as dark black circles.

In the image above, dots 6,8 and 9 have dark round areas, most likely formed by film reel contact. As before, physical contact with the emulsion creates conditions for uneven film development. Therefore, to avoid air bubbles you can rap the base of the tank gently on the table to dislodge bubbles.


You can also try pre-soaking your film. Pre-soaking may prevent air bubbles from becoming trapped by fully wetting the emulsion prior to developing. Another option is to avoid mixing your working solutions from aerated faucets which introduce disolved gas into the water.

Controlling your developing temperature.

Stand development
Use an esky for temperature control to avoid uneven film development

Unlike regular development, stand development uses longer developing times with minimal agitation. Use an insulated food or drinks container with a fitting lid to maintain a constant developing temperature. Even temperature control is essential to give you consistency when processing several films from one project. Good temperature control will also give you repeatable results into the future.


Comparison of identical negatives. One stand developed the other underdeveloped to N-1
Comparison between stand and underdeveloped negatives. At left, the stand development negative using Foma R09 30 min. To the right a negative receiving N-1 development in Ilford LC29. Both negative given identical in-camera exposure.

I am adding this update showing the negatives of the featured image at the top of this post. As you can see, the left hand negative is less dense overall than the right. I used Foma R09 for 30 minutes of stand development on the left. On the right I used Ilford LC29 for my N-1 development time.

The most obvious difference is that the negative highlights of the LC29 negative at right are heavily developed. Both negatives received the same in camera exposure.

Possibly the most important point I am trying to convey is that the shadow areas of the R09 negative at left are well exposed. They are holding good shadow detail. That means I have a great opportunity to include textural detail in the print if desired. If not, I can choose to print these dark grey to black by increasing print contrast. Stand development preserves texture in middle to low exposures.

The second point is, in this photo situation, the negative at left with R09 is much easier to print in the darkroom.

Overall, stand developed negatives are not thin, they can hold excellent shadow detail. Stand developed negatives lack overall contrast compared to “normally” developed negatives. That’s exactly what I want when photographing high-contrast scenes.


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

Ray McSavaney, Explorations: A Photographic Journey, 1st Ed, Findlay & Sampson Editions, Los Angeles, California, 1992

Steve Anchell, The Darkroom Cookbook, 3rd Ed, Focal Press, San Francisco, 2008

Foma R09 can be purchased in Australia from Chris Reid at Blanco Negro

Default image

Since 1989, Alex Bond has published cards, calendars, books, and posters under his imprint Stormlight Publishing. His images showcase the West Australian environment. Bond's handcrafted, silver-gelatin, fibre-based prints are personally made by the author in his darkroom.

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