Sunday, 26 August 2012

The perfect print; possible?

It is still one of the most talked about subjects Visit any forum to do with photography digital or traditional and you will find threads relating to the perfect negative or capture. What developer to use, how to manipulate the raw file, what does a well exposed negative or histogram look like and so on. But this post is not about our digital friend or for that matter the negative it is to do with the photograph - the positive end of the process. I cannot get there without some negative chat first though!

After the recent deluge it is nice to be sitting back in the garden office writing this post and enjoying the late afternoon sun with my friend the cat. It is quite surprising how peaceful it can be in such a built up area. Not as negative as you thought but I digress.
It was Ansel Adams and Fred R. Archer that gave us a proven method of producing a properly exposed negative every time with the zone system. They divided the black and white negative up into eleven sections if you include zero from pure white to full black. Adams then said that really there are only nine zones if you are in pursuit of the perfect negative and then only seven of those will give texture. This is all well and good if you are using a plate camera but most of us don't. We use cassette and or roll film where all our carefully exposed negatives get a one time fits all development. In a round about way Mr Adams is saying that film sees the world in a more limited way to us. So we have all engineered ways of finding our perfect negative. What do I look for? A negative that has detail from high light to shadow and a good density above base clear in other words defined rectangles of tones the length of the film.

The day was very bright that the light
meter read a six stop difference
between the house wall in the background
and the shadow cast by the barn. I
over exposed the negative by two and a
half stops.
We all strive to produce the perfect negative but it was not until recently that it dawned on me that it does not necessarily translate to the perfect print. So what is the perfect print? One that is easy to print but what do they mean by easy to print? One that does not require a lot of dodging and burning. A single exposure success wouldn't that be the perfect print! With the way the negative sees the scene in front of it and all the variables in its path is it not inevitable that you will have to manipulate the image projected onto the base board of the enlarger to produce the perfect print? 

Recently I came close to my interpretation of the perfect print, one that does not require a lot of manipulation. By placing the test strip in such a way that the area that needed burning in was exposed to several different timed exposure segments this allowed me to add the extra time for that area to the first print. With experience the hit or miss aspect of the test strip process is lessened. It still doesn't take away that bit of a buzz when it all falls into place. Something I've never had with digital.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Stop not buffer.

One of the most popular over the counter acid stops.
Made from citric acid with colour indicator.
Stop is the second part of the development process, but how many of us give it a second thought. Most of us when we come to developing our first film tend to do what the manufacturers, friends and teachers suggest without delving into what the relationship is between these elements in the process. There is nothing wrong with this approach we are all eager to get on and see those all important first images. With success, we continue settling in to a way of doing things that produce good results. It's not until we start printing that some faults with the negatives rear their heads. Dust and hair marks being the most common but then there are those odd black spots appearing in the skies here and there. This is when the controversy about how we stop the development process comes to the fore.

There are two main categories. The more aggressive with chemicals and the gentler water stop. The later is not a stop and it is misleading to call it such.   It dilutes the developer to the point where it no longer has an affect on the emulsion this can and does lead to unevenly developed negatives and I cannot understand why it is recommended (for film only) other than to increase the longevity of the fix, a buffer or as a way of creating a certain style to the negative. 

Have been processed using a citric acid stop.
I personally prefer the more aggressive chemical route, when the stop go's in, the developer is stopped in its tracks producing a clean crisp negative but you need to be careful.

A popular choice in the make up of developers is Sodium carbonate, an alkali. When this comes into contact with an acid based stop it produces carbon dioxide gas that leads to blistering of the more sensitive film emulsion,( not the case with enlarging papers). It manifests its self as a pinhole in the denser areas of the negative. There are ways around this by using developers that are formulated from mild alkalis either balanced or borax which do not produce the damaging over heating or gas when used with acid stops.

A reflection of St Pauls in London.
Processed and printed using all Ilford products
Stops are made from several different acids the most popular is acetic with a pH dye indicator. The others are citric and boric. You can also use a simple solution of sodium bisulfite. Be careful which stop you choose as some produce green staining with some enlarging papers. Another precaution is to use the stop bath at a lower working temperature to the developer; I know this is a controversial move but I have used this method for years without any of the problems suggested by others.