Developing Roll Film for various contrasts - bruce barnbaum

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by mporter012, Jan 11, 2013.

  1. mporter012

    mporter012 Member

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    I have a few questions about properly exposing the negative for roll film. I am reading Bruce Barnbaum's book,The Art Of Photography. It is very, very good. In Barnbaum's book, when he discusses the proper development of roll film, he suggests a few scenarios for avoiding the dilemma's of roll film. As an important side note, I've never developed film, so this is all new to me. I am taking a darkroom class soon, but I don't want to mess up a bunch of negatives in the meantime!

    Barnbaum suggests the following:

    Use more than one back or camera body, designing each for a different contrast level. You would typically use 3. One for contrast expansion, one for normal contrast, one for compensation reduction (not completely sure what compensation reduction is?)

    Here are some of my questions/clarifications about his suggestion.

    If I understand development properly, once you develop a negative, it is forever developed the way you chose to develop it. So he's suggesting, for example, that if you are shooting snow on roll film, and over-exposing by a few stops to make the snow white, ONLY use that roll of film with overexposures, because in development, you have to compensate for the overexposure. If you shoot 15 shots of snow with an overexposure and then 10 shots with normal exposure, this is a bad idea??

    Thanks -
     
  2. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    An old photographic axiom goes, "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights." In essence, what this means is that the shadow areas of the negative are more or less fixed at the time of exposure. But the highlight areas can be manipulated by changes in development time. So if you have a "normal" range of tones in your scene (about 4 stops), you develop for a length of time that will preserve those values. If your scene has less than normal range, you can develop for longer to "expand" the contrast range. If you have a very contrasty scene you can develop for less than a normal time to compact the contrast range. The idea is to produce negatives that have good shadow values, highlights that are not too dense, and therefore print fairly easily.

    That is the advantage of sheet film; you can develop each sheet separately to produce the contrast range you wish. The same thing can be accomplished with medium format cameras with removable backs. You can have a back for normal, flat, and contrasty scenes. With 35mm cameras you pretty much have to develop your film for the most important scenes, and live with less than ideal contrast for other scenes.
     
  3. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Dan give a great explanation of what is called N,N- and N+ development and the reasons for it but if you are brand new to analogue film taking and processing then don't worry. If you expose as your hand-held or in-camera meter suggests and develop as the film manufacturer recommends for that film and its developer you will get very printable negs. Film is very forgiving. You are not on a knife edge where not being able to control everything or a small error results in negs that may as well be thrown into a bin

    Take things one step at a time and enjoy it. Things will be fine

    pentaxuser
     
  4. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I personally don't use multiple back or cameras for different development. I had a college professor that carried 3 camera bodies one for N, N+1, N-1. I Felt he was a slave to technique. We all work differently. What I do is always expose for shadows and develop normally or for "N" for mixed lighting condition on a roll. I can always adjust the contrast by changing the grade of paper. There are exceptions of course. I pull back development about 10-20% if the whole roll is shot under contrasty scenes and add 10-20% development if the whole roll is shot under low contrast. I do admire old timers being to shoot and process film and print on grade 2 paper.
     
  5. mporter012

    mporter012 Member

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    Ok, this is very interesting. Im reading now about N, N+1, N-1.

    Because I do not currently have a spot meter, I've been exposing scenes with snow, for example, 2 stops higher than what my light meter recommends, so I theoretically will develop these rolls N-2??
     
  6. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Snow is supposed to be 2 stops higher under a reflected reading. It's supposed to fall on zone VII usually under overcast skys. I'm assuming that you want texture in your snow. Always meter your shadows to see where your highlights fall. All meters give an 18% grey reading. Since snow is NOT 18% gray, but white with texture, it reads 2 stop higher which falls on Zone VII. So you must open up 2 stops from your reflected reading of snow to make snow white with texture. But snow under bright sun might make snow fall on Zone IX lets say. You'll have to do an N-2 to pull snow that's blown out to zone IX back to zone VII.

    Ansel Adams the negative is a great book to learn the Zone system. Correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  7. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I agree that you should use a meter and expose as the manufacturer says and develop accordingly. You can control contrast to a degree by the grade of paper you print on. You're just starting out - don't make things complicated. Follow the manufacturers instructions for six months or a year, make a lot of mistakes that you learn from, then when you understand more and have a better feel for film, move to the more complex. I shot roll film at the manufacturers rating and developed as instructed for at least 15-years before I knew there was anything else to consider. I have a lot of printable negatives from that time.
    juan
     
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  8. elekm

    elekm Member

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    Juan, that is excellent advice. Do as recommended and as you accumulate knowledge and experience, you will begin to know when to compensate.
     
  9. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    mporter- I'm not sure what your subject matter is but, based on your snow example, I'll assume it's landscape. The truth is, most of the time a roll will require either N, -, or + development, not all three, (which you can't do anyway). Unless the light is changing rapidly, your exposures will be fairly consistent, assuming your subject matter is consistent. Any slight variation can easily be addressed in printing.
    Carrying 3 cameras will be a waste. You'd be better served by using 20 exposure rolls (or bulk loading even shorter rolls) than carrying the extra cameras.
     
  10. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    My advice is just develop normally.
     
  11. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    With today's excellent variable contrast papers there is little need for developing roll film to different contrasts.
     
  12. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    If you meter for the snow with an incident meter (such as a cheap handheld meter rather than a builtin), you won't have to "overexpose the snow."

    Expose normally. Develop normally and consistently.

    With a wide brightness range film like tmy2 and a developer that tames highlights like PMK, I shoot snow (in bright sunlight) as described with other stuff on the roll as well. Obviously get things right in the negative without being a slave to the process, and do the final contrast minor adjustment with multigrade paper if needed.
     
  13. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Whoa!

    To the OP (mporter012).

    I definitely wouldn't suggest starting with Zone system developing controls if you have never developed film before.

    It isn't a bad idea to read some of this sort of stuff, but I would hold off of applying most of it until you have a bit of experience.

    The two things to understand most clearly are that:

    1) by controlling exposure, you control the most important variable that is most easily modified by you; and
    2) past a certain minimum point, changes in development only really change contrast.

    When you use a snow scene as an example, the biggest challenge is determining the exposure. A standard, reflected light meter will get fooled by snow, and will try to convince you to set an exposure that will result in a middle gray result. The suggestion that you give the scene two extra stops of exposure will help you turn the snow back to white.

    By itself, snow in itself won't mean that you need to adjust development. You only need to adjust development (N -1, N, N +1) if you need to adjust contrast. A snow scene might lead to a need for that, because:

    a) a brightly lit snow scene will generally have a very wide range of tones, and be very contrasty. A development time that tends to lower contrast (N - 1) would most likely help, but regular development (N) plus printing controls will come close; or
    b) a cloudy and misty and snowy day will generally have a very narrow range of tones, and be very low in contrast. A development time that tends to increase contrast (N + 1) would most likely help, but regular development (N) plus printing controls will come close.

    Although there certainly is some relationship between the two, it is probably best to deal with exposure issues separately from development issues.

    But most important - have fun!
     
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  15. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Process all the film for the same time and print with multigrade paper or have a selection of graded paper available when printing.
     
  16. mporter012

    mporter012 Member

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    Thanks for the great advice.
     
  17. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Don't give up on the Zone System though. It's very useful for previsualization which will help you expose better and make better decisions. Make it serve your photography and don't be a slave to it. The Zone System make me realize how much dynamic range the human eye has.
     
  18. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    mporter012, what kind of light meter do you have?

    Incident, the kind with a white dome, gives reading of light falling on the scene (so snow or low won't change the meter reading)...

    Spot, you would be able to read the snow from a distance then "place" on Zone VII.

    Reflected light meter, you can work as if you had a spot meter. Walk right up to the snow. "Place" on Zone VII same as a spot meter when you get close. (Using a reflected light in average mode is OK most of the time but "high-key" and "low-key" scenes mislead the meter)

    In-camera meter, same as reflected light meter but I don't like the mental gymnastics required when I go to take notes.

    On the subject of N+ N and N- development for roll film. Even my earliest Zone System book agrees with what others have said. Develop (more or less) normally and use paper grades to adapt to different contrast negatives that you might have created on a single roll.

    I personally would rather not carry three cameras. So I develop the entire roll to fit what I believe the majority of the (important) shots on that roll would require. It's as simple for me as, "It was a foggy day, I will develop it N+1".

    But even the roll I have in the camera now has two different requirements. One outside at daytime and another at night in a restaurant.
     
  19. mporter012

    mporter012 Member

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    Hey Bill - I have a Nikon FE2 and it has a 60/40 center weighted light meter.
     
  20. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    OK, in-camera meter.

    Here is a way you might be able to do Zone System thinking with an in-camera meter:

    1. Looking at the whole scene pick any shutter speed that indicates f/5.6 is correct for average.
    2. Walk up to the darkest part of the scene that has to have detail (not pitch dark but the darkest thing).
    3. Move the f/stop until meter says it's right. (That's Zone V). Click f/stops towards f/16 two or three clicks to "place" that reading on Zone III or II
    4. Note the f/stop
    5. Walk up to the brightest part of the scene that has to have detail (not a chrome shine but something light)
    6. Move the f/stop until meter says it's right (Zone V again). Click f/stops towards f/1.4 two or three clicks to "place" that reading on Zone VII or VIII
    7. Note the f/stop
    ---
    If you get to f/5.6 both times, then just use f/5.6... If you get different choices, take the shadow reading and keep in mind where your highlight fell...
    ---
    As everyone suggests, develop normally unless you really have N-2 (Bright snow next to a Cave - compensating development) or N+2 (Foggy Day where everything looks gray - develop longer than usual).
     
  21. LJSLATER

    LJSLATER Member

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    I too use the Nikon center-weighted meter; it's my favorite.

    For me personally, the Zone System is no fun, and should be referenced only when you've got a few rolls under your belt. It is a great tool, but one that I myself only use in an extremely simplified manner.

    Basically, I take the grey card approach: I eyeball the scene and try to find something "grey" (not the color grey, but something that feels like it's reflecting a medium value), and base my exposure on that. The light meter tries to make everything grey. If somebody had just told me that in as many words several years ago, I'd have understood right away. If you point your Nikon at the snow, it'll try to make the snow grey. If you're floating in space and you point your Nikon at a black hole, it'll try to make the black hole grey.

    One time I spent a whole day photographing with my dad's Mamiya MSX 1000, only to discover that the battery was dead the whole time (when the battery on that camera is dead, you can still adjust the shutter speeds, and the match needle moves around). Almost all of the exposures were fine!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2013
  22. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Very nice explanation LJSLATER.

    Have you tried a real gray card (and use it as Zone V - ignore any drama about 18%)?
    Or the palm of your hand (and "place" it on Zone VI)?

    I would recommend Zone System to anyone "who is interested".

    I also am very happy to help anyone use "any" method of working that fits their needs.
     
  23. LJSLATER

    LJSLATER Member

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    Ha, I'd wager my hand is closer to zone VIII or IX (front and back!). I was turned off of the Zone System by an overly-ambitious instructor when I attended community college (really nice guy, and a talented artist, but he expected a little too much). I own Ansel Adams' trilogy, and I reference it all the time, but the Zone System as Mr. Adams taught it just never clicked with me.

    I would submit that after several years of experience, I've learned to "go with my gut" when metering is concerned, and I'm able to properly expose slide film without too much trouble. When it comes to black and white, I'm a fan of processing normally and printing "straight". Lost detail in the shadows or highlights doesn't keep me up at night. Maybe this comes from shooting so many slides, since there's basically nothing you can do about it.
     
  24. mporter012

    mporter012 Member

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    Bill -

    I have not used a grey card. If I understand correctly, the issue in development is mainly with contrast correct? This is essentially what I think Barnbaum is recommending in his book in having two backs. If I shoot 10 shots of snow with dark tree line and 10 shots of dense fog on the same roll, in one way or another, either the contrasty shots (trees and snow) or the un-contrasty shots (fog) will likely suffer to some extent in development.

    Am I on the right track?
     
  25. mporter012

    mporter012 Member

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    Thanks for all the replies - this is a very productive conversation for me!
     
  26. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Instead of bothering with the zone system rather buy a exposure meter where you, instead of handling times and f-stops, see at the dial a range of stops arranged around a center and where you can "place" your exposure at these stops (for instance +1 for a skin tone). This aids you better in pre-visualisation.

    something like this one:

    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2162/2286038549_5b57fd635c.jpg