Film exposure and development

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Les McLean, Jan 10, 2004.

  1. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Is film development more important than film exposure or are they of equal importance in producing the expressive negative from which the final print that conveys the result you require can be made? The question is prompted by an experiment I did on a batch of miscellaneous films that had accumulated over a period of time.
     
  2. Dave Mueller

    Dave Mueller Member

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    After reading your question a few times (and re-writing my answer just as many), IMO the development process has more of an impact on the expressive negative. I tend to think of exposure as either right (i.e. what you wanted) or wrong. The choices of developer and time (N+, N- etc) for any given film are almost endless, resulting in a mind boggling array of grain structure & appearance and contrast. I think this will be more important to the final print than being off by a third or half stop in exposure.
     
  3. Jorge Oliveira

    Jorge Oliveira Member

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    I think both are equally important.

    Jorge O
     
  4. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Since I tend to expose "sufficiently" - erring on the side of over-exposure to ensure shadow detail - I believe that hte development makes the difference between a good negative and a "great" one.

    I touched on this in another discussion here, I think...

    Basically it comes odwn to the three kinds of contrast:
    Macrocontrast, which is what cn be controlled by burning and dodging dring printing.

    Microcontrast, which is wholly determined by type of developer and agitation.

    Mesocontrast is the difficult one, and to me the most important. That's the range between grain structure / acutance (microcontrast) and large-scale tonal range (macrocontrast). It is too large to be influenced by agitation, and too small to be manipulated in printing without contrast masks.
    Mesocontras is dependent on both the initial exposure, the choise of developer and development. Identical exposures developed in different developers will show marked differences here: I have developed two sheets in compensating developers (divided D23 and Maxim Muir's Copensating pyrocatechol) and the differences are astonishing. Both negatives show about the same density range, but the distribution of densities in the details is totally different.

    In my opinion it is this middle range which determines if a negative "sings" or not. The sheets I mentioned above gave prints which were practically identical in tonal range, but very different in terms of visual impact!
     
  5. photomc

    photomc Member

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    I agree with Jorge O, they are both important. That said, don't we expose film with a specific development in mind? While, personally I am not at the point to understand N, N+, N- development - I think I understand the reasoning behind it. If the film is not exposed correctly, the final print may not look the way we want - no matter what we do during development. On the other hand if we envision a certain look, expose the film correctly but then apply development other than what is needed the final negative will still fail to yield what we wanted.

    Now if I could just get the point where I understand all of this.....
     
  6. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    I would opt for equal, as the print (any print) is dependent upon the development. "You can't print what ain't there". But you sure can make a slightly over/under developed negative look good...... maybe not the expressive print, but a print that perhaps hums rather than sings.

    You really can't have one without the other. So I think they are of equal importance.
     
  7. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    Both are important. I can't say they're equal either though. Thus, I'll have a zen moment and say both are important and different.

    The old adage expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights works here. I've always thought that the goal was to get all the information possible on the sheet of film. Thus, we expose the film getting enough exposure to produce the desired details in the shadows. As Ole mentioned a little overexposre will guarantee that we get the shadow detail. However, too much overexposure will shove the highlights onto the shoulder. Flat highlights isn't any good either. However, we can control this with the proper film, developer, and development choice.

    So, this is why many people encourage testing of film, paper, etc. IMHO, two of the best darkroom tools I have are my densitometer and my stouffer density wedge.

    In conclusion, both are important. However, knowing how your materials respond is most important.
     
  8. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    Les,
    I found two different philosophies in this case. Some photographers “tailor” their negatives such that a (possible) straight print delivers the expression they intend. Other photographers try to capture as much as possible at exposure time and try to work out the expression in the darkroom. I’m a member of the second group, because I want to have an option to try different expressions. Decades might lie between two prints from the same negative. Time that will change your mind and your vision.

    So it is my intension to record maximum information at exposure time. This requires an optimum combination of Exposure and Development in a technical sense. Whenever I test-in a new film/developer combination, I'm giving Exposure priority over Development. Both are of equal importance in the near-optimum range. But in seek of this range, exposure is more important than development, IMO. No magics can reveal afterwards what you haven’t captured at exposure time.
     
  9. Dave Mueller

    Dave Mueller Member

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    Mike C - "in 25 words or less..."

    "N" or Normal development - time and temperature that will give the negative a "normal" contrast range, usually considered about 5 zones (stops), to print on your "normal" paper, usually Grade 2 or 3.

    "N-" or Contracted - less developement (shorter time) to compress the contrast range. This technique takes a subject with a wide contrast range and compresses it to fit into the 5 zones on the film and therefore onto Grade 2 paper.

    "N+" or Expansion - more development (longer time) to expand the contrast range. This is used for low contrast subjects, it stretches the subject contrast to fill the 5 zones on film and your normal paper.

    Everyone has his/her own way of explaining this, a search for "zone system" will have a million and one results. If you want the complete explaination from the source, read "The Negative" by Ansel Adams. A warning - there is math involved!
     
  10. dr bob

    dr bob Member

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    First I would inquire as to the motivation of the question.

    Second, I have to admit that I attempt to expose to obtain proper placement of the various tones (zones) on the negative so that conventional development with conventional chemicals is possible. Then I will modify method and materials of development according to my best estimate for producing an easily printable negative. Sometimes this fails miserably and I'm left with printing difficulties. Large format helps in this respect allowing two identically exposed negatives so that if I goof in estimating development, I have a back-up to develope (possibly also badly :smile: )

    So it seems that, for me, exposure is just a little more important of the processes. Either way, it is a one-way street once the commitment is committed by the commitee.

    This message brought to you by the Department to Reduce Redundancy Department.
     
  11. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Thanks to all who have responded and for the range of interesting answers the majority of which are that exposure and development are of equal importance.

    The motivation behind the question is that the experiment that I mentioned in my original post involved developing 6 different films in the same developer. On my travels I make many photographs, mainly 35mm, for no other reason than I love to make them. I always give full exposure no matter what format I use, working on the basis that if it is not on the negative it cannot be printed, a point that has been made in posts in this thread. I have always been a believer in exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights, consequently I always check the contrast range I have to deal with.

    The experiment I mentioned happened because I had 6 odd rolls of film that were of little importance so instead of loading and developing them seperately I was lazy and processed them all together in one tank. The films in question were FP4, TriX at 200 and 400 ISO, Neopan 400, HP5 and Tmax 400. The developer used was Fotospeed FD30 1 to 9 for 6 minutes. The interesting end result was that Tmax was the only film that failed, the negatives were extremely under developed but the other 5 rolls produced very printable negatives. The TriX rated 200 ISO was somehat more dense than I like but still printed well.

    As a result of this experiment I reached the conclusion that exposure was the most important. I hasten to add that I do not advocate sloppy developement techniques.
     
  12. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Now do the same experiment, but with six rolls of the same film (and same exposure) in six different developers.

    All the negatives will be printable, but some will be better than others.

    Now if I could only learn how to get the best possible negatives, instead of selecting development based on "what I feel like trying"...
     
  13. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    BUT..... you say the other 5 rolls produced very printable negatives; that is not the same as an "expressive" negative.

    I believe you can develop a negative in swamp water and get a printable negative but not the EXPRESSIVE negative you mentioned. No, with less than an 'expressive' negative you will print a less than 'expressive' print. And no special printing abilities will produce an 'expressive' print without the negative. :smile:

    I remain that they are of equal importance and not mutually exclusive.
     
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  15. Jorge Oliveira

    Jorge Oliveira Member

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    Les

    I beg to disagree with your conclusion.
    You posted:
    "TriX at 200 and 400 ISO"

    So, even with a full stop difference in exposure, you consider the negatives to be equivalent.

    Jorge O
     
  16. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    Jorge,

    You're inferring that Les meant equivalent. I took what he said as printable. The ISO 200 prints are likely more dense but still printable.

    As mentioned earlier, this is an overexposure by one stop. As long as the highlights don't get flattened on the shoulder the negative is still printable. Some people like dense negatives.
     
  17. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I would tend to think that proper exposure is more important then proper development insofar as gaining an expressive print as the end result. The reason being with today's variable contrast materials we have the ability to alter contrast filtration to enable a expressive print from either a "flat" or "contrasty" negative. As other's have said, if it is not on the negative we have nothing to print. Most films have the ability to record greater luminance ranges then do the papers to print them.
     
  18. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    Hmm, I've been thinking again...

    This post got my wheels turning. I'd better answer and get back to writing my lecture for tomorrow.

    This post got me thinking about how I approach an image. While reading and posting I concentrated on exposure and development; however, I had this nagging thought in the back of my head. What about the print? The whole purpose of a negative is to produce a print. IMO, we should start with the print. What is the contrast range of the paper we’re using? From this we can determine the necessary density range needed to achieve this range. This gives us the necessary information when we expose a sheet of film. After exposure, we determine the proper development to produce the range of densities we desire for our planned paper.

    However, if we mess up the development slightly, which produces a change in density range. Then we can print on a softer or harder grade of paper. From this viewpoint it seems that exposure is most important (provided your using VC paper). If you’re an AZO user, then your negs had better be good!

    Thus, I’m inclined to lean towards Les’ conclusion. Exposure is slightly more important since we can compensate for slight changes in development with VC paper.
     
  19. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    This is all so subjective, one persons over is another persons under. I know I expose for the highlight and let everything else go. Then if theirs no highlight then expose for the grey . Once this is decided then quality of light, some light requires over exposure some normal exp. As far as processing I have no idea whether it is in line with the standard + N or - . It's a process I tested for, a long time ago and as film has disappeared been replaced by new I've tested those to my current process made adjustments to balance. I know it gives me the latitude I need for contrast changes and the grain when I ask it of the image is very sharp.
     
  20. Jorge Oliveira

    Jorge Oliveira Member

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    DrPhil

    Les question was what is more important.
    My answer was they are equally important.
    His viewpoint is that exposure is more important.

    Now, if one stop overexposed negs are still printable, then exposure is not more important (compared to development).

    Pushed (underexposed/ovedeveloped) film , after all is still printable.

    Jorge O
     
  21. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Dave Mueller, Thanks nice summary "in 25 words or less"..I been working through this, need to go back to the Negative. Been using Bruce Barnbaum book to work with. Damn, knew I should have paid more attention in those high school math classes....
     
  22. dr bob

    dr bob Member

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    This got me thinking. I sort of do likewise: I usually meter the highlights and determine upon which "zone" they should be "placed". But I always check the shadow density and decide if I can live with losses that may occurr. In scenes having a narrow luminance range, which happens often here on the East Coast, I go for middle gray and then development becomes the more important factor.
     
  23. Lex Jenkins

    Lex Jenkins Member

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    Since I often must push process to get the photos I want to capture (theatre, other stuff in very dim light), I've already compromised the exposure factor. So in those situations I'd have to say that processing is the most important factor. I've conducted a lot of experiments to find out what works best for me.

    For the other 50% of my photography it's an even split between proper exposure and normal development.
     
  24. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I'd say both are equally important, but with the caveat that some films will let you get away with more "error" than others. Regarding B&W neg film-- Underexpose, and you lose the shadow detail, so there's less to work with in making an expressive print. Underdevelop a bit, and you might be able to expand the contrast at the printing stage by printing at a higher paper grade, but underdevelop too much, and the tonal transitions won't be as smooth. Overexpose or overdevelop and you're okay if you don't hit the shoulder of the film, but if you do, then the highlights are lost or you might need to use contrast masking or complicated dodging and burning or physical retouching to get an expressive print.

    Having messed up both often enough (though I'm always getting more consistent), I can't see one as more important than the other. If I had to pick one worst condition, I guess I would say underexposure, because it's the least correctable.
     
  25. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    But a change in development doesn't only affect the density range, but also the "structure" (micro- and mesocontrast). So even with VC paper, two negatives with the same exposure, differently developed, will give different prints.

    Yes, exposure is important. But with the latitude towards overexposure of nearly all current B&W films, I still hold that development has the greatest influence on the print.
     
  26. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I would have to fall into the camp that considers exposure the most important. As already stated, if the information is not there you can't print it. A poorly exposed negative means more work in the darkroom and probably ends in a waste of chemistry and paper.

    From a creative stand point the exposure of the negative is still the more important. And leading up to that is metering of the scene and understanding the materials being used. You may see a scene and decide you want to make sure the highlights are just right, but that depends on how well you meter and make the exposure decisions. If the exposure is off, the print will not be optimal no matter what kind of expansion, contraction in development or printing techniques are used. That is not to say a great print can not be achieved, but exposure is going to go along ways to determine how much work is involved.

    David Vestal has always held that if the negative is poorly exposed, you just as well throw it away, because a good print usually comes from a negative that initially prints easy requiring minimal manipulation during the printing stage. I like that approach.