How to ask fewer questions

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by John Cook, Sep 1, 2005.

  1. John Cook

    John Cook Member

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    I am definitely not the “question police”. It makes no difference to me who asks a question, nor what it may be about.

    But, year after year, I am continuing to see many “technical” questions asked over and over on photography forums. Things, for example, regarding substituting liquid dish soap for wetting agent, or cider vinegar for indicator short stop. Also many questions about mixing up working solutions of developers and fixers. Then there are all those questions about various “spots on my film”.

    As those of you who are familiar with my replies are aware, I have been doing this commercially for quite a while.

    Just the other day, I figured that I have probably processed something like 70,000 rolls/sheets of film by hand in my darkroom since I began in the 1960's. And I have never lost a film to technical processing problems.

    In case someone may be interested, I have two secrets: first, to the extent possible, I always use materials from the same manufacturer. When you expose film from Agfa, develop it in Kodak D-76, fix it in Ilford Hypam, print it on Bergger paper developed in Ansco 130 and you don’t like the print, whom to you blame?

    Certainly, not one of these manufactures will take the rap for the other four. It’s always the other guy’s fault. But when everything you used was sold by the same manufacturer, he has no place to hide.

    My second secret has been to use photographic materials which are well-documented by their manufacturer and follow those instructions to the letter.

    A lot of legendary developers, for example, have come out of third party vendors in the Chicago area over the years, but most had very sketchy documentation. I have religiously avoided these “mystery powders” in spite of their devotion by the secretive “in-crowd”.

    Kodak used to publish the best instructions, but I think Ilford now has them beat. If you are not yet familiar with this technical site, you should be:

    http://www.ilford.com/html/us_english/bw.html

    So that’s my big secret to becoming a successful “Photo Guru”.

    Mix as few brands of materials as possible. Favor manufacturers who adequately document their products. Study and follow those instructions explicitly.

    Do this and you will find yourself making beautiful pictures instead of asking questions about what went wrong. ;0)
     
  2. esanford

    esanford Member

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    Very thughtful and "needed" post.... Clearly, you are voice of wisdom!!!
     
  3. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    KISS all the way! Good advice.
     
  4. B-3

    B-3 Member

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    Thanks for the link too. :smile:
     
  5. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

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    I assume this is probably something that would place even more work load on Sean, so I understand that it is difficult and time consuming - but, perhaps some of the folks who moderate/help run the site could take suggetions for making certain threads of technical nature "sticky" and putting them in a reference forum? Something like it already exists on APUG - so perhaps just a more systematic expansion of the concept?

    And on a different note, while I certainly hope to learn as much about photography one day as Mr Cook has probably forgotten :smile:, I have a bit of a perspective on this issue. In all the hobbies and interests that I have ever endulged in, I found that the people involved...well... enjoy the banter. Car guys call it "bench racing", and I think photo enthusiasts like the on-going discussion just as much - even if the topics are sometimes a bit tired and old... perhaps even beaten to death... I don't know that some degree of redundance can be avoided :smile:

    And to finish off - thank you for a thoughtful post from which I certainly learned a lot and gained a very hlepful perspective.

    Peter.
     
  6. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Would that it were that simple! But - shock, horror - manufacturers sometimes don't tell the whole story;

    Two favorite niggles of mine:
    1) When I worked for Ilford Limited as a technical writer (1974 - 1976), Ilfosol developer was notorious for dying within a day or two in part-empty bottles. In 30 years they haven't fixed this or put a warning in the instructions.
    2) Kodak Stop Bath contains an indicator. This is meant to show if the stop bath is acidic enough. If you experiment you will find you can pour about 400 ml of print developer into 1 liter of stop bath before the indicator changes color, Infinitely sooner than this the stop bath has become contaminated to the degree that streaks on film or prints are likely. Again, no warning in the instructions, you can only learn this by experience (and ruined material) or through a forum. Yes, some people do ask obvious questions out of laziness, but most questions are more than justified.
     
  7. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

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    As much as I found Mr Cook's post thoughtful and containing a lot of good points - the above is certainly very true. Truly, if it was all that simple... well, these forums would not be that popular - and I can see that especially on APUG, the cross-section of people here certainly makes it difficult to make a case for ignorance and laziness. This is not your run-of-the-mill "which new camera should I buy" type forum. There are a lot of knowledgeable people here, with great amounts of experience and knowledge gained first hand, inthe "trenches" (like Mr Cook, obviously) - I know that a lot of people would rather hear their take on it, based on these past hands on experiences, over the often generalized, impersonal instructions of a manufacturer. Not to mention a great deal of intangibles that can only be passed on in this manner....

    Hmmm - is this thread turning into what it speaks out against..:wink:
     
  8. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There are some questions that are pretty easy to look up, and some less so. It is good to stick to using the same basic materials, which I do, but I also like to test new things, and occasionally I'll switch or add something new to the basic toolkit on the basis of those tests. Before experimenting, I'd agree--master the basics and the standard combinations, or you'll have nothing to compare the experimental results to, and then when you're ready to experiment, you'll know what you're looking for, and probably won't need to ask.

    Thankfully, even the "basic" questions asked on APUG aren't as inane as some of the ones that seem to come up all the time on some of the other forums (well, maybe we get these once in a while, but at least it's not every other day)--

    "What film should I use for my trip to [insert location]?"

    "If I use a Leica/Hasselblad, will I get as good a result as with 4x5"?"

    "How many pixels are as good as medium format?"

    "Which is better, Canon or Nikon?"

    "[insert zoom lens with lots of initials after the f:stop] vs. [insert zoom lens with lots of initials after the f:stop]?????"

    "Why shoot B&W film instead of color and just desaturating?"
     
  9. Bighead

    Bighead Member

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    I would have to agree with the above, we do like the bantor.... Some just love to ask questions so they can get direct answers addressed to them... Even further, many just love to answer and show off their knowledge and experience...

    I am sure the "search" function is the most under used item in this site but luckily, we can brush past the monotony or partake.

    Thanks for the post. I always like to set a standard in my photography. The only problem is, I haven't done it enough to pick my 4 or 5 set manufacturers. Also, i think some may think that you lose a little control with having a set 4. Don't you? Contrast, grain, Shadow density... Isn't there better films and better chemicals to achieve different things?? Of course, questions like that make out fridge and chemical cabinet a little more extensive and results may vary... ?????
     
  10. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I used to do that when I did commercial work - shoot Ilford, Ilford dev and fix, ilford paper, ilford dev and fix again. Then I got a single roll of Efke R17 to try, and a pack of Oriental Seagull paper. Took one of my old negatives and printed it on the seagull: No difference you could put your finger on, but the print looked different. It "glowed".

    Then the Efke film: Exposed it, but as I was about to leave for a couple of weeks I didn't want to crack open a new bottle of Ilfosol-S (I have already found out that opened bottles sometimes die suddenly and totally). Went back to where I got the film - they didn't have any instructions for it, and none of the developers mentioned in the film box. But they gave me a vial of Neofin Blau. So I guessed at a time, developed the film, and printed it on Ilford paper. Yet again it was different from what I was used to, and in the best cases it was far, far better. But many of the frames had little pinholes in them, so it was not a film to use for commercial jobs. I stuck with FP4+ in Ilfosol-S.

    And then circumstances changed, and I no longer do commercial work. And since nobody got upset if I ruined a negative, I started experimenting - well I had to, since my local shop sotpped carrying Ilfosol-S when I stopped buying it!

    So now I shoot any film I can lay my hands on, develop in home-brew developer, fix in home-brew fixer, print on lots of weird and wonderful papers which I then process in home-brew chemicals.

    Guess what: I'm having fun! I have found most of the ways to screw up a negative, but also most of the ways to get a good print from a screwed-up negative. A couple of horribly overdeveloped sheet films led me to alternative processes, and then to POP. Yet more fun chemicals to play with.

    Old folding cameras with unreliable shutters mean that I often have no idea how the negatives are exposed, so I learned stand development, and compensating developers. And a few more print developers to compensate for my compensations so I could produce decent prints. So RC paper is out of my darkroom, since they don't respond well enough to different developers. Who would have known there were so many FB papers to choose from - and they're (nearly) all different!

    Best of it all is that I know exactly who to blame if something goes wrong: Myself.
    And I also know who is going to fix it: I am.
    So now I know a lot more than I did about different chemicals, changes in processing, different films, papers - and errors.
    I'm learning a lot, but the most important thing is not to take anything at face value but try it and see for yourself. If it doesn't work, why not? If it does, why? Why did it work when everybody knows it doesn't?

    That's how I have fun in the darkroom. :smile:
     
  11. moose10101

    moose10101 Member

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    I'm glad you found a methodology that works for you. However, what makes APUG different from other resources, IMO, is the curiosity and creativity of its members. If we all followed your advice, no one would have ever heard of PC-TEA, split-filter printing, or several dozen other tools/processes that make the photographic process interesting and exciting for us. I'd rather have some options, and keep the responsibility where it really lies: with me.
     
  12. psvensson

    psvensson Member

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    What does it help to have someone to blame? I think what helps is understanding the chemical process, and if you do that, you realize that all the fixers do pretty much the same thing, that D-76 is a fine developer for Agfa films, and that Ansco 130 will work with pretty much any paper.

    You need to test any developer before you use it for something important. Goes for Kodak and Ilford products as well. I think BKA makes outsize claims of speed enhancement for Acufine and Diafine, but neither deserves to be called a "mystery powder" after something like 30 years on the market.
     
  13. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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  15. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    John -

    I share your concern with the tendency to reinvent the wheel. In the photographic arena, my initial reaction so often is "been there, done that", and I have to restrain myself from responding with a smart-ass comment.

    But this tendency is not limited to photography. Last year, before I retired, I went to a non-photographic technical conference at a major university at which a couple of guys presented a paper in which they claimed to have found a new solution to a particularly vexing technical problem. That's great, except that I recall a presentation in a class that I took back in 1973 in which some guys talked about the same solution as the "industry standard approach" to solving the same problem. Duh?

    I appreciate that the "kids" have to learn lessons, and often they do it the hard way. I know that us older guys did the same thing when we were kids. But it seems to me that for society to progress, we need to retain some of this knowlege so that we can focus on developing new solutions to heretofore unsolved problems.
     
  16. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Gentle disagreement with Mr. Cook.

    Observing brand continuity is not the issue. Mixing brands is not the issue.

    The only two things that deliver consistent good results are a clear headed and patient approach to the job at hand, and a willingness to humble yourself to your craft. For some workers, tempermentally suited to following directions and keeping to standards, I think Mr. Cook's advice is sound. For others, who perform better by understanding what materials do, simple testing is best. Neither is absolute. The only way to do it is decide which approach suits you, and stick to it. It isn't brain surgery, and you are responsible for the results you get.
     
  17. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    "Kodak used to publish the best instructions, but I think Ilford now has them beat. If you are not yet familiar with this technical site, you should be:

    http://www.ilford.com/html/us_english/bw.html

    So that’s my big secret to becoming a successful “Photo Guru”."


    One of the first and most useful things (among many) that my tutor at university beat into me was that if you were going to learn something from a book, you'd better learn it from two books, making sure that the author of one hadn't copied the other.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  18. mark

    mark Member

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    If I stuck to what "photo Guru" Cook suggests I would not be using Pyro-Cat, with EFKE PL100 and printing it on POP, nor working on PD. If it worked for him great, but I wonder what would have happened if had branched out, got out of his rut and pushed his envelope.

    Anyone who professes asking less questions is a fool, no matter how successful they think they are because of it. Not only is the search engine here a PIA to use, unless you are familiar with the jargon it is nearly impossible to find anything. SOmetimes asking what you, john, feel is a stupid question is the only way to get an answer for someone just starting out. If you feel a question is beneath your greatness or self defined Guruness, pass it over and let someone of obviously less greatness, than yourself answer the question.

    Self Aggrandizement is sad.
     
  19. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    "One of the first and most useful things (among many) that my tutor at university beat into me was that if you were going to learn something from a book, you'd better learn it from two books, making sure that the author of one hadn't copied the other."


    You are very fortunate to have had such a wise and insightful tutor Helen. It took me years of formal education at the University level to learn this and, what's worse, I was never even cognizant it until now. Ya learn something new everyday.
     
  20. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    For obvious reasons it is getting harder and harder to pick a single film, developer, fixer, paper and never waver for 60 years. Seems like all the company's are going broke, coming back, re-inventing themselves smaller leaner meaner. In short your 'method' was excellent for a guy that worked from 1940 to 1990 but is nearly impossible to maintain anymore. I'll be able to mix up Pyrocat HD well into this century and perhaps beyond. Tell you what, I'd put my prints made on Eastern European paper and film and develped in home brew next to anyone elses I've seen. Photographers intent on keeping the traditional craft alive are actually going to have to get pretty inventive. Don't think so? Pick up the phone and give Kodak Commercial a call and tell them you're out of XX and Azo and see what they say. The person at the other end of the phone at Kodak (if you can get a human at all) has no idea what XX or Azo or anything else silver related even is.
     
  21. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    In a way, photogaphy is returning or has returned to its youth. In the late 1800's you had to 'do it yourself' and be able to adapt to the ever changing state of the craft. I think we're going back to that now. This is why we've seen an explosion in the usage and interest in large format and home brew chemistry. We're retunring to the basics - out of necessity. The craft is returning to its infant state...but we're doing it with all the benefits of modern technology. Excitiong times are these.
     
  22. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    Yeh - I gotta disagree on the brand loyalty thing here.

    1) There is no magic - just physics. Kodak soup has chemicals - if you like what it does - stick with it. If you don't like giving up accutance for mushy grain - use different chemicals. The film will not know you are swapping partners.

    2) If it made sense for me to make my own film and paper, I would. When I started mixing my own chemistry, I took control of my processes. I was no longer at the mercy of the short timers in bloated companies that see their future being swallowed up by metal oxide semiconductors. Like Ole - I mix everything my self. I know exactly why I rarley use the venerable D76 and why I prefer Catechol to Gallol and why I buy some of my developing agents from Trader Joes. If I stuck with Yellow packaging from film to print, I would not have the confidence, the knowledge, the resluts or the FUN that I am having now.

    3) A densitometer and an afternoon taught me more than any label printed on a film or developer package. I know the DR my paper will print and the SBR my film/developer combination will capture and exactly what film speed it takes to put that image in the range I indended it for. I know that shooting into the sun will require me to choose TRI-X at a lower film speed and develop a little less and if I am shooting a low contrast scene to choose FP4 and rate it at 125 and develop it a little longer. All this is due to tests that I ran and I have a database of the results so I know how to capture what I see in the field. - I am not going to get this kind of precision from OEM literature.

    4) OEMs are self propelling - they will ask you to use products that do not help your processes because it is what they have and how they make money. I would NOT use Kodak fixer. It is acidic. I use TF3 - home made - inexpensive and non-acidic. I would not use Kodak stop bath for film. It is a risk to the emulsion that is unneccessary. Water has worked fine for years, is cheaper and not risky - and since I am not using acidic fixer - I don't need it.

    5) When the profit is gone - so are the OEMs. I stay well versed on many film and paper brands. I have my favorites but with testing, I can confidently make great images with Ilford, Kodak, Agfa, J&C or Konica films. Yes - I do have a preference but my work will not stop if Kodak stops. - In other words - it is not important for me to be loyal to them - my money pays their bills (unless they don't meet my needs) It is more important that they remain loyal to me!

    6) And lastly - It was from asking specifig dumb questions here that I gained the knowledge to do this all. A faq answers a lot of questions but not the specific ones that lead to a full understanding or how something works when you are in the thick of diagnosing why something went wrong. So - dumb questions are fine - even if they are revisited repeatedly. That is how new insights get aired and how things get invented.

    - If my neighbor wants to develop his own so he can have his pictures done - it is a fine thing to say to him - buy all yellow and read the directions. To master a craft that is a passion and a labor of love to create expressive art. It is much better to come here and be willing to try and fail and learn.
     
  23. laz

    laz Member

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    Exactly!!!

    With all due respect to Mr. Cook, he clearly answers the question of the best development technique far differently than many who responded here. This kind of interaction is just what I'm looking for from APUG.

    Clearly the last word has not been spoken on countless aspects of traditional photography; if we stop asking the questions we will never learn anything new.
    -Bob
     
  24. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    A few quick observations/comments:

    • Generally speaking, I agree with the posters who question the wisdom of sticking to a single supplier for everything from film to wetting agent to paper. For a rank beginner, though, doing so can have the advantage that in case of problems, the beginner can call the manufacturer and stand some chance of getting useful help. I honestly don't know how common this approach to problem solving is, though. Personally, experience in many fields has taught me that the manufacturer is often the least helpful resource, but others may have other views on this matter. Sticking to one manufacturer also means that the chosen manufacturer's documentation should provide relatively clear workflow suggestions with no competing advice. When using multiple suppliers, the documentation may have gaps or contradictions, which can leave a newbie bewildered. Once beyond the beginner level, I agree that mixing and matching has its advantages, and in fact that's what I do.
    • The very nature of online discussion groups means that you'll see the same questions being asked again and again. Complaining about it is about as likely to promote change as complaining about the weather is to change the weather.
    • FAQs can help reduce the number of beginner questions, but beyond a point, FAQs can become so big that newbies can't find the information they need in them.
     
  25. joeyk49

    joeyk49 Member

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    I'm too cheap to be brand loyal or conduct exhaustive experiments to determine what might work best for me; hense, I ask a lot of questions.

    Photography is a new found passion, so I don't have decades of experience to fall back on; so I ask a lot of questions.

    Many times, the answer to a question brings more questions; so I ask a lot of questions.

    I must also admit to being a bit of a devil's advocate, at times...asking a question that I may already know the answer too, or at least a pretty good idea, in the hopes that the ensuing discussion will uncover other points not previously focused on or bring out more and differing perspectives. I enjoy different perspectives, both in photography and in thought.

    When I was in the classroom, I told my students, "In this whole world, there is only one stupid question....the one you don't ask! If you truly need the information and that need creates a question in your mind, ask it." Now, if the question was only meant to disrupt, then there was no true need for the information. If it was off topic, the student was redirected to the proper forum (class). If the student's need for the information was that immediate, I would answer the question, regardless of how off topic it was. It was often easier/more efficient to provide the information, then to spend a lot of time redirecting.

    I have found this community to be one of the most helpful, sincere and sharing bunch around...and with people that most have never even met! I find that to be truly amazing! Most do it for the sheer enjoyment of the craft and to see it flourish; to me, a benchmark of professionals.

    I read as much as I can to learn about as much as I can about my preoccupation. I found a way to have my library aquire some of the texts on photography that it doesn't possess and I want to read (remember, I'm cheap!) and I read alot of the forums here and on other sites. I'm taking a photo course this winter to relearn the good skills and unlearn the bad ones that I've acquired. I only hope that the instructor will be as good about my questions as those here have been.

    Thanks, Mr. Cook....for..asking the question?
     
  26. pauldc

    pauldc Member

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    I think that the future of film based photography (and black and white in particular) is based on new people getting involved. This includes both young people and those who are returning after digital experimentation. Learning through questioning (however basic or repetitive they may seem to more experienced photographers) is an essential part of this and having a space (i.e. APUG) where it is safe to ask questions and get genuine and supportive answers is vital - otherwise the enthusiasm of the beginner quickly withers and the community of film photographers (and hence the market) declines. Also, even basic questions get so many different answers and approaches (for example, see the thread on water stop baths when printing) that new experiences often emerge that aid learning and increase our knowledge. My view is the enquiring mind always asks the simple (but profound) questions - what, why, when, who and how.

    But I do think there is a space for photographers life stories, diaries, personal philosophy and reflections based on years of practice and experience and I enjoyed reading Mr Cooks original post in that context. Actually, I also enjoy people describing their mistakes and learning from things that went wrong in the first instance. Infact I would be interested in reading this sort of thing from other of the more experienced members of APUG.