How to find the best

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by cmo, Sep 3, 2008.

  1. cmo

    cmo Member

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    About 30 years ago I developed my first b/w film, in the school darkroom.
    All these years I just used a thermometer and a stopwatch, the manufacturer's tables and the recommended ISO settings. It works. I had many exhibitions last year, my prints are generally quite large at 50x70 centimeters, landscapes, street, portraits.

    99% of all my photos are on 35mm film, so I never was into the zone system and other highly advanced techniques, for 80% of my photos I used the built-in light meter of my Leica M and Canon EOS cameras though I have a digital Sekonic do-it-all with an integrated spotmeter. Sometimes I use medium format cameras, but not much longer. My back says "no, don't carry that weight again..." (Mamiya in the Snatch and Bronica GS-1 in the Clean and Jerk).

    To put it into a nutshell, I am a botcher, but a good one.

    Many of the experts in this community are perfectionists, testing and calibrating their methods in order to find the best time, temperature, agitation and ASA setting.

    Before I start working in my darkroom for days and invest lots of material and time, dou you believe it is worth it? Are the results so much better afterwards?

    If your answer is yes, what is the fast track solution to get the best possible calibration?

    (By the way, I have a hybrid workflow. The negatives are scanned on Imacon 646 and output on an inkjet printer.)
     
  2. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    I teach both wet darkroom B&W film processing and printing on the college level. I also teach Fine Art Digital Printing, so I understand your 'hybrid' vantage point.

    Don't think of yourself as a 'botcher.' You have found what works for you, that's all that counts.

    Yes it is worth perfecting your darkroom workflow. It is worth testing, etc. As long as it doesn't interfere with your vision.

    What counts is that the resulting prints speak of your artistic vision, not what developer you used, or agitation method.

    You can shoot the most technically perfect image, but if it has no soul to speak to the viewer, what good is all the perfection.

    As Sally Mann says "I look for the imperfections." For art to work, it must ask questions as well as give answers. Only answers leaves the viewer unsatisfied for they are left out of the journey.

    Worry more whether your images speak from the heart, and not so much from an engineering workflow.
     
  3. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Dear cmo,

    IMHO, if you are getting all the shadow detail you want and your highlights are controlled, you're not going to get much more from a zone system approach. If you think you are lacking in either area, a little adjustment in exposure and processing is probably all you will need for a given situation.

    Neal Wydra
     
  4. cmo

    cmo Member

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    The only problem is that I know i can achieve better results, but so far I do not know how much better. I am a little bit like a musician who, after many concerts, wants to be able to read music, finally, because he knows h emight be even better.

    No, I don't intend to accept compromise, the images are first.

    Today, I set my lightmeter to the manufacturer recommendation - the exact value might be a little off. I develop slavishly right according to the manufacturer's table - my tab water, thermometer and agitation might be a little off the optimum. Setting the light meter really right, developing and later scanning the films exactly right, that is actually not more work, but perhaps yields better results if my personal values are right. I don't think about the zone system, there is no such thing in 35mm, I think, and my cameras don't have exchangeable magazines.

    They do speak from the heart. But I want more volume, and Hi-Fi :D

    Imagine this at higher technical quality:

    New York, Staten Island Ferry
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/7d90b8a7-76c1-4c9a-9c2d-eea49f4ce7c6.jpg

    New York, parade
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/ae83ebe6-cd51-4a89-a0ab-1e41b5f697d2.jpg

    New York, Chinatown
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/d093d42c-ed08-4df9-b95e-b3866dc22431.jpg

    New York, Times Square
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/66e52769-b3dc-41a1-915f-03ad3f68e33f.jpg

    Symmetric woods
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/88157437837449D8AB53BED3DBBB47B9.jpg
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/68E33BDB69E543DB935DDE09D0F04891.jpg

    Dead trees at the Airbus factory, Hamburg, Germany
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/E00DBF8D4FAE4A9EBFBCC99599AD24EF.jpg

    Fuel at Frankfurt Airport
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/8CFE877190484F2FA809BF7D5F1579C4.jpg

    One here is one of my rare color images - taken in southern France
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/899B67798BCC408EBAED56FA3EE00E9E.jpg
     
  5. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    I would try standing that on its head.

    Kodak and Ilford have done more testing than any of us and have already found the 'perfect' ASA and developing time.

    Testing is more a measure of how far-off our technique is from ideal and what should be done to correct for it. If testing says my 'personal ASA for Tri-X is 200' it really means that I am rather optimistic in my metering technique (or deficient in agitation, or like the safety of a thick negative ...) and had better open up an extra stop to compensate.

    My advice is to use the published numbers and technique. If you are scanning then all you really need to be sure of is that the shadow detail is there and that the negative has not been overdeveloped.

    It sounds like you are working in photography the way it is meant to be: making pictures. Photography is a fetishistic hobby and there is a danger in following a clique with a different agenda than one's own. Many are in it to collect gear and some find satisfaction in 'testing' and pontification.

    Here and there, now and then, someone takes a picture and hangs it on the wall. Although it seems the trivial and odd occurrence it is, of course, the purpose of it all.
     
  6. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    I will disagree. The musician is more likely to lose whatever native talent he had and become just another run-of-the-mill note reader.
     
  7. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I believe the testing that the manufacturers do is very thorough. I also know that the recommendations that they give (box speed) is designed to give good results under average conditions to the average photographer. Basically a "serving suggestion". The manufactures pretty much consistently over rate the speed of their films, box speed being what they feel they can get away with, not the true performance of the emulsion with every developer.

    I do test my films with the specific developer I use, because I expect better than average results or more specifically, negatives that are made to be printed just for me. Testing and knowing your materials isn't some kind of drudgery, nor is it what you will spend most of your time doing. A simple testing regimen will occupy no more than an afternoon, and for me, knowing exactly how my film will perform is freedom. Freedom from the drudgery of working with a difficult negative, and freedom in the field from guesswork. Knowing how an emulsion will perform allows me more choices, not less.

    If you are perfectly happy with your negatives, I would say that you are happy with your exposures. If you know they could be better, and want them to be, by all means learn the zone system, as the concepts can benefit anybody who shoots film, although you won't have processing choices of a sheet film shooter.

    At the very least you might take a few minute to learn the true speed of your film with your developer.

    "best" is truly subjective, and it doesn't mean the same thing to every photographer. Nor does testing need to be some vast exercise of logs and density scales. You might just try overexposing a part of a roll by a consistent 1/3 over where you normally would. That might be all the testing you need to arrive at some new conclusions.

    Getting firmer grip on things doesn't stifle the truly creative, it empowers them.
     
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  8. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    Sorry. I will strongly disagree with this, Mr. Lindan. As a musician and music teacher, I've never run across any "native" musician that was ruined by learning more skills.

    I do agree with you, though, that Kodak, Ilford, et al have done more testing than I care to do and that their published procedures will produce good images. The variations are just that - variations. I've always found it amusing that photographers think the film and paper makers deliberately publish processing data that will not yield good negatives or prints. Why would they do that?
     
  9. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    They publish recommendations that are workable for the average situation, average exposure, average development, average photographer (average not meaning substandard or even less than excellent, but rather the peak of the bell for procedures)- it's not going to be the absolute best for most specific situations. They really don't have much choice (in other words there is no machination or devious intent) because they cannot predict specific situations. Also, many developers used for various reasons do not deliver the same kind of performance across the board. PMK for instance delivers different film speeds than HC110, and my speeds and developing reflect that.
     
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  10. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    Agreed, Jay. I think the point is that one can vary from the "average" if one wants a variation; i.e. more or less contrast, more or less exposure/saturation, a different "look", etc. This gets into the vision thing. What I was referring to is statements such as we have all read here and elsewhere that the "true" speed of Whatever-X+ film is A, rather than the published ISO of B.

    "True"? :D
     
  11. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Yes, "True" but only for a specific film/developer/procedure, the variation including many things besides contrast and exposure. (I'll leave color out because IDK) If I say the "true" speed of FP4 is 80, that is only true for my own procedure. I prefer to say something like "my personal speed for FP4 in PMK" which BTW will yield measurably different results than 125 in the same developer for the same time/temp.
     
  12. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    Yeah, it was pretty disagreeable.

    OTOH:

    I do entirely too much testing myself - for the purposes of designing equipment that - hopefully - reduces the need for testing. Having dug myself into this circular pit I yell to others 'Stay Away - Danger - Testing - Don't do it - This is your mind on testing [break to picture of a tray of sludged dektol with scraps of step wedge prints sticking out]'.

    Dr. Richard Henry's "Controls in Black & White Photography" concludes, after hundreds of pages of test results, that doing like it says in the data sheet can't be improved upon.

    Photography is seeing, reflex and chutzpah. The rest is automation: a machine can do it for you or you can play splish-splash in the dark and do it yourself. The splish-splash can be taught, not so sure about the seeing.
     
  13. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Quite Large, 50x70 centimeters. That would be 20x28
    inch prints from 35mm. Wall projection printing?

    BTW, Dead Lift those heavier loads. I've a RZ kit
    to tote into the woods and will handle it
    that way. Dan
     
  14. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    I've seen rank newbies who could barely print make heart stopping images. They often did things they didn't know they shouldn't have, and they probably couldn't replicate their good luck. But they went out there and shot a lot of film and took those chances.

    I've seen people spend untold thousands of dollars on the best equipment and Zone System workshops over many years and they couldn't stop a heart with a spike.

    How many of those great photographs we love were made before light meters and Ansel Adams?

    Have you ever seen a classical musician try to play rock from sheet music? Yeah, that works.

    I think an understanding of Zones and SBR's will increase one's chances of making a better image and more towards what one was expecting. But let's face it, not everyone is a left hemispered technographer. And vice versa.

    Do what is you.
     
  15. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    As a dabbler in both music and darkroom, I feel I have to add my opinions here.

    Sheet music alone doesn't lead to great music, but it makes the process of getting there a lot faster and easier. Being able to play (or sing, as I do) straight from the sheet does not give a great performance, but it makes the practice period much much shorter.

    Same thing in the darkroom: All the testing in the world isn't going to give you a great print, but it makes the subsequent process much faster.

    On the other hand too much reliance on testing (and sheet music) tends to give technically perfect but dead boring prints (and performances).

    As to classical musicians, rock, and sheet music: Listen to Apocalyptica. These guys are trained classical musicians, use sheet music in practice, even use classical instruments...
     
  16. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    There certainly are exceptions to both "sides"

    As in so much of life, I am talking generally. Many exceptions, including all the newbies who couldn't make a good photo if their lives depended on it.

    Some of the great rock musicians eventually learned to write and read music, especially in order for the backups to know what was expected. But I still find the thought of Jimi Hendrix reading music funny.....

    Ansel Adams, IMHO, was bi-hemisphered but with a decided leaning on the left. A lot of his pictures don't sing in terms of composition or subject, it's the perfect tones and dark room techniques that make you stop and look. I much prefer White, Weston, Helmut Newton. I think that they were all master technicians and had that indefinable "soul."

    But back to thread, find your own road.
     
  17. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    Agreed. It is the 'Nature Vs Nurture' debate: one needs both - no more can be said with certainty.
     
  18. cmo

    cmo Member

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    No, I confess I'm a hybrid user, I have an Imacon scanner and an Epson printer, the expensive way of making prints. I was always too ham-handed to make good analog prints, but I stick with my analog cameras and Jobo drums.
     
  19. cmo

    cmo Member

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    My own road, yeah. IN fact, I know it, but one more driver training will be helpful.

    HOW do you guys test for the optimum method, ISO setting etc.? Where is the highway to technical success?
     
  20. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    When I was in conservatory, a classmate (and friend...bigtime!!*) was the great jazz musician Yusef Lateef (later Dr. Yusef Lateef.) Why he was there was only for him to understand...I thought his musical imagination blew every theory teacher in the school out of the water. Perhaps he wanted to feel "legitimate" by being able to label things in the theoretical parlance of the time, or just earn a degree for whatever reason. Ultimately he earned a doctorate, and taught "autophysiopsychic" music at our alma mater (he declined use of the term "jazz").

    Seeking knowledge is crucial to both intellectual, and spiritual development.
    Sadly, anti-intellectualism is a prominent feature of current American culture.
    The quoted comment is very unfortunate!

    *On the day Martin Luther King was shot and killed, I was on the cross-town 125th Street bus that runs across Harlem in NYC. I was the only caucasian there. Yusef got on the bus soon after I did, came over to me, hugged me, and called me "brother". I can only wonder what would have happened had he not been so demonstrative and caring. He's one wonderful man!!
     
  21. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    It is not a matter of a quest for "perfection"-----that sentiment misses the mark behind the reason for testing film, but I understand what you mean. It's a sad fact that photographers who test film/developer combinations are viewed in this way.

    Anyway, I found it absolutely worth it----I simply produce negatives that are far greater than I've ever produced and they are much easier to print as well. I am more efficient with paper and chemistry with well executed negatives. Perhaps even more valuable, is the ability narrow down where you went wrong when you have produced a poor negative------much, if not all the guesswork is eliminated.
     
  22. cmo

    cmo Member

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    Sounds good. But how did you test your material to get better results?
     
  23. vet173

    vet173 Member

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    What you need to do to get the results you want requires staying OFF the fast track. Sandy Kings article in View camera about developing for hybrid flow is gonna change how a lot of people do things. Thanks Sandy.
     
  24. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I'm going to suggest that that is where the journey begins---the efficacy of testing film for personal film speed and development times has been proven time and time again. I find it not a very helpful thing to regurgitate my own understanding of it but rather just tell that it is well worth it. An ambiguous answer I know, but I learned from two texts: AA's "The Negative" and John P. Schaefer's "AA Guide, Basic Techniques of Photography Book 2". I caution you on listening to all the supposed shortcuts and personal takes on it because they are numerous to ultimately serve to confuse and frustrate-----I would pick a source(es) and don't deviate. JMHO.

    Those are my only two sources. I Learned about the ZS through AA's book, but I chose Schaefer's method of testing in his book because it saves so much on film and chemistry and frankly it is just simpler and quicker. It uses a step wedge and a densitometer (I would recommend if you can get one, a black and white transmission densitometer on ebay). You will hear that one is not necessary and I guess that's true, but I made leaps and bounds in my learning when I was able to use one. I would not be able to understand the testing if I did not learn the ZS first-----that's just how my journey went.

    Chuck