More thoughts on the Semi-Stand process

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Steve Sherman, Aug 10, 2005.

  1. Steve Sherman

    Steve Sherman Subscriber

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    It occurs to me some don’t realize the full potential of the Semi-Stand process, like most photogs, myself included we get caught up in the mechanics and technical side and loose sight of the creative possibilities.

    The Semi-Stand process and it’s ability to completely alter, then control and ultimately predict the final micro contrast of a negative opens up possibilities in our own personal work never before possible. Think about this for a minute, you have a process, which effectively gives maximum film speed (shadow detail) yet at the same time gives maximum contrast compression by nature. True, not all scenes require compression, but when the process allows for complete control of the micro contrast you have effectively produced a negative otherwise which until now was not possible, do you see the creative possiblities? A good friend says, “you are just pushing tones around”. That maybe but let me see you what you’re doing to effect to own vision.

    Take for instance a photograph on this page in my web site, http://www.steve-sherman.com/southwest_main.htm photo is titled Jack, Mystery Arch. For those who have been to Mystery Arch near Monument Valley you know the rock or arch is deep dark red sandstone with little areas which reflect any secularity. The negative was generously exposed with the dark tones of the rock exposed near Zone 7 or 8, naturally this pushed the background (late afternoon sunlight) probably up to Zone 14. I used the HC110 dilute developer method and then printed on a high contrast paper preserving the impression of light emanating from the arch, add in my good friend Jack Holowitz and I created an impression of believability which just doesn’t exist. I had to use some darkroom gymnastics to print this negative on a # 4 paper but nevertheless I was able to pull it off. With the Semi-Stand or Extreme Minimal Agitation process there would be no need to use a hard contrast paper, which would make the darkroom process so much more enjoyable.

    My original attraction to Semi-Stand was a result of using Azo for by 7x17 work. Made all the sense in the world to use a contact printing paper when shooting film that large. Problem was Azo and its considerably longer gray scale. I was not willing to shoot in more contrasty light, above expample not withstanding. The Semi-Stand process when throughly researched and perfected through trial and error can produce the exact micro contrast which is unique to each photogrpaher’s likes.

    Bruce Barnbaum is the photograher who turn me onto the “Slot Canyons” of the southwest. The major difference I think between my work and almost everyone else’s renditions of the slot canyons are how the film was exposed. I never saw anyone’s technical data reveal exposures of more than 3 minutes. Typically, my film was exposed for one hour and in the case of one shot on my web site for two hours. There were just parts of the slots that were never going to reflect light regardless of exposure time. Therefore, I placed the highlights as high on the Zone System scale as I felt comfortable in controlling through development and final printing methods. Again, had I known of the Semi-Stand process then it would have made the printing process infinitely more enjoyable. The difference between my photos of the slots and most others I’d seen, the gradation of tone, it was not harsh but more subtle, and more in keeping I thought with the incredible flowing lines of these incredible “wonders of the world”.

    When I turned to contact printing Azo was an easy choice, I just didn’t care for the micro contrast of the Platinum / Palladium process, enjoyed looking at other’s work but it was not for me. Thanks to Sandy King and the Semi-Stand technique new possibilities are presenting themselves regularly.

    Immediately following the View Camera Conference this past May in Springfield Michael Mutmansky gave a Palladium printing demo at Jack Holowitz's darkroom. He used one of my Semi-Stand negatives for a test print, not only was the micro contrast more than sufficient (at least for me) the color and feel of the process was quite mesmerizing. I now own a Pt / Pd printing light source and look forward to new possibilities in my personal work, another learning curve, it’s very exciting.

    I realize that this post has gotten long winded, but I would conclude that the Semi-Stand process is much more than a technique, it allows creative possiblities never before possible.

    Isn’t it the creative opportunities why we do this thing called photography?
     
  2. haziz

    haziz Subscriber

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    Semistand and pyrocat vs. traditional developers.

    Having seen Steve's negatives and test prints at the LF conference in Springfield this May, I can vouch for the superb acutance and microcontrast achieved by him using pyrocat.

    I would appreciate another description of your semistand technique. Sorry!

    Wishing to avoid pyro based developers I did ask him and subsequently inquired about use of nonstaining developers. I posted my inquiry and subsequent very limited (2 sheets) experiment with 1:200 Rodinal for 2h with no agitation beyond the first minute (I guess stand rather than semistand). I will also test out TFX-2 when it arrives based on feedback from a fellow APUGer (thanks df Cardwell). I also read about stand development in Anchell and Troop. I believe Mr. Troop is the one who modified Crawley's FX2 formula for Photographer's Formulary to produce TFX-2.

    Has anybody made a direct comparison of Pyrocat and other pyro developers vs. dilute Rodinal and other traditional developers used for stand and minimal agitation development?

    Thanks.

    Sincerely,

    Hany.
     
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  3. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Pyrocat HD is a wonderful developer. It is just as easily used for stand development as semi-stand development. Very inexpensive also.
     
  4. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Hanny, I can say that pyrocat is a very nice, friendly developer to use for this process. While I have nothing like the experience that Sandy or Steve can exhibit regularly, I have recently been using minimal agitation and Efke 100 with wonderful results. Stay away from PMK pyro and any stand development, staining is not going to work due to a lack of agitation. When Steve says "micro-contrast" he is correct. The effects in shadow areas and edges are simply stunning in a print, or in seeing a film with loupe and light box. This is a "must see to believe" for anyone who will take the time to try it.

    From what many other posters here have said, Rodinal has a great following for sharpness with very dilute concentrations. There are those who consider it blasphemy to use anything else. I have two bottles in my shrine now, given to me by my son last month, and don't know if I will use it this year but it's on the list for my next developer. tim
     
  5. Ronald Moravec

    Ronald Moravec Member

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    Where are some suggestions as to how this is done? I had time for only one quick search on semi-stand and found nothing.
     
  6. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Look on APUG and at michaelandpaula.com for minimal agitation and extreme minimal agitation as well as stand and semi-stand. They are all essentially the same thing - the difference is in the amount of agitation given - from almost none to a little every three to five minutes.

    The original discussion began with a post by Steve on Michael and Paula's site in early 2004. Unfortunately their site doesn't have permalinks, so I can't give you a direct link.
     
  7. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    For decades, ALL photo technique was based upon using metol/HQ developers. Two reasons: a developer to do almost anything can be compounded from m & hq, so manufacturers turned away from other developer agents.

    AND most "craft photography" ( to use a clumsy term ) which existed well with commercial imaging before WW2 died off as so many photographers were trained 'by the numbers' and the 'by the book' approach dominated the postwar photo world.

    For all those who were indoctrinated 'by the numbers', agitation was 5 seconds every half minute, or if you were a rebel, 10 seconds each minute. It became axiomatic. Now, I'm not saying it was wrong, just trying to describe what took place.

    The notion that agitation can be a variable, not an absolute, is still foreign to most folks. Certainly, you need to find an OLD text to even have mention of it. I have a 1920's text from Agfa that talks about standing developers: glycin, metol ( the formula Beutler became famous for (now we know where HE got it..), ABC pyro, and Rodinal. Yet, until recently, you couldn't talk about standing development in public without being torn to ribbons by experts who had been taught NOT to do it, and had never tried it. I was fortunate enough to have a good, old style photographer help me get going when I did his yard work in trade for darkroom time when I was a kid. He'd be about 105 about now.

    Between Steve and Sandy, you have excellent guides right here. Neither of whom are 105.

    Think of it like this: expose for the midtones, develop for the shadows, and agitate for the highlights. ( that is about true enough to be dangerous, but it's a place to begin ). The other thing is to realize that films have a distinct character. Begin working with your favorite film and see what happens. Take notes. You CANNOT predict what will happen, there are too many variables. Have fun.
     
  8. Daniel Grenier

    Daniel Grenier Member

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    What a wonderful contribution, Steve. As a matter of interest to the APUG community at large, it'd be great if you could find the time to write down the procedure and posting it on the Articles section. Just a thought.
     
  9. burn1138

    burn1138 Member

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    i recently started developing my own 35mm black and white. i was always happy with my labs work, until i started doing my own. i have always agitated 3 inversions every 5 minutes. i learned the technique from a photographer whose work i really admire at photosig, i andrew murphy. feel the technique really shines when 'pushing' to higher exposure indices. i can really see the difference in the grain between my labs constant agitation and my methods. the shadow detail is unbelievable between my tri-x @3200 and the labs.
     
  10. hortense

    hortense Member

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    Steve, I second Daniel's suggestion. A comprehensive article would be of great interest.
     
  11. hortense

    hortense Member

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    "Take for instance a photograph on this page in my web site, http://www.steve-sherman.com/southwest_main.htm photo is titled Jack, Mystery Arch. For those who have been to Mystery Arch near Monument Valley you know the rock or arch is deep dark red sandstone with little areas which reflect any secularity. The negative was generously exposed with the dark tones of the rock exposed near Zone 7 or 8, naturally this pushed the background (late afternoon sunlight) probably up to Zone 14. I used the HC110 dilute developer method and then printed on a high contrast paper preserving the impression of light emanating from the arch ..." Steve, I do not understand why you didn't set the red arch on Zone 4 or 5? Maybe it this is because I don't understand what you mean by "secularity"?
     
  12. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    I take it as a typo for specularity.

    Lee
     
  13. Steve Sherman

    Steve Sherman Subscriber

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    Typo it was, I forgot the letter P, I meant specualrity.

    Steve, I do not understand why you didn't set the red arch on Zone 4 or 5?

    The tonalities in the original print are more in the Zone 6.5 to 7 which moved the sunlit background up around Zone 14. In order to compress that much contrast the lower zones fall a bit because of reduced agitation and strength of developer. Fair to say that if the arch was exposed on Zone 8 then negative density will fall a couple of zones while the brigthest areas fall about 6 zones.


    I didn't play it up too much but printing these negatives on a high contrast paper was no easy task. The waste basket got a workout as well as I.

    That is the beauty of the Semi-Stand or Extreme Minimal agitation process. The negative comes ready to print on softer paper because of the increase adjancecy effects. Here is the hard part, what is the correct amount of adjancecy effects for your likes? Many variables play a part, the light you shoot in, the amount of exposure, development technique and probably the single biggest factor is which film you choose. Film characteristics within the same manufacturer differ when speed is changed. For example, Ilford FP4 is considered to have a higher contrast profile than that of Ilford's next film up in speed, HP 5 which is considered to have a long shoulder.

    The important thing to take from this is Semi-Stand or Extreme Minimal Agitation has no down side. The process does and will take time to master, but then if it were easy everyone would be doing it. If you are a LF type this much extra effort in the darkroom is a small trade off.

    Like someone said here above. You really need to see the results to appreciate what takes place.
     
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  15. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    This is *exactly* what I do. I need more practice, to get better at it, but already I can keep detail in my negatives, which I hope to be able to get onto prints (but often have trouble scanning) that would be lost with the greater exposure of the Zone System's "Expose for shadows, develop for highlights".

    Of course, like any other form of expansion/contraction development, it works better with some films than with others, but even with the ones where there isn't much expansion or contraction there is the smoothness of the broad tones alongside the crispness of the sharp edges; TMY is simply *wonderful* done this way (my "normal" is nineteen minutes in HC-110 Dilution G, five inversions every 3rd minute).

    And unlike contraction by reduced development, you don't lose speed when you give N-; in fact, you *gain* speed (relatively speaking) with all contrasts, because even N-2 is longer in the soup than "normal" with "normal" agitation, and the shadows are more affected by total dev time than by agitation.

    Yes, it takes longer than ten minutes from pouring the developer to starting the wash -- but, IMO, it's worth the wait. If it's art, there's no hurry -- if I were trying to beat a deadline, I'd be developing in Dilution B at 75F and pouring in fixer concentrate at the end of development, and happy to get anything I could print.
     
  16. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    I think I lost something in translation. Did you or did you not use stand or semi-stand development on the Mystery Arch photo? Your wording seems to indicate that you wish you had because it would have made the printing easier, but if that is the case, I cannot figure out why you would use that picture to demonstrate the advantages of stand deverlopment. It would be much better if you had made two negatives and developed by two different agitation patterns. Please set me straight.
     
  17. Steve Sherman

    Steve Sherman Subscriber

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    Mystery Arch shot was done years ago before I was aware of Semi-Stand. So yes the discussion is about the added benefit of Semi-Stand over a Water Bath variation.

    There is no need for a comparison although some are discussed at length in the first View Camera article in March / April. The process when actually done first hand is staggering to see in person. Try it!

    I will try to put some thoughts beginning to end on how I do the process. Unfortunately I am involved in selling our house and times are very hectic for the next several weeks.

    Stay tuned.

    Steve Sherman
     
  18. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    I have tried it, though not perhaps in the way you would approve. I did some characteristic curves with and without agitation. Since the purpose was to find the effect of no agitation vs agitation, I used the same developers in both cases. I found that the developing times had to be 40% longer to get the same contrast index for each of two developers. In neither case was there any significant difference in shape of the curve.

    Usually, when a person praises stand or half-stand development, we find that the agitation was not the only variable. Stand development, it seems, requires at least a much more dilute developer, and it is of the type commonly called "compensating" , though that term is not adequately defined, nor is it to be found in "The Theory of the Photographic Process". Once the magic elixir is found, no one tests it to see if it gives the same results with agitation.

    If I seem to be sarcastic, it is not for the purpose of being cruel. It is a result of 30 years in basic research at NACA-NASA where I (and most others) had to serve on editorial committees which tried their best to tear holes in any report they were editing. Since reports were our only product, we had to be convinced that any report we allowed to be published was the best it could be. I wrote and reviewed reports on aerodynamics, both from flight data and wind tunnel data. I designed star charts for the Mercury astronauts to use as emergency guidance during reentry. I helped design apparatus for measuring eye movements to help in designing instrument layouts. Forgive me if I play the Devol's advocate now and then.
     
  19. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The characteristic curve you measure with a standard densitometer often has little relationship to the micro contrast. Unless you measure density with a microdensitometer, you cannot judge the true curve of the film.

    Therefore, any statement about characteristic curve in this type of discussion is meaningless unless you compare at least two curves, a macro curve and a micro curve. In fact, the micro curve should be read at the image amplification factor for the camera format, for example a 100 micron line for 4x5, a 10 micron line for MF, and a 1 micron lline for 35mm. Comparisons of all 4 curves (Macro and the 3 micro) will tell the true story of the film-process combination for most any image or magnification factor.

    This is a point that most everyone misses in this type of discussion.

    PE
     
  20. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Gadget

    I've tested it. It works. IF certain criteria fit.

    And it comes down to the developer / film combination. SOME WORK, SOME DON'T. Today, I solved a problem for a job that involves processing a large number of 4x5 sheets for a client. I know the scale of the scenes which were photographed. I know zone placements. A film was used that was completely new to me.

    Using step wedge, densitometer, a small box of pixie dust, I began with the manufacturer's suggested time and agitation for HC-110, dil. B (1+31).

    The results indicated the expected upswept curve, and eveything was pretty close to the published data. The problem ? Client's images demanded a longer straight line.

    The second test found that Zones II ~ VIII fell where they had been placed if I halved the concentration of developer and significantly increased the development time. Agitation was reduced to 5 seconds at 5 minute intervals. The problem ? The amount of film, and the time available to process it, disagreed with the results.

    The third test gave the desired results with a 1+50 dilution, with 5 seconds agitation every third minute, for an intermediate time. I repeated the test, and made real world exposures with a lens similar to my clients. Processed, I had a curve that fit my client's requirements. Printed, it was satisfactory in every way.

    Talking more about it will be boring to most anybody still reading this. I don't intend this to be anything more than an indication of the general process I used.


    Gadget: I agree with your concerns. I don't believe in witchcraft, or miracle developers, and I was joking about the pixie dust. But I know that we can alter our developing system to allow for a good deal of curve shape variation.

    It may come down to simply looking for ways to make something work.

    This might be a good conversation in Toronto....

    df
     
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  21. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    When I wrote about this for Photo Techniques in the article "Agitate or Ruminate" I used step wedges, in which microdensities should not be a concern unless you are looking for differences in granularity, and still life continuous tone images. I found variations in density within steps that appeared to be due to bromide drag. These are microdensity variations that one would rather not find in any photograph. I found uneven development in the still life photos that might have gone unnoticed if I had not had both agitated and stand developed negatives.

    I do not remember the publication date of the article, but my file has a date of August, 2002.

    Your idea for use of microdensities makes no sense to me, I'm sorry to say. If you are talking about edge effects, I would have no difficulty measuring the variation in density across an edge. My densitometer measures a projected image that I can enlarge to my heart's content and has a sensor less than 1 mm square. I have to say that I do not believe you know what can and cannot be measured by a microdensitometer that would not show in a print. If there is such a thing, it cannot possibly be of interest to the practical photographer. At least I do not care about any variation in density that does not show in a print. The variations that DO show in prints are such that I am very leary of using stand development for an important job.
     
  22. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Microdensitometry in this instance has nothing to do with granularity whatsoever.

    As for measuring a 1mm square, I am referring to the density across exposures as small as a 1 MICRON step. In fact, I refer to a step scale consisting of 21 densities each 1 MICRON across, and which is measured for density by a precision instrument to guage the micro contrast of an image. It is, of course, a measure of edge effects.

    Reading the integrated density of the exposure gives total percieved density and reading density as a function of distance across the exposure measures edge effects.

    For example, features on a human face in a scene in 35mm may consist of 1 or 10 micron details. The details on the rock in the picture under discussion may consist of 100 down to 1 micron width details depending on original negative size. The effects of development on structures this small vary with agitation and with developer type.

    Edge effects can affect both positive changes and negative changes in micro contrast that go unseen in routine densitometric analysis of spots larger than 100 microns such as you describe.

    As I said above, this type of analysis goes largely (well almost completely) unmentioned and unrecognized in these sorts of discussions but is performed routinely by engineers at companies such as Agfa, Fuji, Ilford, and Kodak.

    This effect is discussed by M. Kriss in a fine article on image structure published by the SPSE. It is also referred to by Mees and James.

    If there is such a thing as a microdensitometer (and there is, I assure you) it is of vital importance to one who designs developers. And the reason it is, is that these variations do show up in a print, but it depends on magnification, as I stated here and above. I ask you to please sit down and consider the implications of what I am explaining.

    I am not criticizing anything or anyone. I am trying to heighten awareness to an almost completely overlooked aspect of the design and use of developers. I am also trying to explain how one can actually quantize the effects of stand or other types of development and how thereby one can learn to optimize its effects. Understanding a tool or method is the key to using it better.

    PE
     
  23. sanking

    sanking Restricted Access

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    There are several reasons why discussions such as this one don't mention the knife-edge test and measurements of micro-densities across adjacency lines. The most obvious one is that to carry out this type of testing requires very expensive instrumentation to which few if any of us have access. Richard Henry did some testing of this type, described on pp. 30-33 in Controls in Black and White Photography, but reproducing his testing system would be quite complicated, in fact probably beyond the level of expertise of most people on this list.

    Secondly, and most important, most of us are more interested in apparent sharpness, and for this the human eye is the only thing that really matters. When film is developed in such a way that there are very enhanced edge effects due to micro-contrast it happens that the visual result of the effects is quite visible to the eye as greatly increased apparent sharpness, both in the negative and on the print. It is not a subtle thing, but a look that hits you in the face.

    Sandy
     
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  24. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    Nevertheless, the small variations of density that I saw were plainly visible and of such a nature as to make stand development unattractive for critical use. Furthermore, as I said, there is seldom an effort made to separate the effects of developer constitution and method of agitation. It is possible that a combination of developer characteristics combined with stand development will overcome those defects. It is also possible that the same developer with continuous agitation might show all the advantages of stand development. My criticism of microdensitometry is that it deals with image characteristics that the eye either cannot see or that are obvious to the eye. There is no need to measure what the eye cannot see in a negative or print, and there is no need to measure what is obvious to the eye for most of us. I can see bromide drag with my bare eyes, and I can see the artifacts we call edge effects, sometimes even when there are none. The eye will supply an edge effect along the edge of a dark building against a bright sky.

    Whatever instruments may be used to analyze that which causes what we see, the analysis will be flawed if it does not follow a proper experimental design.
     
  25. sanking

    sanking Restricted Access

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    I agree with you that that micro density measurements are of no practical consequence to photography because the artifacts of adjacency effects are plainly visible to the naked eye, sometimes as a pleasant increase in apparent sharpness, at other times as unpleasant artifacts.

    I don't agree with you that there is no effort made "to separate the effects of developer constitution and method of agitation." In fact, that is exactly what we do when we use very dilute developer solutions with reduced agitation. Let me assure you that the kind of extreme adjacency effects observed by Steve Sheman and others in working with very dilute solutions of Pyrocat-HD in the 1:1:200 range with extreme minimal or semi-stand agitation can not be replicated with very dilute solutions and continuous agitation using dilutions in that range. It is possible that an even weaker dilution could be used with rotary agitation that would produce the same level of adjacency effects but dilutions in the 1:1:500 to 1:1:1000 range would likely suffer overall exhaustion before adequate overall contrast could be reached.

    Regardless, the plain fact of the matter is that the more the film rests during development the greater will be the adjacency effects, and this is true of most non-solvent developers when used at an appropriate dilution. I have personally never observed the development of extreme adjacency effects with any method of agitation other than semi-stand and stand, regardless of developer composition/dilution. If this can be achieve with continuous rotary agitation, show me. I have experimented with many solutions in an effort to do this and thus far been unable to do so.

    Sandy
     
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  26. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    I don't mean to be argumentitive. I guess it comes naturally.

    With complete awareness of the need for proper method , I began an investigation into the effect of agitation of Rodinal, in various dilutions, on Tri X and Plus X.

    Like many young photographers ( long ago, I'm afraid ) I cast about for a magic combination of film and developer, and when I landed on Rodinal and Tri X I thought I had found the magic combination ! In retrospect, my progress at the time may have had something to do with a great deal practise, the need to please an editor, and the influence of patient and inspirational photographers. At the time, however, the ritualized processing of film did wonders for me.

    I began Jobo processing : I was shooting an equal amount of color negative and B&W. I had also become obsessed with the (now conventional ) evaluation of negatives based on low value densities. Overnight, my pictures were completely different, and it was not at all an improvement. I wrote it off as something done to me by The Great Yellow Father, and pressed on. In time, I did a comparison of manual agitation to constant agitation and found a visible, consistent, and quantifiable difference. Suffice it to say my method was adequate to the job.

    I compared dilutions, agitation, time, and temperature. I proved to my satisfaction that curve shape could be altered by agitation. More importantly, it was obvious that by viewing the development process as a system, the response of the film could be predicted and controlled.

    I don't know what to say next. It's easy for me to be intimidated by charts, graphs, and a scientific attitude.

    All I want is to make pictures look the way I want. And, if possible, to share what I've learned along the way, so (maybe) other folks who like pictures can get to their goals faster than did I.