Newbie question regarding taking photo's in low contrast light

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by GuyS., May 7, 2012.

  1. GuyS.

    GuyS. Member

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    Hi,

    I've ben lurking here for a few months now and found APUG to be a gold mine of information, thanks to all the contributors who have saved me a fortune in time, film, paper and chemicals. I returned to taking photo's on film two years ago, processing them on the kitchen table and a couple of months ago got the green light from the fun police to convert a part of the house into a darkroom, so many thanks to my wonderful wife and children for tolerating this (maybe that should read red light ?)

    Ok, my question is this; recently in the south of the UK where I live, its been raining, a lot. This has resulted in the local rivers and water meadow levels to be high and consequently offer up some wonderful scenes. The downside is that grey sky's, muddy waters and fields are very low in contrast, about 3-4 clicks range on the spot meter, and unfortunately the pictures look, and I choose my words carefully here, a bit crap. What should I be doing to try and increase the tonal range, apart from wait for it to stop raining and the sun to come out ?

    I read in an earlier post (thanks Tomas Bertisson) "in low contrast lighting, where you try to stretch the tonal scale so that you don't just use a small portion of the film and paper tonal scale, you want to under-expose and over-develop..." I always use HP5+ at box speed in my Rollei and develop in DD-X for 9 mins. does this mean I need to expose the film at say 800 iso and increase film development by the relevant amount (10 mins according to Massive Dev) or is this an over simplification and am I missing the point ?

    Cheers everyone, Guy.
     
  2. Newt_on_Swings

    Newt_on_Swings Member

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    You may want to try a few colored filters first before playing with development. A simple addition of a yellow, orange, or red filter will bump up your contrast from a bit to a lot.

    With the addition of a filter you need to increase exposure by the filter factor of that colored filter.
     
  3. GuyS.

    GuyS. Member

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    Thanks for the advice Newt. I did actually use a light yellow filter but with hindsight I should have gone a lot stronger.
     
  4. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Find scenes that look good in low contrast. Over develop a little if you need to.

    Low contrast can be great for portraits, macro photos, cars, products, etc... God's big softbox if you will. I just incident meter and go with it.
     
  5. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Filters do not increase overall contrast since they are specific to a particular color and not all colors.

    To incrase contrast decrease exposure and increase development.
     
  6. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    IN the weather situations you mention there is no filter which will help with contrast.
    Your solution is to develop for a longer period of time. This is not "over" development, but required development for the desired result.
    When I photograph in similar weather, like this morning in San Diego, I use box speed as my exposure index, and develop 40% (1 stop) longer than my normal time. I use T-Max rarely but when i do it only requires a 20% increase in time.
     
  7. dnjl

    dnjl Member

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    Contrast filters work by filtering the blue light from the sky. I've found them to be quite useless on heavily overcast, rainy days. To increase contrast in such situations you have to decrease exposure and increase development to compensate, as has been suggested.
    If I want a contrast boost with HP5+ here in dull gray Belgium, I expose at ISO 800 and develop for 10:00 min to 10:30 min in Xtol stock.

    Alternatively, if low ISO and fine grain aren't an issue, you could try another film with a higher native contrast.
     
  8. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Print them on a higher grade paper. If you are already using #4 or #5 then increase film development 25% under those conditions.
     
  9. seadrive

    seadrive Member

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    It depends on how you are currently determining your proper exposure, and whether or not you're using variable-contrast paper and/or have higher-contrast paper grades.

    If you can, try using higher-contrast paper, either a higher grade or a higher # filter, say a #4. For the negatives you've already developed, that (or a higher-contrast developer) is really your only option.

    If you can't change paper grades, then you have to change your exposure and/or development. The correct approach to take depends on how you are determining your exposure.

    You say you're using a spot meter, so if you are placing the low value where you want it, then you wouldn't want to under-expose (i.e. double your exposure index from 400 to 800). That would do nothing but make your low values even lower, thereby reducing contrast in the low end of the print tone scale, which isn't what you want. If you're determining exposure by placing the low value, then, after determining your exposure, meter the highest value you want detail in, and see where it falls. If it falls on Zone VI, then you might want to increase your development so that it winds up on Zone VII (+1 development) or even Zone VIII (+2 development).

    OTOH, if you're placing the high value where you want it, then the problem is that your low values are too high. In this case, place the high value one or two stops lower, then over-develop the high back to where you want it. If you wanted the high value on Zone VIII and placed it on Zone VII, then you use +1 development to get it back to Zone VIII. In the meantime, your Zone IV dropped to a Zone III, and it will pretty much stay there, giving you the expanded contrast range you're looking for.

    It's just a matter of expanding your contrast range, from the (probably) five zones you have in the scene, up to six or seven. How you go about doing that depends on where your five zones are currently located: near the bottom (Zone I through Zone VI) or near the top (Zone III through Zone VIII).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2012
  10. GuyS.

    GuyS. Member

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    Thanks everyone for taking the time to reply, really appreciated. I use MG paper and originally printed the scene at grade 3 so I'll increase contrast up to 4.5/5 when I'm next in the darkroom and will report back.

    Seadrive, thanks for such a detailed reply. My spot meter is a recent eBay purchase so I'm still getting to grips with using it and using the zone system. Looking at my notes I jotted down when I took the pictures, the range on the meter was just 4 clicks (very flat light!) and I placed the average of the readings on zone V. So if I've read your post correctly, if I was to repeat the process again keeping everything the same except development time, if I was now to increase this by one stop, the highlights would go up one zone but the shadow detail would stay where it is ? The trade off being an increase in visible grain I guess ?
     
  11. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Some good points above. Before going into more detail, I would advise that underexposing a low contrast scene will not help you increase contrast, regardless of what you do with development. In fact it can work against you.

    When you say 4 clicks, do you mean 4 full stops or is each "click" 1/3 or 1/2 stop? Most current spot meters read in 1/3 stop increments but I wanted to ask you to check this. It makes a big difference. If the brightness range in the scene is 4 stops, a combination of relatively mild extended development, and a higher paper grade can help. If you placed your average on zone V and we assume the range was 4 stops around that, you're basically exposing to put the low values on around zone III, and the high values on zone VII. In this case, a mild extended development could increase the zone VII density a little (without too much increased grain) and you could use a slightly higher filter when printing on MG paper. You might also decide to leave development alone and just use higher contrast in printing. I would not decrease exposure in this case. In fact I might increase exposure a little, to make sure the entire range is on the straight line part of the film's characteristic curve. This will ensure the total contrast is maximized even before you think about development.

    If, on the other hand, each "click" is 1/2 stop or 1/3 stop, the scene is very low in contrast. This would mean if you placed your average on zone V, the range might be only from Zone IV to zone VI, or even less. In a case like that, extended development is not going to do nearly as much to increase contrast, but will still increase graininess substantially (which may or may not be acceptable to you aesthetically depending on film size and print size). In such a case, assuming you use HP5+, if you really want more contrast it is going to come down pretty much entirely to printing - using higher contrast filters - and burning and dodging etc to expand the tonal range. These are powerful tools. In this case, as in the scenario above, again I would advise not to reduce exposure. If the scene is extremely low in contrast, placing the average on zone V is fine. As in the scenario above, underexposing will not help you, and if anything would likely result in decreased contrast.
     
  12. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    This is correct. In flat light we under-expose to keep the average brightness of the scene around zone IV then over-develop to bring the highlights in these areas up to zone VI or sometimes VII. Similar results can be had from shooting as you would in normal lighting and printing on a higher contrast paper as mentioned above. If you're using a spot meter though things are a bit different. If you shoot HP5 at box speed normally then in flat lighting I would recommend you keep the same EI since you are controlling the exposure not your in camera metering. Place shadows on ZIII or most foregrounds may fall on ZIV or V and then check and see where the sky falls. If it's super drab you may find the sky falls on ZVI and with the N+1 development will push this to ZVII. Sometimes though after placing your shadow area the sky will fall on ZVII. In this case you do not necessarily need N+1 development. I find many times on flat days, (which I find is the best light to shoot btw) that if I include the sky in the scene I simply shoot and develop as normal. I meter the sky and place it on ZVII or sometimes VI and check it against the foreground and usually the works, though the foreground is usually flat in the negative and during printing will need local contrast increased. It's when you start shooing scenes in flat light that DO NOT include the sky that you may frequently need N+1. For example when I'm out shooting FP4 with scenes including sky using a spot meter I will shoot at EI 100 and develop normally, but another camera with me which I use handheld for quicker shots is loaded with HP5 and I rely on the in camera metering, so I will set it at EI 640 and increase development about 25%, and shoot scenes without sky and this works great. Sounds confusing but it's really not. If you're using a spot meter, you can maintain your normal EI and simply increase development time when needed. If using in camera metering that's when you're better off under-exposing (shooting HP5 at 640 or 800) and increasing development time about 25%.

    In regards to filters, of course if it's raining and flat white sky nothing will help, but and orange or red filter will help add contrast to overcast and cloudy skies when there are blue-grayish areas in the clouds. These filters will darken these areas. A useful trick when the situation arises.
     
  13. seadrive

    seadrive Member

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    Yes, as you extend the development time, you'll get more grain. Whether or not it becomes objectionable depends on how much extra development, your negative size and the enlargement ratio of the print.

    If you've got a low-contrast scene in flat light, well, you may not be able to do much about it. Sometimes the picture is not worth taking. Other times, you have to take it the way it wants to go, meaning if it's flat, try making it really flat. Some things work like that, some don't. Morning fog, for example, is naturally low-contrast, so you might try making it extra flat.

    In general, IMHO, a picture with all high values can work well, while a scene with all low values, ummm... usually not so much. I've seen many really nice photographs where the values were all between Zone VI and Zone VIII. A photograph where all the values are below Zone V usually looks muddy, no matter what you do. If there's one really bright spot... a specular reflection on a drop of dew, or a bright white button on a dark shirt, something bright to offset the dark... then sometimes it will brighten the whole picture.

    But usually it's just a muddy mess! :sad:
     
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  15. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Underexposing a flat scene can only a) have no effect on contrast, and b) reduce contrast.
     
  16. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    Not if counteracted with over-development, this increases contrast.
     
  17. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    Michael, I think the confusion between us may be due to the difference between correctly metering a scene, say with a spot meter and relying on in camera metering, which simply averages everything. With a spot meter you place the values where you want them. In this case you would not under-expose the scene but rather meter at your normal EI with increased development if needed. With in camera metering, we underexpose by shooting at a higher EI to keep our lower values down and then bring up the subtle highlights by extending development time. With this method we don't have as much control over our exposures obviously, but this assumes that most scenes will be of average luminance with very short subject brightness ranges. This is for scenes WITHOUT a bright white sky, as I noted above. I've noticed an improvement in my negatives since I started doing this with HP5 and ID-11. I normally shoot HP5 at 400 but for overcast light scenes with no sky I will shoot at EI640 and develop for 15-16 minutes instead of the usual 13 I do for normal scenes. It gives my negatives more contrast and more punch which may or may not lend themselves to everyone's subjects. Shooting and developing normally in flat lighting will give you flat negatives that will need to compensated for with lots of contrast in printing, which is not a big deal.
     
  18. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    It doesn't really matter how you meter. The starting point is the characteristic curve. Maximum contrast is achieved when all the densities fall on the straight line of the curve. One should begin there with a flat scene. Underexposing can only either a)move all the values lower down the straight line (ie no change to total density range) or b)move all the values lower down such that the low values approach the toe area (ie reduction in total density range). Overlaying extended development, the higher the upper values are placed on the curve, the more they will increase in density relative to the low values with a given extension in development. Taking a simple example with most current films, a 3 stop luminance range and a constant increase in development time, placing the range on zones IV-VII (regardless of metering technique) will result in a greater net density expansion than placing on zones II-V.

    In your example, I'm fine with the overdevelopment part, but you need to explain specifically how EI 640 results in a more effective contrast bump than if you stuck with EI 400, assuming an equal increase in development time.
     
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  19. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    I would never recommend underexposure. It costs you shadow detail, no matter how much you develop. The attached photograph showed a contrast range of 2 zones when I metered it. The sculpture is carved out of very dark gray stone and I made the negative on an overcast day and the carving was shaded from the sky. I put the darkest part of the picture on Zone III and the white line running down the right side fell on Zone V. Increased development saved the day, without reducing exposure.

    station14 (2).JPG
     
  20. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    exactly !
     
  21. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    It really does matter how you meter. If you're spot metering you obviously would not under-expose, as you're placing the shadows where they should be. But with in camera average metering and a very flat scene you may need to uprate the film to get the same exposure as your spot metered scene. For example, in Jim's example above he obviously spot metered, but if he was shooting with in camera average metering I doubt he would have gotten then same exposure at the same ISO, especially consider the "highlights" fell on zone V. With in camera he more than likely would have had to shoot at a higher EI to keep from overexposing the shadows which can happen with in camera metering average metering for scenes like this. So no I'm not recommending shooting a 400 speed film at 640 if you're spot metering, that makes no sense at all. What I'm saying is if you're using an in camera average metering you may need to uprate your film to keep your shadows from overexposing which can happen with a very low SBR scene such as Jim's example above. Hope I explained that better.
     
  22. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Hi Guy,

    In the gallery are some shots I took in flat lighting on a weekend at Russian River (but not at the secret Bohemian Grove conclave).

    I developed the film longer than "normal" because I knew the film I shot was under flat lighting. As a result, the film which normally has a 32 speed, came closer to 40 speed.

    I could have underexposed by a stop.

    When making prints I had to print this on Grade 3 1/2. If I had developed normally, it would possibly have needed Grade 4 or more.

    I enjoy printing a negative that fits between Grade 2 and 3. When working with higher grades of paper, I feel like I have to work with a higher degree of accuracy because exposure times, burning and dodging are more sensitive to changes.

    So to echo what others have said... Underexpose if you wish (but probably not necessary). Develop longer than normal if you wish (but if you use higher contrast paper, even this is not necessary).
     
  23. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Whether you are spot metering or not, the original quote advocated underexposing and overdeveloping to increase contrast or expand tonality or whatever one wants to call it. Overdeveloping does. Underexposing does not - and in fact it can result in lower contrast than if one had exposed normally, given the same expanded development.
     
  24. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    You're right. I should have stated that I do advocate under exposure and over development when shooting using in camera average metering in flat lighting to avoid over exposing shadow detail. Some may call it underexposure, some may call it exposure compensation. Either way you may need to shoot at a higher EI. When spot metering expose as normal and over develop if necessary.
     
  25. zsas

    zsas Member

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    What if what was used was a high contrast developer like Kodak D 19 and expose normal? It might yield the same N.

    Caution - I have never tried this developer, and only propose it for a theoretical other way. It will increase contrast and grain, but I believe so does underexposing/overdeveloping and correctly exposing/overdeveloping.

    Seems we have thus far:
    Underexpose and overdevelop
    Correct expose and overdevelop
    Correct expose but use a high contrast dev (Kodak D19)
    Filters
    Use a high grade paper

    Thoughts noble mentors on D19?
     
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  26. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Some developers tend toward higher contrast but it really isn't going to go very far expanding a very low contrast scene. One could also try A staining developer, or proportional or super-proportional intensifiers. But ultimately it is going to come down mostly to printing - not just higher contrast filters but manual manipulation like burning, dodging, bleaching and whatever else gets you to the final print. Approaching a subject of extremely low contrast with a significantly higher contrast visualization requires some work.

    One thing that has not been mentioned is the choice of film. A film with inherently higher contrast can help maximize the density range before you even start talking about development, intensification etc.