The Perfectly Exposed Negative

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Ray Heath, Feb 22, 2008.

  1. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    ok Jason, accepted

    in the interests of being open to learning something new, how's about somebody post a "perfectly" exposed image and explain, without using high tech babble, why it is "perfect" and how that shows on the final image

    Ray
     
  2. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    you could be right jd, but i feel my posts extend the OP,
    feel free to do as you think appropriate

    Ray
     
  3. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    so, no one wnats to post an image

    ok i’ll dive in

    the attached image is a contact print from a 4x5 negative

    a friend gave me an old box of 5x7 FP4 (not plus) to use in my homemade simple lens box camera

    along with 10 or so sheets of 5x7 there was a separately wrapped package of 12 5x4 sheets, the 5x4 had the same notches as the 5x7 so I assumed both sizes were FP4

    i had virtually no experience of using or processing sheet film

    i guessed the film must be at least 10 years old, my friend wasn’t sure

    i figured the film had probably lost at least a stop of sensitivity

    i exposed the film at 50 ISO (less than half if it really was FP4) in my homemade camera for 2 seconds at f64

    this camera has a magnifying glass for a lens which I think is 90mm focal length

    the aperture is a hole cut in a piece of black sheet which I tried to measure accurately enough to give me an effective f64

    the exposure was timed by chanting 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand while I had the lens cap removed

    I processed the sheet using Ilford LC-29 for the time that I process modern FP4 (the plus version)

    did I get the exposure wrong?

    was the processing ok?

    is the exposure accurate to a third of a stop?

    does the final image convey enough visual data to be interesting?

    should I now shoot 25 sheets (a full box) of film to get my exposures closer to “perfect”?

    comments, please

    Ray
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 21, 2008
  4. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Ray,
    In an effort to keep the other thread on the topic of film testing as well as to give this topic its due i feel it is appropriate to start a new thread.
     
  5. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I think the exposure looks good. I also think with film that old and a system that is that custom you are lucky to have gotten such a good combination right off the bat.
     
  6. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    Ray,

    I would not find that image of acceptable technical quality based on what I see on my monitor. It looks like sooty in the dark areas. You have no black areas and the sky and other highlights are blown out. That may be the fault of the scan or my monitor, and your print may look fine in hand.

    Whether the exposure is correct or close is subjective unless you share your visual intent with us. That scan is not reproducing my "reality" (i.e., it doesn't look like what I think I would see if I had been there) and it doesn't appear expressively printed (to my tastes at least). What are you trying to show with this example? That you can use expired and possibly fogged materials with crappy optics and get a recognizable image?

    I've looked at enough photographs and talked to enough people about their prints to realize that some people just do not discriminate the finer aspects of print quality. They just plain don't see it. What passes for a quality print varies greatly between observers. If you like the print, fine. If it were mine, it would be hitting the circular file.

    As far as whether being 1/3 stop off matters, sometimes it does. I specifically tested and bracketed an image about 20 years ago to see just how good of a print I could get from the variations. The one with normal exposure produced a print that the other negatives couldn't match. The scene was shot in hazy sunlight in the winter in a snow-covered urban scene. Only the one exposure captured the quality of the snow correctly.

    The crux of the Zone System is the visualization. The film and paper testing is incidental. But those are the parts that get written about and people get lost in ad infinitum.

    As far as testing films and the other thread, the OP wanted to know if there was a way to figure out the Zone System tests using less sheets. Whether you think the Zone System is a valid approach or if testing is needed was not to the point of the original post. I described a way to get the maximum amount of info using a few sheets of film which was to the point of the original question. Others had different answers - some good, some less good, some terribly muddling .

    In all honesty, I don't test and work this way any longer. I really do just look at the light and shadows now and make a judgement on how to expose and develop. (Actually it has been over two years since I did any work on film.) But, the film testing I did informed the later simplification of technique and I would recommend doing it at least once to get to know the materials.

    Some things are "good enough" and some things are sublime.

    Joe
     
  7. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    thnx Joe

    so now post an image to show me your "reality"

    my image may well have muddy shadows, the shadows are not an important aspect in this image, i wanted to show the range of tones in the other areas

    sure zone testing and all the other high tech stuff may lead to a supposed finer print quality, most can't see it, most don't need it and those aspects are not the only measure of a strong/interesting/successful image

    as to the OP you interpret and answer one way, i responded differently

    come on post an image

    Ray
     
  8. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    OK, I'll bite. Of anything I have scanned, this one is probably one where I actually paid some attention to the principles I've gone through. The lighting was pretty flat, the film pushed a little as a result, and her left shoulder area needs a little burning, but this is from a pretty decent negative.

    In my Mac Firefox browser it appears hot and redder compared to how it displays side-by-side in Photoshop. In the smaller comparison pair, I've darkened them equally to try to compensate for the difference (so that the small Firefox image looks like the original Photoshop one). The darkened Photoshop half is at left with Firefox at right.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    TMY 120 pushed a little, printed on Ilford Multigrade FB Warmtone w/ #2 1/2 filter, and selectively toned in 1+6 KRST toner. I mention the technical aspects only because I did plan the effect of the toner when I printed.

    Joe
     
  9. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    [​IMG]
    TXP rated at 320 and souped in xtol semi stand for 25 min 1:3 stock to water


    [​IMG]
    TXP rated at 200 roller developed (constant agitation) in D76 1:3 for 11min (if I remember correctly)


    Both negs might not be perfect , but they are all that I have handy in b&W and neither are the results of heavy testing by me.
     
  10. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    thank you Joe

    anyone else?
     
  11. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    excellent images jd, but i want to see the results of "heavy testing"

    Ray
     
  12. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I don't do heavy testing. I find the EI speed for a dev. (testing takes a couple sheets of film) for expansion and contraction I play it by ear. I tend to only shoot PXP and mostly just TXP so I'm pretty sure of my results. Or I was I will be using the semis stand technique going forward which will probably require some trial, error, and testing.
     
  13. sbandone

    sbandone Member

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    My way of working is to find the exposure in the camera that will provide sufficient detail in the shadows whilst using "standard" development times to give a bright reasonably contrasty negative that will print on a G2 or G1.5 on a multigrade enlarger i.e De Vere with Ilford 500H light source. This will ensure luminosity in the image.

    I contact print all images on G2 by setting an exposure that will just produce maximum black through the film base- I in fact use the Ilford 500H probe to do this by taking a reading through clear film base and applying a correction constant I know works, then exposing for this. This will give you at a glance the images that will print optimally. Of course there are other images that can be printed but with more effort by grade and exposure chnages with burning and dodging and more.

    You don't need a De Vere to do this all you need is any enlarger and a test strip. Set the enlarger at a height for the contact sheet and at say the most likely aperture you will use e.g. 75cm & f8 then put a piece of blank film from the film you are about to assess into the negative carrier. Make a step wedge on G2 paper and choose the first maximum black exposure time. Remove the film base neg from the carrier and expose the contact sheet for this time, and give it standard print development. You can then select a frame that looks right, put it in the carrier in the enlarger at the same column height and f setting and make a print at this exposure - it should be a perfect proof print.

    This is perhaps the best form of quality control you will get - it works and will show you over a period of time any changes in exposure that are occurring in the camera or film variables

    Then go to the computer and set up an exposure and development record
    i.e. Film type, date exposed, date developed, ASA rating, camera, lighting conditions, developer, time, temperature, agitiation, tank, stop, fix, wash, and anything else you feel relevant
    By doing this you will have an invaluable database from whence you can tweak the results to get what you want for your purposes whether enlarging or scanning
    When I develop negatives I go bo to my database to see what I did last time with a given film/ cameras combination for bth exposure and development

    I have created a simple calculator in my spreadsheet for temperature differences which are critical to the end result. I also have one for printing to calculate the effects of changes in the enlarger column height for print exposure, which reads out in secs but also a guide for fractional f stops so that I can easily increase exposure by 1/6 stop etc

    And thats all there is to it no endless testing routines just keeping a close eye on things but being very methodical

    Hope this helps
     
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  15. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    You can't be shown the value of establishing a personal EI and dev times through testing------you have to experience it.

    I think that you are missing a basic concept as to why some people test for personal film speed and dev times. IMO, "heavy testing" is a complete mischaracterization and serves only to turn people off from what could otherwise be a very enlightening experience. It is as difficult as you make it and I guess you will either accept its potential value to your photography or you won't.

    There is no magic image post that will satisfy your request. Film testing is what it is; IMO, it provides for a predictable means to an end. Ansel Adams wrote:

    "the final print should be the Alpha and Omega of photographic procedure. It should be visualized before the negative is exposed."

    If you do not accept that premise and it is clear that noone has to to make good photographs, then testing serves no purpose for you. Visualization of the final image is supported by careful exposure and development of the negative in a way that is predictable and repeatable each time the shutter is released and film is developed.

    Chuck
     
  16. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Some Contrast

    Just as a contrast to the whole discussion.

    This is shot with a Holga camera where nobody really knows what the aperture or shutter speed is. Tri-X film, developed in Pyrocat-MC at 1+1+100 dilution at 70*F for 16 minutes agitating continuously for the first minute and then two light inversions every three minutes (because that gives the best compromise in printing these wildly inaccurate negs that the Holga produces).

    No negative coming from a Holga is perfect from a technical standpoint, due to the light fall-off. If I printed this neg with technical perfection in mind, the whole center of the image would have no impact at all.

    I am of the belief that if you are a photographer for purely artistic reasons, perhaps a perfectly exposed negative isn't necessary. The imperfections make you a better printer anyway.
    If you, however, are a person interested in commercial photography, where the quality of your exposures are absolutely critical to whether your portraits or wedding photographs sell or not, then it's a different ball game.

    I am well aware that the image I have attached might not appeal to a majority of the population out there, but it appeals to me. It's how I like it, and I'm just merely showing that I get by just fine by flying by the seat of my pants as far as exposure / development tests go.
    For me, being obsessed with technical quality of my negatives and ultimately my prints was a detriment. Not until I let that go and started feeling my way with my photography did I grow as a craftsman.

    - Thomas
     

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  17. George Collier

    George Collier Member

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    Ray - here is a scan of a print from a 4x5 neg, Tri-x (the 400 kind), about 15 years old, processed in HC110 B. Also used a Lt yellow filter. The neg prints beautifully on Seagull (also the old kind) G2, with small burning to the sky. The pole has detail on both the sun and shaded side, with total black on the far shaded edge and on the small shadows on the guardrail. The very lightest parts of the guardrail are pure white, providing the full range in the print.
    For me, a "perfect" neg is easiest to achieve with a clear sunny day shot. Anything from sunny to overcast requires objective judgement as to what is "perfect", as you experienced with your post above. As a result, I always test film / developer combinations on these perfect days, and go from there for other kinds of lighting.
     

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  18. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    I just had a quick look through my prints and here's a couple that to me were 'prefectly' exposed. The reason I say that is because both negs and prints really 'shine' (if that makes sense). But thats just my opinion)


    The landscape is Delta 100 in Rodinal 1+50. The steps are Kodak HIE in Rodinal
     

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  19. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Here's my example;

    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=15332&ppuser=4292

    The moss highlights are totally blown out, but I don't care because they add "snap & sizzle". The bottoms of the main branches print completely black, so I had to use a special mask (contrast reduction mask) to first hold that area back during the prints main exposure, then use another mask (a shadow contrast increase mask) to tease out what detail there was in the negative to put back under the branches. I could have squeezed all the tones together by using -3 development of the negative and printing on a soft paper grade, but separation in the middle values would have gone "mushy" and would have killed the mood.

    So in this case, for me anyways, what some people would call a flawed negative because of the heroics needed to print it is what I consider a perfect negative for the photograph I wanted to make.

    Murray
     
  20. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    "Perfect" negatives exist only as a technical concept based on arbitrary and subjective values, or as perceived as perfect by someone for an individual printing style in a particular medium. "Perfect" really means you made a negative that prints the way you want it to, on what you want to print it on. "Perfect" in the case of negatives should be redefined to be "perfectly controlled"

    Like I said, I don't have two identical examples of hits and misses, but here are images where an exposure error in relation to my speeds and processing would have made a clear difference. These negatives were shot on J&C 100 (IRRC) rated at 64 (my tested speed for this film with PMK)Two were processed normally (my tested normal), in PMK. The third was shot and processed N+1. (N+1 means I exposed and processed the negative to "expand" it. "Expansion" or "contraction" of negatives is one of the most basic and important reasons for using The Zone System, and getting a handle on this is largely what all the testing is about. Many people who poo poo this stuff have no idea that it is possible to control tonal relationships independently from overall contrast, except with color filters. Filtering is useful, but is limited, and the most control over the process is best arrived at with a full tool box.)

    Although the development was "normal" the effective development on the first two images was N+1, meaning the highlights pulled up, but the low values remained near where they fell in the scene, because of reciprocity failure, as the exposures were long. This means the negatives were "expanded", an effect we test and plan for if we desire more separation of higher values from lower values than the scene possess. The Zone System is one of the methods that can be used to control the relationships of highlights and dark areas, not just arriving at an average exposure for a specific scene, but choosing an exposure and development to modify the relationships of the values found in that scene, beyond the natural contrast that exists within the composition with the conditions present at the time of exposure. Being able to move specific tonal values offers far more control of an image than merely adjusting the overall contrast with paper grades, or contrast filters, with the averaged contrast and tonal relationships present in a "box speed and developed" negative.

    The manufacturer has to put something on the box, and recommend some kind of development, and the numbers and recommendations that are usually arrived at are those that offer the most forgiving performance for an average situation, not the best performance for a specific situation, because it is impossible for them to predict specific situations. (one can, of course, consider forgiving performance at the expense of other factors to be paramount). The "forgiving exposure and development" is the method that you, Ray, are using and espousing, and is why you can blow an exposure, probably by a stop or more, especially with regard to over exposure, and get away with it. You aren't using all the film's capability, so there is room built in for error. What you are giving up in return for that is control of the tones within the negative, and the maximum lattitude the emulsion can deliver. A box speed and developing regimen is literally a "one size fits all approach" There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but some of us desire negatives that fit better, with the maximum lattitude the film can deliver.

    It's very much like a car. The average sedan gets ok mileage, handles ok, has a decent ride, and predictably average acceleration, because these characteristics are the compromises needed to mass produce and market the car. If that's what you want, that's what you drive. Some of us like to tinker and modify the sedan, push its perfomance to the maximum without regard to comfort or mileage, and drive it on a closed course at the absolute limit, with no margin for error. We do this because we want or need this kind of performance. Dismissing it out of hand, as you have tended to interject into exposure disscussions, is telling somebody who desires to race that they should drive a box stock sedan on race day, because the big brains in Detroit said that's how the car should be.

    In the first two examples the lighter values received more exposure in the highlights because the film was faster where the light was more plentiful. This was, as mentioned, accomplished as a side effect of reciprocity failure, but it can also be accomplished by modifying exposure and developing times, and it is mostly done that way. The ability to control tonal relationships through exposure and developing is what we test for. Had I followed box speed recommendation, and processed for this average, none of these images would exist as they are.

    If you combine the effect of the expansion of the upper zones as intended, and note where the highlights of these images fall, and also note that the highlights, and their relationship to other areas are extremely important elements of these images, its easy to imagine the havoc a one third stop error would have wreaked. There was no margin for error in these exposures, as the highlights in each are taken right to the limit. I might have gotten lucky with a WAG, instead being able to predict my results with a fair degree of accuracy, but not likely. Exposing at box speed using an incedent reading and processing according to the manufacture would have resulted in flat negatives with blown highlights, that couldn't in any case be coaxed to these kinds of light versus dark relationships without appearing very hard in contrast, or, for the last example I could have sat around on the beach at the Great Salt Lake, eating brine flies and cheetos for a few weeks, waiting for the conditions that would mimic the result of the expanded exposure and developing method, that would allow me to expose and print according to the manufacturer, to get the same result.

    If you are only using a portion of a films capability, an exposure error can be easily forgiven, and go largely unnoticed and therefore be ignored. However, if you seek to gain every bit of lattitude you can get, and take an emuslion to its absolute limit, you have to do better than a WAG, or your gonna have allot of unprintable failures. A "shoot and develop for box speed" photographer probably would have stood in the conditions where I made the waterscape negative, and said with conviction that it couldn't be made to look like I made it look.

    Here the three images that tell the same tale. The waterscape is an example of expansion by development.

    On the prints there are far more details in both the shadows and the highlights than a computer monitor can display.
     

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  21. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    Perfect is only relative if you are trying to get some exact thing. Perfect to one might be useless to another. Old school theory is like sbandone is describing. The minimum film exposure to achieve shadow detail where you want it. Processing to achieve (according to some) 1.35 zone 8 density. Printing the minimum time to achieve total black through the film base. Changing this formula gives you different affects. Perfect is what ever you intend and then you might change your mind and perfect becomes imperfect. It is like talking about the perfect painting. If a painter believes he has achieved perfection in one of his paintings, every other painter in the world will probably disagree and instead consider the painter to be a wanker for thinking he did something perfectly which is of course impossible as is total truth.
     
  22. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    I'm with joe in that the negative is only as perfect as YOU perceive it to be, Ray. Others may like it, others may not. But you have to see and feel what you wanted at the time of exposure. It only needs be perfect to one person, the photographer. And it doesn't stop at the negative. It goes through the print and reprinting the neg until you arrive at the image that most reflects your initial feelings and subsequent desires. I have one such posted in my gallery. Water #1.

    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=32683&ppuser=9768

    I got good info across the negative and it has a soft flowing feeling to it that I had when I made it. I am very proud of this negative. I accidentally deleted this one a while ago but when I first posted it someone remarked that the branch in the lower right could have been moved and that I should pay a bit more attention. I thanked them for their thoughts and went on my merry way. It is exactly as I enVISIONed it when I tripped the shutter.
     
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  23. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

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    Ray: Many of us don't have scanners and simply cannot complete the exercise you request. However, rather then continue in the same manner, there are any number of photography books which will have, in great detail and very well printed, illustrations of what the authors concieve as being perfectly exposed negatives and prints. Furthermore, many of the same books will show variations ( using the exact same scene for clarity ) of exposure and how the negatives appear with normal, plus, and minus devlopment,i.e., over exposed with normal development, over exposed with plus development,.....you get the idea I am sure. If you are looking for good examples of the information you desire it is possible that your local library will be able to help you both faster and more completely then many of us here can.

    By the way....I thought your image was pretty remarkably well done, and that you deserve lots of credit.

    Ed
     
  24. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    I don't have any pictures to post, and don't have a flatbed scanner anyway. I wil say, however that when I first started in B&W, I was not at all happy with my negs. Since I have started testing, I am getting reliably much better negs. If I have a poor neg, I am now able to look at the contact print and *understand* why it is poor, and where I went wrong. I still have a bit of trouble with judging over/underexposure and over/underdeveloped (especially when both are occuring), but this is usually when I have either a very flat or contrasty scene requiring some adjustment to "Normal" exposure and development. Before, I had no clue that I had to even make adjustments, let alone where to start.

    That said, one of the closest thing I've come to a "fine print" was a complete screw up in both exposure and development. If I had these right however, I'm sure it could truly be a "fine print". You can see it here:

    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=25411&ppuser=12132

    Tim
     
  25. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    excellent work guys, great images, interesting posts, lots for me (all of us) to consider

    more please
     
  26. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    c'mon, where is the definitive, "this is a print from a perfectly exposed neg cause it has blah, blah, blah"