Newbie question regarding taking photo's in low contrast light
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.
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.
Thanks for the advice Newt. I did actually use a light yellow filter but with hindsight I should have gone a lot stronger.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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 seadrive; 05-08-2012 at 05:55 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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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 ?