Strange experience while developing prints
After a long hiatus, I finally got back in the darkroom last night. In my previous darkroom experience in college, we had a print processor. Feed the print in one end, and a developed dried print comes out of the other. Now, at home, I've never tray developed before.
The first 2 prints I developed were perfect. I slid the exposed paper in, agitated, and after probably 20 or less seconds, the print began to appear. As I got into my printing session, it took longer for the print to appear. Finally, it just stopped showing up until I increased my exposure time from about 5 seconds to 25 seconds.
I'm using Ilford Multigrade Developer, and some somewhat old Ilford MG IV RC Pearl paper. Its been sealed in the plastic and box under normal indoor conditions. Enlarger is a Beseler 23C XL with a variable contrast head. I was using the VC filter set to Ilford and a grade 2.
Any advice? I'm thinking the most likely thing that went wrong is the developer got colder through my session. The first test print I did was more than dark enough at a 2-5 second exposure. 2 hours later, I had to bump it up to 25 seconds to even get an image to appear at all. Its fairly cold here, and I'm pringing upstairs, which we keep cooler than the rest of the house since we dont go up there regularly.
The only other thing that could have happened is me changing the apeture. I intended to start with an f8, but I was focusing and positioning everything fully open. I very well could have printed the first few fully open, the stopped down to f8 later on thinking thats what I had been doing the whole time.
What developer are you using? More than likely, what's happening is the developer exhausting although it is unusual to show that quickly.
The processing does slow when temperature goes down but you are reporting some extreme changes.
Start diagnosing this problem by finding out what developer datasheet says how many prints you can produce per given amount of stock solution. Then eliminate the variables such as temperature variance. No need to go crazy with temp accuracy. Several degree variance won't cause drastic changes.
To me, it sounds like your developer has deteriorated in storage. Then as yo printed, it reached the exhaustion state. most developers degrade fairly quickly when exposed to oxygen in air. So that may be a factor as well.
Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?
Also, were you printing the same or a different negative? Unless you have mastered exposure and development, they probably vary in density. Films have different base fog, as well.
Not being sure if you were printing at the same aperture, could easily account for it as well. A 5 second exposure at f4, would be 10 at f5.6, and 20 at f8.
I usually aim for more than a 10 second exposure, it makes burning and dodging easier.
Keep notes!! I write down the paper, the height of the enlarger, the f stop, exposure time, burning and dodging (with a diagram), and notes about development, if anything other than Ilford MG for 2 min, for each print.
If you mixed your chemicals downstairs at 70F and took them upstairs where they slowly cooled down to 60F (for example), you might see the time for the image to appear get longer over the course of the session. But I wouldn't think you'd need to increase your light exposure time (assuming you don't have a lot of variation in the negatives you are printing from).
Does the Beseler use a halogen bulb? I once had an extremely frustrating session where it turned out the output of my enlarger bulb was dropping as it was on the verge of dying, but it was still putting out some light and at f/8 I couldn't really see the problem with my eyes.
Thanks for all of the fast replies. I'm using Ilford multi grade developer. This was a brand new bottle I opened last night.
Another member pm'd me saying maybe I got some stop bath in the developer. I suppose it is possible, though I was being very careful.
They were different negatives, but the problem came up between two different shots on the same roll of FP5+. I noticed the same highly increased exposure when I switched to a negative on Acros.
I'm going to give it another go tonight. I'm going to mix a new batch of developer and go from there. Maybe spend some more time on one negative.
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It's unclear, but from your first post it sounds like you're pulling them from the developer once the image is fully visible. The better way to do it is always use the same amount of time in the developer (test strips and prints) - 1 minute for RC and 2 minutes for fiber in that developer. That doesn't fix the issue of them taking longer each time, but you do need to start with a consistent process in order to figure out what is actually "wrong". The temp getting colder could well be it because that developer isn't likely to go off that fast. Also, if you'd used f4 for the earlier prints and f8 for later ones, as well as pulling them when they looked ok, then the later ones would appear to take longer.
I'm keeping them in the developer for 60 seconds despite when I see the image appear. I did a lot of research and reading on here, and I saw that as a common mistake.
I agree with your first assessment, and with Winger et al; it sounds as though your developer is cooling down during your sessions. There's no need to extent your print exposure times. You should extend development time as the temperature of the dev decreases; the packaging may tell you to develop for two minutes at 20 degrees but at (say) 10 degrees you might need (say) four minutes development time. Unlike film developers, print developer times are a rough guideline. Extra development time won't adversely affect prints because you should develop prints to completion - until the print no longer darkens. If you 'pull' the print (remove from the dev before fully developed) you'll have insipid blacks and poor gradation in the mid-tones.
The other possibility is developer exhaustion; if you're diluting as per instructions you should be fine. If you do long sessions with lots of prints, replacing half the dev with fresh solution should fix that problem.
Be patient and slow down in the darkroom - your prints will improve no end. There's no race to produce prints quickly. Print processor machines are a convenience and can produce really lousy prints with poor contrast when they want (been there...), especially when the developer gets exhausted, so don't use your machine-processed results as a benchmark.
Worship the Mystery Chicken who died on the spit with relish. Ohhhmmmm.
Since you just restarted your darkroom experience, I assume that the developer was purchased recently. That suggests freshness, but developer does age on the shelf, and it may be old. With the current lack of darkroom activity, some stores have stock that is years old. When mixed, that could go bad quickly.
I echo the comments about developing fully. I mix up Defender 54-D, and it takes one minute and fifty seconds to fully develop Multigrade RC. Check the instructions for the developer you are using, and develop at least as long as recommended. To determine exposure, you should make a test strip and develop it for the recommended time; then choose your initial guess for an exposure based on what looks good on the test strip. Five seconds is a pretty short exposure. Stop down one or two notches and give yourself time for some dodging and burning, if necessary.
It seems to me a print that comes up fully in two seconds is probably overexposed. I spent years and years in a dip-and-dunk darkroom and this has been my experience. You said "after two hours" but did not say how many prints in that time. Have you tried a new batch of developer after a while, or refreshing your developer? Test strips are a great idea. I'm trying to make 11/14 prints on an inkjet printer and I sure wish I could make test prints. It would save me a fortune in ink and paper. By the way, I just bought an enlarger for 35mm and 120 film and hope to be slogging away soon up to ny neck in "soup" and fixer.