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  1. #1

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    How to ask fewer questions

    I am definitely not the “question police”. It makes no difference to me who asks a question, nor what it may be about.

    But, year after year, I am continuing to see many “technical” questions asked over and over on photography forums. Things, for example, regarding substituting liquid dish soap for wetting agent, or cider vinegar for indicator short stop. Also many questions about mixing up working solutions of developers and fixers. Then there are all those questions about various “spots on my film”.

    As those of you who are familiar with my replies are aware, I have been doing this commercially for quite a while.

    Just the other day, I figured that I have probably processed something like 70,000 rolls/sheets of film by hand in my darkroom since I began in the 1960's. And I have never lost a film to technical processing problems.

    In case someone may be interested, I have two secrets: first, to the extent possible, I always use materials from the same manufacturer. When you expose film from Agfa, develop it in Kodak D-76, fix it in Ilford Hypam, print it on Bergger paper developed in Ansco 130 and you don’t like the print, whom to you blame?

    Certainly, not one of these manufactures will take the rap for the other four. It’s always the other guy’s fault. But when everything you used was sold by the same manufacturer, he has no place to hide.

    My second secret has been to use photographic materials which are well-documented by their manufacturer and follow those instructions to the letter.

    A lot of legendary developers, for example, have come out of third party vendors in the Chicago area over the years, but most had very sketchy documentation. I have religiously avoided these “mystery powders” in spite of their devotion by the secretive “in-crowd”.

    Kodak used to publish the best instructions, but I think Ilford now has them beat. If you are not yet familiar with this technical site, you should be:

    http://www.ilford.com/html/us_english/bw.html

    So that’s my big secret to becoming a successful “Photo Guru”.

    Mix as few brands of materials as possible. Favor manufacturers who adequately document their products. Study and follow those instructions explicitly.

    Do this and you will find yourself making beautiful pictures instead of asking questions about what went wrong. ;0)

  2. #2
    esanford's Avatar
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    Very thughtful and "needed" post.... Clearly, you are voice of wisdom!!!
    Often wrong, but never in doubt!

  3. #3
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    KISS all the way! Good advice.

  4. #4
    B-3
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    Thanks for the link too.

  5. #5
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    I assume this is probably something that would place even more work load on Sean, so I understand that it is difficult and time consuming - but, perhaps some of the folks who moderate/help run the site could take suggetions for making certain threads of technical nature "sticky" and putting them in a reference forum? Something like it already exists on APUG - so perhaps just a more systematic expansion of the concept?

    And on a different note, while I certainly hope to learn as much about photography one day as Mr Cook has probably forgotten , I have a bit of a perspective on this issue. In all the hobbies and interests that I have ever endulged in, I found that the people involved...well... enjoy the banter. Car guys call it "bench racing", and I think photo enthusiasts like the on-going discussion just as much - even if the topics are sometimes a bit tired and old... perhaps even beaten to death... I don't know that some degree of redundance can be avoided

    And to finish off - thank you for a thoughtful post from which I certainly learned a lot and gained a very hlepful perspective.

    Peter.

  6. #6
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Cook

    My second secret has been to use photographic materials which are well-documented by their manufacturer and follow those instructions to the letter.

    ...

    So that’s my big secret to becoming a successful “Photo Guru”.

    Mix as few brands of materials as possible. Favor manufacturers who adequately document their products. Study and follow those instructions explicitly.

    Do this and you will find yourself making beautiful pictures instead of asking questions about what went wrong. ;0)
    Would that it were that simple! But - shock, horror - manufacturers sometimes don't tell the whole story;

    Two favorite niggles of mine:
    1) When I worked for Ilford Limited as a technical writer (1974 - 1976), Ilfosol developer was notorious for dying within a day or two in part-empty bottles. In 30 years they haven't fixed this or put a warning in the instructions.
    2) Kodak Stop Bath contains an indicator. This is meant to show if the stop bath is acidic enough. If you experiment you will find you can pour about 400 ml of print developer into 1 liter of stop bath before the indicator changes color, Infinitely sooner than this the stop bath has become contaminated to the degree that streaks on film or prints are likely. Again, no warning in the instructions, you can only learn this by experience (and ruined material) or through a forum. Yes, some people do ask obvious questions out of laziness, but most questions are more than justified.

  7. #7
    gnashings's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David H. Bebbington
    Again, no warning in the instructions, you can only learn this by experience (and ruined material) or through a forum. Yes, some people do ask obvious questions out of laziness, but most questions are more than justified.
    As much as I found Mr Cook's post thoughtful and containing a lot of good points - the above is certainly very true. Truly, if it was all that simple... well, these forums would not be that popular - and I can see that especially on APUG, the cross-section of people here certainly makes it difficult to make a case for ignorance and laziness. This is not your run-of-the-mill "which new camera should I buy" type forum. There are a lot of knowledgeable people here, with great amounts of experience and knowledge gained first hand, inthe "trenches" (like Mr Cook, obviously) - I know that a lot of people would rather hear their take on it, based on these past hands on experiences, over the often generalized, impersonal instructions of a manufacturer. Not to mention a great deal of intangibles that can only be passed on in this manner....

    Hmmm - is this thread turning into what it speaks out against..

  8. #8
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    There are some questions that are pretty easy to look up, and some less so. It is good to stick to using the same basic materials, which I do, but I also like to test new things, and occasionally I'll switch or add something new to the basic toolkit on the basis of those tests. Before experimenting, I'd agree--master the basics and the standard combinations, or you'll have nothing to compare the experimental results to, and then when you're ready to experiment, you'll know what you're looking for, and probably won't need to ask.

    Thankfully, even the "basic" questions asked on APUG aren't as inane as some of the ones that seem to come up all the time on some of the other forums (well, maybe we get these once in a while, but at least it's not every other day)--

    "What film should I use for my trip to [insert location]?"

    "If I use a Leica/Hasselblad, will I get as good a result as with 4x5"?"

    "How many pixels are as good as medium format?"

    "Which is better, Canon or Nikon?"

    "[insert zoom lens with lots of initials after the f:stop] vs. [insert zoom lens with lots of initials after the f:stop]?????"

    "Why shoot B&W film instead of color and just desaturating?"
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  9. #9

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    I would have to agree with the above, we do like the bantor.... Some just love to ask questions so they can get direct answers addressed to them... Even further, many just love to answer and show off their knowledge and experience...

    I am sure the "search" function is the most under used item in this site but luckily, we can brush past the monotony or partake.

    Thanks for the post. I always like to set a standard in my photography. The only problem is, I haven't done it enough to pick my 4 or 5 set manufacturers. Also, i think some may think that you lose a little control with having a set 4. Don't you? Contrast, grain, Shadow density... Isn't there better films and better chemicals to achieve different things?? Of course, questions like that make out fridge and chemical cabinet a little more extensive and results may vary... ?????

  10. #10
    Ole
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    I used to do that when I did commercial work - shoot Ilford, Ilford dev and fix, ilford paper, ilford dev and fix again. Then I got a single roll of Efke R17 to try, and a pack of Oriental Seagull paper. Took one of my old negatives and printed it on the seagull: No difference you could put your finger on, but the print looked different. It "glowed".

    Then the Efke film: Exposed it, but as I was about to leave for a couple of weeks I didn't want to crack open a new bottle of Ilfosol-S (I have already found out that opened bottles sometimes die suddenly and totally). Went back to where I got the film - they didn't have any instructions for it, and none of the developers mentioned in the film box. But they gave me a vial of Neofin Blau. So I guessed at a time, developed the film, and printed it on Ilford paper. Yet again it was different from what I was used to, and in the best cases it was far, far better. But many of the frames had little pinholes in them, so it was not a film to use for commercial jobs. I stuck with FP4+ in Ilfosol-S.

    And then circumstances changed, and I no longer do commercial work. And since nobody got upset if I ruined a negative, I started experimenting - well I had to, since my local shop sotpped carrying Ilfosol-S when I stopped buying it!

    So now I shoot any film I can lay my hands on, develop in home-brew developer, fix in home-brew fixer, print on lots of weird and wonderful papers which I then process in home-brew chemicals.

    Guess what: I'm having fun! I have found most of the ways to screw up a negative, but also most of the ways to get a good print from a screwed-up negative. A couple of horribly overdeveloped sheet films led me to alternative processes, and then to POP. Yet more fun chemicals to play with.

    Old folding cameras with unreliable shutters mean that I often have no idea how the negatives are exposed, so I learned stand development, and compensating developers. And a few more print developers to compensate for my compensations so I could produce decent prints. So RC paper is out of my darkroom, since they don't respond well enough to different developers. Who would have known there were so many FB papers to choose from - and they're (nearly) all different!

    Best of it all is that I know exactly who to blame if something goes wrong: Myself.
    And I also know who is going to fix it: I am.
    So now I know a lot more than I did about different chemicals, changes in processing, different films, papers - and errors.
    I'm learning a lot, but the most important thing is not to take anything at face value but try it and see for yourself. If it doesn't work, why not? If it does, why? Why did it work when everybody knows it doesn't?

    That's how I have fun in the darkroom.
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

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