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  1. #1
    cmo
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    How to find the best

    About 30 years ago I developed my first b/w film, in the school darkroom.
    All these years I just used a thermometer and a stopwatch, the manufacturer's tables and the recommended ISO settings. It works. I had many exhibitions last year, my prints are generally quite large at 50x70 centimeters, landscapes, street, portraits.

    99% of all my photos are on 35mm film, so I never was into the zone system and other highly advanced techniques, for 80% of my photos I used the built-in light meter of my Leica M and Canon EOS cameras though I have a digital Sekonic do-it-all with an integrated spotmeter. Sometimes I use medium format cameras, but not much longer. My back says "no, don't carry that weight again..." (Mamiya in the Snatch and Bronica GS-1 in the Clean and Jerk).

    To put it into a nutshell, I am a botcher, but a good one.

    Many of the experts in this community are perfectionists, testing and calibrating their methods in order to find the best time, temperature, agitation and ASA setting.

    Before I start working in my darkroom for days and invest lots of material and time, dou you believe it is worth it? Are the results so much better afterwards?

    If your answer is yes, what is the fast track solution to get the best possible calibration?

    (By the way, I have a hybrid workflow. The negatives are scanned on Imacon 646 and output on an inkjet printer.)

  2. #2

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    I teach both wet darkroom B&W film processing and printing on the college level. I also teach Fine Art Digital Printing, so I understand your 'hybrid' vantage point.

    Don't think of yourself as a 'botcher.' You have found what works for you, that's all that counts.

    Yes it is worth perfecting your darkroom workflow. It is worth testing, etc. As long as it doesn't interfere with your vision.

    What counts is that the resulting prints speak of your artistic vision, not what developer you used, or agitation method.

    You can shoot the most technically perfect image, but if it has no soul to speak to the viewer, what good is all the perfection.

    As Sally Mann says "I look for the imperfections." For art to work, it must ask questions as well as give answers. Only answers leaves the viewer unsatisfied for they are left out of the journey.

    Worry more whether your images speak from the heart, and not so much from an engineering workflow.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

  3. #3

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    Dear cmo,

    IMHO, if you are getting all the shadow detail you want and your highlights are controlled, you're not going to get much more from a zone system approach. If you think you are lacking in either area, a little adjustment in exposure and processing is probably all you will need for a given situation.

    Neal Wydra

  4. #4
    cmo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pinholemaster View Post
    I teach both wet darkroom B&W film processing and printing on the college level. I also teach Fine Art Digital Printing, so I understand your 'hybrid' vantage point.

    Don't think of yourself as a 'botcher.' You have found what works for you, that's all that counts.
    The only problem is that I know i can achieve better results, but so far I do not know how much better. I am a little bit like a musician who, after many concerts, wants to be able to read music, finally, because he knows h emight be even better.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pinholemaster View Post
    Yes it is worth perfecting your darkroom workflow. It is worth testing, etc. As long as it doesn't interfere with your vision.
    No, I don't intend to accept compromise, the images are first.

    Today, I set my lightmeter to the manufacturer recommendation - the exact value might be a little off. I develop slavishly right according to the manufacturer's table - my tab water, thermometer and agitation might be a little off the optimum. Setting the light meter really right, developing and later scanning the films exactly right, that is actually not more work, but perhaps yields better results if my personal values are right. I don't think about the zone system, there is no such thing in 35mm, I think, and my cameras don't have exchangeable magazines.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pinholemaster View Post
    Worry more whether your images speak from the heart, and not so much from an engineering workflow.
    They do speak from the heart. But I want more volume, and Hi-Fi

    Imagine this at higher technical quality:

    New York, Staten Island Ferry
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/7d90b8a7-76c1-4...a49f4ce7c6.jpg

    New York, parade
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/ae83ebe6-cd51-4...41b5f697d2.jpg

    New York, Chinatown
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/d093d42c-ed08-4...866dc22431.jpg

    New York, Times Square
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/66e52769-b3dc-4...ad3f68e33f.jpg

    Symmetric woods
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/88157437837449D...D3DBBB47B9.jpg
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/68E33BDB69E543D...09D0F04891.jpg

    Dead trees at the Airbus factory, Hamburg, Germany
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/E00DBF8D4FAE4A9...9599AD24EF.jpg

    Fuel at Frankfurt Airport
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/8CFE877190484F2...7D5F1579C4.jpg

    One here is one of my rare color images - taken in southern France
    http://vfdkv.de/pics/899B67798BCC408...FA3EE00E9E.jpg

  5. #5
    Nicholas Lindan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmo View Post
    Many of the experts in this community are perfectionists, testing and calibrating their methods in order to find the best time, temperature, agitation and ASA setting.
    I would try standing that on its head.

    Kodak and Ilford have done more testing than any of us and have already found the 'perfect' ASA and developing time.

    Testing is more a measure of how far-off our technique is from ideal and what should be done to correct for it. If testing says my 'personal ASA for Tri-X is 200' it really means that I am rather optimistic in my metering technique (or deficient in agitation, or like the safety of a thick negative ...) and had better open up an extra stop to compensate.

    My advice is to use the published numbers and technique. If you are scanning then all you really need to be sure of is that the shadow detail is there and that the negative has not been overdeveloped.

    It sounds like you are working in photography the way it is meant to be: making pictures. Photography is a fetishistic hobby and there is a danger in following a clique with a different agenda than one's own. Many are in it to collect gear and some find satisfaction in 'testing' and pontification.

    Here and there, now and then, someone takes a picture and hangs it on the wall. Although it seems the trivial and odd occurrence it is, of course, the purpose of it all.
    DARKROOM AUTOMATION
    f-Stop Timers - Enlarging Meters
    http://www.darkroomautomation.com/da-main.htm

  6. #6
    Nicholas Lindan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmo View Post
    I am a little bit like a musician who, after many concerts, wants to be able to read music, finally, because he knows he might be even better.
    I will disagree. The musician is more likely to lose whatever native talent he had and become just another run-of-the-mill note reader.
    DARKROOM AUTOMATION
    f-Stop Timers - Enlarging Meters
    http://www.darkroomautomation.com/da-main.htm

  7. #7
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    I believe the testing that the manufacturers do is very thorough. I also know that the recommendations that they give (box speed) is designed to give good results under average conditions to the average photographer. Basically a "serving suggestion". The manufactures pretty much consistently over rate the speed of their films, box speed being what they feel they can get away with, not the true performance of the emulsion with every developer.

    I do test my films with the specific developer I use, because I expect better than average results or more specifically, negatives that are made to be printed just for me. Testing and knowing your materials isn't some kind of drudgery, nor is it what you will spend most of your time doing. A simple testing regimen will occupy no more than an afternoon, and for me, knowing exactly how my film will perform is freedom. Freedom from the drudgery of working with a difficult negative, and freedom in the field from guesswork. Knowing how an emulsion will perform allows me more choices, not less.

    If you are perfectly happy with your negatives, I would say that you are happy with your exposures. If you know they could be better, and want them to be, by all means learn the zone system, as the concepts can benefit anybody who shoots film, although you won't have processing choices of a sheet film shooter.

    At the very least you might take a few minute to learn the true speed of your film with your developer.

    "best" is truly subjective, and it doesn't mean the same thing to every photographer. Nor does testing need to be some vast exercise of logs and density scales. You might just try overexposing a part of a roll by a consistent 1/3 over where you normally would. That might be all the testing you need to arrive at some new conclusions.

    Getting firmer grip on things doesn't stifle the truly creative, it empowers them.
    Last edited by JBrunner; 09-03-2008 at 10:36 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  8. #8
    David Brown's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Lindan View Post
    I will disagree. The musician is more likely to lose whatever native talent he had and become just another run-of-the-mill note reader.
    Sorry. I will strongly disagree with this, Mr. Lindan. As a musician and music teacher, I've never run across any "native" musician that was ruined by learning more skills.

    I do agree with you, though, that Kodak, Ilford, et al have done more testing than I care to do and that their published procedures will produce good images. The variations are just that - variations. I've always found it amusing that photographers think the film and paper makers deliberately publish processing data that will not yield good negatives or prints. Why would they do that?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Brown View Post
    .... I've always found it amusing that photographers think the film and paper makers deliberately publish processing data that will not yield good negatives or prints. Why would they do that?

    They publish recommendations that are workable for the average situation, average exposure, average development, average photographer (average not meaning substandard or even less than excellent, but rather the peak of the bell for procedures)- it's not going to be the absolute best for most specific situations. They really don't have much choice (in other words there is no machination or devious intent) because they cannot predict specific situations. Also, many developers used for various reasons do not deliver the same kind of performance across the board. PMK for instance delivers different film speeds than HC110, and my speeds and developing reflect that.
    Last edited by JBrunner; 09-03-2008 at 12:32 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #10
    David Brown's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBrunner View Post
    They publish recommendations that are workable for the average situation, average exposure, average develpment, average photographer (average not meaning substandard or even less than excellent, but rather the peak of the bell for procedures)- it's not going to be the absolute best for most specific situations. ...
    Agreed, Jay. I think the point is that one can vary from the "average" if one wants a variation; i.e. more or less contrast, more or less exposure/saturation, a different "look", etc. This gets into the vision thing. What I was referring to is statements such as we have all read here and elsewhere that the "true" speed of Whatever-X+ film is A, rather than the published ISO of B.

    "True"?

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