Good grief - this thread has got some attention hasn't it! Thanks all for the info - there's definately some clarifying points that I need to make to help with the explanation that I perhaps should have mentioned originally.
1) I do have home printing equipment, Ilford papers, dev tanks etc - an Ilfospeed Multigrade 400HS enlarger with Apo Rodenstock 50mm lens, I might add! The problem is a) my negative carrier is broke and I've not got round to replacing it and my darkroom is basically a spare bedroom that I haven't yet invested enough effort into making totally light proof during long summer evenings. For that reason, my home printing is not as frequent as it could be.
2) Whilst I am OK at home printing in the darker winter months, my attempts at film development have been a bit hit and miss and due to a few bad experiences I'm suffering from a lack of confidence with photos that I value - fear of ruining them. So I am familiar with how labs auto-process etc but that is why I made the point that my Fuji films all come out well - I assumed it must be something I was doing wrong because my lab seems to be pretty good with other films - to me, they are a good lab overall. However, as others have said, maybe they're not too good with Ilford FP4. I'll try Ilford printing services themselves next time to see.
3) In defence of my lab, something else I need to make clear. The paper prints are just a 7x5 proof set and the scans are their standard 'quick scan' to CD from the negatives - they are not scans from the prints. But in both instances, they are the "cheap and quick" versions of their service (£16 for dev and print plus £4 per film to scan to CD). The lab does offer a more hands on approach - it's just I only use that for proper work as opposed to family days out work e.g. they can hand print each print if I want and do high res frame-by-frame scanning but it's £14 a film instead of £4. However, I use the same service level with most of my other films, that always look much better so the comparison is still the same. I realise a hand made print will always be much better but for reasons explained in 1), I can't do that at the moment and money is not always freely available for just casual family and friends work.
3) chriscrawfordphoto thanks for taking the time to enhance the jpgs. I'm curious - what software did you use? Lightroom, Photoshop? I tried to do similar using LightZone but couldn't quite get the same results.
4) pentaxuser - I had looked at the Ilford Harman Photo order form in the past, but last time I looked they were more expensive than my lab. However, based on your suggestion, I just looked again and to my surprise they are much less than my own lab now! (http://www.ilfordlab.com/images/ORDE...FILM%20D+P.pdf) by a couple of quid a film. I will definately try them next time. The recession has obviously hit my lab quite hard, maybe.
5) ROL I'm glad you agree with my film rating calculations - I was basing this idea on what I've read about the work of Jose Villa and the whole "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights" - it's supposed to help ensure you get plenty of shadow detail? I must say that for my colour films especially, this technique has worked well. I was surprised to read everyones comments about not doing it that way - I thought it was a fairly routine thing to do for photographers and that generally the box speed is just an indicative guide. I'll have to read up on that some more.
Luseboy I didn't use in-camera flash on this occasion. I used my Nikon SB-800 and have been doing so for around two years now. I've become quite proficient with it as well, having read the book "The Nikon Creative Lighting System", which is why I posted this thread because I was trying to work out whether it was me or the lab or the film. I am quite good with flash these days...
MattKing - thanks for the nice words. It is a nice photo (of my daughter) but it just seemed to lack punch a bit.
JMcLaug351 You've confused me a bit:
I know using 'normal' flash would, but I was only using a little fill-in flash due to it being so bright on the day, and at -1 compensation at that. I did this to try and add sparkle into the eyes and things - a technique that has worked well for me in the past. I must confess to not being brilliant with B&W though - is this a common problem with using flash and B&W - flat negatives?
Also, flash used on camera fills in the shadows and makes for a flatter negative.
Well, as above, they are the "cheap" product range, but they still cost £16 a film with £4 scan to CD from negative, so £20 for one roll. As said above, would have been less from Ilford. Personally though, for £20, I'd have preferred better.
They look like cheap lab 35mm prints to me
Lasltyl - yep, I know about using incident light meters and I have got one, and I know about using manual mode and trying to expose for the darker Level III shadows and then print for the highlights etc. This was just a day out though and people didn't want all that fuss so I was just in point and shoot mode really. Given my camera and the film in use, even in Aperture mode, that should have done an OK job in most of the scenes, and I think it probably has except for the prints are clearly quick print jobs instead of proper ones.
To everyone who mentioned Shot 3 being glared (for which there are many of you) - you're quite right. The sun was just to my right and it was about 15:00 hrs and I do recall thinking at the time "This might not work!".
Anyway, to all of you - thanks again and I'll have a stab at printing a few at home once I've bought some new chemicals and a new negative carrier!
Last edited by ted_smith; 05-12-2011 at 03:40 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I used Photoshop CS2, so I'm a few versions behind on it. You can use any software that offers curves adjustments, including Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, and Paint Shop Pro. Each of them I worked on received two curves adjustments. One to set overall contrast and a second to fine tune tonality. Getting an exact match to someone else's adjustments is probably impossible, so if you got them looking good I wouldn't sweat it.
If you decide to get into darkroom printing, they'll probably print fine on standard grade 2 paper, but if you use VC paper, you can adjust contrast with it and get results that match closely to what I got in Photoshop.
P.S. – I was remiss in not including this link in my post to illustrate the non-digital approach to showing the difference between a proof, which is essentially what the lab has given you, and a finished print.
In truth, I don't actually agree with the particular way you arrive at your exposures. But, all roads lead to... I would put it this way. My advice for beginning small format roll film shooters is to use whatever speed works for you or that you've tested (unlikely) the film for. Then, generally, overexpose at least one stop, possibly two, if you are able to judge contrast or use a light meter (i.e., expose for the shadows). This will give you a good shot at exposing correctly for BW film, giving you a negative of sufficient density, in most circumstances, and given normal development (BTW, underexpose one stop for transparency film). This will start you in the direction of a much simplified, abridged version of the dreaded Zone System of exposure. As previously mentioned, printing is the other major part of the process. I hope to complete an illustrated, interactive article on the ZS for my site later this year.
Last edited by ROL; 05-12-2011 at 05:31 PM. Click to view previous post history.
ROL - your website is very informative - both your link and other pages. I have bookmarked it! I'll look forward to your zone system article as I've read several of Ansel Adams books without major success.
If you are going to use a commercial lab, shoot at proper speed or tell them to reduce development 20% for each stop over. Otherwise you just get heavy negs that need a lot of printing thru. The can be improved with longer printing times, but someone has to care.
I strongly urge you to develop your own. 6 exposures, 12" of film is enough for a test. .
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Did I read you correctly? One to two stops added exposure and normal development? So that if I use TMax 100 I have to shoot it at 50 or even 25?
Originally Posted by ROL
Tell you what. If you develop that roll of TMax normally, while shot at 25, you're going to have a very difficult time in the darkroom printing it. And I can see how shooting a roll of FP4+/Plus-X at 32, Delta 100/Acros/Foma100/Efke100 at 25 would give equal amounts of trouble with a tone scale slid way up the film curve and the highlights at risk of completely blocking up, so that the enlarger can't shine through them (let alone a scanner).
For what it's worth, I get the 'best' tonality with TMax 100 shot at 200. For normal contrast. For high contrast it's 100. And for low contrast 400.
The real recommendation that needs to be made is to test the normal speed of the film by shooting in normal contrast and exposing at lots of different exposure indexes, develop normally and see where the shadow contrast is what you would like it to be. And that will be different for everyone.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
Just for clarity, contrast relates to the subject here, not to the negative. I lost my footing for a moment
Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson
I read your inquiry and the replies with considerable interest. Your pictures do not seem altogether bad, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you may have expectations of more contrast than the next person. If you want to see more contrast, you will need to expose and develop the film to maximize the contrast range. This will occur at, or near, the rated speed of the film. Film speed ratings are intentionally skewed toward the faster end so you have more latitude in shooting it at a slower speed than at a faster speed. A typical film may produce the optimum contrast at 1/2 stop above the rated speed, but may also produce equal contrast at 1 1/2 to 2 stops slower speed. Companies want to convince people their film is fast so they use ratings that are very near the upper end of the optimum exposure range. Taking your 125 rated film and using it at 150 or higher is almost guaranteed to result in loss of contrast in the negatives. Some of this can be corrected by push processing but there is never a free ride and you will increase the grain of the negative.
Here are some suggestions. First, get yourself a gray card. In a pinch, you might find a "dove gray" matte board or even paper at an art supply store. This is to produce the 18% reflectance that your camera's meter is designed to work with. No matter what meter arrangement you use, your camera is attempting to AVERAGE the light in the scene you are photographing. The contrast you are looking for is not based on the average light but on the darkest and brightest parts of the scene. If you want to conduct a test of this, try taking a picture of a gray card against a dark background, and then another one against a light background. The card will come out two completely different shades because the background throws the light meter off.
Now, place the gray card so it is at the same angle as the primary subject of your picture.
Take a light meter reading from the card and the meter will figure the proper exposure based upon the sun angle and the light available. Use this exposure for your pictures.
If you use a fill flash, do not change the exposure. Changing the exposure will underexpose the rest of the image because the flash will only illuminate objects within about 12 feet of the camera. If your flash washes out the subject, then your flash is too bright or too close to your subject.
All that stuff about commercial photo printers is pretty much true. Some do use color paper. Some even print digitally, on printer paper, not photo paper at all. Their ability to properly process B&W is often limited. However, I have found places that did an excellent job and use good, quality B&W paper. If you mail it to them, you may have no way of knowing what they do. If they are local, ask them for a tour.
I hope this information is useful,
I know this instance of contrast problems sounds like it was due to 'drugstore processing', but, for completeness:
A common cause for complaints of low contrast is a fingerprint on the camera lens (or, worse a bad case of fungus). The degradation is especially bad when shooting into the sun or against a bright sky - which picture #3 is - as a modern multicoated lens will have almost no flare.
You say you have had good results with Acros & Neopan - was this with the same processing firm?
Last edited by Nicholas Lindan; 05-24-2012 at 04:41 PM. Click to view previous post history.