Is film development more important than film exposure or are they of equal importance in producing the expressive negative from which the final print that conveys the result you require can be made? The question is prompted by an experiment I did on a batch of miscellaneous films that had accumulated over a period of time.
After reading your question a few times (and re-writing my answer just as many), IMO the development process has more of an impact on the expressive negative. I tend to think of exposure as either right (i.e. what you wanted) or wrong. The choices of developer and time (N+, N- etc) for any given film are almost endless, resulting in a mind boggling array of grain structure & appearance and contrast. I think this will be more important to the final print than being off by a third or half stop in exposure.
I think both are equally important.
Since I tend to expose "sufficiently" - erring on the side of over-exposure to ensure shadow detail - I believe that hte development makes the difference between a good negative and a "great" one.
I touched on this in another discussion here, I think...
Basically it comes odwn to the three kinds of contrast:
Macrocontrast, which is what cn be controlled by burning and dodging dring printing.
Microcontrast, which is wholly determined by type of developer and agitation.
Mesocontrast is the difficult one, and to me the most important. That's the range between grain structure / acutance (microcontrast) and large-scale tonal range (macrocontrast). It is too large to be influenced by agitation, and too small to be manipulated in printing without contrast masks.
Mesocontras is dependent on both the initial exposure, the choise of developer and development. Identical exposures developed in different developers will show marked differences here: I have developed two sheets in compensating developers (divided D23 and Maxim Muir's Copensating pyrocatechol) and the differences are astonishing. Both negatives show about the same density range, but the distribution of densities in the details is totally different.
In my opinion it is this middle range which determines if a negative "sings" or not. The sheets I mentioned above gave prints which were practically identical in tonal range, but very different in terms of visual impact!
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
I agree with Jorge O, they are both important. That said, don't we expose film with a specific development in mind? While, personally I am not at the point to understand N, N+, N- development - I think I understand the reasoning behind it. If the film is not exposed correctly, the final print may not look the way we want - no matter what we do during development. On the other hand if we envision a certain look, expose the film correctly but then apply development other than what is needed the final negative will still fail to yield what we wanted.
Now if I could just get the point where I understand all of this.....
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Originally Posted by Les McLean
I would opt for equal, as the print (any print) is dependent upon the development. "You can't print what ain't there". But you sure can make a slightly over/under developed negative look good...... maybe not the expressive print, but a print that perhaps hums rather than sings.
You really can't have one without the other. So I think they are of equal importance.
"Print with #3.5 and burn with #1.5." B.J. Confucius
Both are important. I can't say they're equal either though. Thus, I'll have a zen moment and say both are important and different.
The old adage expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights works here. I've always thought that the goal was to get all the information possible on the sheet of film. Thus, we expose the film getting enough exposure to produce the desired details in the shadows. As Ole mentioned a little overexposre will guarantee that we get the shadow detail. However, too much overexposure will shove the highlights onto the shoulder. Flat highlights isn't any good either. However, we can control this with the proper film, developer, and development choice.
So, this is why many people encourage testing of film, paper, etc. IMHO, two of the best darkroom tools I have are my densitometer and my stouffer density wedge.
In conclusion, both are important. However, knowing how your materials respond is most important.
I found two different philosophies in this case. Some photographers “tailor” their negatives such that a (possible) straight print delivers the expression they intend. Other photographers try to capture as much as possible at exposure time and try to work out the expression in the darkroom. I’m a member of the second group, because I want to have an option to try different expressions. Decades might lie between two prints from the same negative. Time that will change your mind and your vision.
So it is my intension to record maximum information at exposure time. This requires an optimum combination of Exposure and Development in a technical sense. Whenever I test-in a new film/developer combination, I'm giving Exposure priority over Development. Both are of equal importance in the near-optimum range. But in seek of this range, exposure is more important than development, IMO. No magics can reveal afterwards what you haven’t captured at exposure time.
Mike C - "in 25 words or less..."
"N" or Normal development - time and temperature that will give the negative a "normal" contrast range, usually considered about 5 zones (stops), to print on your "normal" paper, usually Grade 2 or 3.
"N-" or Contracted - less developement (shorter time) to compress the contrast range. This technique takes a subject with a wide contrast range and compresses it to fit into the 5 zones on the film and therefore onto Grade 2 paper.
"N+" or Expansion - more development (longer time) to expand the contrast range. This is used for low contrast subjects, it stretches the subject contrast to fill the 5 zones on film and your normal paper.
Everyone has his/her own way of explaining this, a search for "zone system" will have a million and one results. If you want the complete explaination from the source, read "The Negative" by Ansel Adams. A warning - there is math involved!
First I would inquire as to the motivation of the question.
Originally Posted by Les McLean
Second, I have to admit that I attempt to expose to obtain proper placement of the various tones (zones) on the negative so that conventional development with conventional chemicals is possible. Then I will modify method and materials of development according to my best estimate for producing an easily printable negative. Sometimes this fails miserably and I'm left with printing difficulties. Large format helps in this respect allowing two identically exposed negatives so that if I goof in estimating development, I have a back-up to develope (possibly also badly :-) )
So it seems that, for me, exposure is just a little more important of the processes. Either way, it is a one-way street once the commitment is committed by the commitee.
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