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!