There are occasions when I want to introduce subtle changes in contrast that are not possible, even with the wide choice of excellent papers and sophisticated timers that are currently available. When I'm faced with these situations I use a second, soft working developer.

Using two bath developer
Two-bath development means dividing the total developing time between hard and soft developers. The hard developer will produce rich blacks and can be any propriety developer such as Bromophen or Dektol. The soft working developer will not produce true rich blacks and is more difficult to find in your local camera store. There are two that I would recommend; the first, Grade Select, contains both the hard and soft developers and is available direct from Fotospeed. The second is Centrabrom S by Tetenal and can be ordered from Silverprint. I used Fotospeed's Grade Select to make the images used here

When using two-bath development the dilution can be as varied as you wish. I have experimented with many and as a result, I now dilute the hard developer twice as strong as the manufacturers recommended dilution but the soft developer is diluted up to three times weaker. I would not recommend that you mix both developers into one solution although I do know that some printers do.

The method that I use is as follows. Mix two trays of developer with the hard in the first and, until you have worked out the strength you prefer, I suggest you start with the manufacturers recommended dilution. Make a test strip as normal and process it in the hard developer only and use it as a reference. My reasons for this are, although I usually develop my prints for three minutes, I do not stick to the same proportions of that time for every print made using two-bath development. Having determined the correct time, expose the print and place it in the hard bath until the image begins to appear when it is moved into the soft working developer. Development will continue but you will find that it is much slower, giving you more control especially over the highlights. The print can be moved back into the hard bath if you feel that the lower values do not appear to be strong enough.

Making the print "Barrels Ennistimon"
The four prints shown here are a good example of the control provided by two-bath development. They were given identical exposures on grade 4 Oriental Seagull and processed as follows. Print 1 was processed for three minutes in Grade Select soft bath only, diluted three times weaker than recommended by Fotospeed and although there is detail throughout I find this print weak.

(view file to see print examples, print details at page bottom)

All four prints show detail but prints 1 and 2 are too light and too dark for my taste, although it is fair to say that this is because of the extreme dilutions that I have used. It is not until you inspect the prints that have passed through both the hard and soft solutions that the real benefit of two-bath development is apparent. The contrast and depth shown in the prints passed through both solutions are subtle but different from each other and both are acceptable to my eye.

Grade Select is a two-bath developer based on the old Beers formula and manufactured by Fotospeed in the UK. Visit their web site to see their wide range of papers and chemistry.

Some guidelines and suggestions
As a general rule I use the stronger hard bath to establish the deep rich blacks, and leave the development of the highlights to the more dilute and gentle action of the soft bath. You can see in print 4 that there is good rich shadow detail even though it received only 15 seconds hard development. I often choose a higher paper grade than I would normally use for a particular negative and use two-bath development to independently control the high and low values. This method will give the "snap" associated with a higher paper grade but not the loss of highlight detail that so often happens. The contrast control you can achieve when using two-bath development is quite significant and does offer another valuable tool in making traditional black and white prints. It is worth a spending little of your hard earned cash and valuable time to experiment with the process. I believe that in many cases two-bath development is an essential requirement in the making of the fine black-and-white print.

Les McLean

Print 2 was processed for three minutes in Grade Select hard bath only, diluted twice as strong than recommended by Fotospeed. You can see that it shows rich blacks and good highlights, although I personally find it too dark.

The three minutes development given to print 3 was equally divided between the hard and soft developers.

Print 4 was given 15 seconds in the hard bath and the remainder of the three minutes in the soft developer even though the image had not yet started to appear when I transferred it from the hard to soft developer.