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Wednesday, September 26

Twin Pillars

Rolleiflex SL66E, 150mm Sonnar, TMax 100

After a Herculean effort, I've cleared enough of a space in my darkroom to get back to some printing. It's not ideal as stuff is still piled up here and there but at least it's a start. I'm finding printing a bit difficult, to be honest, as I'm completely out of practise. There was a time, about ten years ago, when I considered myself to be a pretty good printer but it's going to take a little time and effort to get back to that standard.

In some respects - mainly better equipment than I used before - the darkroom is easier but it's arriving at a "workflow" that's taking the time. Part of the reason for that is the RH Designs Analyser Pro meter I've been using. It's a brilliant concept wonderfully executed - but I can't get on with it at all. I've used it once or twice in the past and have had mixed results, sometimes great, sometimes rubbish. Some people who use one can take a highlight reading and a shadow reading, make a couple of adjustments and produce a very good print. Not me.

It should really be calibrated to my enlarger and darkroom materials. Previously, I'd just had a bash with the default settings which are said to be good for Multigrade IV and a diffuser enlarger, both of which I was using. Earlier this week, after a bit of a frustrating day, I decided to get to grips with calibration. It took an afternoon but I worked through the process - and still can't get consistent results.

The Old, Familiar Way

That's when I decided that I'd just use it as a test strip maker and timer, roles for which it is perfectly suited. From that moment on, I started to make progress and felt like I was beginning to get the old skills back again. Can I just stress that there is nothing at all wrong with the Analyser: it really is a well made and very accurate instrument. Maybe some day I'll give calibration another crack but for now I'm going back to the way I used to do things.

At the top of this post is a scan of a print from my second session. It was taken on the kind of day I like - a bit overcast and rainy. I'd been driving around country roads about ten miles north of my home when I came across it. Off to the left, out of shot, is the house the drive leads to but it's fairly non-descript so it doesn't feature. The photograph is interesting in so far as it presents an all-too-familiar problem: objects jutting into the sky. The foreground needed an exposure of 13 seconds at grade 3.5 but the sky required an additional 7 seconds seconds right down to the horizon and the top half of the sky needed another 7 seconds.

A straightforward burn in would result in the tops of the gate piers becoming too dark, their cumulative exposure being 7 seconds seconds more than they should have. There are really two ways of getting round this. Either a mask can be cut out of card following the line of the foreground and pillars, effectively masking everything but the sky, or the tops of the pillars can be dodged so that the extra sky exposure doesn't darken them too much.

The second option is simpler so I went with it. The rough dodger was cut from the flap of a cardboard printing paper packet. Two holes were stabbed in it and a thin bit of fuse wire threaded through. For the first 6.5 seconds of the foreground exposure, one of the pillar tops was dodged and then the other for the remainder of the 13 seconds. When it came to burning in the sky, a square-edged card was used masking the foreground from the horizon downwards and an exposure of 7 seconds was made. This equalised the tone in the tops of the pillars where it had been dodged.

The top half of the sky was then given an extra 7 seconds using the square-edged card, as ever remembering to keep it moving all the time to prevent the burn-in being obvious. The bottom of the print up to the bottom of the pillars was given an extra 3 seconds as were the right and left edges as far as in as the start of the pillars. The end result is quite good although next time I'll print it very slightly lighter as it's a little on the heavy side. I like dark, moody prints but this one is just a touch too far in that direction.


Just a word about materials. This is a TMax 100 negative that was developed in Barry Thornton's two-bath developer. It's a little on the soft side as a consequence of the compensating nature of the developer and the overcast day. Had I developed in it Rodinal, I'd probably have gotten away with a grade less contrasty paper. The paper was Ilford Multigrade IV glossy, pretty much the standard these days. The developer was Fotospeed warmtone. I like a warmish image tone which the Fotospeed provides at 1+19 dilution. It can also be diluted 1+29 and, if the temperature of the developer is also increased, the warmth is stronger. The look I like is the tone that Fay Godwin's photographs had in her book, Land. My print is not quite as warm as that. Perhaps I'll try the increased dilution next time and cook the print at 25 degrees C.

8 comments :

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Bruce. I have the problem of burning the sky a lot but never thought to dodge the things that cut through the skyline. It is actually quite obvious when you stop to think about it but I never have! I like Twin Pillars as a print. Nice shot!

Neal said...

great to see you back in the darkroom.. and nice print. thanks for the post.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

Thanks, Neal. I've just realised that regular visitors will have already seen scans of the negatives I'm now taking into the darkroom! I'll have to start looking through my files to dig up some older stuff as well as taking some new pics as well. It's a hard life!

jojonas said...

glad to see you getting into the process! I'll be looking forward to follow your darkroom adventures~

Omar Özenir hakkında said...

Good to hear that you've sorted out the darkroom. This is a lovely wet print with delicate tones and a nice wet feel to it.
Greetings from the sunny Mediterranean :)

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

You're banned. :-)

Steve Weston said...

Hi Bruce. I think the print looks good. I am also having to re-learn all these skills and having to set up my Nova tent every time it kinda slows things right down. I also have the Analyser and like you have a love hate relationship. I wanted to go back to my Nocon F stop timer which I managed to find but wired up for a Devere. I re wired it but It doesn't want to work properly with my Durst M70. so it is back to the analyser for now.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

Steve, the Analyser is very precise but I think its operators might be found wanting.:-). What gets me is that the highlight and shadow readings are very subjective. If you don't choose exactly the right tones to meter, the results can be hit or miss. I read on Fadu that someone uses it as an averaging meter taking a reading through a diffuser. I wonder if that's the way to go.