I think it was Michael Johnston who said something to the effect that the easier a camera is to use in the field, the harder it will be to print from its negatives and the more bother a camera is at the exposure stage, the fewer problems you'll encounter in the darkroom. The implication is that 35mm will be trickier under the enlarger than 5x4. All I would say is that I'm glad the photograph that's the subject of this post was not a 35mm neg…
The Ilford HP5 negative doesn't look too bad but this shot suffered from two things: an overall lack of contrast and flare from the windows and their reflection in the puddle. The low value areas - and there are a lot of them - are flatter than a mill pond in a depression. If you look at the frame around the windows and that buttress-like thing emerging from the middle of them you'll see the daylight spilling over.
I took this photograph around 15 years ago on the same make of 5x4 camera I have now - a Speed Graphic. It had a 135mm Optar lens, a Tessar design not a million miles away from the 127mm Ektar I have for my present 5x4 camera. Both of these lenses flare quite badly - not something you'd expect from a four-element lens in good condition. My Ektar has a scratched-up front element, though, and I'm guessing the Optar was in a similar condition although I can't remember for sure as I sold the camera not long after.
The problems I faced were getting some contrast in the shadows without them blocking up and burning in the flared areas to make the window frames and other woodwork in that region similar in tone to the rest of the negative and, at the same time, bringing out some detail in the glass. I'm in the process of using up some Ilford Multigrade IV RC as I try to regain some old printing skills before moving onto something fibre-based and considerably more expensive. I kicked off with a wee test strip (left) - bottom to top - at grade 3 to make sure I was in the ball park.
It showed that a harder grade was needed and, given the way the shadows turned detail-less very quickly, that the exposure would have to be accurate to get a solid black but still retain some texture.
With that in mind, I did a test strip with narrower increments from right to left using a full sheet to get a better idea of how things stood. That's it below and it shows the low contrast and the flare quite well. I then dialled in grade 4 and made another test strip from bottom to top (two below) on a full sheet.
Using the information gathered so far, I decided to give the print a 17 second exposure with an extra three-quarters of a stop burn-in of the window and reflection at the same grade to put a bit of contrast into these areas to help minimise the flare. The window and reflection would then get three-quarters of a stop extra at grade 0 (an educated guess) to bring out some detail in the glass area. Then I had a last minute change of mind and went with 15 seconds for the main exposure.
That's the result below. It's quite a nice print in that it captures the dinginess of the scene, shows detail in most of the shadowed areas and still retains detail throughout most of the glass. Had I given the negative a bit more exposure, maybe a stop, it would have been easier to get some texture in the shadows but, overall, I'm happy with the outcome. Depth of field is quite limited with no real sharpness apparent until the bench beneath the window but the reflection in the foreground, being effectively the same distance away as the window, is sharp which adds a bit of interest. This was the first 5x4 negative I'd exposed and I wasn't aware at that time just how shallow depth of field is with large format but maybe it's better the way it worked out rather than being sharp front to back.
The transport office no longer exists, having been demolished. I used to pass it a couple of times a week but it was hidden from the road in an old quarry. One day, I parked the car and decided to have a nosey around the quarry to see if there was anything to photograph. This old office looked like it had been mouldering away for years and the photograph shows it just as I found it apart from the top of the tyre which I poured a little water onto for a nice highlight. :)
I might yet use a little Farmer's Reducer to bring out the "SLOW" lettering and the Champion spark plug poster hanging on the shelves to the left. Twenty years ago, it seemed there was no shortage of old industrial sites which offered photo opportunities like this but the last two decades have seen most of them demolished or cleared away.
The door on the extreme left opened onto a small office and I shot my second 5x4 neg in there. Unfortunately, it's quite under-exposed and looks as if it will be a right bugger to print. There are some quite big shadows with very little information there that would need grade 5 to reveal anything at all beyond solid black. It has the same problems as this shot but writ larger. I'll make it the subject of a future post as it might make a nice print.
So that was my wee struggle with this 5x4 shot. Although this wasn't the easiest negative to print - far from the hardest either, obviously, - it is at least fine-grained, sharp in those areas which should be sharp and shows nice tonality. I have to agree with Mike that it's a much more enjoyable experience making a print from a 5x4 neg. Fortunately, I've found using the Speed Graphic pretty straightforward as well so it's a win-win from where I'm standing!