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Saturday, July 8

Another look at BT two-bath



My last experience with Barry's two-bath has put me off using it for normal contrast scenes but, having just mixed a litre of the stuff, I felt it was still worthwhile trying it again on higher contrast shots.

This time, I extended the time in each bath from 4 mins plus drainage time to 5 mins plus drainage. Although the two-bath process is supposed to be largely independent (within reason) of development time, plenty of photographers have found that extra time in bath A, in particular, does have an effect on negative density. I stuck with the same agitation technique of 20 secs continuous and two inversions each minute in bath A and the same with one inversion per minute in bath B.

The film was once again Tmax 400 and the scene was a local wood with quite a dense canopy of leaves but with daylight filtering between branches and foliage. I had the Nikon F90x with me along with the 35mm and 85mm Nikkor AF-D lenses.

The idea was just to use up a roll of film so that I could try the longer development without risking anything valuable and the wood seemed a reasonable place to start. The subjects of these pics are just trees that had interesting shapes. They're "toned" differently from each other simply because I accidentally scanned them as colour negs which imparted a tint to them.

When I compared the mostly desaturated results in Lightroom (the pics posted here) with full-on black and white conversions, I preferred the first approach so stuck with it. The photographs seemed "smoother". When I was getting into digital years ago, scanning black and white negs as colour files was recommended as a way achieving higher quality but I don't know if that's still the case.

The negs in question.

I started off by spot-metering the tree trunks and then closing down one-and-a-half stops as I wanted the trees to register quite darkly against the brighter background. I had my Induro tripod with me but had absent-mindedly left the quick release plate on another camera! So it was a case of just using the tripod as a makeshift support - sort of like a mobile gate post.

This was fine for most of the shots as shutter speeds weren't too long. However, I found that spot-metering and locking in the AF and then having to do it again with compositional changes was a nuisance so I switched to matrix metering and taking an extra shot at plus one stop. As it turned out, both of those approaches were valid although the latter was obviously more wasteful.

And the results with the extended development? Much better. The negatives still look a little soft but in a good way. There's information in the tones at both ends of the scale. The tree trunk shadows are where they should be. The highlights beyond the trees are very well controlled. It seems that the BT two-bath is fine for these scenes.

There used to be a theory that the best prints come from slightly soft negs printed on grade 3 paper and these look as if they might fall into that category. I have a couple of rolls of 120 that I've been sitting on because I didn't want to use the two-bath and mess them up but I think I'll risk it. One is mostly night shots taken in the rain and a light mist and it might benefit from the softer treatment.










30 comments :

Steven Lawrence said...

Thank you for my morning inspiration. I have a friend who wants to introduce me to printing in the darkroom but at this time I just do not have the patience necessary. Perhaps in the future when I am better I will try it (or have my friend do it).

Allan Borenstein said...

The tones look beautiful.

Do you think the result is different than if you used d76 or xtol wth careful exposures and development?

Thanks
Allan Castle
www.allancastle.com

Herman Sheephouse said...

"A Mobile Gatepost" . . . what a concept! I can see a new range of Gitzo 'G' series coming up.

As for BT, that's a very fine balance it has achieved there Bruce and your skills too - it's difficult to get trunks in shade to glow like that, but they do - really excellent . . . so, in a question - are you going to keep on with it after doing the 120's or does everything hinge on them?

Scotty Elmslie said...

The problem with compensating development is that it concentrates too much of our attention on the high end of the tonal range.

Don’t take film base plus fog (FB+fog) for granted. It is different for 35mm film than for medium and large format. I have been doing some testing with different film and developer combinations and I will share this information once I get a way to organize and present the results. One of the consistent bits of information I have found so far is that most 35mm film, including t-grained films, has a FB+fog nearly twice as dense as what I am finding for the same film in medium or large format sizes.

If you are printing in a wet darkroom you can get away with slightly denser highlights than you might when using a film scanner, especially a flatbed scanner. Film developed in in order to be scanned has to be developed to a lower contrast than if you intended to print it in a wet darkroom and 35mm film needs an even lower contrast than medium or large format film in order to fit the image between the FB+fog and the maximum range that the scanner can read.

But it’s not the highlights we need to be looking at. We need to look at the entire tonal range and consider whether we will be scanning or printing in a wet darkroom. A negative that scans easily will probably need a grade 3 paper in a wet darkroom.

Because of the difference in FB+fog, development for 35mm film will probably need to be less than for the same film in medium or large format.

Bruce Robbins said...

Allan,
Stock D76 or 1+1 would have produced denser highlights unless the development time had been shortened. The more you dilute D76 - 1+2 and 1+3 - the more of a compensating effect it has in terms of controlling highlights (but with a little bit more grain). However, if I remember correctly, Barry Thornton reckoned that compensating developers compressed the mid tones more than two bath which was one of his reasons for recommending it. Where compensating developers are concerned, I think he said that Perceptol at 1+2 offered good control of highlights with good sharpness and little mid tone compression but this is all from memory. It's all in his "Elements" book. So in answer to your question, if you exposed your film appropriately and reduced the development time with D76 then you could get similar results to the two bath. I can't comment on Xtol as I've never used it.

Bruce Robbins said...

Phil,
I might use two bath for night shots but not for anything else. Can you imagine what it would do with my dull weather photographs? I'm thinking about trying dilute Perceptol with Tmax 400 just out of curiosity but I'll probably end up with Rollei RHS/Firstcall Superfine/Amaloco AM74.

Scotty Elmslie said...

I should add that Tmax 400 has a particularly long and straight characteristic curve that makes compensating development difficult. A more conventional film like HP5+ might work better.

Bruce Robbins said...

Good point, Scotty. I've had excellent results from HP5+ and Perceptol 1+2 in the past. I had it in mind to get a few rolls for another go but Tmax 400 is such a good film. We'll see.

Scotty Elmslie said...

Almost any developer can produce dense highlights if you get enough exposure, use enough stock or concentrate and develop for a long enough time. The real trick is to not overdo it.

What's more difficult is to get the highlights where you want them without sacrificing film speed, which can happen with insufficient stock. I got this with Rodinal 1+49 and 35mm FP4+ (5ml+245ml) where the film speed dropped well below ISO 50. But with the 120 version (9ml+441ml) there was enough concentrate that the film speed only dropped to ISO 100.

John Carter said...

And what exactly do you mean by 'soft?' I think I know but to me soft means: there is a sharply focus image but the transition for dark to light is lacking in acutance. Or does the development (two bath) really cause an out of focus image. I use HC-110h because I like what I call softening of this transition.

DavidM said...

Some very decent snaps here. I like two things about the exposure and development. The trunks are not reduced to crude silhouettes and the little fragments of sky between the leaves are not burned out to paper white. Having said that, I think their excellence lies in the seeing rather than the doing.
To answer John Carter, surely "soft" refers to the overall tonal range and not to any micro-contrast that may be induced by development. The curves of film and paper are (in principle) matched to produce a "normal" print. That is, the manufacturer's idea of a normal print. I imagine that this might be a picture of a nice, normal family, with their nice children and their adorable puppy, standing in their nice garden on a nice day, smiling nicely at nice Daddy with his nice camera. More seriously, I'd expect that it would favour the rendering of skin tones rather than foliage. For historical reasons, this would be Caucasian skin – Zone VI. (...and that raises issues which might best be dealt with elsewhere.)
This may not be everyone's ideal and deviating from all this niceness by restraining development and a using higher grade of paper may be preferred by a photographer with creative ambitions.
I hope this makes sense.

John Carter said...

Thanks David M., and it makes sense.

Alan C. said...

Bruce, in the earlier 2bath blog, when you said you had ended up with negatives that were too low in contrast, I did wonder how those negatives would print in the darkroom. I say this because I have noticed when I have occasionally had low contrast negatives that needed a grade 4, they often made very nice sparkling prints.
You say here that these negatives will probably print on grade 3. Let's suppose when you took these pictures that you had a second identical camera and shot a second roll of film, which duplicated the roll shown here. If you gave that second roll less development you might have negatives that would need grade 4. If you then made pairs of prints - on grade 3 and grade 4, what would the differences be?
And if you could conjure up a third roll with more contrast -that needed grade 2, would prints from these negatives be any different ?

Alan

DavidM said...

Perhaps three headless tripods, too...

Bruce Robbins said...

These are excellent questions, Alan, but I'm in the same position as that 1960s Hungarian left back, Fuktifano, when it comes to answering them. I think the only way of finding out would be to actually do the tests. The old advice I mentioned about a slightly low contrast print producing a better photograph when printed on grade three than a "normal" neg printed on grade two was for the very same reason that you discovered yourself - extra sparkle. Would a lower contrast neg on a higher grade be even more sparkly? What say you, David M?

Alan C. said...

Great response Bruce. Must remember that one. You are forgiven for not knowing the answer to my question. Let's hope David M. didn't play for Hungary, and can shed some light on the problem.

I forgot to say earlier that I really like your tree photographs, by the way.

Alan

DavidM said...

Oh dear. I seem to have given the impression that I know what I'm talking about.
Fashions in printing change. I remember when we used to like very high contrast prints – "soot and whitewash" we called it when we didn't like it and "punchy" when we did. Today, in the parallel universe of digital photography, our eyes are attacked by HDR, where overall contrast is very low and local contrast is high. No doubt it will pass.
I don't really like quoting AA (should we start Ansel Anonymous for fellow-sufferers?), but successive prints of Moonrise show how fashions have changed since 16:49:20 on November 1st, 1941. The early prints were remarkably flat but the contrast increased steadily over the years, and the sky was simplified by burning until (after 1,300 prints!) Ansel arrived at the dramatic version that we all remember.
May I suggest that we are looking at this issue backwards? When we say "sparkle", I think we mean the rendering of highlights (and when we say "glow" do we mean the rendering of shadows? It seem plausible.).
So, let's say we've decided or observed that we like the rendering of highlights on Grade 3 (and why not?) so we choose make our standard paper Grade 3 and then we must develop the film accordingly, so that the highlights don't shoot off the scale and need to be burned back in.
I suspect that the nice people in my previous post don't care about subtle highlight rendition, but do care that their faces are neither pale and sickly or too dark, but just the right level of healthy tan. This makes me wonder if portrait photographers prefer Grade 3 too, or if it's peculiar to the landscape.
I've seen, but not made, intricate and elegant diagrams of how the shoulders and toes of the curves relate to each other but we might leave that to the people who take their densitometers on holiday with them.

DavidM said...

Oops!
I was so enchanted by establishing the exact instant of the birth of Moonrise that I forgot to answer the question.
I suggest that using Grade 4 as normal would be a poor overall strategy. What would you do if you needed even more contrast? Grade 5, of course and then what? As you move up the grades, there's the penalty of more visible grain. Some people like grain and it may add something to street photography, but landscape photographers don't seem to like it at all. I suspect that, along with any "sparkle" there would be drastic changes to the rest of the tonal scale, which we might not like at all. Soot-and-whitewash, in fact. Almost certainly blocked shadows unless very generous exposure were given to the neg. I suspect that highlights printed on Grade 4 might look rather gritty and need burning back with Grade 1.
Oh no! I've slithered into the murky waters (the murky developer tray?) of split-grade printing. A new and different collection of myths and spells.

Alan C. said...

Interesting comments David.
I think we have to distinguish between a print done on grade 5 from a "grade 5" negative and a print done on grade 5 from a "grade 2" negative. The latter would display all the soot and whitewash that David describes. At grade 2 there would have been detail in the shadows and highlights But none when printed at grade 5. But a grade 5 print from a "grade 5" negative can look quite normal, with detail in the shadows and highlights. How do I know? Well, I've just been looking at one. The subject is the mountain Cader Idris, dark and brooding in shadow, in the distance, and a big pale grey boulder, sunlit, in the foreground. I made two mistakes. first, I gave insufficient exposure to get sufficient shadow detail, but there is some there. Second, I gave too little development, resulting in a very low contrast negative. Hence grade 5. But when you look at the print you can't tell what grade it was printed at. If anything, the light-coloured boulder, far from looking "gritty" as David puts it, doesn't have quite enough contrast. Had the print been done on grade 3 I might have gone to 3.5 to get a bit more. And held back the dark mountain to retain what shadow detail it has.
So here is a case of having to resort to grade 5 to do a rescue job, and actually getting away with it. The question remains, had I done everything right, and produced a "grade 3" negative, would the print from it have looked any different from the one I ended up with.
The relavence of this to the current 2 Bath topic is this; If Bruce (or anyone else) finds a time for 2 Bath that does a good job when the sun is shining, and yields negatives that print on grade 2 or 3, they may not need to worry about the odd frame on the same roll that gets taken in flatter light. Such a frame may well yield a good print at grade 4 or even grade 5.

Alan

Alan

DavidM said...

Hello Alan,
I think what you say is very sensible and reasonable. It does sound like a rather unusual negative.
We began with the idea that printing with a harder grade from a softer neg produced something we called "sparkle." Recognisable but not definable is the phrase, I think.
And then we asked if moving from 3 to Grade 4 (and ultimately 5) would produce even more sparkle. It seems that you are the man who can answer the question.
I have to admit that I've never used Grade 5 other than a desperate remedy and as you may guess, I didn't like it much. Once I was very keen on pushing by a stop or so and over-developing. At 20x16, the grain nearly takes the skin off your fingers.

Alan C. said...

Hi David,
I think I need to explain more fully what I meant when I used the word "sparkle". It was mostly prompted by two fibre prints made from 120 FP4 negatives. The first was a detail of ivy growing on a tree. It was a sunny day and the other 11 frames were taken in the sun, but the ivy was in quite deep shade. So naturally I gave N-1 development, or some such, and this resulted in the ivy negative being low in contrast and needing grade 4 to get a decent print. The highlights on the ivy leaves and stalks really sparkled, but thinking about this now, this may be because these highlights are surrounded by deep shadows, not especially because I used grade 4. What I am sure about is that these highlights would have been burned out at grade 5. What I am unclear about is whether or not the print would have looked different overall had the negative had more contrast, and been printed on, say, grade 2.
The other print is of a silver birch tree growing over a beck on the North York Moors. Again, FP4, this time accidentally under developed and needing grade 4 to make a print. Again, the highlights; white bark and reflections of the sky in the water, have a definite "sparkle". But this may be helped by the juxstaposition of darker surrounding tones.
The sparkle may also come in part from the use of FP4 in dull light. I don't think HP5 would look quite so good, as it has less inherent contrast.
So, more questions than answers, I'm afraid. But I am getting intrigued enough to think about doing some tests...

Alan

DavidM said...

Hello Alan,
A very informative post but, as you point out, not quite informative enough.
I suppose that there's no sure-fire formula for sparkle, otherwise we'd all be doing it.
Now we have two possibilities and perhaps more, if anyone else offers some ideas.
Firstly, we are supposing that a "mismatch" (in a strictly literal and technical sense) between the neg and the paper produces a more attractive effect in the highlights. At least for FP4. I agree that HP5 is flatter, but perhaps N-1.5 and Grade 3 or 4 might work.
Secondly, we think that highlights seen against a dark background show sparkle, too. Is that the same thing?
If you're prepared to do some tests, then I think we'd all be interested. Clearly we're all intrigued...

Alan C. said...

Hello David,
Picking up om your last two sentences, I am not so sure if many people actually are interested. We seem to be having our own private conversation here! But I will find time to do some tests, as I have become quite curious about this.
Perhaps people who are interested might like to suggest in some detail how the tests should be done. To keep them relevant to this thread maybe the developer should be Thornton's 2 bath. If so, I haven't got any! I may have some of the chemicals from when I last mixed it, but would really prefer to use ID11, which is what I normally use, or Rodinal which I am thinking of going back to as it produced cleaner negatives than ID11 (i.e. no foreign bodies to cause spots)

Any thoughts anyone?

Alan

Scotty Elmslie said...

Alan,

Don't blame a quiet audience for a lack of interest. Lots of us are watching.

There are many different ways to look at this and I can see two different issues here: wet printing directly from the negative vs. digital printing from a scanned negative; and 35mm vs. larger format film.

Most 35mm film has a much higher FB+fog than 120 or sheet film. This may not be a problem in a wet darkroom but it puts you between a rock and a hard place if you are scanning if the scanner cannot handle the film's Dmax. With 120 or sheet film there is a wider separation between FB+fog and the DMax at the top of the scanner’s range. Although you can adjust the development of the negative you are still restricted to the range between FB+fog and whatever Dmax limitations you have at the next stage. On the other hand, during scanning you can adjust the levels and modify the way that the film’s characteristic curve got recorded, within limits.

That’s the fun of using film.

Scotty

DavidM said...

Hello Alan,
As long as Bruce the Infallible, Master of the Blog, Lord of Darkness, Custodian of the Red Light and Arbiter of All Comments consents to publish what we write, I submit that it is interesting to somebody.
Too hot to develop film, almost too hot to load it. I might have to lie down with a cucumber up my nose.

Alan C. said...

David,
From what you say about Bruce, maybe he should have been the next Doctor Who.....

I have made a start on testing...That's to say I have exposed some film. My darkroom is a log cabin in the garden, which I also use as a painting studio and guitar making workshop. I can manage these two in this hot weather with all windows and door open. But it's too hot for the dark art of wet printing. So please be patient.

Alan

DavidM said...

Your own guitar workshop? Wow! You could make your own camera. Easier than guitars, I imagine. (There's a lovely 10x8 Gandolfi on eBay just now, with its bookform plate holders.)
The new Doctor is prettier than Bruce, if his photograph is to be believed. More hair. Have they had a photographic Doctor with a sonic Weston Master? Photographers have been a neglected minority for too long.
Meanwhile how about the next Darth Vader?
Well done with the testing. No rush. We shall see how subtle differences translate to screens.

Bruce Robbins said...

Haha. I was going to ban you, David, after your previous comment but put my glasses on and realised you'd written "nose".

Alan C. said...

David,
I've just been looking at the 10x8 Gandolfi which you mention. A lovely camera. I once knew someone who had a Gandolfi. It was beautifully made, but rather heavy. I have built a few cameras over the years, and now try to build them as light as possible. Solving the "light but rigid" design problem is one I find interesting.

Alan

DavidM said...

Alan,
The new 10x8 Intrepid is promised to begin delivery in September.
There are a couple of short videos about the Gandolfi brothers on the web but apparently there is a much longer and more complete film out there somewhere. Does anybody know more?