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Monday, July 16

FP4 and Microphen

Bridge at Finlathen

HP5 and Microphen is working out nicely as far as the 6x9 negatives from the Mamiya Press go so I've been turning my attention to the 35mm format and what might give me a similar look. Having decided a while back that I'd try to stick with more traditional films rather than the T-grain stuff, I loaded up some FP4 in the OM1 and went for a wander.

As I did with HP5 and the Mamiya, I uprated the FP4 a stop (well, 125 ISO to 200 ISO) in the hope that it would give me slightly increased contrast and a tiny bit more grain. I'm not after soot and white wash or sand-on-a-beach grain - it's more subtle than that.

It was a sunny morning with long, deep shadows and a bright sky and I was in a mood to experiment with shapes and tones. And this is where things start go get tricky. As I've been finding, if I go for a dark moody look in the image on my PC, the same shot looks darker on my ipad. I know that some readers see photographs that look the way I'd like them to on my monitor as having large areas of black, featureless shadows. When I try for a dark, moody look, it doesn't take much for the effect to be ruined by a monitor that doesn't look the same as mine.

Tree Shadow

My monitor isn't perfect but, according to the various step wedges you can download and view on the PC, it shows the full range of greys from black through to white. There's decent separation amongst the dark tones but a little less in the highlights.Where I haven't bothered too much with calibration is on the colour side of things: I've just eyeballed it and footered around until it looks OK to me.

Since the only good reason for showing photographs on the blog is to try to get across my way of seeing, it's not going to be much good if I'm the only one seeing what I'm seeing. And with that brilliantly constructed sentence out of the way, the question is what can be done about it. I can't recalibrate everyone's monitors and I doubt many people could be bothered to do it themselves just to view the photographs I post from time-to-time. And, anyway, that's making the assumption that the problem is with some readers' monitors and not my own!

I suppose I could have a step wedge showing on the home page of the blog so that you can see if you're seeing what I'm seeing but, again, who's going to go to the trouble of mucking about with their monitor software if they're not seeing what I'm seeing. All this "seeing what I'm seeing" is a really clumsy way of putting it but I think it gets the point across.

In some cases - especially with ipads, etc, and laptops - just having the screen brightness to high or too low can make a huge difference. How can we possibly know we're all singing from the same hymn sheet?

So, we're just going to have to bash on the way we are. If I post some pics that look like they're three or four stops underexposed then you'll just have to take my word for it that they're not like that in real life. If you see photographs that have about normal mid tones and highlights but shadows that look a stop or two underexposed then you're about the same as me.

And so to the FP4/Microphen/OM1 wander in the sunshine. Having processed the negs, the first thing I noticed is that there's less shadow detail with FP4 at 200 ISO in Microphen stock than there is with HP5 at 800 ISO treated the same way. Why am I bothered with shadow detail if I'm going to produce images that have underexposed shadows? Because I don't want every photograph on a roll to look like that. Plus, it's good to have some flexibility should I decide at some point that I've been wasting my time looking for shapes and tones when I should have been printing the negatives all light and airy.

The other thing I noticed is that FP4 seems to be slightly grainier than Tmax 400 rated at 800 ISO and developed in Microphen stock. That was a bit of a surprise although there's really not that much between them when rated normally so perhaps it shouldn't have been. The annoying thing, for someone who has a fair bit of FP4 to get through and no more Tmax 400, is that I prefer the look of the Tmax, especially when it comes with two extra stops of hand-holdability.

The photographs I've posted here are good examples of what I've been speaking about as they feature large shadowy areas. Bridge at Finlathen, in particular, was a problem as my first inclination was to process it with almost no detail in the bridge and its shadow. I liked the strong shapes they made but, in the end, it morphed into a "what the hell am I looking at" sort of photograph so I wimped out and left some detail in the dark areas, enough to easily identify the structure.

I had several goes at Tree Shadow from darker than it appears here to lighter and with more contrast. It was the shadow of the tree curving down the grassy hill that appealed to me so I wanted it to be good and strong. But should the tree itself suffer the same fate or have more detail? Then the grass in the bottom right hand corner of the frame was a problem as it was quite light and unbalanced the composition. So that was burned in a little. The bush to the left of the shadow was in full sun and its brightness is distracting, too, but I never noticed that until I'd posted it here. It might be forcibly subdued if I ever get around to printing this neg.

Lower Whitfield

Finally, there's Lower Whitfield which, against my better judgement, I lightened up a bit. I think it looks better when the foreground grasses are more in shadow but on "not seeing what I'm seeing" monitors, it would look a mess so I relented.

Just as a quick comparison, here's a shot from a roll of Tmax 400 done at 800 ISO in Microphen. It has more of the look I'm after although just don't ask me what that is. When I was lining up this pic, the birds were all sitting on the rooftop protrusions whereas I wanted them in flight. I had the camera ready in my right hand, picked up a plastic bottle lying on the ground with my left and threw it into the air. That was enough to spook some of them into flight - and I couldn't have photoshopped them into a better position had I tried!


DavidM said...

A nice step wedge would be lovely.
Out of curiosity, I turned up the wick on Tree and Shadow. Seems to work at almost all brightnesses, but I preferred to see some detail in the dark centre of the tree itself. The shadow seemed fine at all brightnesses.
Somebody has put a white border right around all the images, (about 4mm wide on this laptop) and when I turn up the brightness, the border becomes painfully dazzling and destroys my enjoyment of what it surrounds.
So I can get all the normal Zones within in the image, supplemented by a Zone 12, or Z13 or Z15 strip. Presumably this shuts down the eye and makes it difficult to see the shadows. Modern Apple screens can be very bright indeed.

But nice images anyway. A rare thing to see sunshine.

Bruce Robbins said...

Unfortunately, it’s a default border. I’d need to edit the HTML to sort it out. It’s probably doable but going through lines of code isn’t my favorite pastime. Plus, I’m not too knowledgeable and that sort of thing takes me a while. I’ll have a look and if I can identify the offending code I’ll change it to a neutral gray or black or maybe zap it altogether.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Hi Bruce - those shadows are like big physical presences and I rather like it!
Where is the derelict building please (no doubt it's been fired since you took it - seems to be the local pastime doesn't it).
As for a grey border, I think I found it quite easy to do that on FB - was in the Theme section.

Bruce Robbins said...


It would save me a lot of mucking about if I could change it through the Theme section but I can't see it there. Any chance you could screen shot the relevant bit and ping it to me?

The building is the listed remains of the old NCR complex on the Kingsway. "Listed" as in protected by government and not just leaning to one side. Do you remember when there used to be no shortage of buildings like this in Dundee? Those were the days. Haha.

DavidM said...

You're looking after your listed buildings better than Glasgow.

Bruce Robbins said...

I think everybody is, David. That was truly shocking, wasn’t it. The only reason our lovely example of post war industrial architecture hasn’t been burned to the ground is probably because you can’t do much with the small piece of land it sits on.

Vendee said...

"DavidM said...
You're looking after your listed buildings better than Glasgow."

Don't get me started. I've never forgiven them for demolishing the beautiful St. Enoch station and hotel over 40 years ago.

Anonymous said...

FP4+ and Sandy King's Pyrocat HD for 5x7 and 8x10 negatives is a good combination. Holds highlights well and gives full film speed without problems for me. Clean working and negatives that print well. An inexpensive developer, one shot and dump. Keeps things constant and is so easy to use.