View Full Version : Assessing negatives

18-Jan-2017, 11:05

I am just getting back in to film and thought - why not, lets get a 4x5. So I ended up with a Speed Graphic Pacemaker and an Aero Ektar ....!
So for my second set of six I decided to start on some degree of calibration of my process.
Printing to silver is a few years away - when the space becomes available. So some will be photographing the negative and some will be to cyanotype
But without getting to a printing stage how can I tell I have developed out the negative so that I can look at how I derive my exposure... ie not under or over developed

...and no I have not worked out where those shadow marks are from...


18-Jan-2017, 12:20

Hornstein's book is worth getting to learn from and keeping as a reference.

18-Jan-2017, 15:06
how can I tell I have developed out the negative so that I can look at how I derive my exposure... ie not under or over developed
You don't, as it really depends on how you'll print the negative and how you envision the final result.

You mention cyanotypes - they're very nice to do, but classic cyanotype requires a short-scaled negative with good shadow detail that will require around grade 4 filtration when printed on variable contrast silver gelatin paper. If it's New Cyanotype you're talking about, you need a very long-scaled negative that may just print well at grade 0 or even 00 - if you even manage to get a decent straight print from it at all. This simple example with two variants of the cyanotype process compared to silver gelatin already illustrates how wildly the requirements on a negative can vary.

You can do densitometry on negatives if you want to be as exact as possible, or you can use the tricks passed down over the generations ('good dmax is if you can juuust read a paper through it' etc.) - but in the end, the only thing that works is experience. And even then, there will always remain pitfalls. I can hold a pyrocat developed x-ray negative to the light and think 'that may not even print decently as a classic cyanotype' only to find out it is almost contrasty enough for a salt print, and the next day develop a similar negative in rodinal that looks at least three times as dense only to find out it does no more than okay as a Van Dyke Brown.

So many variables, so many ways of printing to choose from, so many different tastes. Too many of all to speak of terms like 'overexposed' and 'underdeveloped' as objective, absolute terms.

18-Jan-2017, 15:35
Koraks' suggestions mirror my own. When I began photography it was all about seat-of-the pants technology, and after a year or two my experience led me to make better negatives than a Zone System could deliver. Part of the reason was I started in the early Sixties with better materials than Ansel Adams had as he first translated the System for the rest of us. (In fact I started with old, old photo literature that emphasized Pre-flashing paper in the darkroom. That tech was so early that publications had entirely inadequate reproduction to properly show it.)

Since then I have read countless posts of persons who believed that following the Zone System religiously from their introduction to photography would return marvelous results. No it does not. Not at all.

Another important reveal is that AA did extreme post processing print manipulation which required his strident and talented post-visualization and hundreds of attempts. If you ever have the opportunity to view some of his original prints you can see his over-done manipulations in some prints. That is not a negative observation.

Bottom line as experts here have stated, expose for important shadows, (no the lowest which one can let drop to zero) and try to evince detail in important highlights. Very many scenes will not permit detail in extreme highlights. Post flash, if you like, to make them a tiny bit darker than the print borders.

Bruce Watson
18-Jan-2017, 15:49
But without getting to a printing stage how can I tell I have developed out the negative so that I can look at how I derive my exposure... ie not under or over developed?

The short answer is that you can't.

The long answer is that you're asking the wrong questions. Photography isn't about the negative. The negative is just a means to an end -- the print. If you don't know what you want to use the negative for, you don't know how to judge whether or not a particular negative is properly exposed and processed.

19-Jan-2017, 00:22
Thank you folks -especially Bruce -as I now have to rethink what I am doing


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Jim Andrada
19-Jan-2017, 02:17
I had the pleasure of actually watching St Ansel make a print in the darkroom - he had very busy hands under the enlarger.

Will Frostmill
19-Jan-2017, 10:02
I have a suggestion.

Take your existing negatives, and make some contact prints, some cyanotypes, and try to inkjet print from your scans. Write on your prints what exposure, and what development you used. And then tack them uo somewhere that you will see them every day. You might be able to "see" an exposure and development combination that would work for more than one process. Or you might not, but actual prints - not images on a screen - will tell you a bunch.

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19-Jan-2017, 11:26
Thank you...thats a great idea

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19-Jan-2017, 12:06
If you use a pyrocat developer, many negatives will print more similarly with silver versus alt process.
If you don't want to get an enlarger setup you can also contact print to normal silver paper to see how it prints. Contact prints will be slightly contrastier than enlarged prints due to it does not pass the image through a lens with internal reflection, etc... but it will be reasonably close in contrast.