View Full Version : N-1, N, N+1

Jay Staton
6-Nov-2005, 20:26
Being a LF nubie, I have started off by emercing myself in A.A.'s books and his ideas on the Zone system. Does it really make that much difference in developing to N, N-1, N+1, etc. on a properly exposed sheet of b&w film exposed for the shadows? How much shadow detail do you lose developing everything at N? Can I make most of those adjustments in Photoshop? I shoot mostly contrasty subjects.

I haven't taken the time to shoot a handful of negs of the same subject, and used different development times. I need to. But before I do, what does your experience suggest?



6-Nov-2005, 20:42
Can I make most of those adjustments in Photoshop?

You can as long as the important, textured highlights are not blocked (maxed out) and as long as there is the shadow detail you want. Besides curves and masks, you can take a number of exposures and use the HDR option for further machinations. Oops. I mean manipulations.

Photoshop is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Brian Ellis
6-Nov-2005, 20:47
You don't lose any shadow detail developing at N. You don't lose any shadow detail developing at N - either, assuming you properly compensated for anticipated minus development at the time of expsoures (by increasing the exposure 1/3 to 1/2 a stop over the meter reading when planning minus development). And of course you lose no shadow detail by developing at N+. Shadow detail is based on exposure. Development time primarily affects the density of the highlights. Development time has little or no effect on shadow detail because the shadows are pretty much fully developed about a third to half way through the development time. It's the exposure that affects shadow detail.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
6-Nov-2005, 21:47
Why haven't you done the nine negative test? Qut asking if the water is fine and dive in. When you do these test and make the contact prints, you will be able to see the differences for yourself. That's when the big Ah-Ha will happen. A picture is worth a thousand words rings true and you will have nine. C'mon in the waters fine.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
6-Nov-2005, 22:07
"Can I make most of those adjustments in Photoshop?" I was just thinking how times have changed. In the old days it used to be "The lab can fix it." Still makes me cringe. I'm sorry if I sound kinda hard on you. The time to get rid of sloppy practices is in the beginning. Burn the film and do the test so that you KNOW where everything is going to fall, with the paper you intend to use. Then you can use photoshop for something other than a repair shop. I shot nothing but digital for 4 years and found that I was lacking exposure discipline, Depending on photoshop to make it right. Now that I'm back into LF I feel a lot better about my photography, because I enjoy the focus and discipline it requires to do right.

Jeff Moore
6-Nov-2005, 23:20
The whole purpose of proper exposure and development, including N+ and N-, is to expand the range of information you can capture and reveal in the negative. If the info is not in the negative to begin with, no amount of Photoshop manipultation can bring out what is not there.

Brian Ellis
7-Nov-2005, 06:08
Just as variable contrast paper somewhat minimized the importance of the zone system (which was conceived at a time when the only papers were graded) so Photoshop has further minimized it. Yes, you definitely can make more adjustments to the print in Photoshop than you can in a darkroom so yes, a negative as close to "perfect" as possible usually isn't of critical importance. Nevertheless, the fewer adjustments you have to make in Photoshop the better, both from a time and quality standpoint, so the better the negative you start with the better your prints are likely to be. My only concession to Photoshop is that I almost never use plus development any more and I've reduced my N time to about N minus 1/2. Otherwise I continue to use the zone system for exposure and development.

The principal advantage of Photoshop IMHO isn't the exposure and development latitude it gives you, it's the greater control over the print, the ability to make almost any change you can imagine in order to make the print you want to make as opposed to making the print that the limitations of the darkroom force upon you.

Ralph Barker
7-Nov-2005, 08:46
I'll just add a reminder that the availability of making adjustments to an image in Photoshop depends on the ability of the scanner to "see" and extract image data from the film. Blocked highlights (overly dense areas in the neg) can be a particular problem for many scanners. And, in Photoshop, burning in just adds blanket density, not additional detail as it does with an enlarger. So, I think getting the desired detail in the negative to begin with still has the same value to the final result.

7-Nov-2005, 09:36
For me, any precision beyond N+ and N- always just seemed like a waste of attention .. fussiness for its own sake. The black and white paper and developers I used offered so much flexibility; photoshop offers even more. I'd rather be thinking about what's in front of me when I'm photographing, not about fractional grades of contrast.

In the last ten years, I can't think of a single negative that gave me trouble because of over or under development.

7-Nov-2005, 11:14
All of the previous posters are correct, but as a newbie, you may not understand what their long answers are saying. Here is the general rule:

Exposure controls shadows - development controls the highlights.

You must get both shadows and highlights approximately correct for your scanner (or printing paper) to see the information.

Do the tests.


Leonard Evens
7-Nov-2005, 11:33
As Brian and others have noted, the purpose of +/- development was to obtain a negative which could be printed on normal paper. The advent of multigrade papers gave one the option of leaving the +/- step to the choice of paper grade. For scanning, you want a properly exposed negative with adequate detail in the shadows. Unless you go overboard in the development or overexpose excessively, you are unlikely to produce highlight densities that a modern scanner can't handle. Such scanners are designed to deal with the dynamic range in reversal film, which can exceed 4.0 in some cases. Even moderate quality scanners like the Epson 4990 don't go higher than 3.8, so they may have trouble with transparencies, particularly if they are overexposed. But negatives seldom go much higher than 2.0-2.5 and don't pose much of a challenge.

One could argue that negatives designed for scanning should be overdeveloped routinely to expand the dynamic range. That would allow for a greater number and finer gradation of RGB values in the scanned image. I find however that in practice this is not necessary. Normal development or a slightly + development works for me. I choose my exposure so that the important shadows are at Zones II-III, usually closer to III. I note where the highlights are, but I don't worry too much about them unless the dynamic range is really exceptionally large. In that case, I might use a - development, but I don't worry about getting it just right since one can deal with fine tuning the density range in scanning and later while photoediting.

Bruce Watson
7-Nov-2005, 14:58
I actually ran with Leonard's argument for a while. I developed Tri-X to densities in the 2.5 range. The theory was that the scanner could handle it and I'd get an expanded dynamic range. My conclusion from quite a few negatives (100 or so) is that this is not the case. But you do get considerably increased graininess, and the grain structure is just nasty. I do not recommend this course of action.

Instead, I recommend that you underdevelop for scanning. Just like overdevelopment doesn't result in prints with expanded dynamic range, neither does underdevelopment result in a constricted dynamic range. Whatever the density range of the film, the scanner translates that to fit in the range of the scanner. Whether your Dmax is 1.0 or 2.2, it all goes into the numerical range of 0-255 (8 bit), or 0-4095 (12 bit) or 0-65535 (16 bit).

What you do get when you underdevelop is a flatter negative that would probably be a pain in the tail to use in the wet darkroom. You also get better sharpness and less grain.

What I've found works for me and my equipment/workflow is a development time that would be about N-1.5 in Zone System terms. I only use the one development time - I expose for the shadows and let the highlights fall where they may. That I don't have to mess with N- and N+ development is one of the benefits of scanning.

All that said, if you are going to use the negatives for darkroom printing - ever - then I strongly advise you to do the tests and establish a full blown Zone System workflow. Optimize for the darkroom - the scanner will be fine.

7-Nov-2005, 16:48
"Instead, I recommend that you underdevelop for scanning."

This has been my experience too. Nothing radical; just a bit soft. Most of my negs were developed to print on grade 3 (I loved the way fortezo grade 3 tones), and this slight underdevelopment created negatives that scan beautifully.

Jay Staton
7-Nov-2005, 20:06
Thanks to everyone who gave me their 2 cents worth. This forum is a truly amazing opportunity for us young guys to learn from you guys with sulfur burns on your fingers.


Wayne Crider
8-Nov-2005, 19:06
Here's the short answer. If your shooting to scan, shoot two negs, one for the low values and one for the high and combine them; Pass up the N plus and minus stuff unless printing by enlarger. Also, standardise on 1 film and 1 developer. Don't go hodge podge all over the place trying everything becasue there's so much to try. If your shooting for wet printing, shoot just as you would if shooting a rollfilm with different exposures on the roll. Make mistakes to learn.

Ron Marshall
5-Dec-2005, 13:19
Jay, it is definately worthwhile to test your particular film and developer combination to determine the correct times for N, N-1 etc.

Paul Butzi has a simple and economical proceedure, in terms of time and film, on his website, with lots of other useful info.

5-Dec-2005, 14:45
Can I make most of those adjustments in Photoshop?

AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That happens every hundreth time a day I hear that.