View Full Version : Films for pushing / Portraits

Tim Curry
17-Jan-2008, 14:49
I'm curious about the various "traditional" films like FP4, Efke 100 or perhaps Tri-x and their use for increased development. Would like to maintain smooth skin tones and not too much grain, by underexposure and the expanded development of zones III - VI. Is it possible to "open up" these tonal areas beyond what a "normal" development would yield in a typical scene, as long as I don't get too near the shoulder?

I'm currently using Efke 25 to expand these zones, because it can build so much contrast. It means careful metering and development to keep track of tonality in tungsten light. The down-side is with the slow shutter speeds and shallow dof I end up with using the 25. My concern is that when I go up to the 8x10, I won't have a realistic shutter speed and dof will end up paper thin due to bellows extension. I'm running into a wall now with how far I can push things realistically. Does anyone have any experience with this same procedure and the other films I've listed above? How much expansion can I squeeze out of FP4, for example, to expand these zones? I would prefer to work with slower films for the tight grain they have. Tri-x would be fine with an 8x10, but M/F or 4x5 might start to look too gritty with the very long development times I'm working with.

How much expansion can the middle zones deal with, typically, to open up a "traditional" film for this application?

thanks for your input, tim

17-Jan-2008, 16:00

If you are shooting with 4x5 or 8x10 film, and not enlarging to a huge size, I wonder if you are trying to get past a problem that may not exist for you.

It sounds like you are using the experiences of a 35mm shooter or maybe 2 1/4 with substantial enlargements. But if you are using 4x5 or 8x10 film I don't know you will be facing those issues.

I guess the more you extend development, the less smooth the skin tones and skies will be, but with 4x5 or 8x10 film it is not the issue you'll find on smaller formats. Grain shouldn't be an issue unless you are doing something quite unusual.

Are you looking to get a very strong rendition - a "Bill Brandt" look? I guess if I had to make a recommendation, I'd steer you towards a medium speed film first since medium speed would be a good compromise between the speed you may wish for, and the tonal / grain characteristics you have been using and like.

Maybe you need to take some medium speed and some fast film out for a test drive and see what you like. Lots of folks on this forum will chip in and tell you their personal favorites, but you've identified a few good ones to start.


Bruce Watson
17-Jan-2008, 16:24
I'm curious about the various "traditional" films like FP4, Efke 100 or perhaps Tri-x and their use for increased development. Would like to maintain smooth skin tones and not too much grain, by underexposure and the expanded development of zones III - VI. Is it possible to "open up" these tonal areas beyond what a "normal" development would yield in a typical scene, as long as I don't get too near the shoulder?

I actually did some experiments along this general line several years ago. I was working with 5x4 Tri-X and HC-110 and XTOL. What I found was that you can expand the tones some, but you pay for it in several ways. One of those is graininess, because graininess is directly related to density. And as you increase development, graininess increases across the range of tones proportionally to the increase in density. So as you expand the tonality of what was zone VI into Zone VII, you are also increasing its graininess.

Another problem is artifacts that occur even with continuous agitation. I found that really dense Tri-X in HC-110H (up around a density of 2.5 or so) would develop what I called density halos -- in regions where high density and low density were in close proximity I'd get a halo-like artifact like a reflection of the low density boarder in the high density boarder. Looks sort of like ripples in a pond. It shows in the prints. Not pretty, hard to deal with.

Interestingly I did not find much of a shoulder at all. Pretty much straight line response way up to the nether regions in density.

My conclusion was that what I was getting wasn't nearly worth the cost of getting it. You don't really get that much tonal expansion -- modern films are extremely good about capturing all the tonality that the scene has available in the first place. For my work this kind of "film abuse" is generally unwarranted and also unnecessary.

But if you want to continue on, by all means continue on. Who knows what you might find? I wish you luck in your endeavor.

Justin Cormack
17-Jan-2008, 16:26
FP4 has a shoulder thats a long way away, goes to a really large density. I would compare the datasheets, but I thought that with Efke 25 it was quite easy to hit the shoulder (hence the dire do not overexpose warnings at least on the 120 I used - I never used it much though).

In 8x10 you will never have much DoF, and you may want a faster film. Its unclear what size you are shooting now, so its hard to say, but grain is not really an issue unless you are making really huge prints. I would try some 400 ISO films too.

Tim Curry
18-Jan-2008, 05:59
Bruce, thanks for your reply to my general question. At this point I'm just working with the 4x5, to see what I am able to squeeze out of Efke 25. So far results are good, but with the 8x10 there will be a down side, once the bellows extension becomes a factor. Since I don't have any 18" lenses with an f 4.5 aperture, my concern will be that I'm running into a wall with my current methods. Fortunately, Efke 25 has very fine grain as a starting point, so the greatly expanded development (I'm up to about 40 minutes now) isn't showing grain clumping in a print yet. I just want to go to 8x10 prints, so there isn't a lot of enlargement involved with the 4x5. I like the ortho look with this film, so a Tri-x which is much faster just doesn't give the same results with respect to tonality.

Functionally, I'm shooting at asa 50 now in tungsten light and am able to expand development to make up the difference in underexposure. After looking through some of the older portrait work from the 30's, it would seem that they were using this method with some of the films I have seen (and subsequent prints with very dense shadow values). Their films look so thin as to be unprintable, but it worked very well for their needs. Just playing with things a bit to see where it takes me. tim

18-Jan-2008, 07:32
I've been experimenting with TMY 400 exposed at 1600 and developed in Xtol 1:1. Overall, I'm happy with the results. The film isn't nearly as contrasty or grainy as I thought a 2-stop push would be. It's certainly an option for me when low light conditions dictate faster films.

I've attached a scan from a MF negative and a 100% crop, both done on my Epson 4990. It was a snowy, overcast day. Exposure was something like 1/60 at f/5.6.

Henry Ambrose
18-Jan-2008, 07:58
I'd go with HP5 and a light blue filter. You'll be several stops ahead of where you are now and get a sorta ortho look. There won't be any visible grain in an 8x10 print from 8x10 film or 4x5 for that matter. For MF I find the grain structure of HP5 to be quite flattering and at 8x10 print size you'll get lovely glowing skin. You'll see image structure way before you'll notice grain. It sounds like you are printing traditionally - yes?

I may misunderstand what you seek - it'd be great to see the photos you are making now that please you.

Tim Curry
23-Jan-2008, 05:41
The shot was taken this past weekend. Used a 500 watt snooted flood, umbrella for fill and Efke 25 with pyrocat. At 1/2 second there was some movement, so the soft focus effect was not exactly what was wanted, but it is a point of departure. I want to re-shoot with a different lighting setup, angle, focus and fill. Other than that, it worked well enough. A different pose with some means of support would have helped with the slow shutter. Live and learn. tim

23-Jan-2008, 13:25
If you can sacrifice the condition of a traditional film, you'll get fine grain and very good responsiveness to altered development by using Tmax 100.


23-Jan-2008, 13:49
If you are willing to experiment, I would suggest you try HP5+ in DD-X, but instead of standard 1+4, go for 1+9 dilution. I found that 1+4 gives me increased EI by almost a full stop, while 1+9 gives me close to box speed. I'm still experimenting with the right development time and method, but so far, I like the tonality very much.

It's too bad they don't make Delta400 in sheets, though, as it has much finer grain and more linear response.

Ivan Maly
2-Sep-2010, 11:49
Bringing up an old thread - looking how to get more speed

I am shooting portraits on 8x10 film, they will get contact printed and possible enlarged to life or little-above-the life size (20x24" or maybe a bit more). Grain is not really an issue.

What I am wrestling with is the combo of problems: shallow DOP - I want everything in focus, so I need to stop down to f/16-32 - and at the same time I need fairly short exposures to prevent my subjects from moving.

I am using tungsten hot light and have 1kW + 650W + 500W + 500W - but even power is not enough for my needs, for with 480mm / bellows factor / 100 ASA film the exposures still run @ 1 - 1/2sec at f/8 (and most people can not hold 1 sec. exp.).

I still have a stash of FORTEPAN 400 in my freezer, but this film is discontinued now. So, I guess only 400 ASA film on the market now is HP5+.

Any recommendations on pushing for good skin tones? I am a bit after the Karsh look.

3-Sep-2010, 16:02
Any film can be exposed for portraits using the following methodology. First I assume you have a flash meter and have done a film speed test or have a good idea of how your meter works with your chemistry and film. I prefer a flash meter as I use speed lights and if using an incident meter this workflow will also work. This workflow requires you to shoot several rolls of film or sheets and judge by eye what the results are.
1. Get your key light power set and select shutter and f stop. The meter will read the same as a 18% gray card. This is also equal to Zone 5 in the zone system. Meter a gray card if you want (not really needed after you get familiar with the workflow). Then set fill & back lights
2. For reference meter Caucasian skin. This should be one stop different from your key light meter reading.
3. Set camera and shutter speed to whatever the meter reads for your desired F stop/Shutter speed combination.
4. Open the F Stop one stop letting more light onto the subject. You can change the shutter however itís best to not get too slow a shutter speed because this can cause blurring if the subject moves to much.
5. Use normal development and if using straight developer with shorter development times, 6-7 minutes, add a minute to your development time. If using a diluted developer add 2 minutes to your development time.
6. You may want to agitate more than you normally would.
7. Print the results. What you want to look for is denser negatives for the skin tones. This means more silver build up on the negative and gives a lighter skin tone. Results work the same for darker skin and you would not open up a stop to make the skin lighter.
8. If film seems to dense you can drop development times, drop the extra minute(s) in your development and go to a diluted developer, use gentile agitation, or any combination's of these techniques.

The whole point is to systematically develop a method that gives the results you want. There is no need to shoot a exotic film speeds simply use more light to, in effect, slightly increase the highlights on your negative.