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Thread: Taking a class and now totally baffled

  1. #1

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    Taking a class and now totally baffled

    And the images I'm capturing suck. If I do what I think will work, I usually get negatives I think I can work with in the darkroom. If I follow my instructor's direction, everything is not great. I think I may need a different instructor because we are not communicating well, though I freely admit it may just be me. Regardless...

    I have been considering a series featuring breast cancer surgical scars. I have a model (my fabulous spouse) who will put up with my testing different stocks, processing methods, light set-ups, etc., so I'm very lucky. This is at least a two-year project to get some baseline processing and printing competence, followed by a lot of practicing and messing up, etc.

    So far I think

    1. I'll probably use my Norma (aka Norma Desmond because why not) when I do the final captures. I won't use 35mm---something happens to me when I use my 35mm camera. I go all photojournalist, which is great for some things, but that isn't what I'm after here. I like the deliberation Norma Desmond requires and I want that big negative.
    2. I may very well try platinum or photogravure processes once I can consistently process and print the kind of images I want to create. (I am still exploring what flavor of image I want---at first I wanted a sort of Avendon style, then more of a glowing, luminescent-y quality, then Studek still life, and now maybe I'll end up pushing TX400 to the breaking point for grain and grittiness.)

    But that's in the future. Right now I'm trying to expose the image in a way to expand the dynamic range. My lighting is very subdued---golden hour outdoors because we live in the sticks and no one can see boobs if anyone is walking around without a shirt on. Using Fuji Acros Neopan 100, I captured a 35mm roll of images to get started. I processed in D76 at normal time and agitation.

    I printed a contact sheet and even struck a print. BTW, everyone in the class was working in the darkroom and got very very quiet as the RC paper moved from tray to tray. It was weird. I didn't realize people would get weird over a boob, but then, I forgot that with breast cancer, people focus on the boob and don't see the cancer. I think they think I'm a big perv now in a totally not cool way. But that's a discussion for another day.

    Anyway, I took the contact sheet and negatives to my instructor who said images like the one I want to create are hard to do because they're :white on white." I think that means the subject's skin tones don't vary a lot or the changes in tone are really subtle. I should consider two different approaches---one was diluting the D76 1:3 and process according to the appropriate chart, and then my instructor suggested a second process but walked away before I could confirm what I was told, which has been a pretty typical experience for me in this class.

    So I'm going to do another session using Norma Desmond and TX400 (which is what I have). I'm going to process the 4x5 film using D76, 1:3, 68F, first full minute gentle agitation and then agitate 5 second every 30 seconds following the processing time chart on digitaltruth.com. Does anyone have a better processing chart or better technical spec that I should follow with these Kodak products?

    I'd like to do a second test by changing the development time. My instructor had muttered something in an earlier class about subtracting 10% from the normal processing time but I think that was in regard to lowering highlights, like a bright sky in a landscape. So would I extend development time to get a bit more contrast? There's something about this that just doesn't feel right but I'm doubting myself right now.

    Does anyone have some ideas about approaching the film processing that would help me extend the dynamic range of the image? My goal is to learn how to consistently process an image like this and have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to get. Then I'll move on to learning about the other processes as pertains to this project.

    Many thanks for any help. I was so excited to be doing film processing and darkroom work again but it's been a shitty experience and I'm really discouraged. I am stubborn, though, so I'm plowing all that into "I'll show you, you crappy instructor" and "fuck it, who cares what anyone else thinks?" to help myself keep going. When the going gets tough, the tough use swear words. Or something.

  2. #2
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    Love Sunset Boulevard, my last wife did too. Rest in Peace, Marnie

    Just process your film 'normal like' and get that consistent, then get fancy in a few years

    Normal will give you great results if you let it be...
    where is the monolith

  3. #3
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    This type of thing has been talked about a lot here. My recommendation hasn't changed. Especially at the beginning, doing a full zone-system style test is a great idea. It will save a lot of pain later. The system in the Zone VI Manual is excellent, although I prefer 1/3rd stop increments to 1/2 increments, but that's easy to implement.
    May tomorrow be a better day.

  4. #4
    David Schaller
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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    I don't know what you mean when you say "extend the dynamic range of the image." If you are doing a closeup shot of skin tones, you can place the skin tones on whatever zone you want, and develop for that. You are going to have to do the testing yourself.

    This would be a relatively quick way to get in the ballpark. Take at least four sheets of the shot you want to do, then develop one at a time for the suggested time, then 2 minutes less and two minutes more, and then proof the negatives. Use the fourth sheet if you want to add or knock off a minute from the time you decide on.

  5. #5
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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    Another caveat: there is no TX400 sheet film. Tri-X sheet film has an ISO-rated speed of 320. More important, it uses a different emulsion compared to Tri-X roll film and has a very different characteristic curve (tonal scale). You cannot use Tri-X roll film to learn about the behavior of Tri-X sheet film, especially if you are still unclear about basic concepts of exposure and development and how to interpret your results. Acros, in turn, is another kettle of fish entirely, and is not available at all in sheet film at this point.

    To avoid confusing yourself, choose a film that you will use for 4x5 and run your tests using that film in 4x5 format. There will be plenty of opportunity to try other films later on, once you've gotten the basics under control.

  6. #6

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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    Here are my suggestions:
    1. I would stay with Kodak D76 straight and rate the film at box speed.
    2. Use an incident meter to measure the intensity of light falling on your subject.
    3. Make sure you calculate bellows extension to compensate for light loss if you are making closeup images of the surgical scar.
    4. Determine the proper development time by exposing at least three sheets of film under identical lighting conditions and then process one sheet at the normal time, one sheet at normal+20% and one sheet at normal+40%.
    5. One of those negatives should be close to what you are looking for and you can then fine tune the time for your project negatives.

  7. #7

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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    Thanks all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Samson View Post
    Here are my suggestions:
    1. I would stay with Kodak D76 straight and rate the film at box speed.
    2. Use an incident meter to measure the intensity of light falling on your subject.
    3. Make sure you calculate bellows extension to compensate for light loss if you are making closeup images of the surgical scar.
    4. Determine the proper development time by exposing at least three sheets of film under identical lighting conditions and then process one sheet at the normal time, one sheet at normal+20% and one sheet at normal+40%.
    5. One of those negatives should be close to what you are looking for and you can then fine tune the time for your project negatives.
    Thank you, Gary Samson, for these steps. I think I may add the 1:3 dilution thing just to see the effect as well. So I'll capture eight versions of the same image using the same light and same set-up. I'll process a pair at normal, normal +20% , normal +40%, and then with 1:3 dilution and extended processing time.

    So now I have a plan.

  8. #8

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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    Hi, Ohio. From your post, I, too, have difficulty understanding exactly what kind of results you are experiencing and how comfortable you are with basic exposure and development controls. Some of the advice above is a good starting point, most likely, so I don't wish to confuse the issue. I will add just the following.
    If you're photographing at golden hour, you may be using relatively hard light frontally, if the sun is still direct, or you may be using soft light which has much less directionality. In either case, you may be photographing a subject with a luminance range of only a couple of stops, depending on various factors, including how dark the scars are relative to the subject's surrounding skin. If that is the case, your prints are likely very flat, whether white-on-white or some value of gray on gray. You would probably do well to go toward increased development time, which will increase the difference in tonality between scar and surrounding skin. You may find that taking the incident exposure mentioned above and then underexposing a stop, followed by increased development, improves this tonal separation a bit. Additional contrast may be added by choosing a higher paper contrast.
    Philip U.

    Sine scientia ars nihil est. (Without science/knowledge, art is nothing.)
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  9. #9

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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Samson View Post
    Here are my suggestions:
    1. I would stay with Kodak D76 straight and rate the film at box speed.
    2. Use an incident meter to measure the intensity of light falling on your subject.
    3. Make sure you calculate bellows extension to compensate for light loss if you are making closeup images of the surgical scar.
    4. Determine the proper development time by exposing at least three sheets of film under identical lighting conditions and then process one sheet at the normal time, one sheet at normal+20% and one sheet at normal+40%.
    5. One of those negatives should be close to what you are looking for and you can then fine tune the time for your project negatives.
    This is a good start, BUT will not give you appropriate skin tones. Development will not give you appropriate skin tones if your exposure is not correct .Since you need contrast,switch to FP4+. Take your meter reading which will place the skin on ZOne V, it needs to be on VI, or VI 1/2. SO take the reading ,then give one stop more light by opening the aperture, or slowing down the shutter. My choice in such situations is open the aperture.

  10. #10

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    Re: Taking a class and now totally baffled

    I'm with Philip/Ulophot on this. I'd also consider using a film that easily builds contrast, so not necessarily any 400 speed film. FP4+ or, heck, even fomapan 100 or 200. Place Caucasian skin tones at something like middle grey or a smidgeon less in exposure. Then develop for 50% extra or even more, up to 100%, especially if you want to pull pt/pd or other alt prints. I wouldn't go the intaglio/photogravure route; that's a very deep hole and odds are you'll get stuck in mastering a process and find yourself many years down the line before you can make the prints you want. Try simple silver gelatin and only make things complicated if it proves fundamentally inadequate.

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