Earlier this month, I traveled with some friends to Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland to photograph the Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge operations.
Working with Kodak Tri-X in a Nikon F3 with 105mm lens, I made this view of a laden train crossing the River Shannon.
I processed the film using a twin-stage (split development) process: presoaked in Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 for 5 minutes; then Ilford ID1 mixed 1 to 1 for 7 minutes 15 seconds at 68F with gentle agitation every minute for 10 seconds. After stop bath (30 seconds), twin fixer baths of 3 minutes each and extensive rinsing, I toned the still wet negative using a Selenium batch mixed 1-9 for 8 minutes 30 seconds.
In addition to this traditional black & white photo, I also exposed digital photos using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 cameras. Color and black & white, film and digital, yes I have most of formats covered.
On Friday, 15 February 2019, during my visit with Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe to Bord na Mona’s operations at Lanesborough, I worked with three cameras to document operations.
My FujiFilm XT1 and Lumix LX7 were for exposing colour digital photos, while I employed a Nikon F3 to make classic 35mm black & white images.
I processed the film yesterday using custom tailored formulas.
The first roll was Ilford HP5 that I’d bought a couple of days earlier at John Gunn’s Camera on Wexford Street in Dublin. I processed this using a two stage development, starting with an extremely dilute solution of Kodak HC110 (roughly 1 part developer to 250 parts water) which used as presoak. The weak developer helps activate the chemical reaction and improves shadow detail without overdeveloping highlight areas.
The second stage of development involved Ilford Perceptol mixed 1-1 with water and heated to 71F. Based on past experience, I left the film in the developer for 12 minutes, then stop bath, 1stfixer, 2ndfixer, pre-wash, hypoclear, main wash (10 minutes) and final rinse in distilled water.
After drying, I scanned the negatives with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner and touched up the scans using Lightroom.
I’d use ‘gray’ in place of ‘dark’, but apparently the phraseology has assumed new meanings.
I could just say ‘Dublin in Black & White’, but that isn’t really correct either.
Working with my Nikon F3 loaded with Foma Classic 100 black & white film, I made these photos during March 2018 wintery weather in Dublin.
To keep my camera steady for long exposures, I used various tripods, depending on the surface and circumstance.
My exposures varied, but most were between 1 and 8 seconds. I calculated exposure manually using a Minolta IV Flash meter (in reflective mode).
I processed the Fomapan 100 film in Ilford ID-11 stock mixed 1-1 with water at 68F for 7 minutes 15 seconds, plus pre-soak with a token amount of Kodak HC110, then scanned negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
For me, sometimes black & white film provides the best medium for capturing a scene.
Working with my Nikon N90S loaded with Ilford FP4 black & white film, I exposed this sequence of photographs at Mallow, County Cork.
Soft afternoon sun provided some nice light; just the sort of low sun that allows for tonality and texture to be interpreted on black & white film.
Previously, I’d struggled with FP4 to get a range of tones that satisfy me. With this roll of film, I used Ilford ID11 stock solution without dilution at 68 degrees F (20C) for 5 minutes, with only a short water bath prior to develoment.
Although, my negatives still required a touch of contrast adjustment in post processing, I’m very happy with the way they turned out.
I had the Leica IIIa fitted with a vintage Nikkor f3.5 35mm screw-mount lens and loaded with Kodak Tri-X.
And yes, I had a digital camera with me. Two, really. And I also made some colour views. I’ll tend to cover my bases when at a special location.
Honer Travers and I traveled down from Dublin on the Enterprise, having changed at Portadown to an NIR (Northern Ireland Railways) 4000-series CAF built railcar. Arriving at Lisburn, I paused to make these two black & photos of our train.
In Dublin, I processed the film using Agfa-mix Rodinal Special (not to be confused for bog-standard Agfa-mix Rodinal) mixed with water 1 to 31 at 68F for 3 minutes.
I like to play with developer to see what I can get with different combinations of chemistry. Agfa Rodinal Special with short development time allows for fine grain and a metallic tonality. While not as rich as Kodak HC110 (dilution B), the grain appears finer with Rodinal Special.
Massachusetts Central serves Ware on a mix of former Boston & Albany and Boston & Maine lines.
For the last few years the railroad has stored two of its antique locomotives in the Ware yard, including its unusual former Southern Railway EMD NW5 number 2100.
I have many images of this locomotive in various paint schemes over the years; hauling freight, switching the yard, and working excursion trains.
I made these photos the other day with a Nikon F3 fitted with an old school (non-AI) Nikkor 24mm lens (a favorite tool of mine for making unusual and dramatic images).
My process was also unusual. Working with Ilford HP5 rated at ISO 320 (instead of 400), in the dark room I allowed the film to get a very small degree of base fog to thus raise the detail in the shadow areas, while under-processing the film in Kodak D-76 (stock solution mixed 1-1 with water) by nearly 40 percent. Instead of an 11 minute time as recommended, I cut my time to just over 7 minutes, but raised the temperature to 73 degrees F for increased activity. This also boosts the grain a little but that adds to the texture of the photos and clearly distinguishes them from digital images produced by modern cameras.
As you might guess, I’m not opposed to visual characteristics in a photo that hint at the process that created them.
Some readers might wonder why I persist with traditional black & white photography, when modern digital imaging is easier and doesn’t involve all that messing about with chemistry.
The reasons are simple:
I like tradition. I’ve always made black & white photos and processed my own film. While there have been gaps in my black & white work (usually owing to a lack of adequate facilities), I like the continuity by occasionally working with a consistent medium.
My black & white efforts can achieve desired results that may not be equivalent to images made digitally.
Because traditional black & white photography is more difficult, I feel it hones my image making skills.
I process my negatives in an archival fashion and I scan them digitally. This leaves me with greater chances that the images will survive for generations than images strictly stored on ephemeral digital media.
Some years ago, someone asked me if I had adjusted to the switch to digital photography. I said, “I still haven’t adjusted to the switch to color!”
However, just because I continue with the time-honored tradition of black & white photography, doesn’t prevent me from also working digitally.
As regular viewers know, I routinely expose, present (and occasionally publish) modern digital images. In fact I find that two types of photography complement each other nicely.
Over the last 39 years I’ve exposed countless hundreds of photos of trains rolling through Palmer, Massachusetts. But that’s not stopped me from continuing the exercise.
Friday, December 23, 2016, I was at CP83 near the Steaming Tender restaurant, when the signals lit up: high green on the mainline for a westward move. That was my cue to get ready.
The previous day I’d gone fishing through the camera cabinet and found an old Nikkormat FT. Perfect! I loaded this up with some HP5 and set out making photos old school. It had been 20 years since I last worked with Nikkormat. I fitted it with a vintage Nikkor 24mm lens.
With this antique in hand I set up a shot by the old Palmer Union Station (Steaming Tender) using the building to partly shade the rising sun. I’d misplaced my handheld lightmeter, so I used my Lumix LX7 to help gauge the exposure.
This was a tricky, I wanted the sun light to be set apart from the skylight and normally this requires a bit of underexposure. But I didn’t want the front of the locomotives to become completely opaque. Ideally, I’d want there to be some detail in the shadows.
As the headlight of a westward freight appeared to east I was still dithering over my exposure. Ultimately I settled on f11 1/500th of a second.
The trick to bring up the shadow detail was more a result of my processing technique. I needed to retain enough detail in the negative to work with, but once that was established on site, the rest of the work was with the chemistry.
I’ve described this a few times in recent months, but I’ll mention it again:
Before the main process, I prepare a ‘pre-soak’. In this case, I used a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with continuously reversing agitation.
My ‘presoak’ bath consisted of about 200ml of water at 74 degrees F (pardon my mixing of measurement standards) with a drop of Kodak HC110 (about 2-3 ml of developer solution), plus some Kodak Photoflo.
I let film presoak for about 3-4 minutes. Long enough to let the emulsion swell and for the minimal quantity of developer to become completely exhausted. This has the effect giving the shadow areas proportional more development than the highlights, while getting the processing reaction going.
For my main developer, I used Kodak D76 mixed 1-1 with water at 69F for 9 minutes. (This is less than the recommended time of about 11 minutes).
Afterwards I scanned the film using an Epson V750 at 4800 dpi. The photos presented here are scaled in Lightroom from my hi-res files.
No good? Don’t like it? No problem, I can go back and try it all over again!
Tracking the Light Discusses Photography Every Day!