A few weeks ago I scanned a strip of 120-size Fuji Neopan 100 using my Epson V600 Scanner.
This featured some coming and going views of First Great Western HST in Newport, Wales, UK that I exposed using my Rolleiflex Model T.
One of the features of Epson Scan 2 software is the ability to apply an ‘unsharp mask’ at the time of scanning. Despite its confusing name, the unsharp mask is a digital sharpening tool. The software allows for three degrees of sharpening with the mask, ‘low,’ ‘medium’ and ‘high’.
Normally, I select ‘low,’ which I find makes for a better looking scan.
Another option is to scan without the unsharp mask, and apply sharpening in post processing.
The unsharp mask adds an edge effect that makes the photo appear sharper. It doesn’t actually add detail.
Below are three sequences of images showing the image without unsharp mask; with the ‘low’ unsharp mask, and an image created in post processing by applying sharpening after scanning. Each of the three sequences shows first the full frame scan followed by a greatly enlarged portion to allow for a detailed inspection and comparison. Each is captioned for clarity.
Here’s a photo from my black & white archives that I’d completely dismissed. I’d exposed it at Huntington, Massachusetts in March 1985.
There were a few of problems with this image that irked me.
The first was cosmic. Moments before I release the shutter, a cloud coverd the front of the train. That sort of thing used to drive me nuts.
The second was strategic. I’d released the shutter a little earlier than I’d like, leaving the train just a bit distant. I didn’t have a motor drive in those days, and typically would wait for the decisive moment to take my photo.
The third was a chronic failing from my Leica 3 days. I tended to photograph slightly off level, leaving most of my photos annoyingly tilted.
All of these flaws are now easily overcome using Adobe Lightroom.
I altered the exposure and contrast to correct for the obscured sun, while bringing in sky detail partially lost to over exposure. I cropped the photo to minimize the foreground, and this pleasantly altered the composition to feature the code lines to the right of the locomotives and milepost 119 on the left. Lastly, I leveled the image, a task that take now about 2 seconds.
Looking at this photo now, I find that I’m very pleased with it. It has aged very well. The minor flaws don’t bother me, since these were easily corrected, while the overall subject fascinates me. It is the time machine I needed today.
During a week-long vacation to coastal Maine in July 1983 to visit my grand parents, I was given the keys to the family Ford for the day. On the recommendation of my friend Bob Buck, I visited a host of interesting railroad locations in Maine.
My forth stop was at Bangor, where I photographed the Maine Central yard and a local freight switching there using my Leica 3A.
The negative for this black & white image had resided in a marked envelope until last week when I finally scanned it.
In 1983, my photographic processing abilities were rudimentary, and frankly I wasn’t very good at developing black & white film. Only recently, I was able to overcome some of the technical failings in this image by adjusting the scan I made using Adobe Lightroom.
Unlike some of my photos displayed on Tracking the Light that only receive minor corrections to tweak contrast or exposure, in this image I needed to make some fairly substantial corrections to contrast and exposure, while eliminating a host of spots.
There’s virtually nothing in this scene remaining today, and now manned crossings are nearly extinct.
In July 2003, I exposed a single frame of 120 size Tri-X looking toward the old Duncormick Station on Irish Rail’s lightly used South Wexford line.
I’d processed the film in Ilfotec HC shortly after the time of exposure. The other day I scanned this photo along with other images on the roll.
Working with Adobe Lightroom 5.0, I made use of the ‘select sky’ feature under the ‘New Mask’ option (located at the righthand side of the control panel and indicated with a pixilated circle icon) to make the sunset sky more dramatic.
Previously, I would have achieved a similar effect by creating a linear gradiation mask to make my adjustments.
The advantage of the ‘select sky’ mask is that it neatly segregates the sky area from the rest of the image and allows for a cleaner adjustment while requiring less work on my part.
In this case, to make the sky appear more dramatic, I used the ‘clarity’ slider, moving to the right (+) which increases the constrast without a substantial loss of detail.
Below are both the unaltered scan of the original black & white negative, and my adjusted version. In addition, I’ve included a screenshot of hte Adobe Lightroom control panel.
On a day trip to Cork City (Ireland) in April 2002, I made this photo using my Contax G2 rangefinder on Kodak Tri-X.
I had the camera fitted with a 45mm Zeiss lens. Key to the image tonality was an orange filter, which gives the photo a contrasty snap with lots of texture in the sky while lightening the rendiition of the shade of orange paint on the class 201 diesels.
I’d processed the film using a custom mix of Ilfotec HC.
To scan the film, I used my Epson V600 flatbed scanner with Epson Scan 2 driving software. I made nominal adjustments to contrast using Adobe Lightroom.
I visited Dresden, Germany for the first time in June 2001.
The Dresden Neustadt station impressed me with its arched train shed and vintage mechanical semaphores.
Working with my old Rolleiflex Model T, I made this pair of photos on 120-size Fuji Neopan 400 roll film.
I processed the film in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with Agfa Rodinal) mixed 1-32 for 3 min 45 seconds.
I like the technological contrast between the then modern train (a Siemens Desiro railcar) and the old signals. This contrast is mimicked in the visual contrast of my black & white technique that produces stark dark lines against fluffy afternoon clouds.
Tracking the Light Explores Railroad Photography Every Day
In October (2020), I made this view of the former Maine Central twin-span truss over the Saco River near Glen, NH, while traveling eastbound on the headend train #162 Mountaineer.
This is favorite bridge of mine, but a difficult one to photograph satisfactorily from track side. As a result most of my best photos have been from the engine.
I exposed this using my Canon EOS 3 loaded with Ilford HP5 black & white film. I processed this in a customized split development process using a presoak of Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 at 68F for 5 minutes 30 seconds, followed by primary development using Ilford ID-11 stock mixed 1-1 for 6 minute 30 seconds at 68f. This technique facilitates exceptional dynamic range and superior overall tonality.
After processing, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, and made final adjustments to the scan in Adobe Lightroom.
And it’s a was a very good Friday too. Years ago, Good Friday was a busy day on Irish Rail and there was lots to garner a photographer’s attention.
In addition to Railway Preservation Society of Ireland steam excursions, and ‘extra’ Friday-only passenger trains, Irish Rail tended to operate a lot of daylight freight.
So on the morning of March 29, 2002, Hassard Stacpoole and I joined Paul Quinlan at Kildare for a foray to Cherryville Junction (where the Waterford Line joins the Dublin-Cork mainline) and spent the day rolling by the parade of trains.
I made most of my photos on Fujichrome slide film, but also exposed a roll of Fuji Neopan 400 black & white film in my Contax G2 rangefinder with a yellow filter. I processed this in Agfa Rodinal Special (mixed 1-32) for 3 minutes 45 seconds at 20c.
Then after 18 years in an archival box, yesterday I decided to scan a few of the photos for presentation here.
What may have passed as ordinary in 2002, now looks fascinating.
Last October (2020), I traveled on a rainy day to Crawford Notch on the head-end of Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer.
To make the most of the moody autumn conditions, I exposed a roll of Ilford HP5 35mm black & white film.
Last weekend I processed this using my split development method in order to maximize detail in highlights and shadows, while providing for rich tonality.
The specifics are as follows: presoak in a dilute bath of HC110 (1-200) for 5 minutes 30 seconds at 69F with minimal agitation, then main development in Ilford ID-11 1-1 for 6 minutes and 30 seconds agitating using three gentle inversions every 60 seconds. Followed by stop (30 seconds); first fix (2 minutes 30 seconds) and second fix (2 minutes 30 seconds); first rinse (3 minutes); Permawash (3 minutes); second rinse (10 minutes in continuous running water), then final rinse of distilled water with a drop of Photo flo. Dry and scan.
Other than scaling for internet, I made no alterations to tonality or exposure in postprocessing.
I made my first visit to Rigby Yard in Portland back about 1983 using directions provided to me by the late Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies of Warren, Massachusetts.
Over the weekend, I traveled with Kris Sabbatino and retraced my steps to Rigby.
Working with a Nikkormat FT with 105mm telephoto, I exposed this view on Fomapan 100 Classic black & white film, which I then processed yesterday. To obtain a greater sense of depth and texture, I aimed through some tall grass in the foreground, while focusing on the Pan Am Railways EMD diesels in the distance.
Using split development with twin development bath, I produced negatives that were ideal for scanning.
My recipe: Kodak HC110 mixed 1-300 with water and a drop of Photoflo for 9 minutes at 70 F (with minimal agitation); then Ilford ID-11 1-1 with water for 5 minutes 30 seconds (agitating very gently for three inversions once a minute); stop, twin fix bath, rinse, perm awash, 10 minute wash, and final rinse in distilled water.
The tracks are in place. The famous ball signal still stands. But it has been months, years perhaps, since the last revenue train visited the old Boston & Maine line through Whitefield, New Hampshire; longer still for the former Maine Central, which has become overgrown.
These lines remain on the periphery of the American general network; but for how much longer?
On April 25, 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I visited Whitefield on a trip exploring Coos County. I made these photos on Fuji Acros 100 black & white negative film.
Saturday we processed the film in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with ordinary Rodinal) for 3 minutes 45 seconds, then following regular processing and washing, we toned the negatives in selenium solution for 9 minutes and rewashed following archival procedure.
Last night I scanned the film using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
Last night, I was inspecting scans of some black & white negatives from last summer that are stored on my hard drive.
These are some photos from a Sunday morning in early August at North Conway, New Hampshire of locomotive 7470.
All of these are from a roll of Fuji Acros 100, exposed with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens and processed with split-bath/multi-stage development using a weak bath of HC110 followed by Rodinal for primary development.
During last month’s Steam in the Snow event at the Conway Scenic Railroad sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, I made a lot of digital photos and some video footage in my capacity as the railroad’s Manager, Marketing and Events.
But that wasn’t all.
Working with my Nikon F3 and a 50mm lens, I also exposed some Fomapan 100 Classic black & white film.
I first sampled this film on a trip to the Czech Republic in October 2016. I like the tonality and classic black & white appearance of this emulsion when processed in Ilford ID11 1-1. To boost shadow detail, I let the film pre-soak in a very weak bath of HC110 and Kodak Photoflo before primary processing.
Here’s a sample of my images.
Coming up soon, Conway Scenic will be running more trains in the snow. The railroad plans to run seven round trips a day from February 15th to 29th using Budd RDC number 23 Millie. The first trip departs North Conway at 730am and trains will run every 90 minutes to Attitash.
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!