Tracking the Light focus on creating photos and this post is about the nuts and bolts of working with black & white film, and pursuing means to refine the process.
What better way to spend a damp, windy snowy day, then to expose and process black & white film in new ways?
I’d read about ‘stand processing,’ but I’d never tried it.
Stand processing uses developer at very low-concentration with virtually no agitation for very long process times.
Among the potential advantages of stand processing is greater tonality with exceptional highlight and shadow detail. A secondary benefit is that it requires much less developer. Also, I wondered if I could better control granularity by eliminating the effects of agitation (the answer from this test was: no).
I’d previously experimented with Foma Retropan, a modern film rated at 320 that emulates the effects of traditional emulsions. For those photos I processed the film in Foma’s specially formulated Retro developer. I found the negatives to be grainy, but offering a distinctive tonality with soft highlights.
Below are some examples of Retropan using stand development in Agfa Rodinal (mixed 1:100 with water) for 40 minutes, 10 seconds agitation at beginning of development, and again at the end. Development temp 74 F.
For comparison, a couple of hours later I also exposed more Retropan and processed this in Agfa Rodinal Special (as distinct from ordinary Rodinal) but with agitation and short process times; one batch (mixed at 1:32) at 68F for 4 minutes;
A second batch (mixed at 1:32) at 70F for 70 minutes. I then toned these negatives for 9 minutes in a selenium solution to boost highlight detail.
This is a work in progress and I have no formal conclusions, but makes for some interesting images.
The other morning in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I exposed this view of New England Central’s northward freight that runs daily from Willimantic, Ct., to Palmer, Massachusetts.
The train was coming hard out of a clear morning sun. Using a Leica IIIA fitted with a Nikkor 35mm screw-mount lens, I exposed this view on Foma Retropan 320.
Retropan is a comparatively coarse grain emulsion that offers a distinctly different range of tones than expected with Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X, or other black & white films in the same sensitivity range.
It also produces a characteristic halo-effect in bright highlight areas.
I processed the film more or less as recommended using Foma’s specially formulated Retro Special Developer, and then scanned it with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. I made minor adjustments to contrast in Lightroom.
As I anticipated, my results from this experiment are more pictorial than literal.
Tracking the Light posts something different every day.
Working with my Nikon F3 fitted with a vintage Nikkor f1.4 50mm lens, I made these views at Strafford, Pennsylvania along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line west of Philadelphia.
It was a dull Sunday afternoon in January and my hope was to make iconic views using traditional materials that might work more effectively than modern digital color photographs (although I exposed some digital images as well.)
For this batch of Foma Retropan, I returned to hand processing in Paterson tanks. I used Retro Special Developer stock solution (diluted 1:1 with water) with a 4 minutes development time. Prior to introducing the primary developer, I pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of Retro Special Developer stock for 1 minute.
My aim was to retain the broad tonality achieved with earlier experiments while keeping the grain size relatively fine.
Honestly, I’m not sure that these photographs work for me. But the lighting was pretty tough. (Flat, dull, and lacking in character and direction).
For my second roll, I focused on a variety of railway subjects, aiming to see how this film would perform. This one was exposed using a Nikon F3 with various Nikkor lenses, exposure calculated manually with the aid of a handheld light meter.
I made these images in parallel with digital images exposed with my other cameras.
As with the first roll, I exposed the Retropan at ISO 320 and processed it more or less as recommended by Foma.
Again, for this roll I used the Retro Special Developer with shortened the processing time (I opted for 3 minutes 30 seconds plus a pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of HC110.
Overall, I was pleased with the tonality and tight grain structure. The film has a softer look than other fast black & white films, such as Ilford’s HP5, and a broad tonal range that holds highlight and shadow detail very well.
I scanned the negatives with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. These images are essentially unmodified scans, except for necessary scale reduction for internet presentation plus addition of my watermark. I did not alter contrast, exposure, tonality, or perform sharpening.
This test went so well, for my next experiment, I decided to significantly alter my processing of the film. Stay tuned for my bold experiment with Retropan Roll 3! (Sometimes changes produce unexpected consequences).
Czech film manufacturer Foma introduced a new black & white film in 2015 called Retropan Soft (ISO 320).
This is advertised as a panchromatic, special negative film with ‘fine grain, good resolution and contour sharpness’. Among its features are a ‘wide range of half tones and a wide exposure latitude.
I tried my first roll in early December 2016. I have to admit that I was curious, but skeptical. Could this new b&w film change the way I approach film photography? Might it offer something decidedly different than Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5?
Working with an old Nikon F3 and 50mm lens I wandered around Philadelphia with my brother and exposed a variety of gritty urban images that I thought might benefit from the look advertised by ‘Retropan’.
I exposed my film at ISO 320, and processed it more or less as recommended using Retro Special Developer, with two small changes:
I shortened the processing time (as I generally find that manufacturer recommended times are too long and lead to excessively dense negatives); plus I pre-soaked the film in a water bath with a drop of HC110 (as described in previous posts).
The negatives scanned well, and I was impressed with the tonality of the photographs. I’ve included a selection below.
Please note, that although I scaled the files and inserted a watermark, I have not cropped them or manipulated contrast, exposure or sharpness. These photos are essentially un-interpreted.
Stay tuned for my next Retropan test!
Brian Solomon presents something new on Tracking the Light every day.