Ansel Adams - Which Book?

Film Photography & Darkroom discussion

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bmm9
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Jan 13, 2009 11:51 am

My experience with "The Negative"

Postby bmm9 » Tue Jan 13, 2009 1:03 pm

I know I'm digging up an old thread, but I recently bought and read The Negative, and I thought I'd give my perspective.

Prior to reading the negative, I read the Film Development Cookbook. As a result, I ignored a lot of Ansel's development advice. Anchell and Troop recommend roughly the following: If you're shooting roll film, develop normally in a compensating developer and let VC paper take care of contrast.

A lot of the advice in the Negative that doesn't relate to development is quite useful. He recommends erring on the side of overexposure, and he seems to "under" rate his film (e.g. FP4 at 64 ASA, Pan F at 25 ASA). His procedure for testing for actual film speed seems useful, although I don't have a densitometer.

I agree with Ornello that not all of Ansel's photos are aesthetically pleasing. In one case, he uses expansion to make a side lit wooded scene look like a moonscape. He says he needed to do this to preserve shadow detail--I suppose that's his choice, but the result isn't great. CPbas's example of extreme contraction wasn't really detailed enough for me to decide if the gradation was unpleasing (to my eyes), but I liked the effect overall--a lot of times I'm dissappointed by night photos that really show the difference between what film can see and the eyes can see.

Note that, according to the Film Dev. Cookbook, the only technique Ansel recommends for contraction with modern film is use minimal agitation (obviously this isn't clear in the negative...). If you look on p. 86 of the FDC, you get Anchell & Troop's opinion on expansion and contraction, which is more or less: it doesn't work very well with modern films, but it is usually possible (depending on your film and dev. choice) to change contrast at least a "zone" in either direction.

One place that the Negative really helps is with it's explaination of characteristic curves. The Film Dev. Cookbook says that slow films have a shorter tonal scale that medium speed films, but it never says what tonal scale is. The negative gives you this information. Particularly, it shows the curve of FP4 vs. Pan F, which is exactly the comparison I wanted (although Pan F+ has a longer scale than Pan F apparently). Of course all this info seems to be available through Digitaltruth, but the negative gives a good explaination on how to intepret it.

Another thing he helps clear up is "speed increase". The Film Dev. cookbook says that certain developer gives you a true speed increase of 50-100%. I guess it should have been obvious that this means, rate your film this percentage higher, and that's what Ansel says. However, he makes a point of clearing up the terminology. Since most people don't find the manufacturer's speed recommendations accurate, and since the dev. charts in the back of the book (i.e. from this site) give you recommended times for many different speed ratings, it wasn't totally clear to me what was the best way to rate film with a speed increasing developer. (In theory, it's clear now: rate that percentage above box speed... in practice you still have to deal with how accurate the box speed is).

Although though a lot of Ansel's advice seems questionable, I think his advice to "visualize the scene" and expose to keep detail in what you think is the most important part (usually the shadows, but sometimes texture in clouds or snow, etc.) is good. If you don't have a spot meter, and don't have a densitometer, Ornello's advice (set ASA for an overexposure, bracket if you have to, develop for flat/managable negatives) seems more practical. Also, Ansel's advice on how you should expose for particular scenes seems useful, as well as his advice on what zones to place certain things (e.g. zone 5 for blue north sky); again, how closely you can follow this advice depends on your ability to meter precisely....

I have some specific questions for Ornello: is the idea of the overexposure/underdevelopment technique to place the shadows on the straight line section of the curve, or is it simply a measure to guard against underexposure? Anchell recommends an average film density of .9 vs. 1.2 or higher (as Anchell says Ansel recommends); does overexposure/underdevelopment give you the same density as normal exposure and normal development, but with less graininess? (granted I can't actually test the negative density... but given comparable negatives, your way is less grainy?); is this completely empirical, or is it due to inaccurate ASA (i.e. overexposure is actually the proper exposure)?
Also, could you send me your book? :)


Ornello
Posts: 832
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2006 9:49 am

Re: My experience with "The Negative"

Postby Ornello » Tue Jan 13, 2009 3:58 pm

bmm9 wrote:I know I'm digging up an old thread, but I recently bought and read The Negative, and I thought I'd give my perspective.

Prior to reading the negative, I read the Film Development Cookbook. As a result, I ignored a lot of Ansel's development advice. Anchell and Troop recommend roughly the following: If you're shooting roll film, develop normally in a compensating developer and let VC paper take care of contrast.

A lot of the advice in the Negative that doesn't relate to development is quite useful. He recommends erring on the side of overexposure, and he seems to "under" rate his film (e.g. FP4 at 64 ASA, Pan F at 25 ASA). His procedure for testing for actual film speed seems useful, although I don't have a densitometer.

I agree with Ornello that not all of Ansel's photos are aesthetically pleasing. In one case, he uses expansion to make a side lit wooded scene look like a moonscape. He says he needed to do this to preserve shadow detail--I suppose that's his choice, but the result isn't great. CPbas's example of extreme contraction wasn't really detailed enough for me to decide if the gradation was unpleasing (to my eyes), but I liked the effect overall--a lot of times I'm dissappointed by night photos that really show the difference between what film can see and the eyes can see.

Note that, according to the Film Dev. Cookbook, the only technique Ansel recommends for contraction with modern film is use minimal agitation (obviously this isn't clear in the negative...). If you look on p. 86 of the FDC, you get Anchell & Troop's opinion on expansion and contraction, which is more or less: it doesn't work very well with modern films, but it is usually possible (depending on your film and dev. choice) to change contrast at least a "zone" in either direction.

One place that the Negative really helps is with it's explanation of characteristic curves. The Film Dev. Cookbook says that slow films have a shorter tonal scale that medium speed films, but it never says what tonal scale is. The negative gives you this information. Particularly, it shows the curve of FP4 vs. Pan F, which is exactly the comparison I wanted (although Pan F+ has a longer scale than Pan F apparently). Of course all this info seems to be available through Digitaltruth, but the negative gives a good explaination on how to intepret it.

Another thing he helps clear up is "speed increase". The Film Dev. cookbook says that certain developer gives you a true speed increase of 50-100%. I guess it should have been obvious that this means, rate your film this percentage higher, and that's what Ansel says. However, he makes a point of clearing up the terminology. Since most people don't find the manufacturer's speed recommendations accurate, and since the dev. charts in the back of the book (i.e. from this site) give you recommended times for many different speed ratings, it wasn't totally clear to me what was the best way to rate film with a speed increasing developer. (In theory, it's clear now: rate that percentage above box speed... in practice you still have to deal with how accurate the box speed is).

Although though a lot of Ansel's advice seems questionable, I think his advice to "visualize the scene" and expose to keep detail in what you think is the most important part (usually the shadows, but sometimes texture in clouds or snow, etc.) is good. If you don't have a spot meter, and don't have a densitometer, Ornello's advice (set ASA for an overexposure, bracket if you have to, develop for flat/managable negatives) seems more practical. Also, Ansel's advice on how you should expose for particular scenes seems useful, as well as his advice on what zones to place certain things (e.g. zone 5 for blue north sky); again, how closely you can follow this advice depends on your ability to meter precisely....

I have some specific questions for Ornello: is the idea of the overexposure/underdevelopment technique to place the shadows on the straight line section of the curve, or is it simply a measure to guard against underexposure? Anchell recommends an average film density of .9 vs. 1.2 or higher (as Anchell says Ansel recommends); does overexposure/underdevelopment give you the same density as normal exposure and normal development, but with less graininess? (granted I can't actually test the negative density... but given comparable negatives, your way is less grainy?); is this completely empirical, or is it due to inaccurate ASA (i.e. overexposure is actually the proper exposure)?
Also, could you send me your book? :)
I think the thing to do, really, is to start from scratch in your understanding of B&W technique. If you are using 35mm equipment, your technique should be optimized for that format.

Through trial and error it was long ago determined that the smaller the format, the less the development should be given (sometimes with more exposure) to achieve best definition and least graininess. I have seen a table in an old Photo Lab Index that listed the gamma for various applications (motion picture, portrait, commercial, etc.). (Gamma was used as a measure of contrast before Contrast Index was devised. Gamma measured the slope of the straight-line portion alone. Contrast Index uses a slightly more sophisticated approach, but that is beyond the scope of this reply.) I also remember that Minox subminiature films, which were identical to their 35mm counterparts, were rated about 1/2 the speed. Tri-X was 200, Plus-X was 64, etc. You sent them away to Minox lab for processing, and I'm sure they were developed quite gently.

In any event, motion picture film was developed to the lowest gamma of any application. This was because of the large degree of enlargement. If you consider the fact that 35mm still film also requires a great deal of enlargement, you can then conclude that for the greatest enlarge-ability, the least development possible should be given that yields overall good quality and adequate contrast.

Slightly reduced development will not require more exposure. In my experience, however, the film speeds that the ISO systems yields are too high and give poor shadow detail. It has nothing to do with the development. Development has very little influence on speed. Pushing does not work; pulling does not work. The speed of the emulsion is pretty much fixed at manufacture.

Giving slightly more exposure than ISO calls for, and somewhat less development yields smaller average grain size and less graininess overall. The longer film is in a developer, the more 'clumping' occurs. Also, where there is insufficient exposure, grains are not exposed at all and represent 'voids' that appear as graininess. More of the smaller, less sensitive grains are exposed when you give more exposure, and when you develop less, the larger grains are not developed all the way.

I am not suggesting that you 'overexpose' and 'under-develop'. I am suggesting that you use a lower exposure index than ISO because ISO is 'wrong' (what I mean by 'wrong' is that ISO does not yield optimum results). I am suggesting that you develop less because that yields sharper, finer-grained images. The two things are unrelated.

Now this will tend to produce a negative with a little lower contrast overall (with more shadow density and less highlight density) than it would have if you followed the ISO recommendations. As a result, you will need a bit more contrast in the printing stage. This is easily accomplished by using a condenser enlarger and a slightly harder paper (# 3 instead of #2). Kodak has empirically determined that lower contrast negatives with higher contrast in printing yields finer-grained prints. Again, this was the practice with B&W motion-picture film, which was enlarged hundreds of diameters on a large theatre screen.

It all boils down to this:

Rate your film about 2/3 ISO (or even 1/2 ISO)
Print on grade 3 paper with a condenser enlarger
Make tests using a sunny scene with a good tonal range.
Adjust development until the prints look right on grade 3, then use that development time for all subsequent rolls.

For most prints, I rarely adjust contrast more than 1/2 grade from grade 3 (and almost always up, not down). I use Ilford Galerie as the standard for grade 3 and adjust my Multigrade system to match that.

bmm9
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Jan 13, 2009 11:51 am

Postby bmm9 » Wed Jan 14, 2009 1:28 pm

Thanks for the reply. I don't think I'll scrap everything I've read... your suggestions are generally in line with the Film Dev. Cookbook. Specifically: "If there is any secret to obtaining high sharpness and fine grain, it is to ensure that the negative has a low density range. [...] This means that 35mm negatives of normal scenic contrast should ideally be developed to print well on grade 3 paper."

For what it's worth, I said that they recommended an average density 0.9, but they actually recommend 0.9 maximum density above film base + fog, for 35mm. I can't make the test either way...

My plan is to use the last few frames on the roll in my camera to test for the right ISO, then develop at 80% of the recommended time (they recommend a 10-20% decrease for condensor heads, so I don't think this is too extreme to start with). I think the test will be useful (besides helping me avoid changing film in the snow...) since Kodak says XTOL increases film speed, and Anchell & Troop say more so when it's diluted. If you're both right, I should expect to rate FP4+ close to (or slightly below) box speed.

After that I'll work on adjusting development time.

Ornello
Posts: 832
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2006 9:49 am

Postby Ornello » Wed Jan 14, 2009 4:11 pm

bmm9 wrote:Thanks for the reply. I don't think I'll scrap everything I've read... your suggestions are generally in line with the Film Dev. Cookbook. Specifically: "If there is any secret to obtaining high sharpness and fine grain, it is to ensure that the negative has a low density range. [...] This means that 35mm negatives of normal scenic contrast should ideally be developed to print well on grade 3 paper."

For what it's worth, I said that they recommended an average density 0.9, but they actually recommend 0.9 maximum density above film base + fog, for 35mm. I can't make the test either way...

My plan is to use the last few frames on the roll in my camera to test for the right ISO, then develop at 80% of the recommended time (they recommend a 10-20% decrease for condensor heads, so I don't think this is too extreme to start with). I think the test will be useful (besides helping me avoid changing film in the snow...) since Kodak says XTOL increases film speed, and Anchell & Troop say more so when it's diluted. If you're both right, I should expect to rate FP4+ close to (or slightly below) box speed.

After that I'll work on adjusting development time.
Here's what to do:

Get several 36 exp rolls of film.

Expose them bracketing at 1/2 stop intervals from 2 stops over to 1 stop under the meter reading taken off of green grass (tough to do right now in North America, I know...LOL). Clip the film into three parts and develop the three parts separately, -15%, -20%, and -30% from the recommendation on the box. I would suggest using D-76 1:1 to start with, as D-76 is fairly stable. Photograph a scene with white house, trees, and grass, if possible on a cloudless day. Print the negatives on grade 3 Ilford Galerie paper using a condenser enlarger. When the white house has detail in the highlights and the shadows under the tress have decent detail you have the right exposure and development time.

You don't need to measure negatives, ever, for any reason. If a negative makes a good print, it is a good negative.

Is there a way to post photos on this page?

Keith Tapscott.
Posts: 506
Joined: Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:58 am
Location: Plymouth, England.

Postby Keith Tapscott. » Thu Jan 15, 2009 11:43 am

Ornello wrote:Is there a way to post photos on this page?
Ask Jon Mided by PM or email.

Ornello
Posts: 832
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2006 9:49 am

Postby Ornello » Thu Jan 15, 2009 1:56 pm

Keith Tapscott. wrote:
Ornello wrote:Is there a way to post photos on this page?
Ask Jon Mided by PM or email.
OK

kennethcooke
Posts: 32
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:29 pm
Location: West Riding UK

Postby kennethcooke » Mon May 25, 2009 4:55 pm

If you are doing your own processing then all three are worth buying. They are readily available second hand or alternatively you could download them as pdf documents here

http://www.avaxhome.ws/ebooks/Photo_related
"It's called grain it's supposed to be there"

Regards Kenneth


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