Ilford Multigrade Art 300 first impressions

Wanting to try the full range of Ilford paper products I ordered a box of Multigrade Art 300 paper.  These are my first impressions:

The feel: Pulling the paper out of the box it felt like thick card stock but softer like construction paper. There is not much difference between the coated side and the uncoated side under a red light except for a hint of sheen so I had to guess which way was up. Ilford’s paper packaging is consistent with single outer box and paper stored in an inner black bag and the coated side is usually facing upward.

Exposure: It took almost 1.75 stops more exposure than the contact and test print of the same negatives on MGFB Classic. However this is similar to MGFB Warm tone paper.

Tone: My initial prints were done with an Ilford grade 2 or 3 contrast filters. The color is a flat matte grey without deep blacks when wet, unless you overexpose the print until blacks take over visually. Whites are more of a dull textured eggshell . Contrast improved with split grade printing of about 1/3rd grade 0 and 2/3rds grade 5. The texture of the paper is very noticeable in lighter mid tones such as water falls so perhaps not the best choice for those. The color is about the same as MGFB Warm Tone but the matte and texture give a different look than the glossy warm tone. 

My process: Developed in Ethol LPD 1:2 for 2 minutes, Kodak indicator stop bath 30 seconds, Ilford rapid fix 1:4 for 1 minute, into a water bath for a few seconds then into main wash tray.  Prints tend to sit in the wash tray until I get 6 or 7 in the tray (15-30 minutes)  and then I move them to a slotted print washer where they get at least a 30 minute wash in running water.

Upon washing a couple of the prints had damage to the emulsion on the edge. I’m waiting for the prints to dry and will likely try toning in selenium this week.

Darkroom Underground Magazine


Tim Layton Fine Arts has launched a new Film centered magazine Darkroom Underground. The first issue was release July 1 and was chocked full of useful information for the darkroom and film enthusiast. The magazine will be published quarterly online with print editions possible in 2018. The Darkroom Underground publishes technical and creative articles in each issue along with featured photographers. See the link for more information and how to subscribe. There is also a facebook page for discussion of analogue film.

As someone who constantly reads and researches techniques, chemistry, and creativity this magazine is a welcome departure from the not 99.99% digital media out there. I wish Tim and his advisors many years of success.

Film Test – Searing Method Part II

The negatives have dried and I had some free time to do print them out. Initially I tried making a contact sheet of all 4 images of each film but with paper curl and the density differences, that didn’t work out too well. So I ended up making 8 contact sheets, one for each negative. I’ll scan the prints as a group for comparison and scan the pairs that were developed together to see if there are noticeable differences between FP4 and Delta 100.

#1 Shortest process time had the least density and required about 5 seconds of print time.
#2 & #4 Print time increased 1 second for FP4+ and 2 seconds for Delta 100
#3 Print time increased 2 seconds because of higher density

Delta 100 was slightly more dense than FP4 for the pairs processed in the same tank so I can process Delta 100 for a bit less time . FP4 had more shadow separation which is to be expected because Delta 100 has a flatter toe area by design. I was surprised that I liked the nuances of FP4 better than Delta 100 for a landscape type shot. If I were shooting  a city/urban scene I might choose the Delta 100.

The #4 test gave the most overall pleasing results. All 4 tests gave a very printable negative, none had any of the blowout you might get with digital or slide film. The Pyrocat staining also allowed me to lower the magenta settings I usually start printing at, it offers its own contrast boost.

So based on these initial tests my standard mix for Normal scenes will be 3ml A + 2ml B + 500ml Water processing only 2 sheets in my 4×5 tank with minimal agitation with 24.5 minutes for FP4+ and 22 minutes for Delta 100. I will reduce time by 20% for EV 7stops  and increase time 20% for EV 5 stops. I need to be more careful in placing the shadow detail on Zone III  rather than Zone II which may require an adjustment to metering technique and more evaluation of the scene.

Film Test – Searing Method Part 1

No matter who you ask in discussion forums when looking for a starting point to process a particular film and developer combination you will always run into the troll who says “You need to test it for yourself”.  Well that is not always true as there is plenty of information out there for common developers like HC-110 and common film. The massive dev chart also has manufacturers recommendations as does the manufacturers info sheets. 80% of the time this will get you in the ball park for a nice negative for printing.

But as soon as you venture off into unusual developers or alternate processes the information becomes less frequent and reliable. Each artist has something they are trying to accomplish that the standard process does not provide. And some of us just like to tinker and try something other than the standard method. You also need to know how your film reacts to varying lighting conditions and whether you need to pull the developer early or let it run longer. The advanced testers have all sorts of scientific tools and rules that will give them a specific density of the negative for a given developer and process. I just want a basic understanding so I can make an informed decision what happens to the film for different times. I also want to see the difference between a traditional coated film vs a modern coating.

Most of the landscape images I shoot have a difference in subject brightness around 5 to 6 stops, which fits neatly between Zones II (or III) and VIII. I usually meter such scenes and place the average on Zone V.  But I do sometimes get scenes with as few as 3 stops or as much as 8 stops. I am also switching to Pyrocat HD developer using minimal agitation and a non-standard dilution. I have researched and determined my normal time should be around 20-25 minutes for a normal scene. I like shadow detail and good separation in mid tones. Highlights such as sky are not always that divided in tones that I need to have as much separation as I can in the middle tones where tree bark, rocks, and leaves tend to be.

I could use a step wedge and see scientifically how the tones are compressed or expanded but where is the fun in that. So I pointed my camera at my backyard around 9:00 in the morning to an area that had shady sections with separation of tones, sunny sections with brighter tones, and open sky. Across the image the EVs metered ranged from 8.1 to 15.4 for the open sky so a variance of 7.3. Within the image I can also watch what shadows do for various times of development as well as overall separation of midtones vs dark tones. How white the sky will go vs the darkest part of the shadows. A near perfect test subject. Some puffy white clouds would have been nice to have but I can assume they would be another half stop. I exposed 4 sheets of Ilford FP4+ and 4 sheets of Delta 100 within a five minute period.  I used a lens with a reliable shutter stopped down to f22 for 1/2 second. Rating both films at EI 100. The darkest shadow area with detail suggested f22 for 2 seconds (18% grey/Zone V) so I reduced time  2 stops to 1/2 second which should put it at zone III and my brightest areas will fall up around zone X+.

The test plan:

Pyrocat HD 4.5ml part A + 3ml part B + 525ml water to make enough to fill my sp-445 tank, with temperature around 70 degrees. I will put 1 4×5 sheet of each film FP4 and Delta 100 into the tank at the same time. I think it would be normal for me to develop 2 sheets at a time. I will pre-soak films for 5 minutes and begin initial agitation for 2 minutes then 30 seconds at roughly 1/3rd of the remaining time with 30 seconds before total time. Water stop bath and fix for 5 minutes in TF4 then a final wash using dump and fill method. After drying I will contact print with my normal grade 2 settings all 4 sheets of same film on one 8×10. Eventually I may contact print the FP4 vs Delta100 to see the tonal differences at each time.

* After the first 3 tests I was able to see the trend of separation in certain tones and decided to try a different ratio. So test #4 is 3ml part A + 2ml part B + 500ml water. Total time 24.5minutes. I want to compare highlights and shadow separation with test #2 to determine which mix I like better.

Test# Initial Agitate at Agitate at Total Time initial thoughts
1 2 6 10 15 a little under developed
2 2 8 15 22.5 Good negative
3 2 11 20 30 denser negative
4* 2 9.5 17 24.5 good overall

The test went well with no mishaps so far that I can tell. #2 negative gave a sky density that I could still read text through but barely. Stay tuned for the print results….

Cooper Creek Warm Tone


As discussed in my previous post I was not happy with this image in the standard flat grey of Ilford MGFB or Warmtone papers. So I ordered some selenium and performed some tests. This image has been toned at 1:6 dilution for 15 minutes. The color shift began after 4 minutes in the dark tones and was fully toned by about 12 minutes. Overall I like this image better now.

I also toned the image from the classic paper for the same time but it was too purple of a tone for my liking. 3 minutes would have been fine for archival purposes.

Below is a comparison of before and after toning (upper left corner) for the different papers.

My Tiny Darkroom

My first darkroom was a temporary setup in my apartment bathroom with a sheet of plywood over the sink and trays in the tub. It was cramped and kept me bent over so would get backaches.

Fast forward 20 years and I took a class at an arts center about 20 miles from home which was a proper space with all the bells and whistoles. It was a bit far to drive often so I started looking at my garage closet as a new spot to do my printing. I got rid of as much junk as I could and basically carved out a 6×6 room for the darkroom area. It also contains the water heater so is only usable on one wall.

click for larger images

The enlarger I started with was fairly compact so I could get away with about 30 inches for the enlarger and the rest for a dry sink. I inherited a larger 4×5 enlarger and it takes up more visual space and sticks out of the workbench area by about 6 inches so I have to work from the side.

Storage above and below holds most trays, tanks, chemistry, paper, and other stuff. Washing and drying is usually done inside the house or outside if warm enough. I have a plywood top I can put on the sink if I need a dry work space. Inside the sink I can arrange trays large enough to process 8×10 easily or stack them for 11×14. For bigger I have to set up trays in the adjoining garage. I am thinking I may see out a slot processor for larger work in the future.

Maintaining temperature in the space is easy in winter with a small space heater except for very cold days. Summertime I resort to using ice filled bags to cool down chemistry. I would like to add the luxury of running water one day with a proper drain. I have padded the floor with rubber matting for comfort and warmth.

It is a minimal design with just the items I need. I do have storage shelves outside the room for empty bottles and things I do not need in the darkroom. I keep my paper and some supplies in the house until I need them.

Ilford MGFB Warmtone

After printing the Cooper Creek image and being a little disappointed with the color and contrast I decided to re-print it using a warm tone paper. There are tons of images of warm tone paper prints having a deep rich brown color on the internet. What no one tells you is that is the result of using a dark brown toner, not the natural color of the paper. The natural color is just slightly warmer in darker tones and whites.

My first experience with the warmtone paper was that it took longer to expose and develop using my standard Ethol LPD at 1:2.  Overall the shadows appeared softer but going overboard on the contrast grade was not helpful. Time was increased from 9 seconds to 16 seconds under the enlarger at Yellow 40 and Magenta 50 which was same as Ilford MGFB Classic for contrast settings. It also took the image about 45 seconds to first appear so I extended development time from 2 to 2.5 minutes. I assume when dry the warmtone paper will be less white on the borders.  The difference in color is subtle between Classic and Warmtone. I did get more out of the dense bushes but it just looks lighter and not as “harsh”. So I did achieve what I was looking for except for the warm brown rich color. So my next darkroom experiment will be toning using selenium to see if I can alter the colors toward brown.

Update: click to see the results of toning

First time Pyrocat HD

I had a couple of shots to develop from a hike in January. A nice fallen tree near Preacher Rock on the Appalachian Trail near Suches, Georgia, and a spot along the Cooper river near Suches as well. I decided it was time to see what all the fuss is about Pyro negatives and FP4. My traditional developer is HC-110 and it is very predictable for development times regardless of dilution.

Pyrocat HD on the other hand seems to have a wide variety of users with differing dilutions, times, agitation methods, and films. So I consulted an expert via a post in Facebook large format group, Steve Sherman. Steve recommended 1.5 : 1 :175 for 25 mins as a starting point for normal development agitating at 1/3 time points (semi stand). After more research I learned that development time is a factor of not only temperature but also agitation methods used and desired contrast. Normal dilution is 1:1:100 by the inventor, Sandy King, but he likes to use rotary agitation and has much shorter development times. However, he also has recommendations for increasing times for other methods. So what to do? I hate film testing and just decided to guesstimate and see what happens.

I knew I had rated Ilford FP4 at 80 vs box speed of 125 so would need to reduce time a bit. This is habit and yields a better negative with HC-110 for me. I had used an average meter reading dark and light spots so felt I was well within the  film latitude so no time adjustment needed. If I were doing a single sheet I may have added time for the River shot to boost contrast.

My 4×5 tank needs 475ml to cover the film but 500 overflows it so I would use slightly less dilution than Steve’s recommendation and would have to adjust time downward again. Less dilution = more activity of the developer.

Indoor temp was about 70 degrees so I aimed for that and figured a little less time.

So with all the input I came up with roughly 4.5ml A+3ml B+470ml Water = 477.5ml (1.5:1:157) @ 20Mins with 4 minute agitation intervals(30 seconds of tank inversions at 4,8,12,and 16 minutes). I also estimated I could have used 1:1:100@12mins with 1 minute agitations for normal contrast.

Overall procedure: Pre-soak 5 mins. Pyrocat HD as described above. Plain water Stop bath for about a minute. TF4 Fixer from Photographers Formulary (mix 1:3) for 4mins. 20 minute wash with fill and dump every minute, with last minute using photo-flow in the rinse. Hang it up to dry.

First Impressions: The negatives are lively but a little thinner than I am used to with HC-110. I can see so much more shadow detail on  the river shots but it was fairly low contrast to begin with. The tree shot is well within the latitude of the film. The stain is a nice golden brown color even in the dark areas of the film. No obvious scratches or problems from the tank or agitation method. In the future I will likely make 2 of each shot where feasible so I can learn how to adjust the final product without too much formal film testing.

First Prints: Contact prints showed the images were very printable and had about the contrast that I expected. The images enlarged easily but were short exposure times as I expected. See Fallen Tree at Preacher Rock and Cooper Creek images.