Ginkgo leaves on expired Vericolor film

Rainy Sunday. Had the studio strobes setup for a bit reproduction. Some ginkgo biloba leaves I picked up in my parents’ backyard were sitting in a tiny vase, waiting. Some old Kodak Vericolor film loaded in cassettes. Heck…why not?

Here are the facts. Or as close as I’ll ever get to facts.

  1. The ginkgo biloba is sometimes characterized as a living fossil. Be that as it may, its leaves certainly are uniquely shaped and they turn a beautiful range of yellows in autumn. It’s a short-lived spectacle – the first autumn gust will take them down.
  2. Kodak Vericolor II HC was a C41 color negative film from the early 1990s. The HC stood for (I think) ‘high contrast’. Like with Portra later on, there were different variants of essentially the same product. There was Portra VC (which I think stood for ‘vivid colors’). I believe this Vericolor HC stuff was the predecessor to Portra VC. Well, that’s all gone now. But I do have a small stash of Vericolor HC 13x18cm sheets that I’ve started to cut down to 4×5″ to use up.
  3. Color sheet film has a magic appeal to me. That’s a hard fact.
  4. I had only used that little bottle of C41 developer for two sheets of 4×5, a week or so ago. And while I never do this, I couldn’t help myself and wanted to eek some more use from it. This is just irrational.
  5. If you’re going to throw all common sense out of the window, might as well wing it in terms of temperature as well. Who cares, right?
  6. If you’ve got the strobes setup already for repro work, using them for an impromptu studio shot takes no time at all.
Kodak Vericolor HC. It’s also Veriexpired.

So I shot two sheets and processed them. I didn’t feel like filling up the Jobo CPE2 for two lousy sheets and waiting for it to come to temperature. So instead, I just dumped my chemistry into some beakers, put the beakers in a plastic tray and filled the tray with hot water.

Rather than waiting for everything to hit exactly the right temperature, I lazily sampled the temperature at an opportune moment, found it was around 41C (41C, C41 – what’s the difference, huh!), looked up a seemingly suitable development time in a time/temperature compensation chart and went to town.

I based the temperature-compensated development time on the times I once got with a Rollei Digibase C41 kit. I plotted those times several years ago and in my old darkroom, I had a printout of that chart over the sink area. Here is said chart:

About the chart above: the times for 20C, 25C and 37.8C are given by Rollei: 21, 13 3.25 and 2 minutes, respectively. I had Excel make an exponential trend line so the intermediate times are easier to read out. An downward exponential curve seems to fit the times quite well, as to be expected. Note that the extrapolation to 15C is exceedingly sketchy and I wouldn’t recommend going that far. In fact, if you want the best results from C41, just stick to the rules. But hey, this film expired ages ago anyway, so what gives.

I added a little to the time because I figured the developer would cool down while in the tray, and I’d rather have a little too much density to print through than not enough. There’s no recovery of lost shadows due to insufficient development, but a dense highlight can always be tamed in a number of ways. For the 41C-sheet I think I used a time of around 2m30s.

The other sheet I processed in a similar way, but this time the developer turned out to be 38C-ish when I started development, so I stuck to the standard time of 3m15s.

I printed both sheets onto FUJIFILM DPII paper. Since I was being lazy, I didn’t bother with setting up the RCP20 roller transport processor for this and instead just dunked some developer, stop bath and blix into trays, without heating anything up at all, and set the timer to a liberal 2 minutes’ development time. When processing just a couple of prints, it’s a lot faster this way than setting up the machine, waiting it to come to temperature and drain and clean it afterwards.

Here’s how that first sheet turned out as a print:

Color balancing was a little haphazard, I admit. The red shadows are mostly due to the fact that I left the modeling light on when doing the flash exposures. Since my 200Ws strobe didn’t cut it by a long shot, with a softbox mounted over it, the bellows compensation factor and stopping down to f/32 or so, I had to deliver something like 16 consecutive flashes to get the correct exposure. This meant I was also adding several seconds of tungsten exposure to the sheet, and this has warmed things up considerably, color-wise. At least the foreground.

Overall, the sheet is easy to print; I burned in the highlights on the left a bit to keep the scene a little bit away from paper white (even though it’s really a white paper foreground…). I also burned in the background a little to ensure it went pitch black, although it wasn’t really necessary as the separation in density between fore- and background turned out to be plenty good enough as it was.

The other sheet turned out a little less dense/contrasty, as said probably due to not applying a safety margin in development time, and it’s also noticeably cooler in terms of color balance because there was no tungsten exposure added to the strobes this round, as I turned off the modeling light for this shot.

Again, a little burning in on the left side and on the background.

There’s one thing I’m really not happy with, though. The light area around the vase is distinctly blue in both sheets. It was white paper, in reality, with no optical brightening agents, so there’s no reason for them to be this blue. But if I balance the print for a more neutral white, the rest of the scene goes yellow. Crossover, in a word…

Well, don’t forget this film expired 30 years ago, so it’s to be expected. And I cut corners just about everywhere in the process. In the end, it’s all going to show up in the print, of course.

So, is there nothing we can do about this? Well, apart from shooting again and doing everything by the book on fresh film. I’m not going to do that for this quick & dirty shot – it would defy the purpose. But for sake of the argument: yes, there must be a way. I have half a mind to reprint these negatives soon, and perhaps try and work around the crossover issue a bit.

But I’m going to reserve that for another piece that I hope to write soon!

2 thoughts on “Ginkgo leaves on expired Vericolor film”

  1. This is a timely post for me. I plan on exposing some Vericolor 8×20 that expired in 1997. I couldn’t pass by it for the price and judging by your results so far I’m hopeful it will work for my purposes. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Let me know how it turns out! My film was allegedly refrigerated all the time, but even so it has kept remarkably well. I hope yours has fared similarly!

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