Yesterday I made some prints. Small ones. Firstly, because I like small prints. Secondly, I had made tissue last week and wanted to try it out. Thirdly, I had these negatives sitting here and they weren’t particularly suited for what they were intended to do, so I gave it a shot with carbon transfer. When life gives you lemons, eh? Well, this lemon here I grew all by myself!
First, the good stuff: the prints came out really nice. At least one of them. I generally make carbon prints by the pair. Somehow this works for me in terms of alternating between one print and another, and generally fits conveniently in the space I have here. I do need to keep track of what I’m doing, because otherwise I get the exposure parameters mixed up and that’s inconvenient if I want to redo a print with a little different contrast or exposure. That’s why my desk area is littered with tiny scraps of paper. Like this:
The tiny cards in the lower half of the image above I make as I’m working on a print. These ones represent a tissue with 1%w/v India ink and some glycerin added to it, so I can identify the tissue I’ve used. The next line (if you can read it) says “0.5ml 8% B”, which means I sensitized it with 0.5ml of an 8% ammonium dichromate solution, and I used a foam brush to apply it. The foam brush works fine for smaller tissues, but for 8×10’s I’m currently using a foam roller, which works so much better at that size. The third line gives the exposure time; one print I baked for 840 seconds, the other for 1020 seconds. The second negative was rather dense, you see.
Believe it or not, but I guessed these parameters and obtained a decent print of both negatives on the first try! I guess my standards are low or something. Well, one came out really nice, the other is just a negative that doesn’t work that well for me in any case. I’ll get back to that below. First, let’s have a look at these prints:
Aren’t they cute when they just come out of the bath, all wet and slippery? Twenty square inches of delicate mess. Each printing process has its own magic. If you ask me, for carbon transfer, it’s this stage in printing: as the print goes through the first stage of drying and the somewhat amorphous moonscape of blubber starts to dry into sharply defined details that rise a little above the paper surface. Sure, they’re still very nice when dry, but that semi-wet stage, that’s just the best. Here they are, all dried up and scanned:
Scanning is magic as well, but more like black magic in my opinion. Or perhaps I should just acknowledge that like anything in photography, scanning is also an expertise, and not one I have really mastered (or likely ever will). As a result, it’s black magic in my hands – it distorts reality and either smears mud across its pretty face, or makes something shine that doesn’t quite shine that way in real life. This time, it’s a bit more of the latter, especially for the right-hand print. It looks OK on my monitor, but the real print is somewhat anemic. It has to do with some mistakes I made earlier. Yes, I’ll come back to that. The left-side print I really like. The scan is nice, but the real print is even nicer.
One thing I like so much about contact prints from sheet film is the seemingly infinite layers of definition and detail they seem to have. It’s the primary reason the digital negatives from my Epson 3880 never really convinced me. Look close enough, and it’s little inkjet dots. I’m sure LVT film recorders or imagesetter negatives are far better in this respect, and I’d probably be very happy with them. I’d probably not be very happy with the costs associated with acquiring and maintaining the equipment to make them. In that sense, large format film is cheap, even though prices of everything have exploded lately. At less than € 1 a pop, I can make a 4×5″ B&W negative that just oozes detail. The left-side print of the footpath is an example; in real life, the crisp detail in the foliage jumps at you even before you can actually make out how well-defined it is. In fact, I think I might just frame this print.
Alright, snap out of it! Back to reality. There’s a problem with print #2 and it’s not the print. I already mentioned I exposed this for around 25% longer than the other one, and it came out sort of anemic looking. The cause is pretty simple, and two-fold: this negative is double cooked. It received ample exposure – too much, in fact. And it took a rather long bath in the developer as well. What happened?
I actually shot two sheets of this scene. The other sheet I exposed less liberally and that negative is actually pretty nice, but I have not (yet) made a carbon transfer of it. I have made a couple of silver gelatin prints of that negative, and it has potential. This negative though, was sort of the backup shot. I exposed for the shadows, and downrated the film to begin with, to be sure I got all the shadow detail I would need in later printing. Despite broad daylight, underneath beech trees, there’s not all that much light, so I also factored in reciprocity failure – perhaps a bit liberally. I had stopped way down, so exposure was something in the 10 second range, give or take a few.
I used Fomapan 200, which I’ve shot quite a bit of in the past few years, but never for long enough periods to really get used to it. Part of it has to do with the problems it’s plagued by in 120 format. This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about:
So I mostly preferred the 100 version, as it is generally free of these problems in all formats, and it’s kind of convenient to use the same film across several formats. Kind of ironic, this, because I don’t shoot a lot of 120 anyway, so in a way, it’s odd that I would let the problems specifically associated with that particular film and that particular confectioning lead me away from it.
Anyway, I’ve never quite turned away from Fomapan 200 either, so recently I got some more. I was running out of sheet film, mostly 4×5″, so instead of getting the 100, I got some 200. And a box in 8×10″ too, just for good measure. Now, the thing is: Fomapan 100 needs quite a bit of development to build good density. Fomapan 200 is triggerfinger stuff – it will apparently develop by merely waving it in the vicinity of a cupboard containing developer bottles. All joking aside, it really develops fast (but fixes much slower than Fomapan 100, since it’s a hybrid-grain film instead of purely cubic crystal).
Add to this perfect storm of excessive density is the fact that lately, I’ve been doing a lot of carbon transfer, so I have gotten used to making bullet proof negatives. What do you mean, “too much density” – there’s no such thing, hah! Well, sure, but this negative was primarily intended for enlargement, so silver gelatin printing. Different world, and all that.
Then there’s one more thing. Since making those nifty BTZS-style development tubes, I’ve been doing reduced agitation development, which is to say, agitate every 4 or 5 minutes and extend development a bit. I’ve been using Pyrocat HD for this, and with Fomapan 100 in 8×10″, I generally just use it in the regular 1+1+100 dilution and give it something like 45 minutes of development. Yes, that’s a lot, but if you only agitate every 5 minutes and you want your negatives well-cooked (yes Chef, I’ll take this one ‘bien cuit’, thank you very much), then it’s not all that excessive. Unless it’s Fomapan 200, that is.
Yes, I knew perfectly well that I had to reduce development compared to the 100 version. I really did. I tried 25 minutes or even 20, I don’t remember, but I cut back drastically on the 45 minutes. But I still stuck to my usual 1+1+100 dilution – or rather 1+1+125, because that works out conveniently with my 4×5″ tube, which takes exactly 125ml. Turns out that this is rather liberal. Combined with the ample exposure, this negative is pretty darn hard to see through all across the board. And while for carbon printing that’s not necessarily a problem, (1) it is highly inconvenient for silver gelatin and (2) the combination of overexposure and overdevelopment does push pretty much the entire scene onto the shoulder of the film, it seems. And that doesn’t look all that nice, I must admit.
So, back to the drawing board, at least for developing Fomapan 200 sheet film. Because there does seem to be a nice acutance thing going on going by the other print, and it would be nice to get that right in terms of tonal scale as well.