How to achieve high contrast and grain like in the photos of Ken Schles?

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littlebird

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I've seen some photos from Ken Schles's Invisible City series. My question is, how can I achieve something similar to this look with 120 format film? Do I need some high-contrast developer or can I use D-76?
 

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Sirius Glass

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Welcome to Photrio! Great question. Lighting has a lot to do with the contrast in the first photograph.
 

Maris

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The grain in the positive is a map of the "spaces" between the grains of the negative. For those "spaces" to well separated the negative should be dense.
Sharp edged grain is enhanced by using a non-solvent developer like Rodinal, not D76.
Grain and contrast are both exaggerated if those dense negatives are printed on contrasty photographic paper.
I get detectable grain from 120 format Ilford Delta 3200 film exposed at EI 800, developed in Xtol-R, and printed to 8x10 size. And I'm not even trying for grain.
 

awty

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You need to learn how to edit in the darkroom or lightroom. The look has little to do with film, developer or cameras. Grain is on all film, it's just more apparent on smaller films and faster speed. If you print big enough you can get on large format.
 

Pieter12

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You need to learn how to edit in the darkroom or lightroom. The look has little to do with film, developer or cameras. Grain is on all film, it's just more apparent on smaller films and faster speed. If you print big enough you can get on large format.

Or if you simply crop into a small area of the negative.
 

awty

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I think if you spent around 10 hours a week for 5 years using a darkroom or lightroom you will start to appreciate just how much editing goes into one of his pictures and how much skill is required to accomplish that look. Not that you'll be able to duplicate it, that would require 40 hours a week over the same time frame, as well as taking photos.
 

Pieter12

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I think if you spent around 10 hours a week for 5 years using a darkroom or lightroom you will start to appreciate just how much editing goes into one of his pictures and how much skill is required to accomplish that look. Not that you'll be able to duplicate it, that would require 40 hours a week over the same time frame, as well as taking photos.

Individual results may vary.
 

ic-racer

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He is a master printer. Did you get a chance to read the photographer's own account of why the images look that way? He gives away a lot of info.

... I worked as a custom printer for the likes of Magnum photographers Gilles Peress, Eliott Erwitt, Burt Glinn, Erich Hartmann and others who were quite exacting....The photogravure printing of the first edition of Invisible City gave the work another dimension that was hard to replicate (and played nicely off my very contrasty prints). After the work came out in book form, the work became known in that way. A funny thing to say, but I even identified the work with that gravure printing technique. The fact was that the original/traditional silver gelatin prints didn’t look like the gravure and the gravure didn’t have qualities of the silver prints. The look of the book was something I tried to replicate with available silver papers, largely failing. I shouldn’t say failing: it was simply different. A different interpretation. Over the years I sometimes moved radically far in that interpretation. For a time I used a very warm Hungarian paper called Fortezo....

 
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koraks

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My question is, how can I achieve something similar to this look with 120 format film?

Welcome to Photrio!
My first suggestion would be to drop the 120 format in favor of 35mm. You need to resort to extremes to get this kind of grittiness from medium format. Even with Delta 3200 etc. you'll have relatively smooth images compared to the examples you show.

Then shoot a somewhat fast film (HP5+, TriX), underexpose it a bit, and give strong development.
When printing in the darkroom, print at grade 5 and control overall contrast by burning & dodging. In Photoshop etc., use adjustment layers with the contrast cranked up all the way for each part of the image and use selective masking to achieve the same effect as burning & dodging in the darkroom.
 

250swb

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Are we allowed to mention Photoshop? I guess we are, so Photoshop with the Silver Efex Pro plugin will get you pretty much the required effect out of any well exposed negative even if it's low contrast and grain free as your starting point, and with little effort. As we've learned the magic bullet to the OP's question wasn't in the film and developer anyway but darkroom skills and having the vision. So if you don't have a darkroom substitute it with PS and a dedicated B&W film emulation tool. I know many people will think of it as 'cheating' but the entire history of photography is overflowing with examples of how darkroom skills/post processing fundamentally change your perceptions of a scene.
 
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littlebird

littlebird

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Thanks for all the help! I shot quite a lot of rolls of 35mm HP5+ over the past months mostly pushed with 1 or 2 stops and developed in Rodinal and the contrast was high (even when printed on grade 3 paper) but I could never achieve such grain. I don't want to copy him but I like to try different styles for fun.

So in my understanding, if I use grade 5 paper (or VC paper with filters) and I print larger or crop a part of the negative I should be able to get granier and more contrasty prints.
 

koraks

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So in my understanding, if I use grade 5 paper (or VC paper with filters) and I print larger or crop a part of the negative I should be able to get granier and more contrasty prints.

Yes, this will surely help.
You're on the right track with the HP5+ pushed in Rodinal, too.

@Sirius Glass also makes a valid comment about subject matter; it's hard to get this look from a bland scene, so you'll have to look for the right kind of light. But then again...that's pretty much always the case in any kind of photography!
 

ic-racer

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The standard recipe for exaggeration of grain is under development, allowing the use of high contrast paper. Kind of the opposite of push processing, where extended development of underexposed film allows printing on medium grade paper.
 

Rrrgcy

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Regardless how he did and later reproduced the original work, Is it accurate the result is described as a continuous tone with beyond tremendous shadow detail without overblowing whites and highlights?
 

Don_ih

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If you want grain with HP5, use FX37. The photo samples look like pushed TriX in 35mm to me. Anyway, you get harsh grain from development.

It also helps to have a lens that's not giving you any softness. So a good coated prime on a rangefinder.

Pretty much everything everyone above has said seems valid to me.
 

Sirius Glass

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The second photograph is backlit with the hair highlights over exposed to bring out a halo effect. For us mortals several different exposures would be needed to achieve this effect.
 

revdoc

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The standard recipe for exaggeration of grain is under development, allowing the use of high contrast paper. Kind of the opposite of push processing, where extended development of underexposed film allows printing on medium grade paper.

This.

You want a very dense neg with low contrast that you can print on grade 4 or 5. I find that works better than just pushing on its own, though adding push processing this will increase grain even more, at the expense of being harder to print.

Starting with a grainy film makes an even bigger difference. Either of the 3200 films is a goog choice.
 

250swb

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So in my understanding, if I use grade 5 paper (or VC paper with filters) and I print larger or crop a part of the negative I should be able to get granier and more contrasty prints.
You will get more contrasty prints, and it probably will show more grain, but the point is that the print still needs dodging and burning which is a skill, it's not a free lunch to make prints like Schlse.
 
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