Teach me how to read a negative

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Raffay

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Hi All,

I am attaching a negative for your review that I developed last night. The film is Ilford FP4 developed in D23 stock. Exposure @ ISO 125 f11 1/2 sec. To me the negative seems foggy or whatever that is a milky layer. I am not sure how to read it, I mean is it dense, thin properly exposed etc. Would appreciate if you all could comment so that I know how to read them and then more importantly what/how to improve. Thank you for looking:

IMG-20131116-00086.jpg

Not sure why it is coming horizontal. Taken with a BlackBerry with iPad as a light box.

Cheers

Raffay
 

MattKing

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I'm a bit concerned about evaluating a negative that is presented to me through a scan and my manually calibrated monitor, but assuming that we are lucky, and what I see on the screen matches accurately the appearance of the real thing .....

To me, the shadows look transparent, which indicates under-exposure.

And the highlights look thin, which indicates under-development.
 
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Raffay

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I developed it for 6 mins at 20 deg:

Here is the Scan:

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 10.41.01 am.png

I some what understand when you say shadows look transparent. I think that means that less detail and that could be because not enough light was received. But when you say highlight thin because of underdevelopment, I am really not clear.
Cheers

Raffay
 

MattKing

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I developed it for 6 mins at 20 deg:

Here is the Scan:

View attachment 77017

I some what understand when you say shadows look transparent. I think that means that less detail and that could be because not enough light was received. But when you say highlight thin because of underdevelopment, I am really not clear.
Cheers

Raffay

Exposure determines how much shadow detail is recorded.

Development determines how the highlights are recorded, and how much contrast your negative ends up with.

When you are evaluating negatives, you want to look at the shadows to see if you have used enough exposure to ensure detail in your shadows. You also want to look at the mid-tones and highlights, to ensure that you gave it enough development to ensure that the density builds to something a fair bit "thicker" than your shadows, but still transparent enough to reveal highlight detail.

In the old days, we used to recommend that you try to read newspaper text through the built up highlights, to ensure they were not too thick.
 
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Raffay

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This is how the newspaper looks:
9yjasyba.jpg


When you say that the highlights should be thicker than the shadows, what exactly does that mean in the newspaper test and generally. How do you read that, and what does density mean when you look at the neg.

Thank you for your input, and putting up with a novice like me.

Cheers

Raffay
 

Dan Daniel

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As Matt said in his first response, looking at negatives over the internet is very difficult. So many variables, it's hard to know what is being seen.

One thing not mentioned yet is what scanner you are using This is similar to what enlarger would be used with wet prints. Different enlargers, like different scanners, render negatives differently. I developed differently for condenser enlargers and for cold-head enlargers. When I moved from one scanner to another, I found that I needed to increase my development time. The whole image chain needs to be considered.

Your scanned image looks good to me. There is detail in the shadow areas, such as the center child's boots. Highlights retain details.

The problem is that without seeing your histograms I can't tell if your exposure and development times are making the best use of the available range in your imaging process (meaning the whole chain). Matt has hit the general principles- expose for shadows, develop for highlights. Of course these two factors- exposure and development- affect each other directly. If you underexpose and then 'properly' develop, your highlights will still be thin because they are, well, underexposed to begin with. And overexposure, similar problems in the other direction- the highlights will be overdeveloped.

Basically what happens is that in the shadow area, after a certain point in time, NO amount of increased development will lead to a (significant) increase in shadow density and detail (fogging may increase base density but not contrast). This is why you expose for the shadows- you either get the information on the film when exposed, or it is gone. In the areas with the MOST exposure, development TIME will be key. It will determine maximum density, and usable maximum density depends on the printing system. The range between these two points-- darkest shadows and lightest highlights- will determine the contrast of the image. To make things even more fun, the film's response to both minimal exposure and maximum development is not linear. And now you are in the realm of the S-curve. One introduction- http://home.comcast.net/~amitphotography/article character curves dvickers.htm

To be clear, it is only by evaluating the full chain that you can decide what is the proper exposure and development. I would agree with Matt- the negative looks thin to me. But if it scans and prints as you want, then it is perfectly exposed and developed for your image chain.

[Edit: you posted the newspaper image while I wrote.Maybe Matt worked under a different system, but when I was told to look if I could see newsprint through a negative, this was under reflected light, not transmitted light. In other words, don't put the newspaper and negative on a light table (iPad or other). Put the newspaper on a table, put the negative on top, have light for reading- can you still see the print through the negative?]
 
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summicron1

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judging by what you said is a scan -- of what, a print? -- the negative should be fine. I tried inverting the original image of the negative in photoshop and it ends up looking milky and pretty crappy.

Offhand, I'd say for negatives you want a nice blend of blacks and whites and tones in between -- looking at a negative you shouldn't see any totally black areas that would indicate the negative is over exposed, you don't want just blacks and whites, which would indicate too contrasty, no cloudyness or fog. Beyond that, make a print. -- it is really impossible to judge a negative any more than that from a scan on a computer screen taken with an ipad in a light box. Really, the final print is all that matters. A good printer can make an iffy negative look really good.


inverted.jpg

And worrying whether you can see a newspaper through the negative is a waste of time. Totally irrelevant. I've gotten amazing prints from such negatives.

Make prints from your negatives, compare what negatives give you good prints with those that give you bad prints, and strive to make your negatives look like those that give you good prints. This is called "experience" and it is all that matters.
 
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Raffay

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Is it possible you guys to share a good negative, having a visual reference would be great.

Raffay
 

StoneNYC

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Is it possible you guys to share a good negative, having a visual reference would be great.

Raffay

These guys are tough, they will give you advice then say "but we can't really tell because we aren't there" and then give more advice, and then say well you need to make a print, then you explain you don't have access to that and can only scan, and then they say, "you should just print, that is the "only way" etc" haha, not saying these guys aren't helpful nor knowledgeable, I'm saying, be strong and don't give up, and don't think these guys are NOT helpful, they are, and they know WAY too much, and sometimes forget when new people are learning, they need simple explanations at first, then late can build on that...

Anyway, based on the image, it does look TO ME like your negative is SLIGHTLY underexposed, but I think you developed it just fine. The scan looks good except I think between the legs of the kids the light drops off way more suddenly than it should, which to ME indicates it's SLIGHTLY under exposed... but again, what do I know? I've been doing this for 3 years by hand (processing) but no one's ever evaluated my negatives either HAH!

And as someone else said, your scanner may scan differently than my scanner.

Keep it up, overall it's a great shot :smile:
 
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Raffay

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I am scanning with epson 4990 Vuescan. Thank you for the supportive comments everyone.

Cheers

Raffay
 
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Raffay,

The negative is just the template for a print. If you are happy with the amount of shadow detail you are getting (i.e., not being disturbed by featureless black areas or wishing you could see something in those black areas), then you are exposing adequately for your vision.

As far as development: If you plan to scan, then working with a rather thin negative (for traditional printing anyway) has some advantages. As long as you get the highlights you want, the development is adequate.

I think the print you posted looks just great, so you are exposing and developing fine for that workflow.

If you plan to print traditionally at any point (this is APUG...) then your exposure/development parameters will be a little tighter. You may find that thinner negatives that scan well produce rather muddy prints and that you will have to use high contrast settings and maybe still be fighting to get enough contrast. Additionally, you may find that real photo paper requires a negative with more exposure in order to give you acceptable blacks in the shadow areas of your negative.

And, just to satisfy Stone, you will have to make a print (or several!) to find this out. After more than 30 years of black-and-white printing, I still cannot just "look" at a negative and tell you how it will print, or what grade of paper to use, etc. One can spot grave errors (e.g. underexposure, overdevelopment, underdevelopment) but the nuances appear during printing.

The thing is to tailor your negative for your workflow and print medium. Perhaps the best advice came from Kodak years ago: "If your negatives yield consistently too little shadow detail, increase exposure. If they are consistently too flat, increase development. If they are consistently too contrasty, reduce development." (Notice I left out overexposure... unless you overexpose by 3 stops or more, you'll likely still end up with a very printable negative. Generally speaking, overexposure is much less of a problem than underexposure).

In short, I "read" a negative by seeing how it prints. Yes, I can tell if I've made a grave exposure or development error (or bad choice) when the negative comes out of the fix, but that is only because I have printed thousands of negatives and know kind of how a negative that prints well looks. Still, however, the impression is really general and I continue to be surprised by being able to easily get good prints from negatives that look "hard to deal with" or how much of a pain to print a "nice looking" negative can often be.

If at some point you wish to move on to one of the exposure and development systems (e.g., Zone System), then there are tons of things to read here, other places on the web and, of course, there are wonderful old-fashioned things called books that contain a lot of valuable information too (although they are difficult to search... you have to use the index :smile: )

Best,

Doremus
 

StoneNYC

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...And, just to satisfy Stone, you will have to make a print (or several!) to find this out....

... of course, there are wonderful old-fashioned things called books that contain a lot of valuable information too (although they are difficult to search... you have to use the index :smile: )

Hah! I knew it!! :smile:

Also, my dad just got me the Darkroom Cookbook as a surprise gift, it's made of paper and when I tap the front cover it doesn't seem to want to "turn on", I think it's broken... LOL
 

markbarendt

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Given what you've shown, I'd actually say you did just fine Raffay, there is detail everywhere that I would expect or want it, strong blacks (like between the legs) in most B&W photos are to me important, they provide a visual anchor. The tones in the rest of the photo came out very nice in the positive too. In my book that means you got a very workable negative.

Can't tell from the shots if the rebate (the edges) are clear, are they?

There are good reasons for us to say print it.

First and formost is that the character of an analog print is a dance between the character of the film, the character of the paper, and how you use them. The number of variables are pretty limited.

The digital process though adds a lot of variables; each scanner has its own character, each scanner software program has its own overall biases, within that each option, switch, and check box in the software adds another variable, throw in editing programs biases and choices, your printer, it's software, and the paper you choose.

The problem becomes twofold: 1) discussing the details of the digital process is "off topic" here, since APUG's purpose is centered around non-digital methods and; 2) what really happened on your film may be buried in a lot of digital clutter or by an automatic process.

The point of encouraging you and Stone to print is to give our conversations here a common frame of reference, as well as to get you to see what a real analog print from your own negative looks like.
 

jp498

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I can usually "read" a negative looking at it, except that I can be wrong sometimes about picking contrast grades for printing a pyro developed negative. The clues about shadows are spot on for fine tuning exposure. I'd also suggest more exposure next time for the shadows and a little more time or agitation for the highlights which are milky instead of dark. There is nothing really dark in the negative to correspond with the bright shirts of the girls. You want more darkness there on the negative.

When in the scanner, using epson scan, if most of the histogram is on the left, it's a weak negative. If it's middle and right, it's good. If it's too far right, it's overexposed and/or overdeveloped. You can scan successfully weaker negatives than you can print, but going too weak means detail and dynamic range are not captured.
 

Etr420

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With FP4+ and D23 stock (my usual developer), I expose at 50ISO and develop for 6:45, or expose at 125ISO and develop for 8:00 minutes. This is in a small (Nikkor) tank, agitated continuously for the first 30 seconds, then 5 seconds gentle inversions per minute. Timing starts at the end of pour-in and finishes at the end of pour-out. Basically my starting point with D23 is 75% of Ilford's published times for Perceptol stock. According to this system, if you were using the same metering, tank, agitation etc your negative would be a little under-developed. My approach to metering ranges from sunny 16 to measuring shadows with a spot meter. Ed
 

ic-racer

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The overall contrast of a negative will be about six tenths that of the scene or a good print. So it is normal to look a little flat or lacking contrast. Your negative's density range looks ok in that scan from the original post. Have you tried printing it yet?
 
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Raffay

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The overall contrast of a negative will be about six tenths that of the scene or a good print. So it is normal to look a little flat or lacking contrast. Your negative's density range looks ok in that scan from the original post. Have you tried printing it yet?

Unfortunately don't have a printer. I am thinking of starting contact printing as it will include purchasing nothing and 4x5 seems to be a decent size. Although this is not the forum but any basic printer recommendations?

Cheers

Raffay
 

removed account4

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hey Raffay
beautiful negative, and good job getting those kids to stand still
and not look totally like ' hurry up and press the button" and then run around
to where you were standing to " see their image" happens to me all the time :smile:

if/when you start to contact print, you might want to expose a little more and process a little more
( im a bad example of this since a lot of my contact print film is hard to see through but prints great : )
its a very easy process ( contact printing ) that takes a little practice, a light bulb and 2 or 3 trays of chemistry ..
or it can be as complicated as you ( and others here ) may want to make it ... me?
i like to keep it simple ...

good to see you're having fun :smile:
john
 

Alan Klein

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I don't know anything about developing and printing. But the final image is wonderful. Looks great to my eyes in its tones, contrast, and sharpness and (your?) kids are just cute. They seem well mannered and good models who followed their father's instruction in posing just wonderfully. Well done.
 

cowanw

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This is how the newspaper looks:
9yjasyba.jpg


When you say that the highlights should be thicker than the shadows, what exactly does that mean in the newspaper test and generally. How do you read that, and what does density mean when you look at the neg.

Thank you for your input, and putting up with a novice like me.

Cheers

Raffay
My suggestion wold be to bite the bullet and take two identical pictures, develop one for your 6 minutes and develop the other for 10 minutes, Then you will know what development does.
Similarly expose two shots, one for the correct exposure and one 2 stops more; develop both the same length of time.
In 4 sheets you will understand how to proceed.
 

removed account4

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the thing is depending on how the image will be made a "dood negative" will look different,
contact print negatives and cold light enlarging negatives have a different density than a condenser enlarger or skhann negative ... so as you might have guessed you should tailor mAke your negatives for whatever process you want to print them with ... and if you ever want to make platinum, salt oe cyanotype prints, those negatives will look different as well.

john
 
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Raffay

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Hi,

Here is another shot, same place/time. Exposed a little more and developed for three more minutes. The new neg on the left seems more dense to me.
photo.JPG

Here is the histogram:
Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 10.56.05 pm.png

Final scan:
Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 11.20.02 pm.png

The focus is quite out, and there is a lot of dust, not sure how to control it.

Cheers

Raffay
 

cliveh

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Raffay, your picture looks pretty good to me and I'm sure the dust and focus is something you will sort out in the course of time. In terms of reading a negative, one of the most useful things to look at are the edge markings of numbers and words. These are put on by the film manufacturer and their density or lack of it tells you a lot about your development time/temperature. I can't see any on yours, but they may appear on the edge of other negs on the same roll.
 
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Raffay

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Raffay, your picture looks pretty good to me and I'm sure the dust and focus is something you will sort out in the course of time. In terms of reading a negative, one of the most useful things to look at are the edge markings of numbers and words. These are put on by the film manufacturer and their density or lack of it tells you a lot about your development time/temperature. I can't see any on yours, but they may appear on the edge of other negs on the same roll.

The holding tray of the scanner hides the edges, hence can't see the numbers on the negative.

Cheers

Raffay
 
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