THE CREATIVE CORNER
Subminiature camera users are often faced with the need to reduce contrast in negatives, since many of the films that we use are special purpose micro films which are normally very high in contrast. There are several common approaches that can reduce contrast slightly, but these will only work with regular films. We need a much more radical technique. These fall into several categories, such as, special compensating developers, divided development and water bath development.
I can send you a list of special developers and techniques for free, if you send me a SASE. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1. There are several developers that are formulated to be very low in contrast. They are commonly referred to as compensating developers. These normally are formulations that leave out the hydroquinone, which is a higher contrast developer. A couple of these are listed in the DARKROOM. There are many others that are available at your local library or book store. A few books to check out are: The Negative (Ansel Adams), Photographic Developing in Practice (Geoffrey Attridge), and The Darkroom Cookbook (Stephen Anchell).
If you don't mix your own developers, you can purchase compensating developers from the various companies that make developers. There is a list of some of these companies in the LIBRARY To obtain lower contrast, a compensating developer is the easiest approach and will work fine under most conditions.
- 2. Another common approach is to use a super-diluted devloper. This approach will work with just about any developer and has the added advantage of simplicity. Whether or not you mix your own developers, all you need to do is add more water. The more dilute, the lower the contrast. You will have to increase the development time substantially, which may have unwanted or undesireable side-effects, however. If the instruction sheet does not list development times for your diluted concoction, you can run tests of your own. As with compensating developers, diluted developers will only decrease contrast to a limited extent.
- 3. Divided development is an approach that lowers contrast by slowing down the developer. To appreciate this approach, you must first understand that what we call a developer is actually several different chemicals mixed together. Only one (or two) of these ingredients is actually the developer. Normally, all the chemical ingredients are put into the developer mix all at once. With divided development, the film is first dipped into one part of the developer and then another part, in an attempt to slow down development. Most developers have an ingredient known as an accelerator. This is typically borax, but can sometimes be other compounds. In divided development, the film is first immersed in the normal developer MINUS THE ACCELERATOR. In this step, the film basically just absorbs the chemicals, since very little development can take place without the accelerator. Then the film is immersed in a bath containing only the accelerator. Here the development starts, but under very controlled conditions. Since the film has very little developer in it -- just what it could absorb in step one -- the development progresses differentially. In the highlight areas, where exposure was intense, the film quickly uses up the developer and the density increase slows down as the available developer is used up. But in the shadow areas, where little exposure occurred, developemnt can continue unabated since there is more developer than is actually needed. A very low contrast negative is the result. The shadow areas are developed normally, but the highlights are kept from becoming too dense.
Any developer can be used as a split developer. This technique will even lower the contrast of compensating developers . All you need to do is remove the accelerator and set it up as a separate, second bath. The time in the first bath is at least three minutes. Extra time is irrelevant since the film can only absorb so much developer. The time is the second bath is critical since this is where the development actually takes place.
- 4. Water bath development is similar to divided development in many ways. First, the film is immersed in the normal developer, but for a shortened peiod of time. The purpose is for the film to absorb developer as opposed to development. Then the film is placed in a bath of water. The purpose of this step is to slow the development, but the development is slowed differentially. In the highlight areas, where exposure was intense, the film quickly runs out of developer and the density increase slows. But in the shadow areas, where little exposure occurred, development continues unabated since there is more developer than is actually needed. A very low contrast negative is the result. The shadow areas are normally developed, but the highlights are kept from becoming too dense. Check out the 1-4-1-4-1-4-1 article in the August 1982 issue of Peterson'e Photographic or Ansel Adam's book The Negative.. The numbers stand for minutes in the developer and water bath -- 1 minute in the developer, 4 minutes in the water bath, one minute in the developer, four minutes in the water bath, etc. The process can be extended as long as necessary to get the desired contrast..
- 5. For super-low contrast, you can try using these techniques in combination, such as water-bath development with a dilute, compensating developer. Keep in mind that all of these techniques will normally reduce the speed of the film that you are using, and tests will need to be run to determine the correct exposure of the film.
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