I am interested in using the paper negative process for exploring tonality in indoor settings. An interesting place to start would be to look at whether the principles set out by William Mortenson in his book ‘On the Negative’ can be applied to paper negatives. Mortenson argued that in situations of tone-revealing light (as opposed to texture-revealing light) when the tonal range is short, underexposure and overdevelopment is a better strategy for obtaining a pictorial look than overexposure and underdevelopment. In today’s money that is push processing is preferred to pull processing. Mortenson called this optimal pictorial negative ‘7-D’ 1.
However we need to amend the approach as described by Mortenson. Under or over developed paper negatives tend to be correspondingly very thin or very dense and therefore not much use can be made of them. Paper has a much steeper H&D curve than film. So what I want to do is to compare under and overexposure having regard to the right snatch point at which to stop the development process – that is development by inspection. More simply put: do I prefer overexposure or underexposure for tonal-revealing light?
I set up my 5×7 camera loaded with Ilfospeed paper in front of my usual test scene.
I chose a dull day with a low tonal range (EV range of between 3 and 4) and I set up a reflector at 15 degrees to the axis of the camera-subject plane to give some tonal-revealing light.
Two pictures were taken at a speed of ISO 25 and two at ISO speed of 6. My normal speed for this paper is 12.
I processed the negatives in Multigrade 1+9 at 20C.
I scanned the negatives with an Epson v850, adjusted the histograms for black and white points, inverted the images, straightened the scans and spotted out any dust. No other adjustments were made.
So what criteria to judge by? Well, I’m looking for pictoriality, if that’s a word. The type 7 image shows a more realistic interpretation. But in my opinion the tonal qualities of the type 3 image are more interesting. As you would expect, pulling the picture reduces the glare of the window and reduces overall contrast. A picture is more effective if it has sparse black and white accents and if the major subject (here, the vase) is lit up.
The mottled wall is caused by the lack of even development which follows from such a short development bath (20 seconds). The way to resolve this would be to double the dilution of the developer and double the time to the snatch point, thereby allowing time for a more even development.
Paper negatives are inherently high contrast. One of the challenges of using paper negs is to control contrast. So I suppose it is not surprising that erring on the side of over exposure and under development produces a negative that is more interesting and easier to use. This seems to be the case even in the situation of a low EV range and tonal-revealing light.
- In a grid of 9 negatives arranged in threes on one axis by exposure and the other by development time, the underexposed/overdeveloped negative would occupy the seventh position ↩