Developing B&W Film

As part of my return to a film workflow, I decided to work through my backlog of film. These are 35mm and 120 rolls of both B&W as well as color, which I’ve shot over the past year. (On expired film, no less!) I don’t have the chemicals yet for C-41 processing, but I did get what I needed for B&W. Last night, I developed one roll of 120, and two 35mm rolls. These were shot on a Holga, a Lomo LC-A, and a Leica M6.

Old habits die hard, and after a few minutes, I was back in my groove, able to process without thinking too much. After drying, I realized how important a good light box is, as I tried to use a flashlight and some paper to see my new negatives. What really stood out for me, were the images from the M6. Not only did it appear to have more keepers, but even photos I struggled to capture, seem to have come out ok. Once I digitize these, I’ll get a better look at the performance of each of these cameras.

Some tips for those wishing to develop their own B&W film:

  1. Use a Patterson tank, and double check the required volume of liquids (written on the bottom). This really helps save on chemicals!
  2. Use glass jars to store your chemicals. Photographer’s Formulary is a nice brand, and I like their amber colored containers. They also come with caps!
  3. Add in glass marbles to fill up the empty head space in those jars. This will help your chemicals store longer. Also store them in dark, cool area.
  4. Label all those jars! I have added information for developer type, mix date, and how many rolls processed (counting 120 as 2), for the stop and fixer. (I reuse these)
  5. You don’t have to wait 24 hours for freshly mixed developer, just make sure it is dissolved properly.
  6. Make notes for chemical types. Use it like a cheat sheet during processing.
  7. LabTimer for the iPhone is great, and simple to use.
  8. Pipe in some music to help pass the time.

I still have a few more rolls to process, and I just got some Portra 120 to experiment on. I have plans to visit the local badlands in Central California, in a few weeks, to try out creating some medium format landscapes. Film is back, and it’s better than ever!

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Macro Tip: Controlling Depth of Field

Continuing on the macro tips from this week, here is another for how to control your depth of field outside of adjusting your f/stop. When you are composing your image, pay attention to the relative angle from your camera (more specifically, the camera plane) vs the subject. You will gain the most depth of field, when the camera  plane is perpendicular to the subject, instead of off to an angle. The concept is similar to how the sky changes colors in the morning and evening. This is because the light has to pass through a greater layer of the atmosphere during that time, distorting the color. (And why the mid-day sun is so bright and powerful vs the breaking dawn or setting sun.) For those who are amateur astronomers, the same concept applies when looking out into space. Looking up overhead will always provide the clearest view over looking at something close to the horizon. Again, this has to do with the amount of atmosphere the light has to pass through.

Light entering the atmosphere at a lower angle has to travel through more air, suffering from distortion. Light higher up does not travel as far, and is less likely to be distorted.

Similar to the atmosphere, macros shot at an angle will have a higher chance of distortion. To maintain sharpness, increase the angle to the subject by placing the camera plane perpendicular to the subject.

So by keeping the camera plane perpendicular to the subject, you minimize the distance light has to travel, and with macros, that can make a huge difference!

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Macro Photography: Add A Bit of Flash

Macro photography is known for finicky depth of field. This is usually the limitation of available light, f/stop, and noise mitigation. Either jack up the ISO to support an f/32 photo, or sacrifice on the depth of field. What if you could get greater depth of field and stop action at the same time?

A tulip taken with the Nikkor 105mm Micro lens.

The technique is simple, just add a flash unit to your macro setup. It works best with an off camera, diffused flash triggered in commander mode (wireless), but even attached to the hot shoe, it provides decent results. Two or more flash units would allow you to get creative with lighting effects and controlling shadows. I’ve been using my Nikon D300 with an older Nikkor 105mm Micro f/2.8 D lens. (Wish I had the AF-S version!) Paired with a SB-800 Speedlight, I have all the light I need to get a greater depth of field. One extra benefit of using the flash as a primary light source, you can ditch the tripod! This is great for insect work, where the subject might be flying, hopping, or skittering through a messy pile of plant matter. The 105mm provides a nice working distance, and the subject is not so close that the lens casts a shadow in the frame. If you are particularly ambition, there are several manufacturers who produce a ring flash. Nikon sells two versions, the R1 for those who have a camera that supports commander mode (such as the D300), and the R1C1, for those who want a wireless command unit. The two Speedlights included in the kit are the perfect-sized SB-R200. Add a third, and they will all fire from the commander unit’s wireless signal.

The Nikon R1 attached to a D300.

So next time you are thinking about shooting some macros, bring along a flash unit. It may just give you that extra bit of oomph, to get the flower stamens in focus, or those insect antennae!

This lily sitting by the side of the road underneath a dark, cloudy sky, could have only been taken with a flash.

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