Practicing enough?

December 28, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Winter continues to be a good time to work on my black-and-white skills, particularly with film.  My goal is to have interesting compositions that are sharp in focus and have broad tones.  The work comes from getting the right exposure and composition in the camera and then process the film properly.  Right now I'm sticking with Kodak TMax 100 film and Xtol developer, both because they claim fine grain and good detail for shadows and highlights.

I've done about all I can with the medium format camera, at least enough to realize the square format doesn't meet my type of compositions.  Now I'm working with an Olympus OM-1, the now antique film version rather than the modern digital one.  My lens of choice is the Zuiko 35-80 f/2.8 lens, possibly one of the sharpest lenses Olympus made for the OM series.

One advantage of the Xtol developer is it is ascorbic acid based, meaning it's not damaging to the environment like older developers.  Good for me - all my liquids go into a septic system and I'd hate for my work to cause problems there.  Although the developer is easy to use (around 6 1/2 minutes development time at 70 degrees) getting it mixed up is a little chore.  There are two powders to blend, one at a time, and the first one must be completey dissolved before adding the second one.  In the latest batch I'm seeing a precipitate that appears to be white flakes that just won't go back into solution.  Not sure what caused it but the issue shows up on other websites so it's not just me.  Other photographer's experience is to just filter the developer before use - apparently the flakes don't diminish the developer performance although they will stick to the negative and show up on the final images.  I'm seeing that in the latest roll of film so I'll be finding a fine filter to use before processing more rolls.

Here are a couple of the latest images:

This was around 3pm on a slightly overcast day.  The sun was there, just covered by a thin layer of clouds.  Thought it would be a good exercise in getting a properly exposed image and then post-processing it to give the contrast and detail I wanted.  The exposure here was probably around 1/250 sec. @ f/8.  I like the detail in the wood grain on the seats and the gravel under them.  The detail in the trees in the background makes it noisy - not enough contrast o make the individual trunks and limbs stand out.  There's still some grain in the shadows - not sure if that's the film or my processing.

A local park pavilion has set up these domes on their patio overlooking the lake, offering them to people who want to sit and chat.  Each has couches, chairs and an electric heater.  Guess they were purchased for the pandemic and now finding a use for winter fun.  Exposure here was probably 1/125 sec @ f/8.  The sun was just on the edge of thin overcast.  Again, good details in the bright areas but still some noise in the shadows, particularly the ceiling of the pavilion.  I'm pleased with the sharpness that shows up the pattern in the back of the couch.

I increased the development temperature from 65 degrees to 70 degrees to see if the contrast improved and it did.  So far I'm pleased with how the TMax is behaving and I think I know how to control the developer better.

The negatives were scanned on an ancient Minolta film scanner that, like most devices of this type, is contrary and not generally intuitive.  It only works on an old PowerPC Mac I have running, mainly just to scan negatives with the Minolta and Epson flatbed I use for medium and large format negatives.  I fear the day it just stops because it's the only way I have to turn 35mm negatives into digital files.


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