This week I took advantage of Bruce Hogben’s new darkroom and did some tray processing of 4 by 5 negatives. This was the first time I have ever tray processed  – when I had a large format camera 40 years ago, I  used an UniColor drum and Cibachrome Uniroller for my large format negatives.

I have to say I enjoyed the experience of tray processing and will certainly do it again.However, I just need to fine tune developing times as in my ignorance, I deducted 15% off my times for very gentle constant rocking of the tray.

I only had two sheets of FP4 to develop and rather than use the Jobo 3006, tray processing seemed a sensible option.I made up some fresh D-23 developer earlier in the day and diluted it 1:1 just before use. The first sheet was developed for 6.30 minutes at 21 degrees and on inspection in the wash I could see it was underdeveloped. I extended development on the second sheet to 8 minutes  and this produced a more detailed negative -not perfect but with a smooth range of tones .

Kerrs Creek 2019
Graflex Crown Graphic with 135 mm Schneider Symmar S lens

Negatives are scanned in the 4 by 5 film holders at 1800 dpi on my Epson V700 which represents an 6 x enlargement factor, enough to produce a 20 by 16 print at 360 ppi. I prefer a flat detailed scan with no clipping rather than produce the final image out of the scan- scanning software is crude at best and doesn’t allow you to carefully massage the tonal range if printing.

As is my usual practice I made a positive linear raw scan in  16 bit grayscale mode using the Epson software.This produces a 16 bit tiff file that is almost identical to the original negative in terms of density and detail.My workflow is –

  • Under configuration – turn off auto exposure and set gamma to 2.2 ( Windows)
  • Turn off sharpening  and all other adustments
  • Set Output to  0 and 255, then set Input to 0 and 255 , moving gamma to 1.00
  • Scan to file

I prefer to scan as a positive and invert it in Photoshop or the Photoshop filter ColorPerfect / Virtual Grades.Clyde Butcher once stated that scanning as a positive and inverting in Photoshop produces images with smoother shadow detail and I agree completely.

In Photoshop the image is converted to Adobe RGB and checked to ensure there is no clipping around the edges as this can impact on the conversion.At this point I could have inverted the image in Photoshop and adjusted the black point, white point and gamma or, use the Photoshop filter ColorPerfect /Virtual Grades.Its important to understand the inversion algorithms in Photoshop are totally different to ColorPerfect so some experimentation is required to get the best option. – On this occasion, I processed it in ColorPerfect, settling on Virtual Grade 3 before bringing it back into Photoshop for further editing.

Kerrs Creek merge second
Stock image from ColorPerfect Virtual Grade 3

This stock image might appear to some to be flat but it contains a level of detail and tonal range that makes for a very smooth edit from this point .This comprised  some  spotting , selective curves and enhancing tones using luminosity masks.The history brush is then used on a flattened image,painting with a low opacity brush ( 3 -7%) with various blending modes.Finally the image is selectively sharpened.

Kerrs Creek web 2

The final image has been prepared for print so on a computer screen it will appear a little too high in contrast .However monitors have a contrast ratio up to 1000:1 whereas a fibre based matte paper has a contrast ratio of around 100:1.Good monitor calibration is essential to achieving a close monitor /screen match.

Earlier this week I had processed some sheets of Iford  FP4 again using D-23 , this time in my Jobo 3006 tank  with (slow) constant agitation .There are some small differences – I think the tonal graduation from tray development is marginally better .The following images are stock ones straight out of conversion with no editing and all display the same characteristics –  a little flat but with beautiful smooth tones so easy to work with

shed web

Stuart Town hut

I am liking this old developer more and more -it dates back to the 1940s but has not been commercially available for decades.However it is so easy to make up fresh from only two ingredients , Metol and Sodium Sulfite.

Flushed by the success of D- 23 , I am about to try divided D-23 as a two bath developer, the second bath being Borax.This should allow me even more control over negative development.