Peter Lee Monochrome Photography

Classic black and white film photography with the occasional digital image


Black and White photos

This Old Stump

Every film photographer has a special spot usually close to home where they use to test new cameras and films etc . I have such a spot close to my home, on the edge of Orange.People drive past it every day and never notice this old willow stump in a cow paddock. I first photographed it in the summer of 2014 when I purchased my Sigma DP2 Merrill digital camera – film cameras for me then  were just a distant memory from the early 80s.This old stump changed its appearance  in different light and has survived rain, snow hail , flood and seasonal variations.

I photographed it last week in the last days of winter and I could see it is starting to show signs of decay. I feel an attachment to this old stump. It has a balance and beauty not appreciated by many. As I set up my large format film camera to photograph it,I notice people slowing as they pass by in their cars puzzled by what I am doing. But that is people these days – they have no vision or appreciation of simple things as they are too busy on unimportant things in their lives. I suspect the old stump will return to the earth shortly – it is soft from rot and weathering from the elements. Somehow this old stump reminds me of life -many people live unnoticed and when they die no one will notice.


The Stump wip HB copy 2
Late winter rain- 4 by 5 Graflex Crown Graphic and 135 mm Schneider Symmar S lens.
PMK Pyro- the stump
Late summer 2016 -4 by 5 Graflex Crown Graphic and 135 mm Schneider Symmar S lens.
Willow Stump
Early morning mist late Spring 2015- Fuji GA 645 film camera
Old stump - Copy
Summer 2014 after rain.Sigma DP2 Merrill digital camera

The Cashen Photographic Project

Over the last few months I have been focusing on a photographic project, an old abandoned house in the forest near Orange NSW. Sylvia Cashen lived in this old house for 85 years, only leaving  in 1997 when she was 92 years old. Since her husband died in the 70’s she lived there by herself with two dogs and three cats. Life was very simple – Grandma Cashen as she was called, grew her own vegetables, trapped rabbits and had no modern cons inside aside from electricity connected in recent times. Water came from outside tanks and heating provided by a wood fire. Grandma Cashen was quite content with this lifestyle – when she was 80 years old she was given a television but hardly used it.preferring the simple life.


Chair on porch 20 by 16soft proof print

When she finally left, she walked out of the house without taking anything. I saw the house for the first time a year ago and it was as she had left it, suitcases covered in dust in the bedroom, pots still on the stove and bathrobe still hanging on the wall above the tin bath.

Cashen Bed FINAL

To me, it was a moment frozen in time, a time dating back to the 40’s .Sadly, the old house is falling into disrepair with floorboards starting to rot, water coming through the roof and the forest rapidly closing in. For me it’s a race against time to finish the project which has been difficult due to low light levels and the unstable structure especially as I was using a 4 by 5 film camera.

Cashen Hut Series 3

New door and chair 20best final



outside cashen hut2028 FINAL

I had intended to use the old house just for some modelling shots.


However, I then thought I had a rare opportunity to document the history of both Grandma Cashen and this old house. By nature, the images are  clinical, rather than artistic/creative and I make no apologies for that.

Cashen Hut Series 6

Cashen Hut Series 5

Cashen Hut Series 10

As this project draws to a close , I am contemplating which direction I will take next. Another project looms








Producing digital contact prints from negatives

In the wet darkroom , it is important to identify the best negative to print.Once a true black has been established, everything else fell into place.It is much easier to print a correctly exposed negative than one either under or overexposed.

The same principle still applies in the digital darkroom when scanning and making Inkjet prints. Although its easier to adjust less than perfect negatives in Photoshop than the wet darkroom, if one starts with the best negative, its will produce a superior print.

This is how I do my contact prints – others might do it another way.Not much equipment is needed – a $20 lightbox , an older enlarger base and column and a digital camera.The results don’t have to be perfect , just good enough to give you a snapshot of the roll of film or sheet film.I have been testing Kodak TMax400 developed in Kodak D-23 1:1 and did some bracketing on 120 film, so it was the ideal opportunity to demonstrate the digital contact print method.

The negatives are left in the print file sleeves and placed them on top of the light box and the camera mounted and leveled. After positioning the camera, it is focused, exposed and  photos taken in JPEG monochrome mode.12314522_930480687028254_3373924348820213543_oFiles are then taken in Photoshop and as they will be in negative format, they will need to be inverted.

4 by 5 neg
Image in negative form

After the image is inverted , a curves adjustment layer is selected and the black point sampling tool placed on an area of clear film that should be pure black -this completes the editing of the contact print.

4 by 5pos1
image inverted and BP established- from this point it is easy to produce a workflow

The same process is used for both 120 and 4 by 5 film and gives an accurate snapshot of the contrast ,density and exposure of each negative which is exactly what contact prints are supposed to do in the wet darkroom.These negatives are a little flat which is common when developing in Kodak D-23.

4 b5 contact
Kodak D-23 produces a fairly flat negative 

The first 3 images on the 120 roll ( below) were bracketed using Kodak T Max 400 rated at 200 asa .The first image, exposed as per incident meter reading , looks the easiest to work with.Contact print test

A quick “contact” print was made of this particular image which provides a lot of information going forward with the edit.

car test

Although not essential, its also a good idea to actually make a actual print of the “contact print” as one does in the wet darkroom .I was given some paper unsuitable for my style of printing ( Sihl Masterclass Satin Baryta ) which I use for the prints . It is then filed with the appropriate negative sleeve.


The entire process can be done in minutes once an efficient workflow is established and for me is much better than an ad hoc approach of scanning every negative or trying to pick the correct one to print.






Kodak D-23 developer for large format negatives

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.


The large format photograph explained- abandoned farmhouse near Orange NSW


This image is part of a series of abandoned farmhouses I am working on. The diffused morning light coming through the doorway of this old farmhouse revealed all the texture of the timber and gave the scene great depth and presence. I previsualized the final image as a square format print with some areas being allowed to drift into Zone 0. Using my Pentax Spot meter, I metered several areas before deciding where to place the important shadow details- exposure differential was approx. 5 stops, which indicated normal development.


As is my usual practice, I scoped the scene with my Sigma DP2 Merrill digital camera to get a “feel” for the final result much the same way as large format photographers used to make a Polaroid

“Polaroid” taken with my Sigma DP2 Merrill digital camera

I then exposed a sheet of Fuji Acros 100 (rated at 80 asa) using my Toyo45a field camera and a 135 mm Schneider Symmar S lens – exposure was 30 secs at F22 with a little forward tilt to increase DOF. The negative was then processed in a Jobo 3006 tank (using manual rollers) in X-Tol 1:1 for 8 mins at 20%.


The negative was then scanned at 1800 dpi as a raw negative on my Epson V700 scanner and taken into Photoshop. In Photoshop, I opened Color Perfect Plug in Filter and applied a Normal Grade 2 in Color Perfect Virtual Grades. Returning to Photoshop. I then cropped the image into a square format, cleaned up dust spots etc. and selectively applied deconvolution sharpening to the mid tones.This is considered the “stock” image.

The stock image should be a little flat to give “wriggle room” to edits

To complete the edit, the image was darkened to increase the “mood” as I originally previsualized it, and the tonal range expanded by painting through a number of luminosity masks then finally making two curves adjustments. At this point I added a separate layer using the History Brush and a low opacity brush to make final adjustments to the image – e.g. the color dodge mode mimics how I used to use Potassium Ferricyanide in the wet darkroom by lightening light areas and increasing the presence of the final print. The file was flattened for printing. Even though my dedicated NEC PA series monitors are carefully calibrated to produce a very close screen to print result, I also made a step wedge (aka the wet darkroom) to fine tune the final print.


I only print on one paper – Museo Silver Rag as it is far superior to any other black and white inkjet paper on the market. If this paper wasn’t available, I would most likely return to the wet darkroom. This heavyweight Fine Art paper has a smooth lustre finish and produces deep blacks and a tonal range that both Les Walkling and I think make it indistinguishable from my much loved Agfa Portriga Rapid.

Using a Les Walkling custom warm ICC profile and my Epson 3880 in Advanced Black and White mode ,the final 16 by 16 inch print is produced .

Final print emerging from my Epson 3880 printer

The print was then left to dry for 24 hours – inkjet prints made on 100% cotton paper need this time to “cure” as minor changes will occur. I re- examined the print after 24 hours and was not entirely happy with the shadow detail – they appeared to have darkened fractionally. I returned to Photoshop and opened up the shadow detail a fraction and a new print with this adjustment.

The two prints compared – the one on the right will be framed

Later this week the print will be T- hinged onto archival heavyweight backing board, a 50 mm off white “Palm Beach White” matte cut and T hinged onto the backing board before placing the completed photograph behind True Vue glass in a 40 mm matte black frame.










Processing black and white negatives with Vuescan and ColorPerfect – does this software produce images close to a wet darkroom?

Oberon Vuescan Church

Many film photographers are familiar with the Photoshop PlugIn ColorPerfect – it is an excellent way to produce quality prints from colour negatives. Not so well known is ColorPerfect’s ability to produce high quality monochrome images that look very much like wet darkroom prints using an additional feature within Colour Perfect, Virtual Grades.

Generally speaking images from film scans often do not look the same as wet darkrooms, and in my opinion, that can be a good thing for some images. However, for other images I like the look of wet darkroom prints- it’s a very subjective thing.

So how is this process different from the normal process- scan and edit in either Lightroom or Photoshop?

It starts with the scanning – the negative must be scanned as a RAW file, not a JPEG or TIFF and as far as I am aware, a RAW scan can only be done in Vuescan. A brief outline of this process is detailed below using a 4 by 5 black and white negative I shot this week of St Barnabas Church of England Church at Oberon NSW.

The original negative , shot on the new Atomic X 4 by 5 sheet film , was a little too dense as it has been slightly overdeveloped ( processing times are still under test for this new film- I used Kodak X Tol 1:1 for 8.5 minutes at 20% c. I had placed the front of the church (around the door) in Zone 6 but failed to notice that the dynamic range of this image was great enough to be processed using N minus 1 development to curtail highlight blowouts.


The idea was to produce a totally linear scan with no adjustment to the gamma value of 1.00 and the image saved as a negative RAW file. I scanned the negative on my Epson V700 in Vuescan this way- It looked like this –


I then took the file into the host application Photoshop and under the Filter drop down menu selected ColorPerfect .I didn’t invert the image in Photoshop as ColorPerfect inverts the negative using totally different algorithms to Photoshop. You then have access to Virtual Grades with a choice of 00, 00½, 0, 0½, 1, 1½, 2, 2½, 3, 3½, 4, 4½ grades. Grade 2 has a gamma of 0.62 and is similar to Grade 2 paper (normal) in the wet darkroom.

Here’s how ColorPerfect describes the process-

In the wet darkroom you would alter a black and white print’s gamma value by choosing between different paper grades to print your image on. Virtual Grades in ColorNeg will act similarly to actual paper grades in the darkroom. When working with graded black and white photographic paper the utilization of a grade that is too low would result in a dull print. This means that depending on exposure such a print would either contain no tonal values that are anywhere close to a pure white or anywhere close to a deep black. On top of that the mid tones would not be ideally distributed. Virtual Grades have an impact on contrast and on the mid tones without influencing highlights or deep shadows. When switching between different Virtual Grades you can be certain that no more clipping occurs at either end of the tonal range than was the case with the previously selected grade.

I had used Virtual Grades before but never from a RAW file so my first attempt was much better from working with TIFF negatives. Grade 2 would have been a little harsh so I selected Grade 1 and made some minor adjustments, then taking the image back into Photoshop where I cropped it, cloned out some unwanted man-made objects and applied some low opacity Reverse Overlay masking. For some time, I had been working on toning that is close to warm toned wet darkroom paper so I applied this to the final image.

This final image has a natural softness to it (some of which is due to the excellent tonal range of Atomic X film).It could have been better as some sky highlights are close to being blown out. To address this, I could have double processed the negative, once for the sky and another for the church and blended it in Photoshop.

Oberon Vuescan Church

By comparison, I processed the same negative using Epson software outputting it as a positive TIFF and editing in Photoshop.I should mention I scanned the negative twice, once for the sky and the second time for the church In spite of this ,to me, the image doesn’t have the depth of the Color Perfect Image and doesn’t look like the scene I visualised when I was taking the photograph.

Oberon Church merge-2

To test how much the processing influenced the results, I “scanned” the negative on a digital camera making sure the gamma was neutral and no highlight or shadows were clipped. I took the desaturated negative image in ColorPerfect and repeated the same process as the first image.

The result was quite similar to the Vuescan RAW image ,not quite as good but to me much better than the Epson scan/Photoshop result.


Anyone interested in this alternative approach to scanning black and white negatives should look at the ColorPerfect Website and this video

Making the transition to large format

Life of light and shade: the mechanical, methodical love of large format analogue photography

Posted 14 Dec 2015, 11:55am

During his corporate career, photographer Peter Lee, of Orange in central-west New South Wales used the latest electronic equipment to analyse high-level financial data.

These days the tools he uses for his large format analogue photography are a far cry from that and in fact, there is not a piece of digital equipment in sight.

All he uses is a pencil, a simple mechanical light meter, a cardboard frame to help compose a shot and an angular black camera with adjustable bellows that looks a bit like an accordion.

It is a slow, solitary art, but one he has found to be life-sustaining.

You’ve got to force yourself and be mechanical; you don’t just hold it up to your eye and take a photograph.

Peter Lee, large format analogue photographer

The attraction of large format analogue photography

Mr Lee said he rebelled against digital photography because it could not capture the range of light and shade he was looking for in his images of nature, old buildings, and country vistas.

“With analogue photography it may not be as pin sharp, but it has that beautiful range of tones you can’t capture on digital,” he said.

“I only work in black and white [and] I haven’t been happy with black and white digital for quite a long time.”

He uses large format negatives that are 10 by 12 centimetres in size — and sometimes even larger — which allow him to capture big images without losing quality.

“So the more you actually blow the image up the more you lose that tonal range graduation.”

Moulder Park morning scene

Expensive, methodical and solitary photography

Large format analogue photography can be an expensive practice because the negatives cost around $70 for a pack of 25.

“You take your time; you don’t shoot off a lot,” Mr Lee said.

He buys his cameras overseas, mostly from the United States, where he is currently getting another one built.

Mr Lee explained that analogue photography required him to blend the creative and methodical parts of his brain.

He said when he first arrived on scene he thought of how it was going to look in black and white.

“At this stage you’re not thinking about anything technical; you’re just thinking about the creativity of the scene.”

Then the mechanical processes take over as he undertakes up to a dozen tasks before taking a shot, including composing the scene with his cardboard frame and measuring the light with his hand-held meter.

“You’ve got to force yourself and be mechanical; you don’t just hold it up to your eye and take a photograph.”

“You have to be methodical and sometimes you may ruin a shot.”

While Mr Lee’s former career saw him analysing data in high finance, now he finds himself scribbling a lot with a pencil in a small notebook.

“Unlike digital where you get all the data like f-stop or light, you’ve got none of that with analogue.

“In order to understand where you went wrong or to get the best types of exposure, you have to keep a written record.”

Mr Lee prefers to work alone because it helps him think clearly.

“When you’re working with film photography it’s a very, very slow process and you don’t want other people around you,” he said.

Mr Lee does delve into the digital world, particularly to connect on Facebook with other Australian large-format analogue photographers, whom he said seem to be concentrated around Melbourne.


A life’s light and shade in full circle

Mr Lee is now 65 but he fell in love with film photography about 50 years ago when he was a teenaged member of a camera club at Leura in the NSW Blue Mountains.

“Those old fellows taught me a lot,” he said.

For two years in the 1970s he spent every weekend travelling to the historic central west gold rush town of Hill End to capture the tonalities of its heritage streets, buildings, and natural beauty.

However, then followed decades where the cameras got put on the shelf and eventually sold.

“As I continued to work and climb up the corporate ladder, I found I had other influences coming down on me and photography got forgotten,” he said.

Now, after Mr Lee has survived cancer and is semi-retired he said he wanted to get some creativity back in his life and has rediscovered his photographic passion.

He still does some part-time work, but said now it was simply to earn money to fund his photography.

“This time I’m not going to get sick of it. I think I’ll be doing it till the day I die.”

One of the analogue cameras used by photographer, Peter Lee.


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