Reworking technique

After a long hiatus, I’ve come back to photography. I had never been extremely disciplined, and I made the decision to begin again with a strong focus on technique. I had previously become a very good technician in the darkroom primarily due to poorly exposed and developed negatives. The first goal became producing high quality full scale negatives which I intended to print using a grade three filter. This proved troublesome at first as I began to realize that modern materials don’t respond exactly as described in the older books on the zone system. It didn’t help that I was photographing high contrast subject matter during midday. A careful reading of Minor White’s “The New Zone System Manual” put me on the right track.

I had never really worked with landscape before, but I found myself drawn to a volcano on the edge of town. There are very dark black rocks and bright white sun bleached rocks littering this landscape. I wanted to have deep rich blacks in my prints with full detail from shadow to highlight. I decided to use 35mm to begin my experimenting with this volcano. The first shots had full detail in the shadows, but burnt out highlights. No real surprise here. I figured the solution would be to decrease the time in developer, but soon realized my shadow detail was suffering. To make matters worse, the retarding of development wasn’t enough to bring the highlights in control. Several attempts later (and after revisiting White’s book) I finally worked everything out.

My intention was to place the darkest rocks at zone iii and the brightest ones at zone xii. To do this I had to expose two stops over and cut development by 40-50%. This was not intuitive at first and meant that the dark rocks were exposed at zone v. I didn’t expect it to work because I believed the shadows would be fully developed much sooner than they actually are with the film I’m using. When I placed the dark rocks at zone iii and reduced development they became thin. Placing them at zone v I was able to pull them back to zone iii. And the best part is they printed great with a number three contrast filter. Mastering the negative is probably my most important goal for now, and it makes printing so much easier!

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