Print spotting

Every now and then an otherwise good print is spoiled by distracting spots.

Despite best efforts to keep dust at bay…. dusting off the negs with compressed air (and glass negative holders), keeping a clean darkroom, cleaning negative holders before loading with film and ensuring roll film cameras are blown out before loading, hanging drying negatives in a dust free environment and leaving over night…. white spots can still appear on the finsihed print.


Here is a few items needed in your armoury to elmininate these spots.

A good lamp with a daylight bulb together with a loupe or magnifying glass will allow initial assessment and aid the spotting process. A china pallete in which to mix or dilute the dyes, gloves, blotting paper or tissue, pipette or eye dropper, distilled water, a selection of dyes, brushes and weights to hold the photo.

I use Marshall’s Spot-all dyes these days, ‘Spotone’ is no longer available but Fotospeed make similar dyes. These come in a range of tones, neutral black through blue black, sepia, Selenium and so on. These can be dliuted and mixed to obtian a tone near to that of the print in question. Brushes need to be good quality sable of the type supplied to artists in watercolour. I use Rowney in a couple of sizes from 1 down to 0000.


Once you have the colour required load the brush then using the blotter to remove any excess colour until the brush is nearer dry then with the brush more verticle touch carefully the area to be spotted. Repeat this spotting motion to build up layers of colour. Avoid the temptation to apply a loaded brush full as this will lead to a puddle on the surface whish will spread out over an area larger than that you need to address and can darken a wider area. The idea is to build up slowly until the area is masked and blends into the print coour and becomes virtually invisible. It takes patience…. a lot of it…as the dyes are opaque but persevere. If you do apply too much then blot immediatley to remove the excess.


I use rice made up in different weights then using the wifes food sealing kit I make up bags to weight down the print and provide a surface to rest on while spotting out the print.

There are other ways to achieve the same results but with a limited range of tones. These are known as ‘spotpens’ and are rather like pens but with a brush like tip and come in a range of greys usually 10 to a set. Mine are from the USA but I believe Tetenal make a set in Europe. These are useful for greytone prints and can do the job if applied with the same patience.


There is also ‘Nicholson’s Peerless dryspot’ books. These are pages of colour impregnated paper that are activated with water to provide a surface to transfer the colour to your brush.

You might also mix your own colours from China or India solid ink sticks mixed with a little gum arabic and applied in the same manner as above and finally I have heard of people using dilute printer ink. I’ve not tried this myself but I can see it could be used.

Most of the above is available in the UK from Firstcall Photographic


Local landmarks in Lith and adventures in 5×4 with my MPP

Last month on one of those fine sunny Autumn days I ventured out with the 5×4 to walk the beach and photograph a local landmark.

Burnham-On-Sea was the venue for this walk of around 1/2 mile lugging the camera bag, a box of lenses and a large tripod capable of carrying the weight of the MPP to the Lower lighthouse. I have photographed this many times before but this time I wanted to try out a couple of lens/filter combinations and capture the lighthouse reflected in the onshore puddle left by the receeding tide.

IMG_0784 Back in the darkroom I made some warmtone prints using an old Ilford formula developer taken from my old copy of the ‘Ilford Manual of photography’ circa 1962 as follows..

ID-78 Stock solution.

  • Pure water  @52°c                     750 ml
  • Sodium Sulphite (anhydrous) 50g
  • Hydroquinone                            12g
  • Sodium Carbonate (anhyd)      62g
  • Phenidone                                   0.5g
  • Potassium Bromide                   4.5g
  • Water to make                            1ltr

Working strength is 1:1 for developing in 1 minute @ 20°c or 1:3 for a 2 minute development.

I printed on both Ilford MG FB and Ilford  MG FB Warmtone paper from enlargements of the 5×4 negatives.


I also made a print or two using Lith development. For this I used Moersch lith chems and added old brown to the mix. developing times for the prints were between 5 and 7 minutes printing on both Foma 111 and 333 papers.


Following on….

Now that the Autumn is here its time to get back into the darkroom to develope the years films and get printing.

I have printed a couple of those shots taken with the Adox Silvermax film. This film has a couple of loications and some quite contrasty shots in bright sunlight. My intitial thoughts on this film is it seems to have a good latitude in that it seems to have coped well with contrasty shots and has a good scope of tones.

Farming 5007Farming 5008

These are farming scenes, part of a 2 year project of mine photographing not just the farming heritage locally but the computerised and mechanised farming now taking place. In these 2 photos the sky is not blown out despite one of them taken looking into the tractor cab nor is the arm and hand of the worker leaning on the mudguard as might have happened given the bright sunny day. I would have overexposed slightly and reduced the development time had I have been using a film I use all the time but, as said in the last post, this was the first use of this film and as such I metered and shot without any modification during developing and printing. There is also some detail in the shadows under this enormous tractor (I think the ones I had driven as a teenager would come up to the top of the tyre on this).

Over all I would use this film again at least given these conditions. The prints were developed in Ilford MG print developer and printed on Adox MCC 111 FB, the current version of the Agfa paper.


The Silvermax excursion

I’ve been absent from the blog of late due to increased work load. I am a schools and teams photographer in the independent sector and this is our busy time with end of year photos and Summer teams. This is all digital these days for speed of producing prints to sell via our website, printing being entrusted to a lab with 40 years in the business. I can transfer digital files across the country and get prints back in the post in a day or 2. We have our own framing workshop and mount the photos in-house. All this takes time with around 650 frames sold each year and keeps me from the analogue side of photography this time each year….but I am back now and you will see more posts over the coming weeks as the day work slows to a manageable pace.

I don’t very often deviate from Ilford film but every now and then its good to look at what is out there and try something different. Recently I purchased a couple of rolls of Adox Silvermax and the accompanying developer by the same company so with a roll loaded into the Nikon FM3a I set out to shoot this film in some relatively high contrast conditions ie late spring sunshine.

Shooting at the box speed of 100 iso I took the Nikon with me to the RPS analogue group meeting at the Victoria & Albert museum in London on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of spring.

Arriving early morning I had opportunity to get some photos whilst walking from Victoria coach station in the bright early morning sunshine then after a cup of coffee an hour of shooting in Hyde Park where I came across a group of Veteran Serpentine swimmers. Now there’s a brave bunch, although already quite warm the water must have been very cold at 8 o’clock in the morning and it did lead a good few photos.

As this was my first use of this film and dev so I didn’t want to deviate too far from the recommended dev times and dilution so this is the procedure for the first roll.

The dev was Adox Silvermax at 1:29 with water at 20°c in a  Paterson 4 dev tank.

I use my own stop bath, citric acid, from concentrate stock diluted 1:9.

Fix is Ilford rapid at 1:4 followed by Hypo Clearing Agent which is again a home mix at 1:9….see The Darkroom Cook Book by Steve Anchell.

Finally a wash in water followed by use of a wetting agent, again Ilford used at 1:200.

Development was 11 minutes with 30 secs initial agitation followed by a slap on the tank to remove any air bubbles which might adhere to the film. Subsequent agitation was 1 inversion every 30 secs.

Stop bath was 1 min with agitation followed by fixing taking place over 5 mins with agitation for 30 secs then  5 secs every  30 secs.

Hypo clear was 2 mins of continuous agitation then washing for 10 mins and finally a wetting agent use for 30 secs with agitation.

On this occasion I did not pre wet the film prior to development, something I always do with 120 film, but I may well do next time.


This is an iphone shot of the negs on my light box and clearly not great for detail but gives some idea of the contrast. Most of these shots were taken in full sun with some shot contre-jour deliberately so I will expect much adjustment in printing but the idea was to see how this film would cope in the situations.

The resulting negs seem well-defined but I will reserve judgement until I have printed a few. They certainly seem of higher contrast but how well they print we will see in my next post.


Pinhole day photos

Today I found time to print a couple of contacts from the pinhole day negatives taken last Sunday…World Pinhole Day. We are extremely busy with schools and teams photos this time of the year which although is digital these days it still demands a lot of time in editing, printing, creating mounts with names then framing.

The first of the photos of the wicker man (willow man) which can be seen just after J23 M5 when traveling south into Somerset. This old fella is seeking crowd funding to secure restoration as the birds have pecked him to the point of near collapse. I thought it a worthy subject for a pinhole.


The second Pinhole photo was taken the other side of Bridgwater off J24 M5 at Moorland. this village was the subject of severe flooding a few years back where much of it was under water for weeks. The pinhole photo here was taken on the river Parrett defense wall constructed to contain the river when flood water drains off the levels at spring tide highs.


Both contact prints were developed in Ilford mg developer at 1:9 with exposures of 22s for the man and 8.6 seconds for the River on my LPL 7452 enlarger using Kentmere RC paper. Later I will be making a couple of prints using these pinhole negs on some warmtone FB paper.

World Pinhole day

For todays ‘world pinhole day event’ I set up one of my homemade pinhole cameras at the wicker man site just down the road from me.
This camera equates to a 133mm focal length with an aperture of f256. With todays overcast weather I gave a time of 1 1/2 minutes and 2minutes of exposure time to 2 5×4 sheets of Ilford fp4+ film.
I Developed the 5×4 negatives this afternoon in Ilfosol3 1:9 for 4mins 30 secs. No time to print today …later this week if I get the time.

I then moved on to another local location on the river Parrett for another 2 pinhole shots, again fp4+ 5×4 developed the same.

I have two brass pins one in the top the other on the side of the camera which I use as sights in order two line up the camera with the subject but to get a better idea I use the iPhone held flat against the back of the camera then take a phone shot. I then make final adjustments to the tripod to frame the pinhole shot.

James Ravilious

I have for some years now, been interested in the work by James Ravilious following the suggestion of a friend who thought his work would be of interest to me having remarked a couple of my photos were similar in feel.

James spent 17 years photographing the daily lives of his immediate community in Devon on behalf of the Beaford Archive amassing some 75,000 negatives which have become a social document on the disappearing ways of life for the small communities of North Devon between during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  The work captured the landscape and the people of the area at a time of great change. The many characters he encountered appear time and again throughout the years, due to the way in which he worked by engaging with his subjects whilst they were at work or play and never set up a shot. James worked tirelessly to capture a way of life in all its reality portraying the humour and sometimes sadness in the hard life the people of those communities had to endure.

I will not post any of his images here for copyright reasons but I urge anyone with a similar interest to seek out his work via the books he wrote during the time, those released since his death and in particular the latest two both released 2017 “The recent past” and his wife’s book of his life “James Ravilious A Life”.

The Beaford Archive Here

Finally, Peter Hamilton of ‘The Independent’ sums up his work in this quote, ‘one of the great artistic and documentary achievements of photography in the twentieth century’.

Fine Grain​?

I have used Tetenal Paranol S film developer for Ilford fp4+ quite often over the last few years. This high acutance developer is a compensating developer producing fine grain with a good latitude of exposure.

For 35mm film, following a pre-wash, I use this in Paterson tanks usually 2 films at a time at 1:25 with agitation 10secs in every 60s for a total of 11mins @20°c. This has produced fine grain in the past whilst breaking from the recommended agitation method which is actually more agitation then I use.

The print here is from a shot taken in the Lake District at the end of last summer where it can be seen there is significant grain in the clouded areas. The cattle shed and the paddock gate was the main accent of attention for the photograph which I wanted to portray the rugged feel of the area particularly the huge post stone to which the gate is hinged.

Ref44A 14002

I admit the day was quite typical of the Lakes in that it was overcast and showery which is not conducive to a good contrasty print but I was not happy with the highlight grain which is more evident in the print than can be seen here.

By using a compensating developer with less agitation than was recommended I had thought that the grain would not be so apparent. I have come to the conclusion that this grain could be connected to a slight underexposure at the time of taking but could also be attributed to too much agitation, although i cant really see that in this case, and even too long a development time, again no more than the recommended.

Over the coming weeks, I will be looking further into this issue and maybe changing my developer for similar exposure photos. Ilford ID11 is one such possibility following using the Paranol S with a change in agitation or time in the first instance.

I will post further investigation.


Abstract or not?

I have switched from printing 120 to 35mm negatives this week as, having realised I have a quite a few cassettes rattling around in the fridge door from last years shooting with the F6, I should be printing some.

This particular printing session found me sorting through negatives from  the lake district where I captured the scenery as probably thousands of others do every year whilst always on the look out for something a little different. With that in mind I came across a couple of shots taken at the Claife viewing platform on Lake Conniston.  It was a very bright sunny day and not one conducive with photography so whilst approaching the ascent to the platform I made a mental note of the strong shadows being cast on the level immediately below the platform with a thought to exploring these shadows on my descent.

After taking in the views I grabbed the camera and dived under the platform. My first thoughts were to capture the shadows cast by people walking overhead but I soon realised those shadows didn’t really form well on the stone walls and formed a misshapen blob rather than the people shapes I had in mind.

I walked around the room to gain another perspective waiting for the moment the inspiration would come and I would see the shot. On standing looking down the wall my imagination was saying “caged”. I felt as though I was now standing in a cage where further along the wall the shape of a door in deep shadow was looking like a means to escape from this imaginary cage.

Moving parallel to the wall, a flatter position and one I would not usually consider, this deep shadowed area now looked as though some one had blown a hole in the wall and escaped the cage, almost a cartoon drawing of a prison breakout.

I came away knowing that I had seen the shot and had captured it thus turning an otherwise high contrast day which would not reveal a good photo opportunity, or so I thought, into a successful day for me.

Do you see what I saw that day?? Of course it could just be that after years of peering through a view finder I have finally lost the plot.