Category Archives: darkroom

Toning darkroom prints


Welcome to my 114th blog post, which I will use to describe some toning experiments with gelatin silver darkroom prints. I’m trying to spend more time in the darkroom and become more organised; so for example I’ve been producing contact prints for most of my sets of negative to make it easier to pick out the ones I want to print. It’s a bit of a chore but it will be worth it in the long run.

I’m also trying to plan my use of toning so that I’m more likely to know in advance what toning I want to apply to a particular negative. I’m not entirely new to toning, having used sepia and selenium, but my useage has been a bit ad-hoc and not properly documented. I’ve liked some of the results and not liked others but haven’t been able to remember what toning regime produced which results.

I also wanted to understand better the interaction between paper choice, developer choice, and toners. Most of my darkroom printing is with two resin-coated papers:

  • Ilford Multigrade IV RC (a neutral-toned paper)
  • Ilford Multigrade RC Warmtone

These papers are developed in one of two paper developers:

  • Champion Multicontrast print developer (neutral tone)
  • Fotospeed WT10 (warm tone)

I then have two types of toner available:

  • Sepia
  • Selenium

It sounds like a small range of materials but when you work out all of the different variations of paper, developer, untoned, toning with one toner, and toning with two toners, there are actually twenty different options. A spreadsheet came in handy to list the options:

Note that I have included as separate options, sepia toning followed by selenium toning, and selenium toning followed by sepia toning, to see what difference the order of toning makes.

A wet Bank Holiday Monday seemed like a good time to spend several hours in the darkroom so I set off to print 20 versions of the same image. I chose an image, taken in the Yorkshire Dales at Norber, which would produce a reasonable result as a straight print without dodging and burning, as I didn’t fancy having to replicate the same dodging and burning sequence twenty times.

All of the prints on the neutral paper were given the same exposure time of 7.2s, and all of the prints on the warm tone paper were given an exposure time of about 15s, in each case calculated using an RH Designs Analyser pro to produce the same tonal range.

I was aware of advice to produce a darker print where sepia toning is intended, and a lighter print where selenium toning is intended, but I decided to print them all at the same time so that the effects were visible in the reference set of images which would be my end results. If I had made exposure time alterations to individual prints, I probably would have then forgotten what adjustment had been made.

The sepia toner used was Fotospeed ST20, diluted 1:19. This toner comes with an additive which can be used in varying amounts to influence the colour of the toner image. I used 15ml per 1 litre which is designed to produce a tone called, er, “sepia”. So that’s stronger than “yellow/light sepia” and weaker than “dark sepia”.

The selenium toner used as Fotospeed SL20, also diluted 1:19. This is a fairly low dilution which is intended to provide archival permanence and to strengthen the dmax, but not to provide noticeable colour changes.

Unfortunately, I did make a mistake in the execution of my plan, and failed to print image 17, which should have been on warm tone paper, developed in warm tone developer, and toned with sepia. I didn’t notice until after I’d discarded the warm tone developer (the neutral tone sits in a Nova slot processor where it lasts for weeks). I’ll try to go back and produce the missing print and update the results when I can.

I’ll now post the results in batches. Click on any image set to get a larger view.

First, the results with neutral paper (Ilford MGIV RC) and neutral developer (Champion Multicontrast):

Here are the results with neutral paper (Ilford MGIV RC) and Fotospeed WT10 warm tone developer:

Next, the results with warm tone paper (Ilford MG RC warmtone) and neutral developer (Champion multicontrast):

Finally, the results with warm tone paper (Ilford MG RC warmtone) and warm tone developer Fotospeed WT10):


I’m not going to attempt too much analysis of the results right now and will just let the images speak for themselves, for a number of reasons.

First, it’s not a  case of finding the “best” combination because the result I like best for the image I used for these tests, might not be the combo I like best for a totally different image.

Second, what I like best might not be what you like best, dear reader.

Third, I need more time to assess and compare the results.

I will however post again with some more thoughts, including comparisons grouped in different ways, e.g. the effect of changing developer without changing paper.

I hope you found the results useful – I certainly did. I should stress that I am in no way an expert in toning – if you want to learn from someone who is then have a look at the tutorials from David Kirkby at Twelve Small Squares. David is a fellow member of the Film and Darkroom User Group and posted a link to his tutorials just before I carried out these experiments. I found it very instructive to see David’s results – but doing it yourself is even better because the learning sinks in better through practical exercises. I produced very small prints (about 5″ * 3.5″) to keep the cost down.

It’s worth noting two points:

a) Obviously I’m showing scanned prints and it’s not possible to guarantee that the tones in the scan are an absolute match for the print

b) There are a whole load of variations possible within the toning process (for example dilutions and timing) so these results are only one of many possible sets.

Oh, and apologies to those who read this post before I had actually finished writing it – I pressed the publish button too soon !



On re-fixing a mess

When it comes to developing film, I’ve made every mistake possible: dev time too short, dev time too long, too little developer, top of the tank popping off, putting the fixer in before the developer, throwing re-useable developer away after one shot, and so on.

Fortunately the frequency of such mistakes has reduced over time (I hope that statement is not tempting fate) so now I’m getting round to solving the problem of half-a-dozen films which were not fixed properly because the fixer had been re-used to many times.

The images below are from a roll of Tri-X I put through a Yashicamat 124G in 2012, on holiday in Wales. The first mistake was that I thought I had put T-Max 100 in the camera, so the shots metered at ISO 400 were two shots overexposed. The second mistake was when I realised the first mistake, and I reset the meter to 400; it would have been better to shoot the whole roll at 100 and adjust the development time.

So to overcome the exposure problem I decided to stand-develop with Rodinal, diluted 1:100, for one hour, which is a good stand-by method if the exposures have been doubtful. Now Tri-X in Rodinal can give enormous grain in 35mm but in this case, with medium format, the grain isn’t obtrusive – perhaps helped by the absence of sky which is where the grain shows up most.

The problem with the exhausted fixer was not apparent until I’d cut the film up for scanning, and the results weren’t suitable for on-line sharing until I finally got round to re-fixing the film, nearly 4 years later.

The process of refixing is simple enough – just the fixing and washing stages are required – but it is fiddly when the film has already been cut up. It’s a faff to put four or more short strips onto a reel, although at least you don’t have to do it in the dark. The biggest problem is drying the film, because (a) you need more clips than you might have, and (b) there is less spare film at each end for attaching the clips.

Refix 2012-8, Wales, 124G, Tri-x, Rodinal, 004 Refix 2012-8, Wales, 124G, Tri-x, Rodinal, 005 Refix 2012-8, Wales, 124G, Tri-x, Rodinal, 006

So the lessons I take away are:

  • try to change the fixer before it’s exhausted
  • if the problem is apparent immediately, mix some fresh fixer and refix the film BEFORE cutting it up.

One film down, five or so to go.

Recently in the darkroom: rivers and ruins

I’ve been spending a bit more time than usual in the darkroom recently so I thought I’d share some recent work. My darkroom output was spurred on when Santa gave me an RH Designs Analyser Pro, which helps you find the appropriate exposure and contrast settings and recalculates those settings if you decide to change paper types.

I’ll probably write some more about the Analyser Pro in my next post. These images were from a walk in December 2015 around Baybridge, a hamlet a few miles from Blanchland on the Northumberland/Durham border.

I started shooting with a Yashicamat 124G loaded with expired Ilford FP4+; when that film was finished I changed to a Fujifilm GA645Zi loaded with Kodak TMax 100 rated at ISO200.

All the prints were made on Ilford MGIV RC Warmtone paper.

2016-12-19, Yashicamat, Baybridge, FP4+, MGIVRC, 010

Ilford FP4+ film in a Yashicamat 124G – scan of a darkroom print on Ilford MG IV RC Warmtone paper

The print above was made on 9.5″ * 12″ paper with an 8″ square picture area – it annoys me that square prints always result in some wasted paper. You can’t see the borders because my scanner can’t scan the whole paper so I had to miss the borders off.

The following images below are 5″ * 7″ – I intend to try to print from each roll of film, one image at a larger size and a few smaller supporting images.

2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Baybridge, FP4+, MGIVRC, 003

Ilford FP4+ film in a Yashicamat 124G – scan of a darkroom print on Ilford MG IV RC Warmtone paper


2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Baybridge, FP4+, MGIVRC, 001

Ilford FP4+ film in a Yashicamat 124G – scan of a darkroom print made on Ilford MGIV Warmtone paper

After exploring the local woods and streams I came across a ruined farmhouse called Gibraltar.

2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 005

View through the window of Gibraltar farmhouse – film and print details as above

2015-12-19, GA645Zi, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 006

Bedroom of Gibraltar farmhouse – Fuji GA645Zi camera; Kodak TMax 100 film, rated at ISO200; scan of a darkroom print on Ilford MGIV Warmtone paper

2015-12-19, GA645Zi, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 009

2015-12-19, GA645Zi, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 011

View from the bedroom window – camera, film, and print details as for the previous image

2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 004

Yashicamat 124G; Ilford FP4+; printed on Ilford MGIV RC Warmtone

With the second film – the TMax in a Fujifilm GA645Zi – I skipped my usual stage of scanning the negatives and went straight to darkroom output, beginning with a contact print of the whole roll. I think in the past, having the negative scans has tended to act as a disincentive to going into the darkroom – forcing myself to get the output only in the darkroom may help me to practice my darkroom skills.

Unfortunately, of course, I then have to scan the prints to have something to put on the the blog, and the original prints look much better than the scans – but you’ll just have to take me word for it !

Recently in the darkroom – sepia toning

I really enjoy working in the darkroom, but my activities have been intermittent, for no good reason, with long stretches without a trip into the darkroom. I’m hoping to fit in more regular printing sessions in future and thought that I might add some pressure by committing to regular blog posts featuring the results.

So I thought of having a series of posts called “this week in the darkroom” … but that sounds a bit ambitious. “This month in the darkroom” … maybe but not sure. “Recently in the darkroom” …. now that sounds fairly safe. Recently could mean anything couldn’t it ?

Anyway my “recent” activity has been to try sepia toning for the first time. I like the aged feeling that sepia toning gives and sometimes use it on scanned negatives by applying toning in Lightroom. Sepia toning in the darkroom gives a much more organic and unpredictable result which can be, at the same time, both satisfying and frustrating.

Print Scan, Woodland Shelter, RZ67, TMax100,FD10, Ilford MGIV FB, Sepia, 700px

Thornley woods, Mamiya RZ67, Kodak TMax 100

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