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A bit of pre-visualization
A bit of pre-visualization
Thinking more, and enjoying it!
Published by Richard L
7th June 2010
Default A bit of pre-visualization

I've just finished re-reading (again) a few of Barry Thornton's articles in some older Ag mags. As someone who seems constantly confronted with tricky light metering decisions to make, I can see why he took the whole exposure/development issue on, and devised a few methods that really suited the way he worked best. And that is not a bad way of looking at that particular process - doing right by yourself when it comes to exposing and developing film.

A couple of years ago I decided to have a sharpening up of my negative producing abilities. I did this for a couple of reasons. Firslly I don't think I've ever really, trully got to the bottom of the ins and outs of exposure and development, and secondly I've been using a lot of Fomapan 100. This film was a bit of a new one to me - in the past it's always been FP4 and the Deltas, and happy with the results. But the lure of an 'old-fashioned' emulsion and the Foma's cost got to me, and in many ways I'm glad it did. For a 'cheap' film I've so far seen no manufacturing nasties. My only gripe is with the 120 film - it can be fussy about being transported through some cameras, and seems prone to emulsion scratches, but the 5x4 and 35mm are fine. Tonally this film is incredibly smooth. It's easy to get detail filled, heavy darks, tons of mid tones, and pretty soft highs, and it also responds well to expansion/contraction. This film also became the main reason to take a fresh look at the whole pre-visualization stuff.

For too long I simply visually latched on to a subject without much consideration, pointed my meter at something 'middish' - a reflective reading off anything near by, factored in a bit of guess work, and then if in doubt add a bit exposure for good luck. Not at all Barry Thornton, and not at all precise, but I have plenty of decent negs from that period, but also a boxfull of duds. Pieces of film no good to man nor beast, no interest, bad processing, and possibly only relevant in 200 years time when sea levels are so high this otherwise empty land area I've been snapping is covered with concrete.

Golden rules for exposure say expose for the shadows, then close 2 stops (or 1 or 3 depending on preferences) and this will always work if the brightness range is metered, and development is adjusted to suit. I understand this is the basis of the Zone system, and it suggests a properly exposed and properly developed neg is always the best. Being a former haphazard metering type I would partially agree, but I would also question the objective nature of it, and how subjectivity can be lost in sticking too close to zone accuracy. I've got good negs from duff metering that result from under or over exposure, and possibly the wrong development thrown in as well. These negs can throw up images that are a bit special - I've always had a soft spot for negs that have been a bit dense through a generous exposure and slight over development. I have some FP4/Rodinal negs done that way that I think make great prints - slightly long printing times, but great micro contrast and clear tonal steps. Then there's the opposite of this - under exposed negs, sometimes good for heavier, smoother and darker image qualities. Two examples of negs I wouldn't have had if I'd have got into the zone system from day one.

I'm not exactly following the Zone system now, but understanding the whole system means establishing certainties between exposure and development - it has to be the two, and yes a lot of photographers would say thats exactly right, exactly the way to make a good negative, and this was what I thought I needed to look into.

I had to force myself to sharpen up with exposure and developing, not to get the ultimate, perfectly technical neg as such, but to try to get a better hold of the sort of tonality I want from that neg. The Foma film with it's softy smoothness got me thinking about the tonal content of an image, and more than ever made me realise that film is such good stuff.

This brings me neatly round to the part of the Zone system (or rather, an idea adopted by it) that I instinctively like - pre-visualization, and although the wording is correct, I don't like the term too much. It prods me into thinking I should be standing in front of awe inspiring mountains somewhere in America, reading contrast values with the finished, very polished equally awe inspiring print hung on a wall in the back of my mind. I thought I could do this in a roundabout way with Ilford films, but the Foma film alters things. Greens are reproduced much lighter, softer, and the tonal scale is massive. In short a pretty decent film for someone pointing a camera at a green and pleasant land.

So along with processing, the whole pre-visualization thing changed in changing film, so much so that I now think some of my more recent images would not have been as good if I'd have used a film that didn't have the Foma's tonal qualities. I also wish I could say that I use an on going combination of different films all the time, for different sort of days, and my ideal line up would be Foma 100, FP4, Delta 100 in 5x4. Delta 100/400, FP4 in 120. Foma 100, Delta 400/3200 in 35mm. Thats a fair bit of stock to keep, but despite that I like the idea of getting to know things well, so predominantely one film for all usage can pay off especially when it comes to the pre-visualization bit and knowing what will happen.

Sometimes when I'm out photographing I can't decide which pre-visualized image I prefer. The options here are based on tonal and contrast range, and for instance I've recognised a dour side of my character that deliberately produces soft, heavy tonal images. Images kept soft through filter use, exposure and development. And, because I'm not entirely a miserable sod at other times I'll go all out to keep a shine in other images made again with the help of exposure and development. Stood by the camera is I find the right time to decide whether to allow certain qualities, or to perhaps go the opposite introducing more or less light and contrast. Settling for an exposure (and filter) and especially with sheet film is hovering close to the Zone system - so close that it could almost seem churlish to not dive fully in. A literal zone application though in a given situation might suggest a scene needs over developing to increase contrast, or the opposite, and that even though the soon to be photographed scene has it's own qualities that have great effect, a tweaking of the zones can, in theory offer a predictable more.

Some of what I consider favourite images have come from 'problem' negs taken well before I became more aware of exposure and develpoment. Not huge neg problems, but as I mentioned as a result of under/over exposure and under/over deving. So I have to ask myself if I like that sort of exposure for whatever reason, why bother to think about how to tweak it too much at the shutter pressing/developing stages? why not relax and go back to haphazard? I think using sheet film raised these issues. It's quite an effort lugging the gear around, there are fewer shots, concentration levels go up, and each shot can be given individual attention, a bit of mild 'composing', it can be shaped and prodded in various ways, often surprisingly well. My aim with the Foma film was to have a choice of soft/heavy or bright and zingy through tweaking exposure and development without filling the box of duff negs too much - even though no matter what I do it is still incredibly tonally different to FP4 and the Deltas.

I've come across photographers that all seem to do metering differently. A digi friend of mine does it quite scientifically, he knows the limitations and understands his process well even though I think the small on camera preview screen can be quite misleading, perhaps even more so than the imagined finished and toned print in the back of the head. With a lot of the landscape based approach I seem to have to do, I've got into the habit of seeing that finished print - or rather one or two variations of it, so much so that on more than a few occasions I've decided to abandon a shot because I couldn't see the print, or it's message in a satisfying, finished way both objectively and subjectively. You know the question - 'does it work', and if by any chance I end up asking myself 'what the hell are you taking this for?' and get no reply worth listening to from my inner gallery I'll definately pack in the shot. Before I do this I will have sorted out the exposure bit and taken that for granted, but I'll move on to looking a little harder at the reasons for actually wanting to take the photograph, what really drew me to it, and would it ever hold it's own in any capacity beyond a well exposed and developed piece of film.

It seems pre-visualization can become quite complex for the mono film user - and I don't mind that at all. Not only are there questions around the need to bring a particular image to life, but also all the technical considerations, those contrast issues, different film responses, and imagining a colourful scene in terms of a black and white printing process. It's a pretty focused mind that can think all too clearly and consistently that way, and I find it impossible to come anywhere close to it if I'm out landscape photographing with company. Sadly, it seems I have to just concentrate and just gawp at the view a little bit too long, mentally ticking a few boxes and de-clicking a few others to arrive at a final print influenced series of decisions that with me also involves a lot of faffing around and enjoying a roll-up.

Of course I still make mistakes that result in a duff neg, I mean who really, honestly dosn't, but I'm not filling my duff neg box as often with bad neg processing and meaningless shots. I'm starting to think film usage and chemicals are getting expensive, especially when I look at all the negs I never go anywhere near, so forcing myself to think of the print, the exposure and the developing, but more importantly what an image has to offer up is pre-visualization kicking hell out of that duff neg box.

Foma 100. Rodinal 1+100
Rated @ 64 iso
Very dull light @64-100
Pre soak 3m
Dev from 11-16 mins (13=N)
Very gentle agitation each 60 secs for 5 secs.
10 secs agitation to boost contrast.

More ramblings/photographs here-http://www.richard-littlewood.com

Below left. An FP4/Rodinal image. High SBR, generous exposure and over dev'd. A pig to print, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Below middle left. Foma 100. Low SBR. Full exposure, under-dev'd for softness. N-1
Below middle right. Foma 100. Over exposed. Under dev'd. N-2.
Below right. Foma 100. Low SBR. 'On' exposure. N dev.
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  #1  
By Dave miller on 7th June 2010, 12:36 PM
Default

An absorbing discourse Richard. I have a certain empathy for “simply pointed my meter at something 'middish'” coupled to my own brand of wet figure tweaking, and plus a bit for luck. It has certainly produced some “interesting” negatives and thrown up a few challenges, but also, as you have found, some of my favourite images as well.
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  #2  
By Steve Smith on 7th June 2010, 01:12 PM
Default

As another 'pointing the meter at something middish' sort of person, I too found this interesting as I did reading Edge of Darkness which I borrowed from the library last month.

However I have a problem with 'pre-visualisation'. Surely the 'pre' is superfluous. Visualisation is 'pre' already.

Just a minor point, I know (sorry!).


Steve.
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  #3  
By Richard L on 7th June 2010, 01:27 PM
Default

Steve

Agree. It's a zone thing though.
By the way are you the Steve with the 6x12 project with the Olympus lens mount? Any shots yet?.

Richard
Last edited by Richard L; 7th June 2010 at 01:44 PM..
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  #4  
By Dave miller on 7th June 2010, 01:42 PM
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Smith View Post
As another 'pointing the meter at something middish' sort of person, I too found this interesting as I did reading Edge of Darkness which I borrowed from the library last month.

However I have a problem with 'pre-visualisation'. Surely the 'pre' is superfluous. Visualisation is 'pre' already.

Just a minor point, I know (sorry!).


Steve.
See http://photonotes.org/cgi-bin/entry....evisualization
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  #5  
By Steve Smith on 7th June 2010, 02:31 PM
Default

Quote:
Previsualization.

Imagining the photographic result before taking a photograph
I would call that visualisation (and I can spell it properly!).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard L View Post
By the way are you the Steve with the 6x12 project with the Olympus lens mount? Any shots yet?
Yes, that's me. No shots yet as I need to get the shutter repaired when funds allow. One of the shutter blades fell out!


Steve.
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  #6  
By B&W Neil on 7th June 2010, 03:31 PM
Default

I enjoyed your article Richard - thanks for posting.

Your comments on the Foma 100 are very interesting. I have some Foma 400 but have yet to try it - I shall do so soon.

I also enjoyed your images - a wonderful set.

Neil.
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  #7  
By Dave miller on 7th June 2010, 03:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Smith View Post
I would call that visualisation (and I can spell it properly!).



Steve.
No you can't, it's an American word so needs a "z".
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  #8  
By Richard L on 7th June 2010, 03:53 PM
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Couldn't quite work the word out myself, how to spell it, what it means etc, and I think I got it wrong!
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  #9  
By B&W Neil on 27th June 2010, 05:43 PM
Default

Nice article - which I enjoyed. Thanks for posting.

Neil.
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