Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Paper Negative & Gear & Technique

Some posts ago, I was shortly talking about "paper negatives" and here comes what the excitement is all about.
As the name suggests, a paper negative is a negative on paper ... haha ... you might think. But, think again!
The idea is to take photos, i.e. negatives, using photographic paper. Photographic paper itself works very much the same way as photographic film, despite being a lot less sensitive.

First thoughts before jumping into the experience of the paper negative:
  • what kind of camera?
  • what kind of tripod?
  • light-meter?
  • paper?
  • lab equipment?
  • chemicals?

The Camera

I would  suggest to get a folding camera with a film format of around 9cm x 12cm (I will come back to this later).
Those cameras usually come with a 135mm lens and various shutters.
Often the shutters make the difference. Since we are aiming for using the camera with paper, it is important that the slow speeds are working properly. I recommend looking for a "Compur" with self-timer. Those are "fairly" modern and can be fixed with some patience. As I wrote before, make sure the slow speeds are working, unless you're confident you can fix the shutter.
As important as a working shutter is that both parts of the lens (if it is a 2 part lens) are clear. I have seen lenses so fogged up that you cannot see your finger touching the opposite side. (Stay away from those! - no way to fix easily!)
Shutter and lens, the most important items to an old plate camera? No, not all... bellows can be a big deal problem. If the camera is expensive, make sure that the bellow is light-tight! If you can get the camera for cheap, you might accept a leaking bellow, since it can be fixed by either gaffer's tape or replacement.
Right, and now comes the really important part of buying an old plate camera! Make sure that you get some fitting plate film cassettes with it, in good shape that is! Said cassettes are usually made from thin sheet-metal, which can corrode easily! Corroded film cassettes are very hard to restore! Also, finding cassettes for your particular camera can be really difficult.
Hence, the most important part when looking for a folding camera is the presence of cassettes in good condition.

The Tripod

You'll  need a tripod no matter what! Exposure times will be between 1s/10 and several minutes.
This particular tripod needs to be equipped with a 3/8 inch screw, since this was the gauge of the time. It is the gauge of today too, but not for the camera. 3/8 is still used to mount your tripod head onto the tripod itself. However, this requires that you selected one with a removable head.
For my very own camera, I use a MeFOTO RoadTrip.
A camera that does shift, rise and fall, you would usually not need a ball-head. However, if it makes you feel more comfortable, you will need a 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch adapter screw.


Unless you are very sure what you are doing, you should get a decent light-meter. Why am I saying this? A decent light-meter will allow you to get exposure values for ISO 3, which is exactly what you need for paper negatives. Mine is a Gossen Starlite II. 
You might use a general purpose meter and calculate your way down from ISO 100 to ISO 6 or ISO 3, no problem, however, I prefer spot-metering: "expose for the shadows, develop for the lights" (we'll come to this later again). So, is you meter shadows, put them on zone 3 on your Starlite II (which does actually know the zone system!).


Here, the opinions split. Well, not as to the type of paper to use, PE (aka RC) is the call!
And here comes the split:
  • fixed gradation
  • variable gradation
My experiments were inconclusive so far, what a favorite is considered. I used long expired gradation 4 and gradation 3 paper to the same success as very fresh FOMA multi-grade paper.
Most photographers working with paper negatives recommend a #2 gradation (which is "medium soft" photographic paper). Paper, in comparison to film, is considered "hard", i.e. having high contrast.

The following needs to be considered when choosing the paper:

  1. photographic paper is very blue-green sensitive
  2. variable gradation paper provides specific contrast for specific wavelengths of light
Both factors, 1. and 2. point towards the use of filters.

  1. fixed gradation paper with colored filters will lead to a defined sensitivity of the paper negative
  2. variable gradation paper with gradation filters will lead to a defined contrast of the paper negative
The choice is yours!

Pre-flash the Paper

This is a trick to sensitize the paper by homogeneously pre-exposing the paper, shortly before the shot, with an amount of light that does not (substantially) darken the negative. The effect is believed to be temporary only, since the Bromine in the emulsion might re-collect the lost electron.
Many folks pre-flash by means of their enlarger of other contraptions in the darkroom. 
Personally, I figured out a different method:
  • meter a homogeneous light source (e.g. the sky) for zone IX or X
  • de-focus whatever was metered for (e.g. close focus for a cloud)
  • open the dark-slide
  • expose widest open as possible
  • close the dark-slide
Now the paper is pre-flashed and ready to take a picture.
This procedure might give you 1 stop of sensitivity.

Lab Gear

This is real easy, you need to pick some meals from your favorite Chinese take-away, and you'll be supplied with plenty of paper processing trays.
OK, there is some equipment you really need: a safe-light!
Why is that? While film is developed in total darkness, paper can be developed in safe-light lit environment. Meaning, you can actually see for yourself the development process and stop it at your liking! How cool is that?!
That brings us back to the "develop for the lights" part ... well ... you'll see them coming up!


Well, that's a good one. Of course you can use whatever you want or are used to. I am actually using a Caffenol developer. Caffenol is a lot slower than traditional paper developer, so be patient. I once developed a paper negative for 70min. The good thing is, using paper, you can observe the developing process under safe light conditions.
The paper is fixed by a 9+1 Ilford fixer solution.

Some results 

In a previous post, I already was displaying what can be done with an old camera and photographic paper.

At a later point in time, I will add photographs showing the various peaces of equipment I am using personally. Stay tuned!

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