Going through old negatives

black and white street photography by Markus Hartel, New York City
black and white street photography by Markus Hartel, New York City

Old negative – The sleeve is marked Delta 3200 @1600 Diafine – DON’T EVER DO THIS AGAIN!!! I never liked Ilford Delta to begin with and I obviously developed this roll in Diafine for testing (who the F knows what I was thinking)… this combination has the nastiest grain texture I have ever seen, combined with a very low resolution. I don’t expect either one to still be around, so it doesn’t matter anymore. I normally don’t care too much about the technical details, and I like a decent amount of grain, but this negative explains perfectly how bad technique has the potential to ruin a shot, as the textures look really yucky and actually distract and take attention away from the photo – after all, it took seven years for it to see the light of day, but I do like the shot’s story, and that’s what counts.

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Shooting people’s backs

black and white street photography by Markus Hartel, New York City

I was just looking through contact sheets (scanned, mind you) and thought of a critique I gave last night to one of my students – In my workshops I normally advise against shooting people’s backs, especially when it’s just one person and there is nothing else to tell a story. well, sometimes everything works out and things falls into the right place.

In this frame, I love how everyone is seeking cover and how the two people on the left are holding on to their umbrellas… the lady on the right with the scarf around her head. Most likely, I did not carry an umrella and was freezing my bum off, which really doesn’t add anything to the photo, but I guess my point is that from looking at this photo I (the viewer) can get a really good idea of what’s going on… it started to snow/rain and the wind is blowing and people are freezing their bums off, while rushing across the street.

At some point some preaching “street photographer” raised the question if story telling in a photo was all that necessary, and some may argue that form (i.e. composition) may work over function (i.e. story telling). What good is it going to do, if you have a well composed photo with no story? is it art? does it have emotion? is it just a graphic shot with no idea behind it?… Now take a photo with a great story and mediocre composition – what do we get? a snapshot? maybe – maybe the photo would work as a part of a compilation, a documentary accompanied by text. makes sense. I think a good street photograph needs to encompass a lot more, because oftentimes things are taken out of context. That being said, thought, composition and story telling are key for a successful street photograph.

The same rings true for a good portrait – the photographer needs to engage with the subject… well, maybe I’ll get into that in another post.

This frame is from 2004, shot at the corner of 34th St. & 8th Ave. The grittiness, organic grain and dust makes me itch to shoot some film. The only 35mm film camera that’s left in my shrinking array is a Canon Elan 7 and would do the trick just fine with the 28mm that I have… I may get around to it, but I definitely need to check on my chemicals!!

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Sunny 16 Rule



A simple rule of thumb for taking photos in daylight without a light meter. The rule is quite easy to remember – if you’re taking a photo in bright daylight set the aperture to f/16 and set the shutter speed to be as near as possible to the same number as the film speed.

So if you’re using ISO 100 film, for example, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/125 sec, since 1/125 is the closest shutter speed value to 100 on a typical camera.

If you want to use a different aperture calculate the number of stops away from f/16 you want to use and then adjust the shutter speed accordingly. For example, f/11 is one stop larger than f/16, so you’d need to increase your shutter speed by one stop. So if you’re using ISO 100 film you’d set the aperture to f/11 and the shutter speed to 1/250 sec.

This rule works because the light output from the sun is a pretty constant value – the sun itself puts out a nearly constant amount of light at all times. Only precisely calibrated equipment can detect the light fluctuations of the sun.

here are some variations for a sunny day:
Full sun – f/16
Half sun – f/11
Open shade – f/8
Darker shade – f/5.6
Darkest shade – f/4

with a little bit of practice, you won’t need your lightmeter anymore. follow this link for Fred Parker’s excellent exposure guide.

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Trick the DX sensor

A simple trick can override your camera’s DX reading – The image above illustrates how to trick the DX reading of a simple point-and-shoot camera to expose Kodak Tri-X 400 at 1600 ISO…
the process works with any DX reading camera and with any other exposure count / ISO combo:

no std.
+1/2 | -1/2
+1 | -1
+2 | -1
+3 | -1

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Develop b/w film at home 101

There are only a few things you need to develop your black and white film at home. Against popular beliefs, you won’t need a darkroom, only a little bit of space and running water. The whole setup will cost around $100-$150, much less on the used market. In the long run you will save a lot of time & money developing your own film, not to mention full control over the quality of your negatives…

What you need – from left to right
1.) measuring cup (ideally one for each chemistry)
2.) storage bottles
3.) film developer, stop bath and fixer (brand of your choice)
4.) squegee
5.) darkroom thermometer
6.) developing tank & film reel
7.) small graduate
8.) funnel(s)
9.) scissors
10.) film retriever or can opener
11.) changing bag

now, let’s get started – you have exposed your b/w film and take it out of the camera… usually you would take it to the lab and anxiuosly wait a few days to get it from the lab. From now on you will get a hold of your black and white film within less than an hour or so.

First, you’ll want to retrieve the film leader out of of the film canister – old school shooters use can openers, I highly recommend a Hakuba film picker.

In order to load your film on the reel, you will need to cut off the narrow part of the

round the corners with scissors to make sure the film loads safely on the reel

It’s time to break out the changing bag – for the next few minutes, you’ll need the sensitivity of your fingertips only – yepp, basically you’re blind, everything is happening in the bag. Place your roll of film and the developing canister, including the lid, the film reel and the stem into the changing bag.

***film, canister and your hands are in the changing bag***

position the film in the first groove of the reel… I prefer to use the Jobo plastic reels

hold the film with your left thumb and advance with your right thumb, move forward until the whole roll of film is on the reel, rip the film off it’s spool and put the film canister aside (in the changing bag)

position the holder in the reel

place the loaded reel and stem into the developing tank

finally it’s time to get out of the sweaty changing bag – close the developing tank tight and take it out of the bag.

*** we’re out of the changing bag ***

it’s time to get the chemicals up to spec, mix the developer, fixer and stop bath according to the manufacturer’s specifications (the old dogs have ’em prepared already :P). Get the temperature right – 68°F (20°C) is standard. At higher temperatures, more contrast and grain will develop.

1st pour the developer in the tank

Always agitate slowly. For right now, use the manufacturer’s developing time and agitate according to their recommendations. Later on, you might want to experiment with these times. Developing time controls the shadows and agitation controls grain and contrast. Different developers and film combinations give you a different look of your negatives. I prefer Kodak Tri-X as my standard film and develop it in Ilford DD-X @ ISO 400. For ISO 800 and 1600 I either use Ilford Microphen or Diafine, both are speed enhancing developers for push process.

Once the developing is done, you can dispose the developer – many developers are one-shot developers only, so they have to go after use. Some developers -like Diafine- can be used over and over, so that would go back in the bottle.
*repeat the process with the stop bath and the fixer (no pictures here)*

Wash your film under running water for 5-10 minutes, discard the water in the tank often.

an alternative method to save water: fill the tank with fresh water, invert 5 times, discard the water and fill the tank again with fresh water. Turn 10 times and discard, fill again and turn 20 times, one final wash. This process takes less time and saves gallons of water.

Take the reel out of the canister and spool your film off the reel, soak it for a few seconds in water with a drop of dishwashing liquid. Some people use Hypoclear, which does the same thing – both prevent water stains on the negative.

Wipe the water residue off your negative strip with a film squeegee

Hang your film on a line in a dust-free room (the shower is a good place – close the curtain) and let it dry for some time. Use a clip at the bottom as well, to prevent curling of your film.

After the film is dry, cut it in strips of 5 or 6 negatives and store it in archival sleeves. The negatives are ready for printing or scanning.

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How to load a Rolleiflex

The question how to load a Rolleiflex came up in on of the photography forums I visit, so I illustrated the process and took the chance to bring my photo related tutorials section “live” which I meant to do a while ago…

1. Take the old film spool from the bottom and place it in the take-up compartment

2. Place the film in the bottom of the camera and feed the backing paper under the first metal roll (film feeler)

3. Feed the backing paper trough the slot of the take-up spool

4. Roll the backing paper 2 times around the take-up spool (clockwise)

5. Fix the take-up spool in its compartment – place right side of the spool first and pull the knob on the left out, push the take-up spool in place and let the knob go.
Unfold the film advance crank and advance clockwise, until the arrows line up with the film feeler, close the back

6. Advance the film crank clockwise, until it stops – film counter shows “1”. If the film advances without stopping, you did not feed the film under the “film feeler” roll (2)

7. Reverse film advance crank counterclockwise and fold away. Your Rolleiflex is ready to go

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