Army Years - Part 6

Better Printing and New Processes

During my time in Germany, with so many hours to play in the darkroom, the quality of my printing improved and I learned several new processes. The photo shown on the right is one example. I showed this previously on this page since it was from the first roll of 35mm film that I shot. The image on that page was a scan of the negative. The one shown here is a scan of the print, retouched with Spotone to remove dust marks.

What led to the improvement in my printing was a combination of more reading, studying the works of Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, and others, practicing, and getting good feedback from my mentor in the photo lab, Ernst Berg. For the most part I was using Agfa Brovira black and white printing paper that was graded. Graded paper came in 5 or 6 contrast grades so that the contrast of the paper could be adjusted to the negative. This meant that the photographer had to keep several different packages of varying contrasts on hand. The alternative was polycontrast paper where the contrast could be adjusted by the use of various filters that ranged from yellow to magenta. I used both types but was more of a fan of the graded paper, especially for certain subject matter.

One of the keys to successful printing was running plenty of test prints before making the final. I use the step wedge method to determine the proper exposure time. A small piece of paper is placed on the enlarger easel and all but a small area is covered when the enlarger was turned on exposing the paper to the negative. The length of the exposure is 3-5 seconds after which the cover was moved slightly and another exposure was made. This is repeated until the entire test strip is exposed. After development and fixing the strip is taking out into the light and the best exposure time could be determined by examining the range shown on the strip. Over the years I have probably made tens of thousands of test strips. Some might consider this tedious but I have always found it meditaive and just part of the process. Those who want to speed things up invest in enlarging exposure meters. The image on the left are some of the test strips from a recent printing session.

The newest process I learned was color film developing and printing. It was daunting to get into it as, aside from the added cost, I'd heard stories about the difficulty with temperature control and the shuffling of filters in the printing process, but Ernst assured me that it wasn't really that difficult. For the development of color negatives I used Tetenal's Neofin kits. This was a general purpose batch of chemicals that purported to develop pretty much any type of color film. Kodak would probably have disagreed but in my experience it did work quite well. At the time, 1975, we were undergoing a transistion from the standard C-22 process to the newer C-41, the latter which was release in 1974. For most part I shot Kodacolor film with the occassional roll of Agfacolor CNS.

Developing the color film was much the same a black and white except I was using different chemical and I kept the developing tank in a warm water bath to maintain a constant temperature. I deveoped both 35mm and 120 films with no problems, except once. Color negative film has a softer and somewhat thicker emulsion than black and white films and when it is wet it is quite fragile. I had a roll in the sink doing the wash portion which was simply the water running into the open tank. While I was in the darkroom doing something else, someone used the adjoining sink and whatever they did caused a huge temperature fluctuation in my wash water, going from warm to cold, very cold, quite rapidly. This caused the emulsion of my film to swell and then to contract resulting is what is known as "reticulation." When the film is dried, little cracks show in the images where the emulsion tried to shrink but broke into pieces. This is a known effect and can be used as an artistic application but was a surpise for me. Luckily this was only the last roll from my trip to Greece and nothing on the roll was essential. In fact, it was kind of cool looking. I had wanted to finish off that roll and had placed my camera on a tripod and done a time exposure of the tuning dial of my stereo receiver during which I advanced the film a few times. Adding reticulation to it only added to the abstract effect. A close up is shown on the right.

Color printing was a very time consuming process. We used Agfa chemistry in open trays at room temperature. Processing time was about 20 minutes per print. This meant that from setting up the exposure and filter pack, making the test strip, developing it, and then drying it, took about 30 minutes. High volume work was not going to happen and if I got one print in a day I considered this a success. Ernst taught me how to "read" the test print and then add the correct color filters. I generally needed 3-6 test prints before I got the color and exposure correct. If someone else was doing color printing at the same time our work flow had to be synched since we used the same trays of chemicals and needed to be mindful of stray light. Also intersting is that the processing was done in near-complete darkness. We did have one of those dark green safelights but it would take your eyes about 10 minutes to adjust to it, making it almost worthless. With all that, I did procuce some great color prints from 8x10 up to 12 x 16. Here are two examples, scanned from prints:

A building in Rudesheim

Seen at the Fasching parade in Mainz

Being able to control the color of the final print is one of the best advantages of printing one's own work. When sending film out for processing you get what you get. In these two images, I adjusted the filter packs to give the image a hue that worked well with the subject matter.


Train station in Weisbaden

The one process that I really got into was the Sabbatier effect, AKA solarization. I go into the nuts and bolts of this in detail on the Sabattier effect page. In short, in the darkroom, after exposing the enlarging paper it is developed halfway and then reexposed to white light, then returned to the developer. The result is a partial reversal of some tones to negative giving the print a surreal look. Also, depending on the image, where there is a reversal along high contrast areas, Mackie lines can appear. These are white lines that follow the contour of the shapes as shown in the close up to the right. Very interesting. I spent MANY hours working on mastering this technique, making it predictable and repeatable, and produced some interesting results. Here are two of them:

This wraps up some of the photography I did while in Germany and in the army. In October of 1975 I became a civilian again and life went off into other directions. While my time in the army isn't all filled with pleasant memories, photography came along at just the right time, allowing me to concentrate on something brand new, sending me on a path on which I still travel.

Click to goto to the next page: Working in a Photofinishing Lab

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Updated December 2020.