Ah yes, the wonder, beauty and necessity of clean, pure water! The above shot was taken in the Cayman Islands back in 2011. Such crystal clear water makes it a wonderful place to kick back and enjoy. But clean water is not something easy to find. Living internationally we have often been forced to use bottled water as the liquid that comes from the tap is anything but water!
When I began developing my own film I started to read about the use of distilled water for all chemical mixing and the cleaning of film. I was living in Perth Australia at the time which enjoys some excellent tap water if a bit on the hard side. As I moved to London, I noticed slight changes in my chemical mixes but nothing to worry about. Now I find myself in Jakarta and I am having a host of issues with finding clean, pure and consistent water.
I decided it was time to do a bit of a deep dive into the simplest of items, water and why it is so critical in the development process. Most of what I read was online from a variety of sources but one of my main sources is the "Sciencing" website.
Why would we want to use distilled water?
The advantage of distilled water is the consistency. Since the only molecules you have will be water, it ensures that you do not have variation in mineral content in your water. When you mix chemicals together, different molecules will react differently when put together. Reducing all other molecules and leaving only water, ensures that you are getting the chemical reactions you are looking for and nothing else.
My tap water is clean enough to drink from, can't I just use that?
Sure. You can use anything you like and if you have been developing film using your tap water without issues then why change? The problem is if you are getting some variations in your chemistry it can become impossible to track down the problem is your variables keep changing.
A proper chemistry experiment requires that you only change one variable at a time. So if you are testing three different development chemicals then you want to keep all other variables the same. The same temperature, the same water and same volumes. If your tap water is not consistent, this can make it impossible to predict your results.
Where can I get distilled water?
You can buy distilled water in gallon jugs, in smaller water bottles. It is typically a little more expensive that normal bottled water but not by much. If you look at the label you should see a 0ppm of other minerals. This means that there are 0 parts per million of other minerals in the water.
Do you use distilled water for everything in film development?
Heck no! I use distilled water to mix chemicals. So my developer, stop and fix baths are all mixed with distilled water. I rinse my film with tap water until the final rinse where I switch to distilled water to leave less streaks.
The time and energy it takes me to make distilled water ensures that I only use it when I need it. It is perfectly safe and keeps for a long time provided the container does not release chemicals into the water. I suggest glass bottles if at all possible.
What is the quantitative difference between distilled and tap water?
Ok so it is easy to say that if you spend more money on this "special" water your pictures will come out better but that is very hard to prove. The fact is that water quality will not impact the quality of your photography but can impact the consistency of your development which impacts you negative. But can we quantify the difference between distilled water and tap water?
Yes, yes we can. To do so we have to use a TDS measuring devise. A TDS measures "Total Dissolved Solids" and it measures it in PPM or Parts Per Million. For the USA drinking water is considered excellent if TDS is less than 300 ppm (or mg/L). Now this does not mention what those solid particles are. If they are arsenic (a heavy metal that can be naturally found underground) then you want much less than this. But if most are salts then 300ppm or less is fine.
My distilled water reads around 1 ppm while my tap water is close to 200 ppm. My mineral water reads about 74 ppm and the purchased distilled water reads 1 ppm. SO we have a very wide quantity of solids, now I have no way of knowing what kind of solids are they. But if I were to mix my chemicals using local tap water I run a much higher probability of having an adverse chemical reaction than if I were to use my distilled water.
A few weeks ago,I went back into the Darkroom for the first time since arriving here in Jakarta. While there, I began to realize that my approach to film photography has changed some what. I mentioned this in a blog post or two, and I wrote a bit about it in some of the Darkroom pages above (see HERE) but I thought it was worthwhile to pull it all together. Nothing revolutionary here just a bit of a different approach.
I am shooting HP5+ with an exposure index (EI) of 200 instead of the recommended 400. This is my favorite set up now. But I have also changed my development and darkroom process to adjust for this. For example, I am developing the film at the recommended time for EI 400 and then remove 10%. End result is a very smooth image, great tonality and I find that the tones blend into each other much better.
The drawback of overexposing in the camera is the loss of 1 stop of light and the speed that it represents. But as explained in this article HERE, using HP5 gives me the latitude to shoot from 1600 to 100 with the same film!
Reading a recent article by Johnny Patience HERE, has introduced a new possibility of shooting HP5 overexposed and overdeveloped. Essentially that translates into shooting HP5 at 100 or 200 EI and then developing it as if I had shot it at EI 800. He recommends this approach for contrasty, thick negatives to give a good darkroom print as well as a scan. I have not tried this but it has given me something new to try!
In the Darkroom I have been using split grade printing which is explained HERE. This gives me the latitude for producing difficult prints in a much easier fashion. I highly recommend diving into it although the filters that Ilford sells are crazy expensive.
In terms of gear I am traveling lighter than before. Two film cameras (with these old cameras a back up is always a good idea) but one stays in the hotel. One digital camera and two lenses each. Lighter than normal but I believe this gives me more freedom. If I go on a photography specific vacation I will obviously carry much more.
So, all in all, minor adjustments but it seems to be working better.
The picture above was shot on my iPhone of a print I made this weekend. The image above is how I had seen the image and it is how I pictured the final print looking. To be clear the line in the middle of the column was actually there and is not a scratch on the negative!
The problem I encountered was that the negative has a massive dynamic range which gave me way too much contrast. I needed to mute the blacks but still give punch to the highlights and mid tones. I needed to do some split grade printing!
Fortunately for me, one of my favorite YouTubers just happened to have a video on how to split grade print (linked below) which walked me through the process. I thought I would show my own experiences through it.
The picture above is the first print I made (after the test strips of course). I determined that I needed 10 seconds to display the sky and give sufficient weight to the highlights. But it rendered everything very dark. Now I could opt to do some dodging and burning, but this would have been very difficult and taken ages. I could have exposed for less time, but the print would have been too soft.
In the image above I only used a 0 filter to soften the contrast down. I used this at 15 seconds (a full 5 seconds more than the very dark print above) and now I have all the detail that I want in the trees and lower portion of the image. My issue is that I lacked a bit of the punch I needed in the middle tones and highlights.
So I decided to add a 3 filter after laying the 15 seconds of 0 filter. So I put a new sheet and ran 15 seconds under 0 filter, and without moving the negative or the paper, I changed the filter to a 3 filter for 5 seconds.
I would like to give a special shout out to "Shoot Film Like a Boss" for the very informative video. I have been watching his videos for the past few months and really love what he puts out. I highly recommend his channel!
I am an eclectic shooter in every sense of the word. I like shooting multiple cameras, I like digital, film and would LOVE to learn glass plate photography, I shoot multiple genres including portraits, architecture, landscape and street. This being said, I have recently decided to shoot only one B&W film.
This has nothing to do with having found the 'perfect' film, but has allot to do with versatility. Up until now, my 35mm go-to film has been Ilford's HP5+ and Fomapan 100. I liked this combination as it gave me an ISO 100 film, for fine grain work and a high speed film that could be pushed from ISO 400 to 3200! With these two films I had fine grain all the way to the low light stuff!
The two drawbacks were that I had to keep two films in stock and I have to process both films differently. If I could consolidate to one film type, I could standardize my development, reducing changes for error and simplifying my life. But I needed a slower film for some of my work and HP5+ at 400 just was not slow enough.
Then I started pulling HP5+ to an Exposure Index of 200. The first few attempts were not really noteworthy and I dropped it. Then I tried exposing at 200 but developing at the recommended timings (as if I had exposed at 400). This came VERY close to what I wanted. When I reduced the time by 10% I found a result I fell in love with!
The one stop difference in speed is not worth keeping both Foma and HP5+ so I have consolidated my film to Ilford. I still have a 100ft bulk roll of Foma100 film that I will enjoy shooting. I love this film, it is inexpensive, fine grained and easy to work with. It is a bit thiner than HP5+ making it more likely to curl but this is easily fixed with a heavy book.
So for my B&W 35mm work I will be purchasing HP5+ in bulk exclusively. For my other formats I buy what I find. While I love HP5+ in medium format there are times it is too expensive or difficult to find. So I will shoot whatever I can find. Same for my 4x5.
A challenge of learning any new skill set is one of access to information. I remember the amount of time, energy and money I spent obtaining my Engineering Degree and while it was the single best investment I have ever made, it highlighted the cost of obtaining knowledge.
Hobbies work the same way. Regardless of what you choose to enjoy, it will cost you time and possibly money to learn how to follow your hobby. With Photography we have a wonderful group of people who are happy to help. All you need to do is reach out and ask.
Here are some of the places I have used to some information and have found the people associated with them to be very friendly. This is not an all encompassing site, and does not include the pay for education sources available.
Vintage Camera Collectors is a great source of wonderful information. I used to log into FB once a week and since joining this group I have been going in everyday to get my fix on cameras. Very friendly, no trolls and a great source of information and people.
Olympus OM 35mm is dedicated to Olympus Cameras. I happen to think that the OM-1 is one of the best cameras ever made and these people tend to agree. Thanks to them I spent the money to buy a 85mm f/2 lens which is one of the best lenses I have seen. It rivals and surpass some of my better Zeiss glass.
Pinhole Photography is an awesome site! Everything you need to know about Pinhole Photography can be found here. Reach out and they are happy to help!
Most recently I found Mike Eckman Dot Com site. I sent Mike a question regarding a new vintage camera I bought and he came back with the solution very quickly. The site is filled with great reviews, something I should learn how to do. The reason his reviews stand out is that he goes into the history of many of the cameras. Clearly a knowledgable guy who is willing to help out.
35hunter is a site that is great feed for your muse. I use it less for knowledge gathering and more to get inspired. I love that they challenge what a 'good picture' is. So they are not afraid to cut people's heads off or other supposed no-no. Sometimes they miss but more often then not, they nail some amazing shots.
Photocamel.com is a great site. I have been a member for years and get a great deal of support from the community there. Most of the support is digital related but still a great place to go.
Film and Darkroom User....ok these guys are AMAZING. They support all analog photography. The only drawback is that they are in the UK and many of their events are UK focused. They have a system where you can exchange darkroom prints with other hobbyists which gives you an avenue to get some critiques or just share your work with people who appreciate it.
While not a complete lis, these are my main go to site for information and inspiration.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.