Another question for photographers.

I have myself a nice Canon TLb manual camera I got from my father that’s around 35 years old or so. It’s in great condition, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, but I’m just looking to get a bit of insight as to how I can make my pictures look their best. So, I figured I’d come here for some insight.

I have three lenses: a 55 mm, a 20 mm, and a 70-300mm zoom, all manual. I’ve been using bulk loaded HP5 400 speed black and white film, and so far, that’s working well for me. I’m a big fan or portraits, so that’s the kind of work I generally tend to fiddle with.

Still, my blacks tend to come out more gray then the pitch, shinny black I see in photos I’d admire. Is this a matter of the film itself, the exposure, or is it more in the developement of the pictures?

And what’s the trick to making everything in the photo in focus? It seems no matter how I adjust my Fstops and shutter speed, when my pictures come out, it’s only the area right in focus that comes out crips. Ive recently found a site with some rock formations that I think would be cool to shoot, many shots would be through holes and crags where I want the subject in the distance in focus, as well as the rocks in the foreground. Is this a matter of getting a better lense, or can I do it with the ones I have?

Any other suggestions anyone would have would be great. Thanks.

How are you getting the B&W film printed? If you do your own, you have complete control over how black your blacks are. A lab presumably would just guess.

Could be exposure or development. Do light areas go completely white (exposure), or is it just the blacks that are off (development)?

It’s probably not the fault of the film, unless it’s old or has been exposed to too much heat.

[QUOTE}And what’s the trick to making everything in the photo in focus? It seems no matter how I adjust my Fstops and shutter speed, when my pictures come out, it’s only the area right in focus that comes out crips.

Smaller apertures and shorter lenses (because the actual hole is smaller for any given f/stop) give you more depth of field. The long lens won’t give you much depth of field at all; the 20mm at f/16 or 22 (or better yet, f/32, but most 35mm lenses don’t go that far) will have everything in focus. More distance between camera and subject also helps. The brand of the lens, as long as it’s a good one (are all of yours Canon?), doesn’t matter.

Focus about a third of the way into the scene for maximum depth of field.

Shutter speed has next to nothing to do with depth of field. The important factors are lens focal length and aperture. In general, the longer your lens’ focal length, the less depth of field you’ll have. By the same token, smaller aperture will yield greater depth of field than a larger one; but remember that smaller aperture also means greater edge diffraction, which leads to loss of image quality (particularly at the smallest apertures). There are some tricks to maximize the depth of field for a given lens, described here. In particular, pay attention to the concept of hyperfocal distance.

If you are printing your own pics, the most common cause of ‘flat’ prints is a combination of over-exposure and under-development of the paper. It is very tempting to watch the print in the developing tray and ‘snatch’ it out when it looks OK. Make sure you do proper test strips and always develop for the full time. Also make sure the developer is at the correct temperature.

If you are getting them processed at a lab, either choose another lab (most labs, except those dealing with pros, do B&W as an afterthought and not always very well. It is actually harder to produce a good B&W than a color print). You could try one of the new ‘chromagenic’ B&W films such as Ilford XP2 or Kodak T400CN. These can be processed just like color film which may give better results in a mini-lab, and possibly cheaper.

If you are over-exposing or under-exposing you shots, you’ll have limited contrast on the negatives, and thus less contrast in your resulting prints. But I’ll assume you are using a light meter to get reasonably close on the exposures. (Make sure you are metering for the subject, and not the entire image).

Different chemicals used to develop negatives can make a difference. A developer that is made to produce the finest grain on the negs can also result in reduced contrast on the negative.

Also, your lab probably develops the film and prints with a machine, which will use an analyzer to expose the paper based on the average density of the negative. For example, if you took a portrait of someone’s head against a black background, and the person only takes up 10% of the frame, the analyzer will think “this is a very thin negative, let’s not expose the paper too much”, and you will end up with a print where the background is lighter than it should be.

Since you’re definitly into B&W photography, it’s time you learned how to develop your own stuff in a darkroom. It’s easy to pick up the basics - look for a class at your local community college, or park district, or ask at a photo shop. (Quick tip: you might want to try using a higher contrast paper, or use polycontrast filters.)

I encourage you to learn as much as you can about making good B&W images. You, my friend, need to learn about the zone system. Ansel Adams developed the zone system so he could predictably put an image on paper as he invisioned it. It requires extreme control of exposure, usually with multiple readings with a 1º spot meter, control over negative processing and printing. Just controlling the negative isn’t enough. Printing papers come in various contrast grades or in a special multicontrast type that is controlled with a set of colored filters. Kodak calls theirs polycontrast.

You may consider getting three books by A.A. The Camera, The Negative and The Print.

Boy, it’s been years since I’ve been in a darkroom, but I believe that development time has an effect on contrast. Adding anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes makes a big difference. Since El Elvis Rojo is using bulk loaded film, he can probably afford to spend some time experimenting. The best thing about B&W is that once you learn the physics and the chemistry, you have a ton of control over what the final print will look like. When you get exactly what you want, and know exactly why it came out that way, you can really start producing some great work.

As for the depth of field, does your camera have a preview lever? Some cameras have these, some don’t. What it does is engage the aperture while you are still looking through the viewfinder. Everything will get darker, of course, but you will be able to see what is in focus and what is not.

(Since I’m nearsighted, if I need to see something and I don’t have my glasses handy, I can make a small aperture using my forefinger and thumb, squint through it, and voilà, the object is in focus.)

I apologize for that appalling sentence. Move along, nothing to see…

Nothing’s wrong with your sentence. I use that procedure myself for the same reason. In fact it is an example of the pinhole effect used in pinhole cameras and camera obscura, etc.

Wicked whites, garish grays and blah blacks? :confused:

Time for some testing.

Load a short roll off the bulk-loader - 12 exposures worth is sufficient. Take that film straight to the darkroom and process it as normal. It should be utterly clear. Any exposure will be from fogging (light leaks in the loader, or your film room) or bad film (it’s old or got overheated?) Chemistry could also be at fault - overly-recycled (aka exhausted) developer can flatten things out. This is not uncommon in school or communal darkrooms.

I’m assuming you’re loading film into the developing tank in a film room - this is not just darker than a dark room, it’s DARK. Most film is intolerant of any kind of “safe light.”

Printing - If you’re using polycontrast paper, use #3 filter and put that (hopefully) totally clear film into the enlarger and make a test strip. Process this as normal. You should wind up with a gray scale going from pure white (where the paper was unexposed) to black. If no black, your exposure time’s not long enough. If no white, the paper got exposed. Whether the safelight’s too bright, or if you keep it in a paper safe, maybe someone peeked when the white lights were on. :smack:

Photography can be immensely fun - there have been times that I’ve been in the darkroom for five hours and didn’t realize so until the gurgle of the wash sink got to me and I had to GO. :eek: Whe it all works, it just flows. Those are the times when time disappears. But there will be days that nothing works right and you’ll be annoyed and want to pack it all in and pile it all on the curb. Those are the days you need to step back and look at the whole process and figure out what’s not right. At least you have us to turn to. Fifteen years ago, when I got my first whiff of hypo, this didn’t exist.

The Zone system is great, but it’s overkill for most photographers. My general rule of thumb is “expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights” with black and white negative film.

I like a punchy neg, so I tend to overexpose a half stop or so. With a center-weighted metering manual camera, I’d either meter off some grass, the back of my hand (and adjust by opening up a stop), a graycard, etc. To be honest, I don’t really use any of these, from experience I can usually tell what to meter for in the scene, but in giving reference points, grass, hands and graycards are pretty standard.

A general rule: if you’re going to err, err on the side of exposure when using negatives. You can pull quite a bit of information out of overexposed areas of your film (up to 3 stops or so), but you can’t create information where there isn’t any.

However, your problem is most likely just the print itself. A rule of thumb for a good print is that it should have a pitch black point, a totally white point, and a good gradation of tones in between. Those dark grays in your photo CAN be made black in the printing process. But your local photolab probably isn’t going to invest the time into finding the right grade of contrast paper, correct printing time, dodging and burning, etc, to make the print you desire. B&Ws made by Wal-Mart-type printing places are terrible.

But if you are printing them yourself, then there can be any number of possibilities. The contrast grade of your paper might be too low. You might be using multigrade paper with incorrect filters, and thus getting the wrong contast. I generally find that 2 grade paper produces more than enough punch without being too constrasty. Also, glossy paper will produce much deeper blacks than pearl/lustre/matte finishes. Your developer might be too weak. You might not be leaving the prints in the developer long enough.

As for having everything in focus, that’s a function of aperture, as other posters have stated. Use the smallest aperture possible and the widest lens you have available to get as much as possible in focus. F22 with a 20mm lens should have pretty much damn near everything in focus. I would say that shallow depth of field is usually more desirable than the everything-in-focus effect, but for something like rock formations and landscapes, you definitely want as much in focus as possible.

However, if your foreground is less than a meter away and your background is at infinity, you might have to focus in between the two to get everything in focus. Look at your lens. Find where it indicates the focusing distance. Look here, for instance. Under that infinity symbol you have a white line indicating where you’re focused. On either side you have numbers indicating f-stops. This shows you what’s within your depth of field at that f-stop. At the outer edges, you have f22. All the distances between the two f22 markings will be in acceptable focus at f22. So…focus on the closest object. Check the distance. Set the focus so that both infinity and the distance of your object are within the boundaries of the f-stop marking that you’re using. Now everything you want should be in focus.

With longer lenses, you can’t make everything in focus if you need something relatively close to the lens in focus.

Hope this helps more than confuses.

D’oh! That should read: “If you’re going to err, err on the side of overexposure with negative film.” The Pernod is getting to my head, it seems.