It’s no secret that one of my film/developer favourite combinations is Ilford HP5+ and ID11 diluted 1+1. A couple of times recently however I’ve been caught out with HP5+ in my camera in totally the wrong situation and I’ve ended up knowingly overexposing the film and pulling it from the developer early to compensate. But is there a better way of dealing with this situation? It’s something I’ve been giving some thought to recently.
Coincidentally, at around the same time that I was quietly pondering this matter I also posed a question to the #believeinfilm community on Twitter regarding the developer Perceptol as I’d been given a few boxes a while back and it wasn’t a developer I am familiar with. Amongst the responses was a direct message from Andy (author of The Death of Photography) who is not only familiar with Perceptol but was wondering why I’d not used it with my overexposed HP5+. Was serendipity about to offer me a solution that resolved both questions?
“… when you did it, I thought Perceptol might be better …”Andy Smale
Andy and I continued to exchange messages on the subject, whilst at the same time others were chipping in on Twitter and I also set to it, researching further and eventually formulating a plan. Not an original plan mind you, turns out this is a fairly common approach but it’s new to me.
Which is why after breakfast I loaded a roll of HP5+ into the Horizon S3, set my meter to 250 and went for a walk around the block. Now, admittedly, it’s distracted me from writing up my thoughts on loading the KMZ FT-2 (sorry Bill T) but I needed to check this out for myself. And I needed to do it … now!
One of the reasons that developing HP5+ in Perceptol is a common approach is that this is a very fine grain developer and properly exposed negatives have a very clean and detailed look to them. There seems to be some debate at whether or not you should meter at box speed of 400 or at 250 although in photography this sort of disagreement is normal. I decided to take Andy’s advice not least because another photographer, co-host of The Lensless Podcast no less, also got in touch to recommend metering at ISO 250. You don’t ignore good advice when given so freely and it was also the whole point of the exercise – dealing with a theoretically overexposed roll of film.
The Ilford website recommends developing HP5+ rated at 250 in stock Perceptol for 13 minutes and at this stage I see no reason to ignore this advice. Whether or not I vary from that in the future will depend upon the results over the next few months. So, I will be taking a break from writing this post to develop the film and will be back later with my conclusions.
INTERLUDE: Insert Muzak of your choice …
So, welcome back. Hopefully you enjoyed your choice of music … but don’t blame me if you didn’t!
We have negatives and they look very nice to me. Bags of detail, crisp and clean. Unfortunately, the digital scans that I am able to produce at home, whilst perfectly good for most things cannot do total justice to any negative. These have a pleasant, well-controlled grain and when compared on a light box with some pulled negatives using ID11 are noticeably cleaner.
So, from an online discussion on Wednesday I was out with the camera on Thursday morning to expose a roll of film, which was developed Thursday afternoon and now a blog post uploaded on the same Thursday teatime.
Am I happy? Yes. The developer gave me everything I was looking for and I wish I’d been aware of this before I pulled my over-exposed HP5+ prematurely from a tank of ID11 on Tuesday. It is however another tool in my personal tool kit and that is a positive. I am going to deliberately over-expose some HP5+ over the coming weeks to see if these results are repeatable (I strongly suspect they are). As I already enjoy HP5+ rated at 400 and I regularly rate it at 800 it’s looking as if this film might also fulfil my needs at lower ISOs too. No wonder someone described it to me recently as the Swiss Army knife of black and white films
In closing, I would reiterate that photography is a very personal thing and just because one, or a hundred people say something is the way to go doesn’t mean to say it’s the way for you. Your tastes, your aesthetic are personal to you and I’d always recommend listening to the advice and thoughts of others but then trying things for yourself before committing to a method. I followed my own advice today and tried the suggestions of various people for myself, was very pleased with the results and have just order a bulk roll of HP5+ which by my estimation will use up the four litres of Perceptol I have here … by the end of that I will have tested thoroughly and will know if this is to become a regular feature of my photography.
Finally, thanks to Andy, Andrew, Jason and John amongst others for their thoughts on this process and for helping me down this particular rabbit hole! Also a huge shout out to John Martin who saved me from a technical meltdown!