Trying Trichrome – a workflow

Disclaimer: this is a work-in-progress and not a definitive workflow. I’m sharing it as my reader has expressed an interest in what I’ve been doing with Trichrome post-processing. I’m currently using Photoshop 2022 but plan to explore this process in Affinity Photo too at some point. Please note I have assumed at least a basic knowledge of Photoshop in preparing these notes.

So, the first step is to scan the images and I will work on the basis that anyone considering this process already has scanning under control. These scanned triplets then need preparing and I do this in Photoshop.

We now have a file containing the three different images, each with the filter colour displayed as part of the layers name. This will be very handy in the next stage but first we need to align the images so they match up properly and, optionally, trim off any excess around the edges.

Having got the three negatives aligned and in register we come to the bit where the magic happens. Firstly though, it is wise to double check that the file is in RGB mode at this stage (Image > Mode > RGB).

If I’ve copied this down properly from my notes you should now have a basic colour image on your screen, a negative or a positive depending on whether you inverted the black and white layers earlier. From here it business as usual as you tweak the image to your taste. For me I am currently choosing to leave myself with a colour negative which I import into Lightroom in order to convert it with Negative Lab Pro (NLP). In the example below, the left hand image was a colour negative that I inverted in Photoshop and tweaked using colour balance etcetera. The right hand image was imported as a colour negative into Lightroom and put through NLP without any further adjustments. Both versions have their merits of course.

Take One
Take Two

Whether you prefer one version or another is of course purely a personal choice and partly dependent on your aims. If your aim is to get as close to a natural colour image as possible then you will post-process appropriately and likewise if the lysergic aesthetic appeals you will post-process accordingly. It’s good to know there are choices.

I’m as ready as I’m going to be for some “serious” work now

So, there you have it. An approach to creating Trichrome images from three black and white negatives. Note my previous disclaimer though; this is a work in progress and not a definitive workflow. As and when I make further progress or add refinements I will share them on the blog.

Trying Trichrome – the test roll

I have already shared my initial thoughts on exposing film with the intention of creating my first Trichrome images – colour images from black and white negatives. I’ve also shared the negatives and camera settings. The Twitter-verse already knows the test run was successful so I thought today I’d talk about the part of the process that I wasn’t looking forward to – the computer bit. I’m no technophobe, nor am I a Luddite, I simply prefer to be outside after a working lifetime in offices stuck staring at a computer monitor.

I started as we all do these days by scouring the interweb for articles and video tutorials and whilst I sought enlightenment, I quickly became confused. Some pieces I read/watched were contradictory, others only half-explained things or explained them in a very confusing manner. Some were using older versions of Photoshop and some made assumptions about the readers existing PS skills and knowledge. After an hour or so of tinkering I suddenly, and to my bewilderment, found myself with a coloured image on the screen, two A4 pages of scribbles and a very confused look on my face. Twenty minutes later I had three more coloured images, none produced in the same way as the first, and, more encouragingly, the start of a proper set of notes. Success of sorts and so I shared them on Twitter (see below); although I was confident that I could improve on them I’ve been sharing the experiment and it seemed only right to recognise the moment.

Take One and time for tea

It was however time for tea. And I was cooking!

Suitably refreshed, I returned to the computer and reviewed what I’d done earlier. I then went back and methodically reprocessed each of the four sets of negatives, refining my notes as I went and by the end of this had four far better-looking images and a set of scribbles outlining a workflow I could repeat. Most importantly I knew what I’d done to achieve the second set of four images.

Take Two: Spot the difference!

I will share the workflow in the next post (to be published within the hour!) but bear in mind that whilst it works this is a work-in-progress and I will be refining it as I learn more. I will also be investigating alternative methods which may simplify the process too. My current approach creates a colour negative initially although it is possible to create a colour positive directly and I will share that step in my walk through too.

I like the results I got from this methodology today, culminating in a colour negative so will stick with the additional steps for now.

Take Two: Lysergic Skies

In addition, I’ve been using Photoshop, yet I distinctly remember Andrew (remember him?) saying he uses Affinity Photo which apparently offers a simpler workflow. I shall be swapping notes with Andrew before the #trichromeparty for sure. In fact, he currently has one set of my RGB negatives to play with so we can compare notes. There’s lots to learn and discover yet clearly!

Trying Trichrome – the negatives

This is the first of three posts being posted over the next hour and simply records the four sets of negatives and the camera settings employed and are being shared in order to give the reader a full understanding of what my process was. The second of today’s posts talks about my experiences with the computer processing side of things and the third contains my full workflow as of today.

Ready for composition one and the first set of three negatives

I used a single roll of Fomapan 400, exposed at box speed and a tripod-mounted Bronica SQ-A. I metered with a Polaris handheld meter. The three filters, red/green/blue, were from a set of budget filters. For each of the four compositions I exposed the negatives in the sequence Red, Green, Blue or RGB as I felt that a consistent workflow would lead to less confusion. The roll was “scanned” using a Fujifilm X-T3 digital camera and a Nikkor 60mm micro lens with an appropriate adapter.

I kept the aperture consistent within each set and varied the shutter speed to adjust for the different filter factors. Whilst testing beforehand suggested the green was around +2 or +2.5 I think that in future I will simply use a factor of +3 for each filter as my starting point. With a base exposure of 1/60th sec I was using shutter speeds of 1/8th or 1/15th as appropriate. A cable release completed the set-up.

The film was developed for thirteen minutes in Ilford ID11(1+1) at twenty degrees using my normal process so everything was kept as normal as possible to reduce the chances of processing variation.

Trying Trichrome – the testing!

Yesterday’s snow took us by surprise here, it wasn’t forecast for our part of the country and in any event sheltered by the Pennines as we are we don’t usually get too much of the white stuff. Nevertheless, after breakfast this morning I headed into my backyard for the first part of my Trichrome project – the test run in the field (or backyard in my case) and capturing the images.

I started by using the light meter on my phone to check the filter factors of the red, green and blue (RGB) filters I had purchased especially for this test. These suggested that the relevant factors were three for red and blue and two for the green; in the ballpark of where I’d expected them although I decided to do the second of todays four sets at R3, G3 and B3 rather than 323.

I set up three compositions. One with some colourful objects I found in the snow and I photographed this six times, two sets of three images, in order to have a reference for the green filter as discussed above.

Ready, steady, test!

I had the Bronica SQ-A setup on a sturdy tripod and fitted with a cable release. Once the composition had been made and the lens focused I touched nothing apart from the cable release and the wind-on lever. My mind thinks of these colours as RGB so it made sense to make the first exposure with the red filter, the second with the green and the third with the blue. Your mileage may differ but the key thing to remember here is that whilst red and blue have the same filter factor the green I was using has a different filter factor (probably – this test will confirm). I took all three exposures within a few seconds of each other, just enough time to carefully change the filters over without bumping the camera, and altered the shutter speed to adjust the exposure for the different filters, leaving the aperture unchanged.

This first composition was photographed twice. The second time I treated all three filters as if they had a filter factor of three (see above). However, I reverted to 323 for the second half of this roll of Fomapan 400.

Whilst the first composition was a still life and evenly lit the second was a wider scene encompassing more of the garden and a little of the sky too. The final set of three was very similar to the second composition but included far more of the sky in the frame.

I wasn’t expecting any issues with taking the images, I’m very familiar with my gear, I’d prepared myself beforehand and had the filters laid out ready to use. I’d considered the filter factors for these new filters and I’d dug out the sturdiest tripod I own so knew nothing would move. A cable release ensured no camera shake and a light reading with my Polaris meter would give the best chance of properly exposed negatives. Being organised and knowing up front what I was going to do helped with a smooth session in the backyard.

Next job is to develop the film, scan the sets of negatives and carefully name the files to incorporate red, blue or green as appropriate in the file name. All being well I will be in a position to try assembling the Trichrome on the computer tomorrow evening or possibly tonight if other things don’t get in the way!

Keep watching this space!

Trying Trichrome

Oh I do like an alliterative title!

If there is something that many film photographers have in common it’s their willingness to try things “because they can” even if there are far simpler ways of achieving results. My glass plate project is probably a good example of doing things the hard way (currently on hold until the Spring incidentally). Indeed, it could be argued that film photography as a whole fits this theme given how easy digital photography can be. But, I digress (not for the first time).

So, when someone (I’m looking at you @apkeedle) starts posting colour images created from black and white film negatives my interest is piqued. Colour from FP4! When I saw that it involves using the computer however I mentally consigned it to the “follow with interest but don’t get involved” list. Which is where it has firmly stayed for many months as I’ve enjoyed the images I’ve been seeing, particularly from Andrew, and have been content to consume rather than produce.

Until.

Until Andrew (yes, still looking at you Mr K) suggested a Trichrome Party on Twitter and in a moment of weakness I found myself saying “of course I’ll have a go”. I dug out filters, ordered stepping rings and even adapted my Titan 5×4 pinhole camera to accept filters. I then had the bright idea of infrared trichomes too. Ooh, Trichrome pinhole infrared….

The thinking about it has been fun. But now comes the moment when I need to properly understand what is actually involved prior to having a go myself.

So, this post is simply a marker in the sand, a note of intent if you will. The plan is to spend this evening binge watching/reading everything I can find on the subject and then tomorrow I will load a roll of 120 into the Bronica SQ-A and head into the backyard for the test run.

In the meantime here is the image that “started” it all for me from the aforementioned Andrew Keedle who retains copyright and all the glory emanating from this fabulous 7×17 ULF masterpiece …

Dry: Update

The primitive emulsions used to coat dry glass plates are as we’ve already seen a little different to what we film photographers are used to these days. For a start they are a lot slower; my current J Lane plates are 2 ASA (ISO for you youngsters). As we’ve also seen already in this project, they have extremely fine grain and a beautiful tonality, a lack of an anti-halation coating and a response that dips well into the ultraviolet. This latter quality can render skies white which is something to consider when composing, it can also cause problems with metering especially later in the year here in the UK when UV levels are generally lower. Arguably, but based on my research, the optimal time for using plates here in the UK is from late March to mid-September. I shall be researching that further over the next few months.

So, on the 16th of September I headed into a patch of local woodland armed with two plates and a few loaded film holders for my fourth visit that week. The scene I chose for the dry plates was as it happened the last one of the day and I first made two exposures, one each with Fomapan 100 and 400 film, before leaving everything set up to expose my two plates. I was using the Intrepid 5×4 with an 180mm lens set at f22 and decided to leave everything as it was. I metered the scene at 12 seconds which I would need to double to 24 seconds to take account of reciprocity. From experience I knew that these plates like plenty of light so I increased that to 30 seconds and also decided to expose the second plate for 60 seconds.

I was glad that I opted for extending the exposure time as both were under exposed when I developed them a couple of days later. There was however sufficient detail in both to render them usable and I digitised them in my usual fashion before converting the negative image to a positive. I think an exposure time of 120 seconds or even 240 might have been more appropriate.

So, a very pleasing image and some more knowledge and experience gained. A very good day at the office I’d say!

Dry: successful start to phase 2

This is just a quick update following yesterday’s post. It comprises of just a few images – the negative, positive and “final” version of one of the two plates I exposed on the canal. Both were successful but I’ve only used one for this update as they are very similar and this was my favourite compositionally of the two.

One thing I do need to keep in mind is that owing to the nature of the emulsion detail in skies is probably going to be a rare commodity. The composition that I rejected was in the vertical format with a large amount of sky which was simply a dark block on the glass.

I metered for the shadows in the black area at the bottom of the building and looking at this part of the plate I’ve got exactly the amount of shadow detail I was anticipating. This is good news as it confirms that my exposure calculations, which include spot-metering and a touch of applying my nascent experience, are working out well thus far.

What is very apparent, even in these scans, is the amount of detail in the plates. Of course, I was using a good quality 180mm lens, stopped down to f32 with everything rock solid on a tripod. Nevertheless, the detail, especially in the wall and vegetation in front of the building, is lovely.

For the “final” image I cropped to 16×9 to exclude some of the sky and also gave the image a sepia tone which seems to suit both the subject and the conditions quite nicely. Your mileage may vary of course.

Onwards and upwards (when I get some more plates of course)!

Dry: Seconds out … round two!

Back to the canal today with a couple of J Lane Speed plates (the last in the box) along with the Intrepid 5×4 and a bag full of optimism. I’m using the new ChromaGraphica double dry plate holder. When I used it for the first time last week there was a suspicion of a light leak but I suspected then that it was probably me loading the holder for the first time and in a hurry. So, I had a few dry runs this morning with one of the earlier “failed” plates before loading the two new plates in a changing bag. I realised that the dark slide needs an extra final push to fully seat it in place. This probably explains the slight light leak I experienced a couple of days ago. The slides are currently very tight and need a good push but I suspect they will get smoother with use.

Back to my “muse” location and unfinished business

I headed for Elland Wharf, scene of the previous disappointment but also a favourite location. I also regularly test cameras out here so it was, and is, a logical place to head for as I started phase 2 of the dry plate project. I’ve used the Intrepid a fair bit recently and have got much quicker at setting it up on location so it wasn’t long before I was taking spot readings and determining exposure. I will share the notes I made in a separate blog post – suitably tidied up of course!

The double plate holder is quite a bit thicker than my usual film holders and stretches the Intrepid to its limit. It also needs a little persuasion to sit properly but once it’s in place you know it’s going nowhere. I exposed two plates choosing two slightly different compositions rather than one composition and bracketing the exposures. I chose to do this on the basis that despite all the issues I’ve had, obtaining correct exposure hasn’t been one of them.

Back home, I prepared 500ml of HC110 (dilution B) and headed for the darkroom. Thirty minutes later I had two successful glass plates in the print washing tray. Both look well exposed, sharply in focus and not a light leak to be seen – fingers crossed.

They are now drying and tomorrow I will copy them and share the results in a new blog post and no doubt on Twitter too! The new holder also worked well and I’m keen to crack on with the project. I am however awaiting delivery of a new box of plates but it’s good to know that a corner has been turned and it’s full steam ahead.

Dry: An Update

If it’s been rather quiet on the dry plate front it’s not because I’ve not been busy. Indeed, I’ve used most of a box of the Speed plates in the last ten days or so. So, why the silence? A picture might help here.

Notice anything odd?

The example on the left of the three is something I’ve seen before as it happened on my first plate and I’d put it down to user error. However, chatting to Andy who owns the plate holders I was using, revealed he had a similar plate so unless we were both making exactly the same error, be it with loading or seating the holder, then the likely culprit was the holder. We were certainly not using the same camera and lens!

The issue with the other two is different to the first plate, suggesting perhaps that one holder was used for the first and the other for the second two examples? The shape of the light leak, whilst not exactly the same, is very similar too. There’s clearly an issue so some more thinking and testing was called for.

In the case of all three glass plates, used on two different days, each was exposed using exactly the same set up and at the same time as a sheet of 5×4 film. The sheets of film were all absolutely fine. Looking at the scans above shows that the exposures used for these plates were good too which is a small positive from this. I’ve plenty of experience with 5×4 and whilst it’s not impossible I think I can rule out loading errors. To be sure, I used one of the failed plates to load both holders in daylight and could find no way to mis-load them without it being very apparent.

I’ve even tested the plates from the current box themselves. Taking a fresh plate from the box in the darkroom, staying at least six feet from the safelight and putting it straight into the developer gives a perfectly clear plate. What we would expect. Later that morning I used a plate in an Ilford Obscura pinhole (no holder required) which also confirms the plates are probably fine. The other factor in favour of the plates not being the issue is that my first fail was with one of the plates that Andy gave me initially and not from those that I bought for this project.

As a final test I exposed a further plate with a newly-purchased double plate holder. It was a very bright, sunny day and the holder was positioned with the slide pointing upwards as is my norm for vertical compositions. There is the suspicion of an ingress of light, perhaps from where the slide goes, but nothing like the pattern on the earlier plates. I will remember to cover the plate holder in future just to be on the safe side, although that’s something for another day. Taken with everything else though this final test does seem to suggest that there is an issue with the holders I’ve been using.

Speaking to Andy last night he thinks he can see a split in one of the holders so we’ve both spoken to the manufacturer and explained our respective experiences. He is sending replacements to Andy and is going to test the original holders. I have to say the response from him has been first class and very refreshing.

So, a disappointing end to this phase of the project not to say an expensive one as I’ve used one and a half boxes of plates getting to this point. Undeterred though, my new double plate holder arrived last week and I am going to be ordering another box of plates today, I go into the next phase with some confidence.

Despite the issues I’ve demonstrated that I can accurately calculate exposure and I’ve had valuable hands-on experience in handling the plates. The developing methodology I’ve adopted is working well and I’m pleased with the results from the HC-110 too. So, loads of positives and I genuinely believe that despite the setbacks and disappointments I’ve learnt a lot so far. The next stage is to concentrate on compositions and locations that will utilise the glass plate aesthetic to its full.

That’s gonna be the tough part!

Dry: impatience

Ever since my first, only partially successful, foray into the world of dry glass plates I’ve itched to put into practice my thoughts on solving the practical issues I identified. It’s been at least a day for goodness sake! What was holding me back? I am awaiting delivery of the smaller trays and the bottle of HD-110 developer. Due Monday, although I’m away until Thursday next week and will be childminding that day so it’s going to be Friday at the earliest before I can get back in dry glass plate action.

This Friday I made up a fresh 5 litre batch of my usual ID11 film developer in order to develop that days roll of 35mm panoramic goodness. As I agitated the tank back and forth my mind was busy thinking whatever it thinks when my hands are absorbed in a task which no longer needs the full attention of my aged system. I rarely know what it’s coming up with until a fully formed thought pops into my consciousness.

Simultaneously I was putting away crockery and the like (I can develop film on autopilot) so I was fully occupied and not paying any attention to what my mind was doing. Until it popped!

The small ceramic baking dish in my hand clearly needed liberating from the confines and heat of the kitchen and was being called by the cool, darkness of the darkroom. Where did that come from? Once it had arrived however it wasn’t going anywhere (apart from upstairs) and thus after I’d hung the 35mm film to dry I was stood in the darkroom working out how I could develop a dry plate with one ceramic dish that was AWOL from the kitchen. It was a simple solution really.

Excuse the well-stained towel!

Four jugs, ready to hold developer, stop, fixer and clean water respectively were arranged in order along the bench. The empty dish would first be filled with developer to the required depth to fully immerse the glass plate. Once it’s time was up I would remove the plate with my left hand and pour the developer back into the jug with my right. The dish would then be moved along the bench, the stop would be added and the plate returned to the dish for the required time. Repeat until plate sat in the clean water. It takes longer to type/read than actually do in practice.

That didn’t solve the lack of HC-110 though. But I could spare some of the new batch of ID11. But of course I hadn’t any plates awaiting development. I did have two loaded though into the holders Andy had loaned me.

You’re ahead of me of course. Ten minutes later I was lugging a tripod, 5×4 Intrepid camera, a handful of loaded film and plate holders together with cable release, dark cloth, lens etcetera into the back yard. Earlier in the day I’d hung a mirror on the garden wall above some flowers. That, together with the reflection of a strategically opened shed door might make a suitable subject.

Don’t get too used to colour!

I decided that along with exposing two dry glass plates I would also expose a couple of sheets of 5×4 film using the same set-up. This would be my way of determining if any failures were down to the way I had set up the camera or whatever. The only variable would be the shutter speed – everything else would be locked in and locked down.

I decided to use the lens at its smallest aperture of f45 and after metering and evaluating the scene I chose 1/8th second for the first sheet of Fomapan 400 (this film stock was chosen simply because it was the only loaded film holder). A second exposure at 1/4 of a second was also captured for insurance purposes although it turned out that my initial choice was the correct one.

With the two sheets of film exposed it was time to load the first of the dry plate holders into the camera. Extra care with putting the holder into the back of the camera revealed what had gone awry with my first plate – on the plate holder I was using there is a small ridge across the full width of the holder and this formed a natural stop as the holder was pushed in. Inspection revealed however that it needed to go a touch further for the holder to be properly seated. I’d (hopefully) corrected the first issue that I had encountered on my maiden outing.

Time to calculate the required exposure time. I was staying at f45 as I’ve already noted and these plates have a nominal 2ASA rating. It was middle of the day and consulting the graph of UV sensitivity I calculated that the sensitivity would be between ASA 2 or 3. The meter suggested 5 seconds and as reciprocity doesn’t kick in until 45 seconds that should logically have been my chosen shutter speed. Except. I had a hunch that the scene might need a touch more so I went for 10 seconds. No logic, just put it down to experience perhaps? The second holder was soon in place and I was deciding whether to try the original exposure calculations of 5 seconds or to increase the exposure by a stop and go for 20 seconds.

What would you do?

I went for 30 seconds. Yes, no rhyme, no reason, just instinct. Spoiler alert: both gave good negatives but 30 seconds gave a lot more detail in the reflection of the green shed in the mirror.

Mission Accomplished

The developing went exactly according to plan and it was with a feeling of immense relief that I later took two glass plates out of the wash and placed them onto a drying rack. I’ve compared the film and glass plate images in Dry Comparisons so won’t repeat that here.

So, I successfully applied all the lessons from my first attempt and ended up with two very nice negatives. What is interesting is that despite the differences in the exposure times the garden plants are very similarly toned in both plates, the main difference is to be found in the reflection of the green-painted wooden shed which has really benefited from the extra exposure. It’s clear that experience is going to be a key ingredient in determining the correct exposure with these plates. Good metering technique will get me well on the path to the correct exposure, years of using film will help further but I suspect that experience with the dry plates will also be an important factor.

J Lane Glass Plate (2ASA), Intrepid 5×4 camera, 180mm lens, 30 seconds at f45