High Light, Peak Light and Lake Light books by Dave Butcher

Technical Notes

Articles

Dave Butcher regularly writes in-depth technical articles and tutorials on various aspects of black and white photography.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hill and Mountain Photography
This article discusses some tips and techniques for taking photos out in the field, as well as some general photography advice. read article...

My Equipment for Hill and Mountain Photography
The kit I take with me for hill and mountain shoots is described below as The List.

For more general advice I have written an article on equipment for digital and film camera users. It includes simple advice on what to look for if you want to buy a camera, the best lenses for landscapes, use of tripods, filters and light meters. It also covers clothing and other hill gear to keep you warm, dry and safe on the hills. read article...

Using Digital Cameras for Black and White Landscape Photography
This article discusses the use of digital cameras and includes tips for understanding all the different modes you have access to.read article...

Night Photography

Using film means that I can't see if the exposure is wrong until the films are processed. To get around this I always bracket my exposures in 1 stop steps (a stop is a doubling or halving of the exposure, depending on which way the change is made).

My Sekonic spot light meters have a maximum sensitivity of 15 seconds at f 5.6. If I need longer than this it gives the message E.U., which means pack up and go home! In fact it just means you are on your own so it becomes guesswork beyond this.

For me I bracket by doubling the exposures, 8, 16, 30, 60, 120, 240 seconds. I choose which 2 or 3 exposures to use depending on the scene and experience; I'm quite good at judging how long I need just by looking at the scene.

It is essential to use a tripod as the exposure times are often many seconds to several minutes. I don't know about you but I can't hand hold at these times!

If you put anything bright in the foreground chances are it will overpower the picture so I avoid having bright lights close to the camera. This also lets me mostly use the lens almost wide open at f5.6 (1 stop closed down from f4 maximum). With nothing close to the lens I don't need lots of depth of field. This keeps the exposures shorter so film response is still reasonable.

At really long exposures reciprocity means that when you double the exposure time the real increase is quite small (and nowhere near double) so you are always chasing the sensitivity of the film in this area.

Dusk is often the best time for night shots as you can have the feel of a night shot as lights will be turned on but you also have detail in the sky. If it's broken clouds, or maybe a windy evening, they can look great.

Light Trails are quite interesting too, as in the Big Ben image above. I find that it's best to try and have an exposure time that allows them to run in and out of the picture. If the exposure stops before they reach the edge of the frame it looks odd.

Buildings seem to be better lit in the winter months too. I think this may be because when people leave work and it's still light outside they can switch off their office and building lights as they leave. In the winter they don't do this. Check it out to see if you agree.

Hints and Tips on Darkroom Printing Techniques
Some of these are the techniques that I cover on my black and white darkroom printing workshops so if you attended one of these, these notes may serve as reminders of what was covered and help you sort out that difficult negative! read article...

Processing your first black and white film
This covers the equipment, how to do it and the chemicals needed along with film development information to allow you to process your first black and white film.

This document was produced by Ilford Photo, manufacturers of the film, paper and chemicals that I use and is repeated here with their kind permission. read article...

Making your first black and white print
This covers setting up a darkroom and using Ilford Multigrade paper to make your first black and white print.

This document was produced by Ilford Photo, manufacturers of the film, paper and chemicals that I use and is repeated here with their kind permission. read article...

A5 sized double-sided crib sheet - Side 1 Useful camera settings and composition advice. Side 2 Adobe Photoshop simple editing tips.

Equipment Clearance

Black and white darkroom equipment available, free of charge, to a good home.  If you are setting up a darkroom it may be worth a look!  visit clearance page...

The List

Written especially for those who need to know...the full kit list.

The list is split into two sections, "Out Shooting" which covers everything from my cameras, lenses and film right down to kit bags, and "In the Darkroom" which covers my black and white printing materials and equipment.

 

Out Shooting:

 

Cameras & Lenses

Mamiya 7 and Mamiya 7 II cameras (6 x 7 cm format); 10 exposures on 120 film.
Mamiya 7 lenses: 43mm, 65mm, 80mm + 150mm.

"I mostly use the 43mm (roughly equivalent to a 21mm on a 35mm camera) or the 65mm or 80mm. The 150mm lens is not used much but lets me take shots I would otherwise miss, such as homing in on a part of the landscape I cannot physically get to."

Filters

I use B+W filters where I can. They allegedly use the same glass as Heliopan but with brass mounts. I have stopped buying Heliopan filters as they changed the way they secure the glass into the mount, now using adhesive instead of a metal screw ring. The adhesive is unreliable and I have had glass fall out of the filter housing on more than one occasion and have others where the glass is loose and rattling in the mount. Also, the B+W mounts are brass which doesn't freeze on to the lens in the cold.

Heliopan and B+W filters:

  • Orange, Dark yellow, Yellow, Yellow/Green, Green
  • UV, Skylight
  • Heliopan RG715 (infra-red)
  • B+W 92 (infra-red)

Light meter

Sekonic L-508 Zoom Master and L-758D light meters.

"I use my Sekonic meters in spot metering mode. This is much more accurata than the meter on the camera. I use it to check the exposure for each series of shots at any location and as the light changes."

Tripods

Ultra-lightweight for skiing, etc: Gitzo Mountaineer Mk2 G1028 4 section, 2 leg angles, carbon fibre; with Manfrotto 484RC2 quick release head.

"Together this combination of legs and head weighs just 1150 grams. It is very versatile and I carry this all the time when out on really strenuous trips or skiing with my cameras."

Main tripod: Gitzo Mountaineer GT1541, 4 section, 3 leg angles, carbon fibre; with Manfrotto 486RC2 quick release head.

"This is a slightly larger heavier tripod but it is more sturdy, higher and more versatile so it has become my preferred tripod. Head and legs weigh 1554g so it is still pretty light. The head is reasonably solid too."

I also have a Gitzo GH1780QR quick release head but it was too fiddly to use in cold temperatures. The plate on the camera seemed to stick on pushing into the slot and the locking mechanism sometimes prevented the camera plate sliding into place. Very fiddly to use. Not recommended. Message to self, put it on eBay!

Mountain camera case for 1 camera

LowePro Inverse 200AW + chest harness

"This is carried on the front on a shoulder harness. It can carry 1 Mamiya 7 camera and lens with 1 extra lens inside the case, plus film and filters in a filter case, etc. I can also strap a further 2 lenses in cases to the outside. It's not as deep as the Specialist so is better for skiing and climbing steep slopes as it doesn't bang against your knees. It has a waterproof cover too that covers the case except for the back panel."

LowePro Toploader 65AW + chest harness.

"I used this for several years but it is a bit small. Again, it is carried on the front on a shoulder harness. It can carry 1 Mamiya 7 camera and lens with a few rolls of film inside. A further 2 lens cases could be strapped to the outside. I would have to carry my filter case in the main rucsac or in my jacket pocket, so not ideal."

Mountain camera case for 2 cameras

LowePro Street & Field Specialist 80AW + chest harness.

"This is a larger version of the Toploader and is carried in exactly the same way - on the front for instant access, just above waist height. It is extremely convenient and has a weather resistant cover in case of rain or snow. It takes 2 Mamiya 7's with lenses and with a lens case strapped to the outside and has elastic pockets on either side for light meter and discarded roll film wrappers. Unfortunately, LowePro discontinued this model in 2008. There are other cases of similar size that can be carried on the front on a chest harness but none that have a lid open away from you to stop things falling out of the case. The harness and waist belt hold it rock solid too. My bad back has meant that this case is seldom used as the weight is too great for anything other than small distances."

Travel and city case for up to 3 cameras

Peli 1510 rigid wheelie case

This is a rigid, practically indestructible, case with carry handles on 2 sides as well as wheels. It can also be used as a seat with a back rest; very useful in airport queues! It fits into airline overhead luggage racks. External dimensions 55.9 x 35.1 x 22.9cm.

"I use this for city photography so that I do not have to carry camera gear around my neck or on my shoulders. Very useful if you have a bad back like me. Not that useful over cobbled streets where it has to be carried, also not recommended for use on the hills, it gets stuck in the mud!

It takes 2 cameras, 4 lenses, a light meter, 20 rolls of 120 film, 2 filter packs with 12 filters in total, batteries, cable releases, notepad and pens, small head torch, etc. For travel it is used as my carry on case and the weight is around 12kg with 3 Mamiya 7 bodies, 5 lenses, 2 spot meters and 4 filter packs with 24 filters. The other gear goes in the hold."

Protection for lenses

Lens and camera wraps by Skooba Roadwired Advanced Protection System. These are squares of fleecy protective fabric with a mesh liner and velcro closures on all 4 corners. They come in different sizes: 12 inch for lenses, 15 inch for camera body, 20 inch for camera fitted with lens.

"I protect my lenses, even in the camera case, by using Roadwired lens wraps. When properly used they protect from damage and are reasonably waterproof unless completely immersed in water. I also use one to protect the spare camera and lens in the rucsac."

I also have 2 old CCS lens cases that I can clip to the outside of my camera case when carried on a shoulder harness. These take the 65 mm and 150 mm lenses, when I think I will need them.

General rucsac

LowePro S&F Rover.

The top section can be used as a  rucsac for waterproofs and food, the bottom section is compartmentalised for carrying the camera gear.

"This takes my 2 camera bodies and 4 lenses as well as light meter, filters, batteries and tons of film. I do not use the tripod strapping on the back of the sac, instead preferring to clip the tripod to the rucsac shoulder strap with a climbing karabiner. I seldom use this now, preferring instead the LowePro Inverse 200AW  case carried on the front just above waist height, and a separate 35 litre day sac."

Mountain rucsac

Pod Black Ice 50 litre (1992 vintage and still going strong!)

"I use a 50 litre mountain rucsac with a waterproof liner for my hill gear. This also has enough space to take all my photo kit if the weather turns bad. The camera is carried in the LowePro Toploader case on my front using a shoulder harness. The camera can hang around my neck, ready for use, and sit on the top of the carry case ready for taking pictures. This avoids a stiff neck from having all the weight of the camera pulling down unsupported. My tripod is carried from the shoulder strap of the rucsac using a large karabiner. The legs of the tripod are pulled out of the way using another large karabiner on the waist belt."

Day Sac

Mountain Equipment Solstice 35

This is a small rucsac of 35 litres. It is just large enough to take the Inverse 200AW case with camera and 2 lenses along with waterproofs, water, and warm layers. The Specialist case is too large.

"This is the rucsac that I use most of the time, usually with just 1 camera and 1 or 2  lenses in the small Inverse beltpack case. It is very comfortable and has quite a few clever features, including a built-in waterproof cover."

Camera Materials

Ilford FP4 Plus 120 film.

A medium speed film with an ISO of 125. I use it at this rated value.

"This is the only film I use. It is very reliable and can cope with a vast range of lighting conditions, unlike some of the more modern films. I used to use 220 film most of the time, to get 24 exposures per roll, but Ilford discontinued this format for all of their films in 2003. Now I have to carry twice the number of rolls of film and change them twice as often. Not pleasant in the cold winter weather of the high mountains. It is also twice the weight, 120 and 220 film weighed roughly the same, even though one gave twice the number of negatives."

Ilford SFX 120 film

Infra-red film that only gives the effect with the correct filter (Heliopan 715, Hoya R72, Ilford SFX gelatine filter). The effect is only seen during periods of sunshine.

"This film is HP5 with different sensitising dyes so if you use without the special infra-red filter it behaves like down-rated HP5. Rated as 200 ISO on the box but the filter needs 4 stops and uncertainty in IR levels require a further 2 stops of bracketing to make sure of a shot. In reality this means you are working at 3 to 12 ISO! It is impossible to see through the 715 filter either so unless using a rangefinder camera, like the Mamiya 7's that I use, you need to compose before screwing the filter on to the lens. You also need to stop the lens well down to allow for the shift in focus point with infra red light, to f16 at least."

Hill Gear

Apart from the usual equipment that has to be carried for a safe day on the hills, I usually carry:

Programmable GPS.

Satmap10 with full Ordnance Survey 1:50000 mapping for the UK. I also have the map cards for Switzerland, French Alps, Colorado and some USA National Parks. At present this is the best gps I have seen. It's like looking at the local detailed walking map but with your position marked on it.

"This lets me pin-point photo locations by recording details at the time of shooting. It also provides a lot of navigation information to reduce the time needed for map reading. I have detailed maps for the UK, Switzerland, and elsewhere, it can be programmed with important waypoints, especially at path junctions, to make navigation faster. When walking in unfamiliar mountains you do not have to look at the map every minute of the day either which lets me get on with the photography!"

Pocket Anemometer

Technoline EA-3010 pocket anemometer. Measures the wind speed, temperature and wind chill and is small and light enough to fit into a pocket.

"A very useful aid in decision making in the mountains. If the wind speed is over 25mph in the valley, it is likely to be severe gales on the tops!"

Head Torch

Petzl Mya LED head torch. This is one of the brightest head torches on the market. It has a double power button to illuminate even further at night. Used to find the way at night.

I also now have a Black Diamond Storm headtoch for use in cities. Like the Petzl Mya it has very powerful white light beams but also a red light. This lets me use a small amount of light to find things in the dark in the camera case in cities but not so bright that I lose my night vision.

"LED head torches are very bright and last for many hours on 1 set of batteries. I usually keep one in the pocket of my waterproof jacket. The Mya is best for walking at night, especially in bad conditions or over rough ground as it is totally waterproof and has a very bright beam. For a smaller torch to see around my photo kit at night I use a Black Diamond Storm."

Tools

Leatherman Juice CS4

"I always carry this in my camera case as a toolkit. It replaces the Victorinox Swiss Army knife that preceded it. The Leatherman has a good pair of pliers, a pair of scissors, several screwdrivers, a knife blade, bottle opener and a corkscrew for the odd celebration!"

Web and Social Networking on the move using Android

I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone and a Google Nexus 10 Tablet, both using the Android operating system. They allow me to keep up with emails and texts and update my blog, Google+, Twitter, Linkedin and my web site from anywhere in the world.

They also have useful programs like Google Earth, Google Maps with Street View and Google Sky Maps.

"Sky Maps is really useful for checking where the moon will be when you are on location. Just load the app, hold the phone up to the sky and change the time of night to see if the moon will appear in the place you want it to be for your location. This can save a lot of unnecessary waiting around!"

 

In the Darkroom:

 

Enlargers

Durst 138S with Ilford Multigrade 500H head

"This is the enlarger I used for all my black and white images for 13 years. The chassis is around 50 years old and still going strong. The Ilford MG head is about 20 years old and is fantastic. It uses 2 x 300 watt quartz halogen lamps to give short exposure times which are constant over the entire contrast range (other systems need twice the exposure time for grades 4 to 5). I use split grade printing routinely and can program up to 9 different exposures in to the foot switch operated 500CPM key pad."

DeVere 504 with Ilford Multigrade 500H head

"I bought this in 2013 so that I had 2 enlargers capable of printing 5 x 4 inch negatives. It has the advantage of bench-height focussing that is independent of enlarger head height. It also has a 500CPM keypad that allows the use of 9 memories for exposures, as well as a foot switch. This has become my main enlarger."

Durst M670 BW enlarger

This is mainly used by students on black and white darkroom printing workshops and takes negatives up to 7 x 6 cm. It is fitted with an Ilford Multigrade under-the-lens filter drawer to make split grade printing much easier.

"I occassionally use this for printing my borders using lith negatives of various formats. A grade 5 Ilford MG filter in the enlarger filter drawer gives maximum contrast."

Durst M670 Color enlarger

This is mainly used by students on black and white darkroom printing workshops and takes negatives up to 7 x 6 cm. It is fitted with an Ilford Multigrade under-the-lens filter drawer to make split grade printing much easier.

Durst M670 Color enlarger

This is mainly used by students on black and white darkroom printing workshops and takes negatives up to 7 x 6 cm. It is fitted with an Ilford Multigrade under-the-lens filter drawer to make split grade printing much easier.

I have been asked for details of replacement lamps for Durst M670 color enlargers since the original Durst Colamp 100S is no longer available. The 12 volt, 100 watt spare lamps that I use are Philips EFP A1/231. They are widely available and are generally sold as projector lamps.

Enlarger lenses

Rodenstock Rodagon 150mm f5.6 x 2
Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 90mm f4
Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 80mm f4
Schneider Componon S 80mm f4
Rodenstock Rodagon 80mm f5.6
Schneider Componon WA 80mm f5.6
Rodenstock Rogonar-S 75mmf4.5
Schneider Componon S 50mm f2.8
El-Nikkor 50mm f2.8
Durst Neonon 50mm f2.8
Rodenstock Rodagon 50mm f5.6
Minolta E Rokkor 30mm f4.5

"Mostly I use one of the Apochromatic Rodagon (Apo-) lenses for my work. These are free of most lens defects and are fantastic, especially for large prints."

Nova Archival Print Washers

20 x 16 in. + 20 x 24 in. Able to wash between 5 and 11 prints, one of the 20 x 24 washers has a Washaid slot.

"I have 3 of these in 2 sizes. They are essential for washing FB papers in a restricted space."

Maco Ecomat TP5060 FB print dryer

The Rolls Royce of flatbed FB dryers for fibre-based prints. Takes paper up to 24 x 20 inches (slightly more than the 60 x 50 cm quoted by Maco).

"I dry paper with the image facing away from the heated platen and pull down the tensioned cloth directly onto this. Not used with glazing plate as I like the air-dried look. This dries FB prints in about 45 minutes. I use a low temperature setting of between 40 and 50 degrees Centigrade to try and minimise the curl that some FB papers often produce. It is fantastic for producng flat dry prints."

Ilford 1250 RC Print Dryer

Infra-red dryer from Ilford, 51 cm wide. The photographic layer in gelatine, coated onto the resin coated (RC) paper surface, is slightly melted by the heat to produce the highest possible gloss. It has constant temperature but variable speed to control the finish.

"This takes paper up to 50 cm wide and dries a 16 x 12 inch RC print in about 15 seconds."

Pro-Co 220 Film Dryer

A tall cabinet that looks like a locker but with a heater and fan in the base. Film hangs from clips in the top and it is long enough to take 220 film.

"Although this takes 220 length films I just use it for 120 (Ilford discontinued 220 in 2003) and takes about 20 minutes to dry a film using very low heat."

Darkroom Materials

Ilford Multigrade IV FB paper

Fibre based paper that can be processed to give archival prints that should last hundreds of years. Not easy to dry flat, often dries with wavy edges.

"This is the main paper I now use. The only way to definitely know what a dry FB print will look like is to make one and dry it! If you think you have the right densities in the wet print then you can guarantee the dry print will be too dense. When you see this, make another print but reduce the exposure time by 6% to  10%. Wash and dry the 2 prints, look at them carefully under good lighting, go back and do some more if you need to. This tones reasonably well with sepia but not other toners. Selenium toner can be used for archival stability and the colour of the image will change to a purple/black.

Ilford Multigrade FB Warmtone paper.

A fibre based paper with a warm base tint. Much better for toning compared to the normal FB paper.

"Excellent for toning. I use sepia, selenium and gold, albeit infrequently. Needs roughly twice the exposure time compared to normal MG FB."

Ilford Multigrade IV RC paper

A paper coated on base that has polythene on both sides to prevent chemicals diffusing into the fibres. This means wash times are 5 minutes instead of 45 minutes for FB. Dries flat and easy to handle.

"An excellent general purpose paper that I use for my small prints (up to 30 x 24 cm) and contact prints."

Ilford Multigrade RC Warmtone paper

Same as normal RC but a warmer paper base tint. It also tones very well.

"Excellent for part-toning and toning. Needs roughly twice the exposure time compared to normal MG RC."

Ilford Multigrade paper developer

This is my standard paper developer and gives short development times.

"I use this most of the time and it gives very slightly warm prints compared to PQU. It is not a warm tone developer! Expect subtle effects not gross ones. It is also a fast acting developer compared to some."

Ilford PQU paper developer

Another good print developer with performance similar to Multigrade developer apart from a small shift in image colour on the slightly cold (blue) side. The development times are usually double those for Multigrade developer.

"This has been around for years but it is very good. It was reformulated in the mid-90's (with me as the Ilford project manager) to increase the shelf and dish life while retaining the performance that users had come to know and love. A classic."

Ilford Ilfotec DDX film developer

Equivalent performance to ID11 but in a liquid concentrate. Probably the best film developer that Ilford make. It is also available as Ilfotec DD developer in 5 litre bottles - different name but same formula.

"This is the best film developer that Ilford make, by a long way, and I am not just saying that because I wrote some of the spec and helped develop it while I was at Ilford! Every film photographer should use it! It is a liquid concentrate diluted at least 1+4 for use. The performance is similar to Ilford ID11 powder developer but more reliable. I use 1+6 for 9 minutes with FP4+ 120 film. Work out your own development times, those provided by Ilford are too long for my way of working."

Ilford Ilfostop stop bath

Stop baths extend the life of fixer baths and prevent processing streaks. Ilfostop is made of citric acid (lemon juice) with a tiny amount of indicator. It is yellow when freshly made up and still in good condition. It is ineffective (as in useless) when the colour changes to colourless or purple.

"This is a low odour stop bath only available in 500 ml packs. It is citric acid with a small amount of indicator. Since I am asthmatic, having stop bath without acetic acid (an irritant to the respiratory system) is a big benefit to me."

Ilford Hypam Fixer

Been around for donkey's years. Diluted 1+4 for film and 1+9 for paper.

"A very reliable fixer that won't let you down. Probably the most concentrated fixer on the market so lots of capacity for long printing sessions."

Ilford Washaid

Washaid reduces the wash time of FB papers considerably.

"I pour a 1 litre bottle into the washaid slot of my 24 x 20 in Nova washer and fill to the top with water. Wash prints for a few minutes to remove most of the fixer, then soak in Washaid for 10 minutes or so, finally wash for 30 to 60 minutes."

Ilford Lab Direct

I use Ilford Lab Direct to process large batches of film. They use Ilfotec DD (same as Ilfotec DDX but supplied in 5 litre bottles) and a dip-and-dunk processing machine so that the film cannot be damaged by rollers, etc. during processing.

The quality is excellent.

I also use them to print all of my Silver Prints from my digital files that I produce from high resolution scans of my negatives. They make all of the prints larger than I can hand print, such as the 1m x 0.5m prints.

In the Lightroom: 

I use a Nikon Super Coolscan 9000ED film negative scanner. It can scan up 9 x 6cm negatives at 4000ppi. It has to be used with a special carrier with glass top and bottom or film curl is a problem. This was an optional extra but is essential! Scans from 7 x  6cm negatives at 4000ppi when converted to printing resolution of 300ppi produce prints almost 1 metre in size.

Nikon no longer support their scanners with software to run them so I'm forced to use third party software. I use Vuescan, it's reliable and effective. I have to use the Kodak TMax 100 preset with 0.55 contrast setting. Why there's no Ilford film presets beggars belief, Ilford has outsold Kodak since the mid-90's and FP4 is the biggest selling film. There should be a preset for it!

For editing I use Adobe Photoshop CS6 on an iMac with a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet.