I “found” this portrait of Erin and her niece Livvy during my wife’s birthday party last Saturday evening. I thought I’d lead with the finished image, then explain how I got there.
I hope I captured a special moment here. Erin had Livvy sitting on the kitchen counter while she was doing something else. I liked what I saw so I put the camera to my eye, focused and shot this photo. No flash and no fuss — just my Nikon F3HP with an old Nikkor-H 50mm lens and a roll of Tri-X rated at ISO 1600.
I love black and white photography and I’ve always liked shooting with fast film in available light. There isn’t much “stuff” to get in the way. No flash to disturb the mood and when you stick with a single prime lens, you don’t have the luxury (or burden) of choosing the right lens for the shot. You have what you have and you learn to use it to your best advantage.
I’ve made a commitment to explore the combination of Tri-X and Diafine using one of my 50mm lenses almost exclusively. I’m not being wishy-washy here. I packed a 35mm lens just in case I needed to take a group shot, but I never used it.
It’s a Zen approach to photography. A top of the line pro grade film camera that’s a pleasure to use. No complex menus, just aperture, shutter speed and a built in meter that’s never failed me. A film that Kodak has been making for decades (I used Tri-X in the 1960s and 1970s and loved it). A 50mm prime lens that not only gives you natural perspective, but is probably one of the best values ever. I’ve always had great results with my 50s and the kids.
Then there’s Diafine. I discovered this developer a few years ago and fell in love. It’s so easy to use and seems to last forever (you pour it back into the bottle for the next time…and the next and the next). It gives me a speed increase of two whole stops without losing anything. I think I’m finally getting the hang of the Tri-X / Diafine combo. I like the grain and the negatives are perfect for scanning. Who could ask for more? I’m committed. The guys in the brown truck delivered another 10 rolls of Tri-X this afternoon.
OK, so I processed the Tri-X and cut it into six frame strips to be scanned and archived. Now what?
I’ve come up with what I’ll call guidelines rather than use the word “rules.” I scanned the negs using 16 bit linear then did it again using 16 bit positive. 16 bit positive yields the best results.
Here’s the “raw” scan after I inverted from negative to positive. It’s perfect for what I need. I get a nice histogram right smack in the middle. This image is flat but that’s only because the information is stored in the mid-tones. It’s all there. All I did to get the final image I showed you in the beginning was to tweak the curves and expand the histogram into the shadows and highlights to give the photo needed contrast. Then I sharpened the image. That’s all.
I like easy and I like results. So here’s the work-flow that works for me with Tri-X and Diafine:
- Always use 16 bit for scanning B&W negatives. If you use 8 bit, you may introduce gaps in the histogram when you tweak your curves.
- Test your film / developer (or processing lab) combination with both positive and linear scan settings. All my Diafine processed negatives give the best results with the positive setting. My C-41 processed films seem to scan better as linear. Experiment. It’s the only way to be sure.
- The most important guideline of all is don’t allow the “stuff” to get in the way of your creative vision. How can you capture the moment when you’re too busy fiddling with “stuff?”