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Photovision Magazine

Photography Articles and Techniques
In the Darkroom
Taming the Mammoths
On Developing the Big Negatives
From Vol. 1 No. 2

By: Burkhard Kiegeland

Imagine yourself standing in total darkness preparing to place several sheets of 12x20" film into the prewash tray. It is a familiar procedure, maybe even routine, to process six sheets at a time as you’ve done many times in the past.

But this time you lose concentration for a moment, or perhaps you become a bit over-confident. Half of the film is already sinking into the developer tray while you hold the remaining sheets fanned out and ready to develop. As you grab the next sheet with your free hand the film slips th

This has happened to me twice - first a sheet of 12x20" disappeared, the second time, 2 years later it was a sheet of 20x24". Fortunately, I won both sheets back, but don’t ask me how long I was creeping around on all fours and groping in the darkness. My film processing room measures about 15x10 ft - in total darkness it becomes bigger and bigger.

My first adventures in large format photography happened during the early 1970s when I bought a 4x5" Sinar-P for my studio. At that time I was working on two books, one about collecting

After finishing the day’s work at my studio, in the back rooms of museums or in private collections, I used to deliver my box of exposed chromes to a professional film lab. The sheets of 4x5" black-and-white I processed in a JOBO drum. Although I knew about tray processing, it was not something I attempted during this period. Having only read about it in books, the process seemed old fashioned, slow and uncomfortable.

This point of view changed rapidly when I put aside smaller format cameras and began doing serious work in large format. I began by using a Master Technika as well as an old 18x24cm wooden field camera. Not much later I added an old Korona 11x14" and a Folmer & Schwing 12x20" banquet format camera.

Rotation Versus Tray Development
Large format film can be processed using one of two basic methods. Either you place the film in a tube and agitate by rotating the tube, the developing chemistry and the negative, or you place the chemistry in trays normally used for developing black-and-white prints and agitate by interleaving the sheets repeatedly for the duration of the processing time.
Both methods have their inherent strong points and weaknesses. Let’s start with the pros for rotation:

• Reliable, repeatable results. Using one of the smaller JOBO machines that rotates the drum in a temperature controlled waterbath you will always have repeatable temperature and agitation.

• Clean working. Your hands stay free from

• Specialized Drums. JOBO offers a range of drums to handle most large format film sizes. JOBO drum #3010 is designed for up to 10 sheets of 4x5". The 3005 is made for processing 5 sheets of 8x10", 4x10" or 5x7". Bigger sizes like 11x14", 8x20", 12x20" and 20x24" are processed in drums of series #3062 of which shorter or longer versions are available.

• Versatility. The big drum can also be used for developing color prints.
And the cons?

There are very few if you do not consider the necessary investment for a JOBO as a con. Although the investment may seem large, it definitely pays off in terms of increased production from your darkroom. In fact, there is really just one weakness when working with very large film: with negatives

Tray Chic
Let’s look on tray development now. Even those who prefer tray processing must admit that there are some problems with it.

• Tray processing must be done in total darkness. Even using development by inspection, the faint green light one uses to view the developing film is only turned on for a brief period.

• Your hands spend a great deal of time in the developer, stop and fixer solutions.

• Chemical smells are much stronger than with processing in the JOBO tube.

THE FAMILY OF THE YOUNG DOCTOR. Contact print of a 20x24" negative on Bergger VCNB neutral, D72. Film Bergger BPF200, tray development in Pyro PMK.

CASINO 12x20" contactprint on AZO Grade 2, developed in Amidol. Film Ilford HP5+, tray development with Pyro PMK.

THE LUXEMBOURGIAN PHOTOGRAPHER RAYMONT CLEMENT. Contact print of a 20x24" negative on Bergger VCNB, D72. By substituting the benzotriazole for potassium bromide the paper looks cold-bluish. Film Bergger BPF200, Pyro PMK.

A Leap of Faith
These problems can create a psychological barrier

It is not necessary to put your hands in the chemistry. Make it a habit to wear rubber gloves throughout the process. This is especially important when developing in Pyro. Wearing gloves not only protects from staining and possible harmful health effects but also helps remove the psychological barrier mentioned before. Many people are concerned that wearing gloves can result in a loss of dexterity. With a little practice, however, the hands adapt to the difference in feeling and it becomes possible to do anything in the darkroom while gloved, even load holders.

The last problem with tray pro

The Benefits, In a Nutshell
Tray processing can produce very evenly developed film when it is handled correctly. We will see what "correctly" means later in this article. The procedure also saves time over other methods since it makes it possible to process more than two sheets at once.

Going with the Workflow
In general, it is easiest and most efficient to process smaller sheet sizes (up to 4x5") in a JOBO drum. Rollo-Pyro is a great developer for these smaller sizes. Negatives larger than 4x5" can be processed in PMK Pyro with great results.

For most film processing a set a three trays works very well. The number of trays and their size is dictated both by the largest negative to be processed and size of the workspace.

The trays should not be much bigger than the size of the negatives. Trays that are too big cause scratches because the negatives can move around to much.

• 10 sheets 8x10" in a tray size 8x10 need 3 liters of solution.

• 6 sheets 12x20" in a tray size 16x20" need 5 liters of solution.

• 6 sheets 20x24" in a tray size 20x24" need 8 liters of solution.

Always keep your emulsion side down
There is an ongoing debate between those who believe that tray processing should be done with the emulsion up or down. While arguments can be made on both sides, there are several reasons that emulsion down seems to be superior. Since the prints are shuffled by sliding them out and placing them on top of the stack, the soft emulsion is protected from

Setting up the Trays
When setting up the 3 processing trays, the center tray should be positioned so that it is close to a steady supply of water. Fill this tray completely as it will be used for the prewash, and later as a rinse to stop development.

Place the box containing your exposed film on a desk and grab the sheets one by one, allowing them to slide into the prewash tray. With your right hand, softly push the sheets under the water. Using this method you always have one dry hand and the prints don't stick together. Once all the sheets are in the prewash, begin shuffling according to the following description (This method should be followed throughout all the chemical steps):

First ag

Second agitation cycle: Same as first cycle but pull the sheets from the far end of the tray.

Third agitation cycle: Same as above but pull the sheet from the left. Most important: Never drag the

Into the Developer
After the prewash remove the sheets one at a time and place them into the developer tray. If you are using the development by inspection method the green inspection light should be place about 4 feet from the tray. The light should be turned off until just before the film is inspected and turned off again immediately after completion of the inspection.

The first inspection should be made about halfway through the development cycle. A second and third inspection can be made one to two minutes after the first, depending on the status of the negative. By using the green light only briefly it is possible to examine the status of development without fogging the film. Although film is sensitive to green light, the human eye is so sensitive

When starting out with the inspection method it is best to develop by timing the development. As you inspect the film during development you will begin to develop a feel for what the film should look like under the green light at different stages of development. Over a period of time you will be able to tailor the development by judging whether the film should be left in the tray for the entire recommended time or placed in the stop tray earlier.

After development is finished, the sheets are placed back into the prewash tray. At this point you should have water flowing through the prewash tray. The flow rate should be high enough to keep the tray filled, which will also allow the water to act as a developer stop, removing the need for an acid stop bath. Once all the

Continue shuffling the negatives using the left, front right pattern described for developer agitation. After about 3 minutes in the fixer you can turn on the white lights.

If you are developing in PMK pyro you should place the negatives back into the used developer after fixing and agitate for about 2 minutes. This helps to reduce staining.

Finally, the negatives go back into the middle tray for washing. Shuffling through the pile continuously while making about 10 changes of the wash water will remove residual hypo.

Processing the big negatives may seem daunting at first, but after you have processed a few batches of 20x24" film you will find that 12x20" become easy to handle and 8x10" seems like a postage stamp!


Burk Kiegeland has been a writer, fine art photographer and printer in Germany for 40 Years. He has written two bestselling instruction books on photography and the darkroom that have been translated in to several European languages. He is a regular contributor to the German magazine SchwarzWeiss(Monochrome, literally translates as "Black/White") on film processing, fine printing and the non-silver processes. He is chairman and technical director of Lotus View Camera. The Lotus view camera was designed by based on his practical experence working in the field.