Over Exposed - Under Developed

Ian-Barber

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When looking at a negative, how can you tell if it's possibly over-exposed /under-developed

What are the key things you are looking for
 

Joanna Carter

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Over-exposed would appear dark. Under-developed would tend to be low contrast.

However, the correct combination of over-exposure and under-development would be ideal for capturing a high dynamic range scene.
 

David M

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Over-exposed would show too much density in the shadows. Under-development would show reduced contrast. As Joanna says, this is a useful tool for controlling contrast.
What exactly is "too much"? A tricky question. Some may answer in terms of densitometry.
I suggest the answer lies in the print. You may well want a non-standard negative to record a non-standard scene or to make a particular kind of print.*
If you had a very high contrast scene and you needed to record detail in both shaded and sunlit places, this would be the way to do it. We might imagine a building where we needed to record both the sunlit white-painted exterior and the shaded interior, both in the same image. This might happen in forensic photography, where there are rules on the amount of manipulation that is permitted. Archeologists may have similar problems. Imagine the view into Tutankhamun's tomb. A properly-exposed scene of sunlit snow might well appear over-exposed and the traditional black cat seem under-exposed, even though both are correct for their subjects.

But briefly, when looking at the neg – dark and flat. It might fail the newspaper test, which we've also discussed. The scanner might give a clue, too.

*Mr Sherman's system, which we've discussed elsewhere on the forum, is essentially to overexpose and under-develop, so it can be used creatively.
 

Alan9940

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*Mr Sherman's system, which we've discussed elsewhere on the forum, is essentially to overexpose and under-develop, so it can be used creatively.
Not exactly. He determines his own personal EI (which many of us do), then develops the negative to a Zone VIII density of about 1.0; yes, basically under developing the neg. He tailors his negatives this way because he likes to use more hard contrast light when split-grade printing.
 

David M

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Yes, indeed. Not exactly. There's a good deal more to Mr Sherman's system.
This was in the context of discussing overexposure, and trying to point out that it may be used as part of the creative process.
Perhaps "basically" is a better word than "essentially."
 

Alan9940

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Yep, I agree. When I need N minus type development (rarely), that's exactly what I'm doing--over-exposing and under-developing. Hey, whatever gits ya a decent negative so that the mole in the darkroom doesn't have to work too hard. :D
 

David M

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Alan,
You raise an interesting point about what under-and overexposure really are. At first sight, it's just getting the box speed wrong. Once we get into the Zone system, it's perfectly normal to deviate from box speed and we distinguish that speed from box speed, by calling it Personal Exposure Index, or something similar. Some people claim to be cleverer than Kodak and Ilford and "get it right."
Even then, nobody's perfect and we can still get it wrong and expose at the wrong EI, so might still call that under- and overexposure, too. Or we might just set the shutter wrongly. As you will know, LF photography is very generous in the number of mistakes it offers.
I suppose that "true" under- and overexposure occurs when a decent print cannot be made, even by the most dedicated and ingenious mole. Or, perhaps when it can only be made with great difficulty. We must be kind to our moles.
 

Alan9940

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David,
I don't think myself more clever than Kodak, Ilford, etc. I use only a handful of films, test each one using my camera, lens, light meter, etc, to obtain the fb+f density I like to see, then simply watch my Proper Proofs. If anything about the film changes, I'll know immediately and can retest. If I make a mistake (when does that ever happen?), then that's rather obvious, too. I guess many arguments could be made to define under- or over-exposure, but in my own working methods it's simple: Under-exposure is when important shadow details are blocked up or don't reveal the texture I'm looking for; whereas, over-exposure is where my high values have pushed beyond the shoulder of the film curve. Yes, it takes some significant over-exposure (depending) to make this happen, but when placing a Zone VIII value right at the edge (I've done this with snow scenes) it really doesn't take much "over-exposure" and that value is gone! Controlling of the shoulder end of the curve can be mitigated through the use of staining developers, but that's a whole 'nutter discussion.
 

David M

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Alan,
It wasn't a sly reference to anyone on this forum. On the other, larger, mostly US LF forum, I have come across people who seem to be making that claim. It seems unlikely.
 

Ian-Barber

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but when placing a Zone VIII value right at the edge (I've done this with snow scenes) it really doesn't take much "over-exposure" and that value is gone! Controlling of the shoulder end of the curve can be mitigated through the use of staining developers, but that's a whole 'nutter discussion.
Get one started Alan, Im always interested in learning this stuff
 

Alan9940

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Alan,
It wasn't a sly reference to anyone on this forum. On the other, larger, mostly US LF forum, I have come across people who seem to be making that claim. It seems unlikely.
David, I've never taken anything you've said as a sly. I always strive to share my thoughts and if anything I say helps anyone...great!
 

Alan9940

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Ian, not sure what discussion you'd like me to pursue, but take this image for example:

MysteryEntrance.jpg

IMO, it's the delicate high values of whatever coating is on that brick wall and the sunlight portion of the upper-wall that make this image for me. Had any of those gleaming high values tipped over the shoulder of the film curve and became featureless white, the image would be ruined. You'll have to trust me on this one, but a silver print of this image (I have one in my portfolio) just BEAMS light!
 

Ian-Barber

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Ian, not sure what discussion you'd like me to pursue, but take this image for example:

View attachment 1522

IMO, it's the delicate high values of whatever coating is on that brick wall and the sunlight portion of the upper-wall that make this image for me. Had any of those gleaming high values tipped over the shoulder of the film curve and became featureless white, the image would be ruined. You'll have to trust me on this one, but a silver print of this image (I have one in my portfolio) just BEAMS light!
From my understanding on how you like your photographs to look, I am presuming those bright areas on the wall are roughly Zone VIII. Did you use a staining developer to control them ?
 

David M

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I have always been surprised at how dark, in reality, the highlights of a brilliant-looking print can be. Once paper-white appears, the whole image seems to dull down. (Specular highlights excepted, I suppose.)
I've been thinking about this and perhaps the reason is that the image area creates an illusion in our minds that we willingly accept. We mentally relegate the surrounding mat to oblivion, but when an area in the print matches the mat, the illusion breaks down and the image reverts to patches of grey.
I've also noticed that having detail in the highlights helps with the brilliance. We can see that the area gets brighter and brighter and this helps the illusion along.
I offer this as a very preliminary thought.
 

Alan9940

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From my understanding on how you like your photographs to look, I am presuming those bright areas on the wall are roughly Zone VIII. Did you use a staining developer to control them ?
The high values in the posted image looked somewhat depressed vs a silver print. Those bright areas on the wall range from Zone VII to the highest high of Zone VIII. I've always been partial to silvery, gleaming middle values with dark/light accents, or the higher end of the scale such as my example. I can't think of a single photograph I've made that is dark and moody; just not my particular style.
 

Alan9940

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David, for me personally, I never have any high value go all the way to paper white. I don't even allow this in digital prints. To my eye, it's always a jarring transition.
 

Joanna Carter

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David, for me personally, I never have any high value go all the way to paper white. I don't even allow this in digital prints. To my eye, it's always a jarring transition.
With digital printing, pure white tends to leave paper with no ink on it, which can be quite obvious if it catches a side light. I always avoid it for that reason
 

David M

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#18
Yes, despite the excellence of digital printing, there's often a change in reflectivity between inked and naked paper. Even a very tiny percentage of ink seems to rectify this, as you say.
If only Epson would formulate an ink-set with all the colours, a choice of grays and one black, plus a cartridge filled with "shininess". Then you could choose the degree of gloss or matt to suit the paper, or even reproduce the effects of spot varnishing.
Or they might simply redesign their heads with a second black channel that didn't need the changeover at all. Presumably that would allow both matt and gloss ink to be used simultaneously to get the same effect. Paper might need a profile for shininess as well as colour. Would this be too much?
Dream on. Epson must have heard enough complaints about this already.

This is a different matter from the representation of very high values in a print. Wet prints don't have the change in surface, but blank white is still, as Alan says, jarring and somehow destroys the brilliance of the print. Large areas of detail-free black shadow have the same effect for me, too. The darkest black seems even blacker if the eye can detect that it has a transition from black to blacker still. Somehow our brain, being given the clue, interprets this as the very darkest black.
I suspect that this is because, when we scan a real scene, our eyes, when falling on the deep shadows, adjust to reveal at least a little detail and when we view a bright surface, we adjust again and a little bit of detail becomes visible in the same way.
A print cannot offer the same range of brightness as the real world, so in this way, we are getting closer to the same subjective effect. We are reproducing not just the literal tonal range of the scene, but the effect of looking at it – "being there" perhaps.
 
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