The Poor Person’s Positive Process

The following text is an almost-chronological diary of sorts, that documents the thought processes and testing procedures that have gone into refining what I call the Poor Person’s Positive Process ( le Processus Positif Pour Personnes Pauvres en francais). Using this technique, a positive image can be made on paper or film, without the need for the additional chemicals, steps, time, and money required for a traditional black and white reversal, and without the need for expensive direct reversal paper.

Prior to obtaining a large format camera I had shot one or two paper negatives in a 35mm camera, and had even tried exposing them to light during the development to see what would happen. As the process was limited to shooting one frame at a time, before having to return to the darkroom for development, I briefly abandoned experimentation until I finally purchased a 4×5 camera in 2016.

Sabatier Effect on paper negative
A 35mm paper negative displaying the Sabatier Effect

One of the very first times using my new camera, I decided to shoot paper so as to see the results as quickly as possible, and for one reason or another I also decided to try flashing my negatives as they lay developing in the tray. This is what I was left with:

le processus positif pour personnes pauvres

This was a revelation! I had managed to produce positive images without having to wait for my negatives to dry before making contact prints with the enlarger. Not only were they positive, but they were clearly negative in some parts, and I loved how they looked, but more than anything I wanted to know how I had randomly managed to make this magic happen, and perhaps more importantly, what it was that caused the differences between them. These four images provided the inspiration for a first series of tests, that inevitably led to more questions and to more tests over the course of nearly a year, before I was satisfied enough to begin actually using the process instead testing it.

Spoiler Alert

Among these pages you may find speculation, wild guesses, misconceptions and other non-scientific conclusions that I found myself jumping to, but almost 100% of the work here is my own, based on trial and error, fuelled by the simple desire to know more. So while you may not learn anything new from this information, or may even become confused by it at times, what I finally ended up with is a system that works, based on experience and real world testing. As it is chronological, you can see that I iron out certain kinks in testing, and that my understanding of the process improves over time. Therefore this is not so much a guide or a tutorial, but a historical record of my personal experiences in the solitary world of the darkroom, and a testament to my philosophies on learning, independence and self-improvement.

The irony of this page is that in my desire to share my findings, I am taking from you the opportunity to explore and discover all that I have done, for yourself. I have now gone through most of the legwork for you, as the instructions for this process could be simplified into a single paragraph of rules. You don’t need to do all the tests I have carried out, and you don’t even need to read this entire document, but if you don’t explore, or experiment, you reduce photography to a simple process of making images of things according to pre-established rules.


These first images represent the initial tests that I conducted and then based my other tests on.

Each row from left to right shows a normally developed negative followed by negatives flashed at 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, and finally after 35s of development.

The flash power remained the same throughout, at 1/64th power with the flash positioned roughly 50cm above the developing tray. No diffuser was used and the flash was zoomed to 18mm.

Each initial exposure was made indoors with flash to keep the lighting conditions constant.

There is a 2-stop different in exposure between each row which enables us to see the effect that exposure has on the final image, in tandem with the effect that delaying the flash has.

     Negative                           10s                             15s                            20s                           25s                            30s                          35sA MontageB MontageC Montage

The later the flash, the greater the inversion, but the darker the overall picture. The earlier the flash, the greater the contrast between tones and also areas of positive and negative. This is only really observable in the first series though.

The centre row represents what I thought would be the correct exposure for the scene, which can be seen by reversing the normal negative. The image below shows all 3 negatives reversed in order. Remember that there are 2 stops difference between each.

Positive comparison

Following these tests I decided to keep using the same flash height and zoom settings as they produced acceptable results. I also decided to use 20s as my standard time for flashing, based on a correctly exposed negative. Later on, I decided to go by eye when flashing negatives that weren’t shot in controlled conditions, which allows me to leave the negative more time to develop before flashing in the case of underexposed negatives.

Based on the bottom two rows it appeared to me that a thicker negative was less likely to invert when flashed, so I decided to do another small set of tests just using overexposed negatives. As before, I developed a negative normally for comparison, and flashed one sooner and one later. Once again the negatives showed little change, but preferred to be flashed later as was shown in the first test.


From left to right: the normally developed negative, flashed after 25 seconds and flashed after just 10 seconds. All other parameters were the same as before.

A Montage

From left to right: the normally developed negative, flashed after 25 seconds and flashed after just 5 seconds.

B Montage

From left to right: the normally developed negative, flashed after 25 seconds and flashed after 10 seconds.

C Montage

I didn’t do any further testing of overexposed negatives, such as using a smaller or greater flash power, as one of my conclusions after all the tests were over was that the paper seems to reach some sort of threshold over which a particular tone will not invert.

Flash Power

Next up on my list of things to test was how flash power affects the resulting image. As before, I developed one negative normally with the rest flashed at 1/64th, 1/16th and ¼ power. I chose bigger changes in flash exposure in case the resulting effect was minimal. Knowing that the flash itself can be set to choose outputs other than those represented here, and the height at which the flash is fired can be used in combination with a diffuser for example, there is the obvious possibility for a very fine amount of adjustment if necessary. As you will see, flash power is one of the most important factors in deciding what your final image will look like.

These tests were done in natural light, but no change in exposure was necessary as conditions were stable.

                  Negative                                                1/64th                                                   1/16th                                                     ¼

A Montage

As the power is increased the shadows begin to lose their outline and look more natural. This is similar to how in the first test, the longer the print is left to develop before being given a second exposure, the more it becomes a true positive. We can also see that it is the areas that were given the least exposure in-camera that are the first to change, and that the highlight on the leaf finally begins to invert with the rest of the image around ¼ power.

                  Negative                                                1/64th                                                   1/16th                                                     ¼

B Montage

In this second series both 1/64th and 1/16th power give acceptable results with a comparable amount of inversion, but between the two, increasing the flash power seems to have the effect of darkening the image, although it occurs selectively in the areas that had the least exposure while the background remains relatively the same. With this in mind, if we re-examine the previous series, we can see that it does indeed appear to be the case that increasing flash power mostly increases density in the shadow areas of the positive print with less effect on the highlights.

If we compare the above negative inverted digitally with the rest of the series, the inverted negative results in a positive where the density of the subject is most similar to the image flashed at 1/16th power. Therefore, 1/64th power yields an image that is actually lighter in the shadow areas while its highlights remain un-inverted.

                                    Negative inverted                                                                                             Flash at 1/16th power

B Montage 3

                                  Negative inverted                                                                                                 Flash at 1/64th power

B Montage 2


When developing the normal negative from this series I discovered that they had been very underexposed, I decided to continue processing the rest anyway and the resulting positive print is quite surprising. With the information previously gathered, we can deduce that for the direct reversal to happen underexposure is much, much more preferable to overexposure, and that in the case of gross underexposure, we can limit its effects by flashing at a lower power. This also tells us that if we end up with a completely black print, it’s possible that we have underexposed and over-flashed.

C Montage

Flash Filtering

In the last of the tests that I have carried out so far, I decided to see what effect if any, would using a variable contrast filter over the flash have on the resulting print.

            Normal flash                                            Grade 00 filter                                 Grade 5 filter                                Normal negative

A MontageB Montage

Although there are obvious visible differences between each print, it isn’t clear that much is happening besides the filter diminishing the amount of light that reaches the print. This is most obvious with the grade 5 filter, and if we read each series from left to right, each print appears to become ever more like the un-flashed negative.

The most interesting is the mushroom flashed with the grade 00 filter, as in this example it does appear to have had the effect of reducing the contrast, although, the resulting effect is also in keeping with what we might expect from reducing flash power.

Further tests could be carried out, for example by using the grade 5 filter but with a stronger flash power than normal. I had used my spot meter to measure how much light passed through the grade 00 compared to grade 5 and there was only a 1/3 stop difference, so I decided not to make any adjustment to the flash power as at the time I hadn’t realised that my flash can be adjusted in 1/3 stop increments. As paper negatives/positives are inherently contrasty, it seems more useful to explore the possible effects of the grade 00 filter. Along with weaker flash output, a soft contrast filter might be able to help produce high-key, low-contrast, direct positive prints that could not be made by high exposures which prevent the reversal process from taking place.

Now that I’m looking at the filtered images again it does appear that they have worked in a similar way that we would expect them to on a normal print. If we compare the print that was flashed with the 00 filter the shadows are indeed lighter, although they cannot show more detail than was captured at the time of exposure, and the contrast is lower overall.

If we also treat the grade 5 filter as we would during normal printing, it would mean that we would require twice the amount of (flash) exposure in order to compensate for the filter effects. This obviously needs further testing in order to see if the grade 5 filter can still be used to create a mostly positive image, and to what extent the contrast can be changed.

In the log series, the grade 5 print does appear to show greater contrast in the forms that make up the background of the picture. It also occurred to me that if the filter increases the density of the highlights, this would mean that there would be a decreased chance of full inversion with this filter, and at the same time the opposite effect on the shadows would mean that the print should contain more negative/positive crossover. This would be in keeping with what we know about the Sabatier effect being more pronounced in higher contrast subjects, except in this case we are creating contrast after the fact.

Each flashed print appears to show more background detail than the normally processed negative, and this is most evident in the grade 5 print. This is perhaps due to edge effects accentuating the differences between light and dark areas.

Grades 00 and 5 were used as they were at the two extremes of the scale, and should therefore exhibit the greatest changes compared to using a bare flash, this leaves a lot of room to finely adjust contrast with all of the full and half grades that exist in between.

Further tests are planned to see the effect that pre-flashing the paper has, and whether it may be beneficial to pre-flash at an intensity that is visible as a light grey, contrary to standard practice. It may be worth increasing the pre-flash exposure well beyond what is normally recommended in order to reduce the overall contrast of the scene. The danger is that too much exposure will not allow the reversal process to take place, but somewhere in between there may be the opportunity to produce noticeable and useful effects.

In combination with varying levels of pre-flash exposure, the yellow filter can be used during the primary exposure, and over the flash during the development stage also. The different combinations of these variables alone mean that there is room for much more testing beyond what I have already covered.

Underexposure can also be tested further in tandem with low flash power, in order to find the limits of what will still produce a positive image.


The Sabatier effect is most pronounced in areas of high contrast. This is why using a flash during the primary exposure, particularly when close to the subject, produces the strongest effect. With this in mind, flash can be used to help achieve the desired look, either by filling in the shadows in order to reduce contrast, or by creating strong shadows, particularly on finely detailed objects.

Underexposure is favoured, and because the resulting print will become our final image, it may be helpful to think of making direct paper positives as being somewhat like shooting slide film. Once the paper has reached a certain level of exposure, the highlight areas will not invert, but simply darken and remain black in the print.

Flash power can be changed to alter the exposure of the final print, but it is most obvious in areas that received little exposure initially. This is most useful to know if your main subject is a dark object on a light background, because you can effectively increase or lower the overall contrast by altering the exposure of the subject without affecting the background which has already received a high initial exposure.

What we see if we carefully examine all of the evidence so far is that the Sabatier effect is created by the presence of overexposed highlights in a negative, or overexposed shadows if working from a positive. This overexposure essentially prevents the image from reversing when a second exposure is given in the middle of the development process. In the case of a negative being re-exposed, its lighter parts that represent the shadows have the space to accommodate further exposure and attain greater density when flashed. The parts of the image that represent the highest values have already received so much exposure that the flash simply makes them darker, instead of inverting. What we are left with is a positive image with correct shadows, but where the highlights remain as dark areas also.

When we repeat the procedure, but this time with a positive image from an enlarged negative, the flash acts upon the highlight areas of the print, as they have received the least exposure, while the shadows remain unaffected. In the example of the white horse, he becomes darker except in the shadow areas on his neck, in his nose and ears. When we invert this flashed image we are left with a horse that looks normal again, except for those small areas that were already too dark in the initial print. In this new print the shadows appear lighter than in the original positive, and this could simply be the result of too small a flash power being used to give the second exposure. This can be adjusted for to some extent by reprinting using a contrast filter, which we don’t have the possibility to do when working with original paper negatives and not enlargements. I think that the lower contrast look and lifted shadows is nicer and in keeping with the paper negative aesthetic though.

By examining the borders of the direct positive/Sabatier prints, we can see that what would have received no exposure from inside the camera, has now darkened exclusively in response to the second exposure given by the flash. These borders can therefore be used to tell us if the flash power has been sufficient enough in order to produce a maximum black in the shadow areas. There is a difference between the black of a highlight area that has had so much exposure that it fails to invert, and the black of inverted shadows. In a number of prints we can see highlights that are darker than their shadows, but if we examine the edges of the negative we can see that they are grey, meaning in effect, that the second exposure was not strong enough.

In the example of the underexposed sculpture, the print that shows the most detail is the one that received less exposure than was necessary to produce maximum black, whereas the print that actually does have a maximum black on its border is one that shows no image at all. This tells us that automatically flashing at a given setting for maximum black will only produce good prints if the exposure in camera was correct. The print most similar to the normal negative once inverted, is the one flashed at 1/16th power, except that its dark areas are too muddy. This is in keeping with what we would expect from underexposure of a normal film negative that is then printed lighter in order to compensate.

Truly white, i.e. zone 9 highlights cannot be achieved with the PPP process, as the amount of exposure needed to produce them would mean that they would remain dark. This means that any highlights in a direct reversal/Sabatier print are limited to being much lower on the scale. Prints that are wholly or nearly completely positive are therefore restricted to the lower values, however, this doesn’t mean that they are dull, only that a true high-key print cannot be made using this technique.

If waiting longer during development before flashing renders a more faithful positive, then perhaps either a combination of waiting longer and using a lower power, or flashing sooner but at a higher power will produce results that cannot be achieved any other way. As waiting too long makes the image too dark, and because there seems to be such a small window between the print becoming more positive and before getting too dark, it seems likely that flashing sooner with higher power is the easiest area to explore. If this technique works, it would be contrary to my original conclusion based on the first test.

Test Strips

These new tests were designed to see what the limits of initial exposure were that would still invert once flashed. The idea being, that the results could be used to guide exposure decisions later on when a pure, direct positive was required.

I first had to find the settings on my enlarger that gave me a maximum black in around 10 seconds. I ended up with 12s, and this was close enough. This allowed me to then make a series of exposures on a single A4 sheet, of 1-second increments all the way up to maximum black. This sheet was then cut into 5 pieces, and one strip from each sheet was always developed normally to give a negative for reference. 4 sheets in total were made, each representing a different flash power; 1/128, 1/64, 1/32 and 1/16. Each strip within a series was flashed at a different interval; at 15s, 20s, 25s and 30s respectively. Each strip would therefore show the affect that a particular flash output and time would have on the different tones that were spread across the strip.

Each step on the strip represents one second of exposure, and 8.33% of maximum black.

As before, the flash was positioned approximately 50cm above the developing tray and was zoomed to 18mm, but this time a diffuser was used in order to give more even coverage.

For ease of viewing, each series of strips is shown as an entire sheet.

1/16th power

            Negative,                                   30s,                                         25s,                                         20s,                                         15s

01 - 16th Power small

The first thing I noticed when makings these tests was that there appeared to be no reversal of dark tones to lighter tones, only light tones that have become darker. After reflection, this seems to be because the lightest tone on the strip, not including the border, actually exceeds the maximum density that is possible for a highlight, so when given additional exposure from the flash it simply darkens.

What this test shows us that is not as obvious when looking at the results of the first timing test, is that the longer we wait before flashing, the less of an effect this has on the darker tones which represent the highlights in a positive.

The border of the sheet can be used again to tell us about the overall flash power, which appears to have been sufficient to achieve maximum black in the areas that had no exposure under the enlarger.

One hypothesis about why the images flashed sooner in the first test were more negative compared to the ones flashed later, might have something to do with the speed at which the highlights develop. If the negative is flashed before this development has properly begun, the second exposure to the flash might be adding enough density to the highlights which prevents them from inverting. This could be tested by using a standard flash time of 10 seconds, and using either negatives of various low densities, or a very weak flash power to see if a positive image can be made this early. It’s likely that any positive image capable of being produced at this stage would have to be so severely underexposed as to be unusable.

1/32 Power

            Negative,                                   30s,                                         25s,                                         20s,                                         15s

02 - 32nd Power small

At a lower power we can see that as expected less of the image is affected, but still no sign of darker tones inverting.

1/64 power

            Negative,                                   30s,                                         25s,                                         20s,                                         15s

03 - 64th Power small

At 1/64 power, maximum black is no longer achieved in the borders.

1/128 power

            Negative,                                   30s,                                         25s,                                         20s,                                         15s

04 - 128th Power small

Unfortunately, nothing new was gained from these test strips, so further testing is necessary in order to find the darkest tone that will still invert and give an acceptable print.

When comparing the normal negatives from these test strips with the tones of my example prints, the brightest highlights present in the examples appear as a light grey that falls somewhere between the pure, unexposed white of the border, and the 1 second exposure. Knowing that the opposite of this 1-second exposure is our maximum black made by 12 seconds exposure, this means that such a bright tone could not have come from the reversal of a high initial exposure, which leaves the flash exposure as the only logical possibility. If we take a look at the following examples that were the catalysts for these tests, we can now understand what happened that made them look so different.

Ghislaine Comparison

The photo on the left is significantly darker, and judging by the edges, this is due to a higher flash power being used. As experienced in testing we also see that the higher flash power has caused more of the image to invert, which is particularly evident in the background. The highlights of the picture made up of the grass are made significantly brighter by using a weaker flash. The entire print is made lighter as a result, which gives us an idea of what the initial exposure must have been like, judging by the shadow areas. The lightening of the print is also at the expense of less of a positive and more Sabatier effects. Both aesthetics have their own merits.

While the right hand print has been underexposed by the flash, as the shadows are not rendered as black, we are able to see detail in the left side of the face. This tells us that either the left hand print has had more exposure from the flash than was necessary for a maximum black, or that the initial exposure was less than that of the lighter print. Knowing what settings are necessary for a maximum black, without going beyond it, is therefore critical to maintaining the highlights of your print which will already be quite grey in any case.

Returning again to our original flash power tests and the underexposed negative, we can see that it is possible to produce a 100% positive print, but at the expense of gross underexposure as in this case. If we also extrapolate from the results of the other two examples in the series, a fully positive print can also be made by increasing flash power, but at the expense of overexposure (darkening). We also know that allowing the print to develop more fully before re-exposing also allows the image to become more positive, but there isn’t much room for error. So for now at least, it seems that if we want a complete positive, we have to accept that it will be a dark one. That is, until we find our maximum initial exposure.

The light from the flash when using the techniques discussed here, acts as the light from an enlarger would when making a print from a negative, the difference being that in this case the development and second exposure stages are moulded into one. Our primary exposure is most important as it determines whether or not we will be able to produce a direct positive, and also to what extent, the flash then can be adjusted to produce a maximum black or to give us lifted shadows. As flash power is an easily controllable variable, it only takes a little testing to find what combination of height, power and other settings will produce the darkest black. Once this standard is defined, we can easily deviate from it as necessary. With the above information in mind, if we make at least two identical exposures each time, the first can be developed normally, and then contact printed again to give a traditional positive, and then these two prints can be used to decide what we would like our direct positive to look like, and more importantly, what settings would be required to make it, assuming that the possibility hasn’t been lost because of overexposure. The normally developed negative can then serve as a master copy for making more prints, while our direct positive can stand as a one-off.

In order to find the maximum initial exposure that will yield a positive print, it is necessary to make sure that during development we use a flash power that gives us our maximum black, as anything less will introduce more of the Sabatier effect.

If we take an example of a mostly positive print with what is possibly a maximum black in its border, we can invert this example in order to see what tone its highlights are made from. The example below doesn’t appear to have been exposed to enough flash judging by its inverted equivalent, but this may simply be due to the way the print was scanned, but in any case, to the naked eye the density of the black in the positive looks correct.

Ghislaine Comparison 2

So assuming that this method of crudely finding our maximum initial exposure is accurate enough, the image on the right represents the the density of what a correctly exposed paper negative should look like if we want to make direct positives. Based on how you are used to making your exposures on paper, and definitely on film, this is likely to be thinner than what you would normally consider a good exposure.

If we average this inverted scene, the tone comes close to being a zone 5, or middle grey which we can then use as a guide for making new exposures. We can either expose our main subject at or below middle grey, and then let the rest of the scene fall and remain negative where it will, or, we can meter the entire scene to make sure that even the highlights do not exceed this density. Control of the light during the initial exposure with filters etc. will go a long way to keeping the scene within the narrow range and helping produce a positive image.

A simple way of understanding and looking at the Sabatier effect is that paper or film that has received a lot of exposure will not invert, while thinner areas will when given a second exposure. So whether you are working with positive enlargements, negatives, film or paper, deliberately creating high contrast either locally or globally is the key.

The Poor Person’s Positive Process, on the other hand, requires less exposure, and less contrast, so we can see the two techniques as existing on opposite ends of a spectrum.

                                                                                      PPPP                                    SABATIER EFFECT

Low Contrast                                  High Contrast

Low Exposure                                 High Exposure

Dry / Wet Flashing

For these tests I had stuck with my initial process, which was to flash the negative directly where it stood in the developing tray. This enabled me to very precisely and consistently time my flash exposures, which was necessary for consistency across the tests. The problem with this technique however, was that often small bubbles or disturbances in the developer would show up on the print when the flash was fired. This gave me the idea to actually use this effect in order to produce photographs using the developer itself and the light of the flash passing momentarily through it, without the need for a camera, but that’s another story. The point was, that beyond making hundreds of tests, the Poor Person’s Positive Process was to be used to produce artistic photographs, where the user would like the possibility at least, to avoid the side effects associated with wet flashing.

After some failures early on, perhaps due to exposure and flash errors that were still being ironed out, I finally succeeded in producing clean images from dry flashing. The method I currently use, and have used most, is to remove the print from the developer and instead of placing it in the stop bath, or in a tray of water, as I have also tried, I simply squeegee off the excess developer with a sponge, and place the print in an empty tray situated below the flash stand. Once flashed it can be directly placed back into the developer, instead of having to be washed which is the case if you choose to use a stop bath.

Whether you use an enlarger or a flash to produce the second exposure the results are the same – i.e. if there is a significant amount of liquid left on the print during this time, it will show up on the print. The advantage of using an enlarger is that the settings can be extremely fine-tuned, and that the use of filters is made easier by them being incorporated into the design itself. When using filters on my flash I install a cardboard filter holder that I simply tape to my flash bracket. If you get serious about using this technique you may want to think about screwing a small, retractable arm over your work space that can hold a flash on a semi-permanent basis. By opting for a flash instead of an enlarger you keep things cleaner by not mixing the wet and dark sides of your darkroom, and something to hold your flash on the wall means that you save yourself the space and trouble of having to manoeuvre around a light stand, which is all the more important if you are working in a converted space at home and not a purpose built darkroom.


Standard Flash Height Test

The SFH or standard flash height test is basically the same as the standard printing time test that you would use when enlarging from a negative. In this case though, we simply take an unexposed strip of paper and then flash it at a given power and process it to see what height and power combination will give us the maximum black. I recommend that you use a power setting somewhere in the middle and simply adjust the height of the flash accordingly. This way, if you want to make lighter prints you have room to lower the power as you see fit, and if you choose to use a grade 5 filter you can also add one stop of compensation. You may have to play around to find the height at which you can still easily access the controls on the flash, while maintaining the possibility to adjust power up or down. You can even add a remote trigger to your flash which can be of use, but I prefer to turn my flash off between prints as the buttons give off a blue light when left on.

A word of caution, the term ‘maximum black’ in this case really refers to darkest shade of grey that you will find acceptable as black when viewed in the context of an actual print, and not some kind of ‘objective’ test. If you use the actual darkest black possible you may end up with prints that are too dark despite making correct exposures in camera. If in doubt, print lighter, because a lighter image is better than no image at all. The density of what you consider acceptable can also change depending on what subject you are shooting, so just remember that this is a guide, and that once you understand how all of the different variables act alone, and then in unison, you can begin to venture from your initial standards in order to get the effects you want within the limitations of the process.

The same test as above can be used to find the standard settings when using filtered flash or diffused flash.

How To Test Your Paper’s Iso

One of the next things you may want to do before shooting any real subjects is to test your particular combination of paper and developer in order to find the effective iso when using the PPPP. Your own particular results will also be consistent with whatever spot meter you use and more particularly, how you use it. If you prefer to dive right in an adjust things as you go along you can take my own settings as a guide. I use a Pentax Digital Spotmeter, Ilford MGIV RC paper – Glossy / Pearl, and develop in standard Ilford Multigrade developer diluted 1:9 or even 1:19, and I shoot at iso 12, using the actual reading taken from the part of the scene that I wish to remain brightest.

To carry out the test, simply photograph a flat surface such as a wall by taking measurements with your spot meter set at iso 3, iso 6, and iso 12, along with whatever increments in between that your camera or lens allows – either half or third stops. Flash these negatives at your standard height and power setting and then process completely. What you should be left with is a series of prints that get lighter up to a certain point, beyond which they darken. The print that shows the lightest grey corresponds to the highest effective iso for the equipment you are using.


How you choose to measure the scene is very critical to how your final print will turn out, much more so than when shooting film or even normal paper negatives. If you are making a portrait and the subject is evenly lit, except for a highlight on the nose, if you choose to expose for the highlight you are essentially darkening the rest of the subject for the sake of having a small area rendered normally. It’s likely that there are a number of stops difference between the highlight and the main part of the subject, which wouldn’t normally be a problem when using film, but in this case those few stops could make the entire print unacceptably dark. In Zone System terms, if our highlight is zone 5, then there are only 4 zones difference between the highlight and maximum black, which gives us a range of only 3 zones within which full detail can be captured! So when deciding how to exposure your image it is necessary to ask yourself whether it is more important to get an image that appears as positive as possible, or one in which your main subject is as bright as possible. It is possible that you can achieve both, but more often than not you will have to sacrifice one or the other to some extent.

0022 small

In this image I exposed for the highlight on the large rock in the foreground, knowing that the sky was much brighter, and would therefore remain black in the final print. In most cases exposing for the sky is a risky business that will leave the rest of the scene too dark, but the right conditions, and the use of filters during both the first and second exposure can give results such as this:

Yellow filter no compensation _ yellow flash no compensation [64] small

With this example I exposed for the sky and used a yellow filter over the lens, without adding any exposure compensation. During development I flashed the negative with a 00 contrast filter, again without adding any compensation to the flash power. For the first time I was able to make a print with a sky that was not entirely black, without having to sacrifice much detail in the landscape. This type of scene is the most difficult to represent ‘naturally’ using this process, but as this print shows, difficult does not mean impossible.

Paper Types

For the PPP process I prefer to use variable contrast paper, as it gives me the power to manipulate the image both in the field and in the darkroom which would not be possible with graded paper. Due to the nature of the process, the resulting images are always low contrast compared to an average contact print of a paper negative made on VC paper, therefore choosing a graded paper to reduce contrast will only accentuate this effect. Therefore it seems that any negative aspects usually associated with making images on VC papers are largely irrelevant in relation to PPPP, and in any case are outweighed by the benefits that such papers offer.

One alternative to graded papers is to use old VC paper that no longer has the same sensitivity as fresh paper. The contrast will be lower than normal, while still retaining the ability to be manipulated through selective use of filters. Furthermore, one can experiment with various low contrast developers such as Caffenol C, and along with techniques such as pre-flashing, and filtration, there are more than enough options to reduce contrast if it is found to be an issue. Remember that exposure and development times will need to be re-tested if switching between papers/chemicals.


In order to increase the usable dynamic range of the paper, pre-flashing is necessary. Based on my tests pre-flashing gives shadow detail that is roughly equivalent to a print made with an additional stop of exposure.

On the left is the pre-flashed paper, and on the right un-flashed paper given 1 extra stop of exposure.

Comparison 05 2 - Exposure

In a normal paper negative the lowering of contrast can sometimes produce an image that is too flat, but this can be compensated for with filtration during contact printing. As the majority of the tones in a PPPP print lie on the low end of the scale, failure to pre-flash can result in an image that is too dark, and that lacks detail.

I decided to test whether filtering the pre-flash exposure would have any effect on the resulting print, and in order to do this I had to find the individual exposure time for each filter I was using. I went with the softest and hardest grades, again so that any differences between them would be accentuated.

Comparison 02 Row

Based on these tests it seems that there is no significant difference between flashing without a filter (white flash) and using the softest filter. There does however, seem to be a noticeable difference between a white pre-flash and a high contrast one. I prefer the look of the latter, so have switched to pre-flashing at the highest contrast for all my PPPP work.

Flash Filtering Revisited

As the first set of tests using filtered flash did not produce any concrete conclusions as to how the final prints were affected, I set about using a different approach. I exposed a set of prints identically, and then flashed them with the softest grade filter, but this time at different power settings. An unfiltered print was also flashed for reference.

Yellow Comparison
Unfiltered flash VS filtered flash with no exposure compensation

As is clear from this first new set of tests, the filtered print when flashed at 1/64 power has significantly less contrast than its unfiltered equivalent at the same power setting. These results not only tell us what kind of power setting is suitable for the given filter in order to obtain the overall brightness we prefer, but it also shows how much of a difference using filtered flash can make to the final print.

I only retested the softest grade, but this was enough to conclude that filtration of the flash exposure does affect the look of the image, and should therefore be taken into consideration when using this process. As previously mentioned, the standard flash power test can be carried out to take filtration into account, and it may be worth testing all available whole grades or even half grades, as once you have this information it will remain constant in relation to the unfiltered flash settings, so it is a test that you should only have to perform once unless you change you paper or developer.

Lens Filters

Following a lot of frustratingly inconclusive tests to see the effects of using in-camera filters, I redesigned my method similar to how I did for testing filtered flash. This time, I made 4 different exposures, each one stop apart with the filter in place, then I made 3 more exposures without the filter, again, one stop apart (the reason for the odd number is that I have a film holder that only has one darkslide). This allowed me to simultaneously compare the brightness of the filtered and unfiltered prints in order to get an idea of how much exposure compensation may be necessary, while also seeing the effect that each filter had on contrast.

Low Contrast Filter

These first tests used a standard yellow filter for panchromatic black and white film, so the results may be slightly different compared to using a filter that is designed for use with an enlarger and variable contrast paper. Nevertheless, the tests show that the yellow filter was useful in holding back the exposure of the highlight areas in the print, which appear to darken faster in the unfiltered set of prints as they become overexposed.


The second and third set of tests for the yellow filter show that the overall exposure of the filtered print with 1 stop compensation is similar to the unfiltered print, without compensation.

Second Yellow Comparison.jpg

Third Yellow Comparison

High Contrast Filter

The next set of tests used an actual variable contrast filter over the lens this time, in order to see how the highest grade would affect the image. As with the yellow filter, it appears that the filtered image needs 1 stop of exposure compensation.

Looking at the test prints of the logs, the filtered exposure that has 2 stops of compensation added looks similar to the unfiltered print with no compensation, except for in the highlight areas.


Whereas the filtered exposure with a single stop of compensation has similar highlights to the unfiltered print, except that its shadows areas are darker.


So this tells us that if we are exposing for the highlights using a grade 5 filter on the lens, and give 1 stop exposure compensation for the filter, we will get shadow areas that are approximately 1 stop darker than normal.

Intermediate grades were not tested, so you will need to find the maximum highlight exposure that is possible for each filter. Given that the harder grades give you relatively darker shadows, it will probably be most useful to explore the low-contrast filters first.

The sensitivity of variable contrast photographic paper means that the way filters work in-camera is not how they usually react with panchromatic or even orthochromatic film. Firstly, filters act to alter the contrast of the print, by either activating the low or high contrast parts of the emulsion. Secondly, filters act to achieve the type of effects we expect from biasing particular wavelengths, and either brightening or darkening certain objects. The problem is that there seems to be a conflict of interests when it comes to certain colours. For example, the grade 5 contrast filter is very magenta, and is used for maximum contrast in a print, but the same filter when used with panchromatic film would serve to block light from the blue spectrum, essentially making skies darker – the opposite of what would happen on paper.

Orange Filter

In testing, I had wanted to use an orange filter in order to get a sky that would not overexpose on paper, but the problems seems to be that I was shooting the wrong kinds of subjects in order to judge the effects of the filter, and what kind of exposure compensation it needed. All of my subjects were mainly foliage, which being green, would naturally darken with the use of an orange filter. So when photographing a landscape, the orange filter would darken the leaves, grass and trees, along with the sky, assuming it still has this effect. Overall, most of the image would darken, therefore necessitating an overall increase in exposure and negating any desired effect. Being unable to test the orange filter in urban conditions I resigned myself to the idea that for one reason or another, an orange filter would not help me to produce printable skies directly on paper.

But not wanting to give in just yet, I revisited my tests of the orange filter and managed to find one example that shows that with the orange filter and a one stop exposure compensation, the sky still remains darker than in the unfiltered print.


This seems to be the confirmation that an orange filter can be used to darken the sky, although it will need additional testing to see whether it remains a viable option for use in the PPPP.

Red Filter

In normal printing situations, a dark red filter can be positioned over the enlarger lens while composing and thus used as a safe light. An image can be printed through this filter, but the insensitivity of the paper to red light means that it would take an impractical amount of time to do so. This has led some people to believe that using a red filter for making paper negatives or direct positives has no effect, but upon testing this turns out not to be so. It happens that a red filter can be used with paper just as it is with film, and that its effects are comparable. Ilford state that their paper is sensitive to blue and green light, of which, both are greatly reduced in the presence of a red filter. This would seem to mean that a red filter will not have any effect on the variable contrast nature of the paper, which leaves it to act in its normal capacity. Both skies and green foliage are darkened, meaning that once again this filter is not suited for the typical green landscape. The red filter acts as a strong ND filter of around 17 stops. The following print was exposed during 15 minutes in bright summer sun at f5.6:

Red Filter - 15 minutes positive small
Paper negative shot with a red filter

Barely visible at the bottom of the image is a green car that mostly gets lost amongst the leaves of the bush it stands in front of.

PPPP for film

When using resin coated papers the second development stage is generally carried out to completion, but even if this is not the case, we have the possibility to inspect the print during the process. With film this is not the case, and due to the fact that each development stage can be lengthened or shortened in order to affect the density of the image, this provides us with a set of advantages and disadvantages that are distinct from the PPPP using resin coated paper.

The longer development times involved when processing film mean that there is more room to vary the development duration before flashing, if we are simply estimating what the right time may be. It also means that if we are interested in conducting more systematic tests, we are able to more accurately pinpoint a window of opportunity for flashing, given any particular film/developer/temperature combination. So despite having to carry out the processing steps without the possibility for inspection, adequate testing should provide enough information to enable you to use the technique in a consistent way as any other.

Extending the second development time should naturally make the shadows darker, and then beyond that, the rest of the image should also darken too.

The use of orthochromatic film has the advantage of being able to be handled under a safelight like paper, while still having the slower development characteristics of film.

As positive images on film are made to be viewed by light passing through the film, images made with the Poor Person’s Positive Process, which generally render much darker than with standard processing, appear even more dense when made on film. To help improve the ease with which they are viewed there are a couple of options. The first, and easiest method is to paint the non-emulsion side to allow viewing by reflected light. White or chrome are the first obvious choices, but other light shades can also work well depending on the subject. This method has the advantage of allowing us to created duotone images on film that couldn’t be achieved by simply toning or staining the paper base.

The second method, although not in keeping with the PPPP philosophy, can provide a unique look that can open up further areas of exploration. Once we have a fully processed image on film, we then place it in a permanganate bleach bath that has been highly diluted. If the bath is too strong we will quickly lose other parts of the image, instead of removing density from the highlight areas in order to make the image appear brighter. After bleaching the image must be placed in a clearing solution before being washed again. Alternatively, bleach can be selectively painted on and washed off little by little, but due to the difficulty of this technique it is best performed on larger pieces of film, and must be tested first in order to find suitable dilutions for the bleach.

As different black and white films tend to have a variety of bases when processed, it is best to choose one that gives as clear a base as possible. This way, if you intend on viewing your images as if they are slides you will have the brightest image possible without bleaching, and if you intend on painting or covering the film side, there will not be any noticeable hue that may negatively impact the colour you wish to add.

A quick guide to understanding exposure

Camera exposure = Highlight setting

Flash exposure = Shadow setting

Soft Camera filter = Highlights get denser slower than normal with less effect on shadows

Hard Camera Filter = Highlights get denser with less effect on shadows

Soft Flash Filter = Makes shadows lighter with less effect on highlights

Hard Flash Filter = Makes shadows darker with less effect on highlights (predicted)

In this way, the guidelines for first exposure and second exposure are the inverse of what we would normally use when exposing and developing for black and white negative film. With the PPPP we first expose for the highlights, making sure that they do not become so dark as to begin competing with the shadow densities, and then later on in the darkroom, we use the flash exposure in order to determine how dark our shadows will actually be.

Because the flash is capable of affecting both shadow and highlight densities it is the second exposure that plays the biggest part in determining the overall brightness of the print, as the re-exposure must be carefully balanced in order not to make the print too dark, but to provide enough contrast with the highlights that have already been developed in order to create the illusion of a positive image.

Further Testing

At the time of writing there remain a number of tests that have yet to be systematically carried out and recorded, or ideas that remain unexplored. Below I shall give a list and a brief explanation of the reason for testing.

Exposure Matrix – If you want an easy to understand visual record of how camera and flash exposure combine to give different effects you can create a 4×4 or bigger matrix of prints, that shows increasing camera exposure from left to right, and increasing flash exposure from bottom to top. Place the correct exposure as close to the centre as possible, and aim to show at least a 1 stop difference in each direction.

Very dilute/weak developers – If the development of paper can be slowed down using a weak developer, like with film, it should make it easier to time the second exposure. Additionally, the use of a weak developer is almost certain to affect the look of the final photo when compared to an identical exposure in a normal strength developer. The first and second development processes can be carried out in different strength baths based on the desired look, most probably with a weak solution for the first bath in order for the highlights not to become too dense.

First development to completion with RC paper – Although I wasn’t able to get a positive image after a certain amount of time, in the first set of tests, it seems logical that it is possible to allow development to continue to completion, provided that the exposure was correct in the first place. I suspect that the initial results are in part due to the way I conducted the tests. Development to completion will remove the need for timing, and should give more consistent results.

Super Iron Out for tank development on the road – I have done a little research online into the use of a chemical fogging agent in order to replace the second exposure step of the process. The reason for experimenting with such chemicals is multiple; the first benefit, if this technique can be made to work, is that the PPPP can be adapted for daylight tank processing, whether using film or paper. This will remove the need for extra equipment, and therefore space, and essentially reduces development to a two-bath process, which also saves time. Having such a simplified process would make it easier to produce almost-instant, positive images on paper and film, without the space requirements needed for a flash or enlarger set-up.

Graded papers – Although graded paper provides us less opportunity to manipulate the look of the image in the darkroom, they should theoretically have the advantage of responding to in-camera filtration in a more predictable and useful way compared to variable contrast paper. Useful if lowering contrast is a must.

Dodging/Burning – If we use an enlarger to give our second exposure it should be possible to selectively expose the paper, and to do so at different grades and durations. Although this is quite impractical for 4×5 inch prints, it could be useful at larger sizes, as selective re-exposure can work similarly to dodging and burning, which can produce results that are otherwise impossible to achieve.

Filter combining for VC papers – If two or more filters are used in front of the lens, does the order in which they are placed have any effect, and more importantly, does the combination have any effect at all? My hypothesis is that the outside filter closest to the subject, should be selected in the same way as if we were shooting ordinary panchromatic film, while the filter closest to the lens should be chosen based on which contrast grade we wish to expose the paper at. Theoretically then, a dark orange filter on the outside with a yellow (grade 00) filter on the inside should have the combined effect of reducing the amount of light from the sky, while further softening contrast. It’s likely to be more complicated in reality, however, any effects should still be predictable.

Blue/Green filters – As Ilford paper at least, is sensitive to blue and green light, I began to wonder why it was that contrast filters are yellow and magenta, and that the settings used by colour enlargers to produce varying contrast grades are combinations of magenta and yellow again, instead of variations of blue and green. But if we look at a colour wheel we can perhaps figure out why. Yellow is adjacent to green, and further from blue, and magenta is adjacent to blue, but further from green. If instead of a yellow filter, we chose an orange filter; the direct opposite of blue, we would allow even less blue light to reach the paper, but at the same time, we would also reduce the amount of green light too. Theoretically at least, this should result in longer exposure times, without having any beneficial effect on contrast. In the opposite direction, if we choose a green filter, we let in the maximum amount of green light, but we also let in more blue light as a result, which should again have no beneficial effect on contrast, provided that the increase is proportional.

In normal situations this relationship holds true, but as we have already seen, exposing photographic paper in a camera is not a normal situation.

Final Thoughts

After much testing and use of the Poor Person’s Positive Process, I realised that in a sense, the process simply creates the illusion of a positive image, as no actual reversal ever takes place, and it is the contrast between the first and second exposure that determines to what extent we view the image as positive or negative. For example, after exposure, and once we carry out the first development, we will be left with a negative image, but it is the darkest parts of this negative that will be viewed as the highlights after the second development. So if these densities become too high, they will start to resemble the tones of the shadows in the final image, and this competition between the two is what reduces overall contrast and diminishes our perception of a true positive. A similar thing happens if we give too little exposure with the flash, as instead of turning black, the shadows remain grey, and therefore compete with the highlights.

It appears that during the second development, areas which have had little or no exposure at all, I.e. white areas, develop at a disproportionate rate compared to parts that have already become grey during the first development. What this means is that the shadows are now given the opportunity to develop without the highlights being affected, provided that the second exposure was not too high.

As seen in the strip tests flashing sooner has a greater effect on the entire image, whereas flashing later mostly affects the lower densities. This is because before the image has had a chance to develop, all densities are low, and thus have a greater potential to be increased by the flash exposure. The longer the development is allowed to continue before flashing, the less effect the flash will have on the high values, while its effect on unexposed areas remains the same. In this way, waiting longer before flashing allows the disproportionate sensitivity of the remaining unexposed and undeveloped silver to produce the illusion of a positive print.

The relationship between first exposure and second exposure, highlights and shadows is a delicate one, which leaves us very little room for error, especially if we want our images to be maximally positive.

Middle grey represents the cut-off point for highlight exposure because beyond that, highlights start to resemble shadow values, and the only way they can remain the lightest overall part of the image is by darkening the rest to an unacceptable degree. As the process is additive, unlike a true reversal process that involves bleaching away the silver after the first development, tones can only ever darken, which explains why in-camera exposure is so vital to achieving a full positive, because no adjustment of flash exposure can compensate for overexposed highlights.

What is often great about the working of this process is that while in theory the highlights should not be exposed or developed beyond zone 5, as in the case of film, in practice the various tones of many scenes often blend so seamlessly together that they appear natural, despite highlights actually being darker than their neighbours which are lighter in real life. This often means that there is more or less room for exposure errors or variations, depending on the kind of aesthetic we find acceptable. If we delve into the realm of abstraction, the gap between what results are acceptable and those that are not can widen significantly.

Poor Person's Positive Process
Abstract nature

For a portfolio of images made using the Poor Person’s Positive Process click here.

Last updated: 12.05.17


New Workflow

I have finally made the switch from re-exposing with my speedlight, to flashing with my enlarger, as I found that I needed more fine control than the speedlight was able to give, plus it took up extra space around the developing area which was already cramped, even more so since I started using a two-bath developing method.

Another advantage of the enlarger is that re-exposure times can be stretched out, which reduces the chances of “imprinting” caused by small drips or streaks of liquid still on the surface of the paper, which seems to be a bigger problem when using matte papers. Long re-exposure times also allow dodging and burning, although I haven’t ventured there yet, and have barely even done any when printing normal enlargements.

An A3 sheet of glass from an old picture frame keeps the baseboard clean, and allows the print to be squeegeed flat into contact, resulting in completely even exposures.

Dilute Developer

Since publishing my results, the first thing I went about testing was the use of a weak developer. I mixed up at batch of Kodak HC110 diluted 1:99 in order to compared it to Ilford Multigrade developer mixed 1:9, and then cut up an exposed piece of paper to develop the pieces in the different baths. The print in the weak developer was developed for 5 minutes with no agitation, and the other for 1 minute with normal agitation. The results were surprising, and the weak developer shows much greater shadow detail. I continued the tests with dilutions up to 1:149, but found that stand development was creating what appears to be bromide build up across the surface of the paper, which could be wiped away once the print was dry, but just added to the workload and increased the chances of damaging the print. Keeping the print below the surface of the developer was also a problem, as in order to carry out development by inspection the print would need to be face up, which often resulted in uneven development.

Knowing that contrast could be reduced, I then did a quick test to see if the exposure could be increased in order to show more shadow detail, while keeping the highlights down with the weak developer. The following results show that the print developed in HC110 with 1 stop more exposure has better highlight and shadow detail than the print developed in standard dilution Multigrade.

This test led me to go and make real photos in the field using the stand development method with highly diluted developer, and a highly reduced iso in order to capture more shadow detail. I soon realised though, that the problem was now that my photos were too low contrast! I had solved the problem of underexposure, but had at the same time created a new problem in the process. I once again had to revisit my list of things to test and to continue experiments to find out if re-exposure with a high-contrast filter could indeed put contrast back into the print.

The first tests were not conducted systematically and gave mixed results with the prints re-exposed at grade 5 remaining as negatives, but judging by the borders of the prints, the re-exposure time was not long enough.

Based on the sculpture tests of flashing with the grade 5 filter, it appears that my intuition was correct, and that I simply needed to increase the flash time under the enlarger.

After having made a flash / exposure matrix I decided to use 20 seconds @ f16 with the grade 5 filter as the standard flash time. This doesn’t render a true black, but enough to show the effects of flashing at high contrast, which are obvious in comparison to an unfiltered flash.

After having developed the negatives initially in a dilute bath – HC110 1:150 for 3-4 minutes, the grade 5 filter DOES allow us to put contrast back into the image, without making any noticeable change to reversibility. Negatives that didn’t invert simply seem to have been due to insufficient re-exposure.

The purpose of the dilute developer is to allow more of the scene to be recorded on the negative without the highlights becoming black, this reduction in contrast is compensated for at the re-exposure stage by flashing with a high contrast filter. This combination of techniques should allow a greater range of subjects to be photographed successfully using the PPPP.

The goal is now to find the correct iso or EI for this paper in order to use the PPPP with standard techniques for measuring exposure – i.e. exposing for the shadows, not the highlights. Not having a consistent enough practice for judging exposure seems to have been my biggest failure so far, therefore formulating standards should help instil good habits when working with PPPP and give better results.

Seeing as stand development introduces problems, and that agitation doesn’t seem to play such a huge role in contrast, I intend to simply alter developer strength in order to fit various scene contrasts to the negative, while keeping development time constant. Low contrast scenes can be

developed normally, while different strengths could potentially be found for scenes containing:

3 stops

4 stops

5 stops

6 stops

and so on.

High key prints seem to be the result of minimal in-camera exposure coupled with minimal re-exposure. The minimal amount of re-exposure can be seen on the exposure matrix by finding the first tone in the column at the top of the sheet that is darker than its direct opposite at the bottom of the column. The shadows (second exposure) are at the top and the highlights (initial exposure) are at the bottom. If the shadows are lighter than the highlights then the image will not be positive, so the first point at which the shadows are darker represents the lightest possible positive that

can be obtained GIVEN THE INITIAL EXPOSURE. Knowing that we can also under-develop negatives, we also have the possibility of simply stopping development once we deem the negative dark enough. By compressing scene brightness range with dilute developer we should be able to produce light negatives that contain enough detail that can then be reposed minimally, perhaps at high contrast, in order to get the lightest possible print.

Exposure for PPPP is counter-intuitive because at both stages of the process, too much exposure will make the final print too dark, whereas with traditional negative exposure and enlargement this is only true at the printing stage.

The difficulties in obtaining a thin negative that still contains the relevant information, mean that the high-key print still remains the holy grail of the PPPP.

Exposure Matrix

To make my exposure matrix I first exposed a sheet of paper in 0.5 second increments that ranged from white to a middle-ish grey. The specifics for this part of the process are not important, as what I wanted to test was how the second exposure with a given filter then interacted with the first. In any case, making a test strip from white all the way to black is unnecessary as we already know that initial overexposure serious limits positive producing potential. This test strip was then developed for a minute in standard developer, rinsed and squeegeed, then placed on a sheet of glass under the enlarger. The sheet was then re-exposed in order to produce a set of incremental strips that ran opposite to the first ones, creating a patchwork effect of different tones once re-developed as normal. The re-exposures were done with a grade 5 filter, ranging from 12 seconds all the way to 26 seconds in 2 second increments.

From top right to top left we see that the shadow value becomes increasingly dense until we begin to lose the separation between the top square and the one below it. The column that shows the best separation represents the time for maximum black. In order to find an even more accurate time, the increments between the initial exposures need to be smaller.

(The paper was not pre-flashed, therefore the results will differ slightly from what we would expect with real working prints)

Finding Maximum Black

Before making my matrix I made a series of prints in order to find my time for maximum black under the enlarger. I took the standard time and settings that I use for pre-flashing the paper, i.e. a time that does not produce any tone when developed, and used this as a starting point for making further exposures. My pre-flash time is 0.2 seconds @ f11, which I then converted to 0.8 seconds @ f22 which is the minimum aperture on my lens. I rounded this up to 1 second and made a series of 19 individual test exposures on small squares of paper, ranging from 1 second to 19 seconds @ f22. The reason for doing them as individual pieces and not as a whole strip was so that I would avoid inaccuracies introduced when making cumulative exposures, because 1, 10-second exposure does not give the same result as 10, 1-second exposures.

The purpose of making these test cards was not simply to find maximum black, but also to provide a reference point so that no matter what the density of a negative turned out to be after development, I could take a look at the cards and by examining the tones, find the minimum re-exposure time in order to produce a positive. Providing that this method works, this simple, easy to produce, visual aid should take out a lot of guesswork when deciding how much re-exposure to give. Until now, I have been mostly using a standard re-exposure time (or power as has been the case when using a speedlight), and hoping that the in-camera exposure was correct, occasionally reducing power when I see that a negative is obviously underexposed, or when previous prints in a series have turned out too dark. Having an objective reference point, and an equivalent setting in order to achieve it is a significant step in taming this difficult process, which is something I had long ago planned on testing, but for some reason put off, as I perhaps didn’t see its importance.


New Insights  

When looking back at the original test prints I had first exposed in my 35mm camera I noticed that the prints were not black and white or grey as would be expected, but had unusual tones as in the case of the first image on this page. Originally I put it down to some anomaly in development perhaps due to temperature, and therefore considered it to be uncontrollable. In any case I didn’t give any thought to exploring this mystery, especially as it didn’t seem to reappear throughout my series of tests or actual working prints.

Today I decided to go into the darkroom to work on making a single Sabatier print from a 35mm black and white negative, as I have increasingly found that it is better to focus on making a small number of prints than trying to do as much as possible at any given time. This allows me to be more focused and give more attention to a particular image or negative, and to continue to appreciate the whole process instead of it becoming routine.

I first made a straight print with the native contrast of the negative, but upon development decided to leave it as it was because the contrast was quite high and I had wanted to begin with something softer to begin with. In any case the first print served as a nice example of the negative in its natural state.

For the second print I went straight for the softest grade filter and printed at the lowest contrast possible after making a few tests. While the print was in the developer I allowed it to stand a little to further reduce the contrast and I think that I also stopped the development before it had a chance to complete as I was judging with my eye instead of the clock. Once the print was rinsed and sitting in its water bath ready to be re-exposed I changed the filter to the highest grade possible and removed the negative from the enlarger. I then re-exposed the print and re-developed based on the changes I saw happening in the tray, and decided to develop less in order to prevent the newly exposed areas becoming too black.

The print was then stopped and fixed as normal and then rinsed and washed before being placed in a tray containing 1 litre of selenium toner. I didn’t bother to check the temperature of the toner or to heat it to 20 degrees, but guessed that it was around 18 degrees based on the air temperature in my small darkroom, which, for the sake of reference I tested after toning was complete and which was in fact 18.5 degrees. I agitated constantly for 5 minutes but saw no discernible change which I put down to the temperature being too cool and the fact that the print contained an unusual set of tones that didn’t include much in the way of white. I allowed the toning process to continue but nothing happened, that is, until around the 9 minute mark when I noticed that the colours began to suddenly change.

The border of the print which was originally hidden by the easel and therefore received no exposure until the second time around, began to separate from an adjacent area of the print. At first it appeared as if the contrast was changing, but I soon realised that the border was being toned while the other parts of the print remained neutral! What I was seeing were reddish purple tones appearing out of a relatively cool slate grey of the rest of the print. I decided to halt the process rather than continuing toning in order to preserve this unexpected two-tone, one-of-a-kind wonder. Throughout the washing stage I gazed in awe at my print in the same way I had first did in the early days of experimentation and discovery of the Poor Person’s Positive Process. This kind of surprise was something that had been missing from my darkroom work ever since I implemented all my tests and made such a great effort to tame the process all those months ago.

By analysing the print it now became clear to me that there was a difference in how the print reacted to the toner based on the two different exposures; the second exposure toned first, and presumably the rest of the print would eventually catch up to become uniformly toned. This will definitely need to be tested further though, but as before, this first ‘accident’ will form the basis for more experimentation. What is more interesting though, is that the test prints that appeared unusually duotone have not been toned at all, which means that differences in the development alone are enough to create tonal differences in a print that has received multiple exposure and re-development treatment. Examples and more test results will follow…