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Underdeveloped, Underexposed Film Photos (A Tutorial)

A Gallery

April 2016

Some photographers give the impression that they don't make dopey metering mistakes, darkroom blunders, and that sort of thing.  While it's possible to master your camera and your developing so that usually doesn't happen, there's always going to be the occasional scene that doesn't photograph well.  And sometimes, after you take a lot of pictures for a long time, you can still make dumb mistakes. 

Here are a couple of examples that might be instructive.

Light Bulbs, Faded With Severe Grain

Kodak 400TX at EI 12800 or possibly 25600,
Developed as 6400 or 4800.

f/11 at 1/250th sec.

This was from the first roll of Tri-X at 12800.  That was very much a test roll, as I was still trying to work out the process.  Many of the photos were underexposed, because I was using the in-camera light meter when I should have used another method.

In theory, this photo should have been perfect;  I metered carefully on the darkest areas of the scene.  Sometimes I shoot pictures like this on purpose, but this is one that I didn't set out to make ultra-grainy. 

I checked my notes and found this was f/11 at a 250th.  For film at 12800 that seems like it could be reasonable.  (f/11 at 125th would more likely have been correct here.)  What went wrong?

One, this scene was probably LV 7, not LV 8.  That means f/11 @ 250 would have been correct for 25600, or one stop under for 12800.  Either way, if you develop as 12800 it's going to be one stop under, right from the get-go.  On this one, I metered using the in-camera light meter;  it was getting so many scenes wrong, in fact, that I decided to start using an external meter.

Two, fluorescent light flicker is probably happening here.  1/250th is plenty fast enough for that to occur.  I never thought of film as being affected by this, because usually the shutter speeds are very slow indoors, but 1/250th... very likely.  What basically happens is that the shutter captures an instant when the light fixture goes dark.  This happens 120 times a second in 60 Hz light fixtures.  You can't see that with your eyes, but a camera shutter is fast enough to photograph it. 

Three, I know that this picture was developed as 6400 or possibly even 4800, according to my updated dev times for highly-pushed Tri-X. 

The grainy, faded picture of light bulbs has some symbolism, so for me this worked out as art.  In fact, I like this much better than if it had been "correct".  Nonetheless, this photo was not meant to be this way, even if I think the result looks cool.

Perhaps there will be a day when incandescent light bulbs are no more, and we'll be awash in constant RF hash from all the LED fixtures.  (That's already happening.)

Candy Aisle Noir

6x6 cm
Kodak Tri-X 400 at EI 12800
Yashica MAT 124G
1/60th sec.

Developed in Kodak HC-110 Dilution B, 68 F, 2 hrs 20 minutes

This was the thinnest negative on the whole roll.  At 1/60th, this shouldn't have been affected by flicker.  If you want to be sure, though, 1/30th is probably a safer bet for indoor fluorescent-lit scenes. 

I think the underexposure here was for a different reason.

The meter said LV 8.5, so I shot the scene at EV 8.  Why is this one still underexposed?  I'm fairly sure this was the picture where I noticed the aperture had been stopped down past where I wanted.  Instead of f/22, it might have been more like f/25.  This camera has continuous aperture adjustment and shutter speed adjustments, and if you're not careful you can easily set it wrong.

The other problem is the metering. 

On this one, I had the dome facing upward, directly toward the bright ceiling fixtures.  Normal procedure is to have the dome facing the camera.  If you don't meter that way, the shadows could be black and have no detail, as you see here.

Based on how the scene looked to me, I think it was really LV 7 or 7.5.  I'm finding that many fluorescent-lit store interiors are in that range. 

This picture looks like the typical concept of pushed film:  no shadow detail, high grain.  I like this photo, but it's still not the look that I intended.... hence the inclusion on this "errors" page.  I think a lot of pushed film was metered incorrectly, developed wrong, or both.  If you want to see what Tri-X at 12800 is supposed to look like, view this gallery

You've been reading "Fluorescent Light Flicker and Other Errors".  I hope you've enjoyed this page or found it informative;  hopefully you can use the knowledge to improve your night photography on film. 

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You might also like...

Gallery:  Kodak Tri-X At 6400

Grit, Grain, & Contrast:  Night Photography On Film

Pushing Tri-X To 6400 And Beyond