Thinking and process behind ‘New interpretation of an old negative’

I thought it may be of interest to some, if I explained my thinking and process behind this image.


It all came down to the light meter I used and the fact that I had only come equipped with Ilford HP5 plus, although in this case, that film being an old style emulsion, helped when developing.

Reflected light meters – the type found in every camera, measures the light reflecting off the subject. There are also hand-held reflected light meters like the type I use (Pentax Spot & Weston Euromaster) see this link for the Weston, almost a work of art: WestonMaster


The Pentax is now unfortunately, no longer made and the second-hand price is a bit silly.

Spot meters measure the light reflecting off a very small part of the scene and in the case of the Pentax it’s 10.

Because dark objects reflect less light than bright ones a reflected light meter can be fooled by an unusual subject or background. With the spot meter this can be avoided by it having the ability to select a very precise point in the image.

This is also where the Zone system comes in to play, as one can then decide exactly where to put that point on the scale I to 10  (10 being paper white and 1 being max black)

The Weston just takes an average reading and so is nowhere near as accurate as the sophisticated metering of today’s cameras. I only use the Weston for incidental readings.

Incident light meters measure the light falling on the subject so is not influenced by the subject’s reflectance. Many hand-held meters can measure both reflected and incident light and are identified by a white translucent dome which can be fitted over the light sensor.

This type of meter is used to get the most accurate readings possible to determine a successful exposure. In particular, hand-held meters are valuable in more difficult light areas, including situations that involve a great deal of difference between the light on the subject and that of the entire scene.

Incident meters give the photographer much more control over the light measured and then being able to deciding what exposure is best for that particular subject. The purpose of an incident meter is to measure only the amount of light falling on the subject, they are designed to minimise the influence of background light. Thus, whether the subject is close or far, the exposure of that subject will be equal in all situations, providing a more natural and consistent colour, contrast, and depth.

By measuring all the light in the field to determine brightness, incident meters are able to adjust for wide contrasts in the scene. The image produced using this method will be a much more precise representation of the subject’s appearance.

The only major drawback to incident metering is that it requires the photographer to gather measurements in a most precise way; the incident meter reading must be taken in the same light that the subject is in. That means that the meter must be facing the camera so that it sees the light falling on the subject, not that which is reflected from the subject. That my friend is where the reflective meter comes in to its own.

Reflective meters as found in all cameras, measure the light in the field of view as reflected from the subject. Using this measurement to create an average value, these meters provide a recommendation for the correct exposure of that image. But in the case of my image, that was never going to work as the range of light exceed the ability of the film to capture it; I also needed some of the subject to be ‘just down from paper white’ not grey which is why I used a combination of both metering methods.

They are most effective when used in ordinary lighting situations, where the subject does not stand out from the general scene in terms of light values. This is because reflective meters do not have the capability to compensate fully for very light or dark subjects in the same scene. Snow for example will become a dull grey because the meter has not been able to accommodate the extreme reflectance and so has set it to an average value; modern cameras are very much better at dealing with subjects like this but, remember those blocked-up high lights 🙂   (A correction: this should read ‘blown highlights’ me getting negative terminology mixed with digital were the negative would be totally black giving paper white the exact opposite with digital – thanks DH)

All the above is only the start of getting a good image printed and displayed on your wall and with luck, someone else’s……..

Developing the film or using ‘Lightroom’ along with the chosen paper, all play a part in the process and I may just get around to that in another post.

Some may have noticed the grey scale attached to my Pentax meter’s exposure dial, it is an addition that helps me determine what adjustments to make when using the zone system.  More details on both can be found by reading this book: see link here:  Way Beyond Monochrome

Now for the reason why I have been stepping outside my comfort zone.

The posting of ‘New interpretation of an old negative’ gave me a lot of trouble both when taking the image, and more to the point when scanning for this blog.

I was out camping in the mountains and as is my want, decided to stay overnight near where this was taken, precisely because I thought I could make this photograph in the early morning light. But, no infra-red film…….

With good exposure control (I hope 🙂 ) and a compensating developer (more on that another time) I thought I would be able to capture the glow of the light in among the trees. Printed on Matt FB paper and toned, I was very pleased with the result. But my scanner and more to the point my skill using it, gave me grief because of the limitations inherent with B&W negatives and the way the scanner works. So unfortunately what you see is not the best representation of this photograph, but near enough for government work as they say.

5 thoughts on “Thinking and process behind ‘New interpretation of an old negative’

  1. Interesting discussion David, there is so much about metering that I have never learned.
    I have been looking for my old lightmeter for a while, but fear it has gone missing. It was a Lunasix-f and I used it a lot in cave work for flash exposures. I relied far too much on my camera metering in those days, even though I had a very good meter in my bag. I did use the incident light metering to good effect sometimes, but should have learned more about it. And now that I want to, can’t find the thing.

    1. Ha – metering:
      9 times out of 10 modern camera meters work fine but….
      A big but; when lighting gets difficult, they don’t.
      Unfortunately, myself included, it is very easy for one to get lazy and not even move the camera meter setting from one form to another (Spot for instance) all compounded by digital sensors having about the same latitude as E6 slid film has (not much!)
      So, since I started using digital, I just applied the same thinking I do for film. Bring scanners into the equation and sometimes I throw my hands up in despair.
      Hay-ho…. all good fun.
      Weston meters can be found quite cheap for what they are – although the meter cell needs checking so e-bay is not a good place.


  2. An excellent discussion David. I do like the image you posted and expect the one you printed in your lab shows so much more and is great.

    1. Many thanks,
      Yes I find it a bit frustrating when I try and simulate the print on a screen Hay Ho……..
      It’s rare for me to add dialogue, I seem to have been doing a lot recently 🙂


      1. The dialogue one adds to their images on blogs incorporates a personal description. I like that because it gives me …hmmm…another perspective, such as why the photographer made(captured and made I suppose) the image in that way.

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