Silver, Electrons, Iron and Noble Metals

The end product of my photographic workflow is a platinum-palladium-print

The end product of my photographic workflow is a platinum-palladium-print

For those interested in it, here’s a bit more information about my photographic workflow. To digress right from the start: Both analog and digital cameras use digital media. Meaning? Well, media with discrete steps in their representation of a spatially diverse but locally continuous matrix of light intensities, aka your subject. Film grain is either there or it isn’t. Different densities of silver grains or dye clouds give the impression of continuous tone. The photowell in am image sensor is charged in relation to the amount of light falling on it, but the chip’s A-D converter digitizes this continuous scale into 256 steps (8-bit) per channel or at most 16384 steps (14-bit, never seen a digital camera with higher bit depth).
That said, I prefer silver halide film as my capture medium. Lately, i’ve been getting used to the quirks and advantages of SPUR DSX film. It is a 35 mm document film that is provided together with SPUR Dynamicspeed 64 developer. In that combination, it captures a very high tonal range of clearly more than 10 f-stops. The grain remains very small and unobtrusive, the quality of the negatives is surpassing medium format, approaching 4×5.
That is, if all goes well. It is a fickle beast. Firstly, SPUR DSX has a polyesther base that serves as a light conduit. One should load the camera in a very dark room or get the first few frames fogged. Almost as bad as with an infrared film.
The exposure index I get when I develop it in above mentioned developer is dependent on the camera I expose the film in. Huh? Yes, I get an E.I. of 32 in the Leica and 50 in the F6 with Matrix metering. Always taking care to expose for the shadows, of course. Curious.
Another quirk of this film is that it attracts grit to it’s surface in the washing stage like no other film. In the next batch I’ll develop, I’ll use distilled water for the last waterbath and the bath in Mirasol (similar to Photoflo). Maybe that’ll help.
But let me end this film section on a positive (sic!) note. It is such a relief to not have to carry a large and heavy camera backpack around on the hikes I like to do to find my subjects. A small Domke bag with the camera and a few good prime lenses and a Leki walking stick doubling as a monopod is all it takes. Your photography gets more spontaneous and experimental this way.
In this so-called hybrid process that I use, your scanner is the cornerstone of the whole business. It is the equivalent of the enlarger, and you know the old saying of days of yore: “Your best lens should be on your enlarger”.
I use a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED film scanner on my 35 mm negatives. It has a reel at the back to take an uncut strip of >36 frames, so I can scan the film right after it has dried, minimizing the chance of dust adhering to it. The scan software driving the scanner is Vuescan with black & white film and Nikon Scan with color negatives. I don’t scan chromes. Too many difficulties with latitude.
The quality I get out of the scanner could perhaps be surpassed with a drum scan, but I’d be loath to give that out of the house. Anyway, I’m content with the files I get.
So, we switched on our enlarger and made a work print, so to speak, now for the creative work. That is done in Photoshop, I’m still on version CS 2. I have so many Photoshop actions and plugins that I really don’t want to change a running system.
I can only hint at what I do in Photoshop, but sequential sharpening steps are essential. The parameters depend on the origin of the file, I treat the scans of SPUR DSX negatives as if they were from large format negatives. It is also important to keep the size of the end product in mind. I produce 8×10 inch contact prints on 12×16 inch paper, so the first step in Photoshop is cropping the picture to 8×10. By the way, I’m no full frame purist, from the too-oblong ratio of 24×36 mm I’d crop, anyway.
Another important tool in Photoshop are adjustment layers and layer masks. It’s rare that I use one without the other. They let you do things you couldn’t in the darkroom and still remain just below pretentious.
At this point the workflow bifurcates. If I want to post an image on the web, I do a duotone action on it, reduce size and dpi, sharpen appropriately and save as JPEG.
If it is a keeper and one for my ongoing series, I sharpen rather hard (the dots on the OHT diffuse out), do a digital negative action on it (flip horizontal, inverse, a special curve layer and a levels layer) and print it to an overhead transparency. My monitor is color-calibrated with a Gretag-Macbeth C1 colorimeter and I use printing profiles. I print from proof, Photoshop’s color management is OFF!
Almost there, read on!
Finally, we arrive in the dark-, no, in the dim room. You can do palladium-platinum printing in subdued room light, but don’t do the coating in the sun’s UV rays. In principle, you do a contact print under an UV-lamp using iron salts as the UV-sensitive compound. The solution that you coated the paper with contains palladium and/or platinum salts as well, and the development replaces the reduced iron with metallic palladium and platinum. This is what the printed out iron image looks like before development.
Printed Out

Printed Out

The clearing baths after development pull the iron out of the paper, the nobler metals remain. Wash as usual.
All the intricacies of palladium-platinum printing can be looked up in Dick Arentz’ book. All I can say is that it is strangely rewarding to sensitize your own paper. Spreading the solution a little different every time makes every print individual. The process lends itself to small editions, I get maybe five good prints out of an afternoon’s session with a single digital negative. Contemplative, too.

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3 Responses to “Silver, Electrons, Iron and Noble Metals”

  1. Post 100, Meta ‘blog « Mostly Black & White Says:

    […] to tweak the file to give an interesting print on my Epson printer. Another workflow leads to digital negatives and finally palladium-platinum-prints. And there is a black&white darkroom again, though I get to work in it too seldom. All in all, […]

  2. Dead-on Slogan « I Wanna Be A Shredder Says:

    […] that you’d normally need some stompboxes for. This concept reminds me of nothing more than the way I do platinum-palladium prints in my photographic work. Here as there, it starts with an analog stage with fuzz and grain, gets […]

  3. Delayed Gratification Machine | Mostly Black & White Says:

    […] field camera in years, but it is unsellable and I still phantasize about contact prints on platinum-palladium-paper. The Nikon F6 I have been using on and off over years. It is the ultimate film enabler with […]

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