In a recent newsletter, I mentioned wanting to do some testing – something I feel I ought to do regularly. One of Ansel’s favorite quotes (attributed to Pasteur) was “chance favors the prepared mind.” Having started his creative life as a musician, he brought that musician’s discipline to his photography – the equivalent of a regimen of playing scales.
The first thing to test periodically is your light meter. Except for one old Nikon, none of my cameras have meters in them – so my meter(s) are the foundation of every exposure I make. The only requirement I have of a meter is that it be linear – that is – if I expose a gray or white card in dim light, bright light , medium and dim again and expose exactly as the meter indicates, each exposure should yield the same density on film. If the densities match closely, my meter is good, but if one exposure doesn’t match the others, the meter needs to go to the shop. This test is well worth the time and cost of a roll or few sheets of film!
Incidentally, this is a great way to test your meter’s color response. Instead of photographing subjects of different brightnesses, photograph a neutral card then do it through strong-colored filters – you’ll likely see reds underexpose and blues overexpose!
Once I’ve verified my meter’s linearity, I re-test for film speed and development time. I’ve switched to a new processing timer in the last year or two and changed some timer calibrations (see New Darkroom Timer, below) so it’s time for a double-check. I’m also going to compare my current “standard” film, TMax 100 with Ilford’s Delta 100 and FP4+. A friend recently showed me a test he’d done with TM100 and FP4, and the tonal renditions were quite different, so I want to take a look for myself. He also had some interesting results comparing Kodak Xtol and Ilford’s ID11 – so I think I’ll look into that, too.
All this testing doesn’t really need to take a lot of time – I don’t worry about making “art.” I can expose two sets of film and develop in separate developers – or expose a whole roll of film the same, cut the roll in half and develop separately. I can expose three different films the same and develop appropriately in the same developer and see the differences between the films themselves. I do use a test target and a densitometer (got it on eBay for $100!) and that saves a lot of time – for me – but it’s not essential by any means.
When I’m done with all this I’ll feel more up-to-date – prepared for the “chance” that may come my way.