Topic – Overexpose/underdevelop

While in Timsoara this summer I took this (Fuji GA645Zi, Fomapan 200, orange filter, HC-110, 1+60, 8 mins):

Piata Unirii

During development I intentionally underdeveloped in order to not blow out the clouds (developed at 8 mins instead of 10-11 mins). As the contrast (span between light and dark) is high, normal development would most likely turn the clouds into completely white blotches. Looking closely at the scan some areas are still “whiter than white” so even this underexposure is not enough. A 7 minute dev time would have been better here. The negative strip is very thin with not much black in  it.

What disturbs me a bit here is the dark areas. They are a bit mushy and lack “punch”. I now think this is due to underexposure and a remedy would be to overexpose by +1 or more. B/W film is very resilient to overexposure when it comes to the dark areas and apparently it would be safe to overexpose quite a lot in order to guarantee good texture and blacks in the darker areas.  So they say anyway. I have made the odd inadvertent overexposure in my day of course, but as I have never underdeveloped by such a large amount the result has been quite tragic.

The trick now is to overexpose and underdevelop as a means to cram even a high contrast image onto the film’s range. I made a test roll with several deliberate overexposures with that same camera. A roll which I also developed for 8 mins, just as the one above. The result surprised me from the beginning: The negative strip had quite another look, it consisted of an entire range of densities from black blacks to white whites. It was definitely not thin anymore  – and all this difference just because of the increased exposure!

Having scanned them a pattern started to emerge. And some conclusions could be drawn, the first one that it would be hard to really overexpose the film, the second one that underdeveloping is a good thing!

Lets look at some examples. What is the difference between these three images? I did them handheld so the framing is not exactly the same (but I am surprised how close they are anyway!). All at f/8 with Fomapan 200 (Creative) and developed in HC-110 dilution 1+60 for 8 minutes at 20C.




So what is this about?  The first is  taken with a spot meter in the middle of the ground shadows of the shrubbery on the left. This shadow measurement now states normal exposure.

To the middle picture  I added 1 stop to that shadow measurement. The third photo is two steps overexposed relative to the spot meter value in the shadow.

One clearly sees that this amount of overexposure is not detrimental and in fact is desired. Any one of the above have enough detail and density in the shadows for good scanning. With this kind of raw material post processing can be effectively used – if needed. In this case the scene allowed for the camera’s auto exposure to do a good job.

I have read about this “exposure sets the shadow detail and texture” and “expose for the shadows” but it did not until now really sink in, embarrasingly enough. Note how the clouds are almost the same in the three images, which apparently is because the development determines the highlights, not the exposure. Also on this roll a 7 min developing time would have been better, i.e. even more underdevelopment, as the clouds get “overwhite”.

Another example just to prove this is repeatable. This hut was spot metered in the shadow  (middle of picture) then exposed +1 and +2:



Nothing wrong there. And when it comes to the shadows a stop or two of overexposure is quite OK.

Now a third example of the same thing. Spot metering in the shadows indicated a time of 1/30s. I shot two: one 1/30s and one at 1/15s (“spot” and “spot +1” ). The spot meter indicated  EV-values from 11 to 18, a range of 7 stops. Note that the corner of the building (left in picture) sun-lit metal is well handled until the very brightest (the negatives still have something there,  so I guess the scanner – or handling thereof! – is the limiting factor.).



And finally a more proper subject. This was taken in very strong sunlight, no clouds on the sky that day. I spot metered in the shadow side of the sculpture’s foot to the left and exposed manually with the spot meter setting.


The result really stunned me! I could not imagine that the bricks shadowy side would be so well textured and at the same time the highlights still be there. OK, due to the slight overdevelopment the sitting figure’s bum is slightly beyond repair, but not much and a 7 min dev time would probably have cured that. If you look closely there are even two self-portraits in the metal spheres.

Well that’s it. All in all an interesting exercise! The recipe is then to expose according to a spot meter in the shadows plus one, and develop with HC-110, 1+60 for 7 minutes.


If you are interested, the first roll, the normally exposed and underdeveloped looked thin:


While the overexposed and underdeveloped had much higher densities and over all larger contrast:


Camera was Fuji GA645Zi for all of these (pssst: A great little camera!).

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4 Responses to Topic – Overexpose/underdevelop

  1. Really good work here! 🙂 I’m very happy to see clear examples of the process of exposing for the shadows. Thank you! 🙂

  2. Jaz99 says:

    I’ve had a GA645zi once and replaced it with Fuji 667. While I enjoyed the camera and 16 frames per film, I hated its softnes (or lack of focus).
    There are a lot of discussion regarding the exposure on, and the bottom line is: measure for the shadow and develop for G=0.56. That’s it.

  3. Eugen Mezei says:

    Wondering you dont print exposure data onto your negatives, one of the great features of this camera. (Or does the zoom models lack this?)
    By Timisioara you mean Timisoara in Banat?

    • jabcam says:

      The Zi can indeed print exposure data on the film. In fact that is what I usually let it do. The data is printed in very small print just outside of the actual image area, so the data does not appear when I scan my negs as the holder effectively covers everything outside of the frame. (Just noticed that the device must have been turned off for this roll. Odd.)

      And yes, of course I mean Timisoara in Banat. (Typo now edited). De fapt intai poza este Piata Unirii in Timisoara inainte reconstructie:)

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