Pictorial Planet Blog

5 Reasons to use D23

With many developers now becoming unavailable maybe it’s time to think of a plan to always have a developer around. It takes years to get to know a particular developer well and really get to understand its nuances so one has to consider the problems if they discontinued your commercial favourite. It has bitten me many times...

The tale of the dying developers

My father would talk longingly of when Johnsons of Hendon made one of the best developers around; Definol, a fine-grained acutance developer. He would reminisce of using it for years and really getting to understand how to get the best out of it. Then, without warning, Johnsons ceased production. Little did I know a similar thing was about to happen to me.

I started learning from him how to make my own developers. I was very young, and it was fun at first. But, as I took more pictures I became bored with always mixing chemicals (kids, duh!) and so I looked around for an easier answer. I decided on using the Patterson chemistry of the time. Geoffrey Crawley formulated many of the Patterson developers and he knew a good formula when he made one! Acutol and Acufine were two of my favourites and I got to know them well. Then boom, Paterson stopped making their developers.

Ok I thought, time to look around again. I always liked the results of pyro and pyrocatechin developing agents and learned of the excellent Dixactol Ultra from an article by Barry Thornton in Amateur Photographer. I learned to use it well and began to make beautiful negatives again but, boom; it disappeared with Barry’s tragic untimely death and was for a long time unavailable.

Reality dawns

I finally began to see what was happening. I knew I could no longer trust that my favourite brews would be there for me. Companies fold, or profits reassessed and low profit developers removed from production. The big companies like Kodak, Ilford, Patterson, and Johnsons never published the formulas, as they had done in the golden age. They discontinued their products, and the developers disappeared from the shelves, never to be seen again. I lost all that hard work learning the developer. I needed a plan, a much better plan!

One day I was reading a book by Eddy Euphraums and admiring his amazing photographs. In the back I noticed he was sometimes using home brew developers. He listed a few for the reader to try. I’d made my own developers for years. It wasn’t hard, and I knew that they wouldn’t go away like my trusted Acutol or Dixactol. Time for me to focus on some I knew best.

Keeping it simple

I wanted to keep it simple. I knew that D-76 was the standard to compare all developers to. Not great, but very good, good enough that every film produced must work well with it. The bottom line, if the film doesn’t perform well with D-76 then it will not fly with photographers. But D-76 is more complicated to make and more expensive than some others and so was there an alternative that was just as good, more economical and safe to make, simpler but dependable. The answer is yes, D-23.

5 reasons why I chose D-23

D-23 was in fact a better D-76 in every way.

1. It’s easy to mix. With only two ingredients you can’t go wrong. Metol and Sodium sulphite, that’s it.

2. Always available. D-23 keeps well in a full stoppered bottle (or with some lighter gas - butane - gently sprayed in the bottle) and can be used for years with replenishment. But, if you don’t like that idea, and use it as a one shot, it’s so easy to mix you can make a new batch in a jiffy if required.

3. Great with all films. D-23 acts like D-76 and so works with modern and older emulsions - from Delta to FP4+. Some photographers have said it doesn’t give them the contrast they like, but this is because they’ve not developed the film for long enough. If you want more contrast increase development time, simple.

4. Compensating or fine grained. You can use D-23 stock solution to develop film for a fine grained negative or up to 1+3 for increased acutance (sharper) with added compensating effect. This is great for helping ensure that it does not blow your highlights with high contrast images. This makes D-23 a very versatile developer to use.

5. Easy replenishment. I’ve written about this before but it’s worth reiterating that D-23 is a great developer for using with replenishment techniques. To make the replenisher, you’d need Sodium metaborate * but with only that additional chemical you can use your D-23 for years.



500ml warm water
7.5g Metol
100g Sodium sulphite
Water to make 1ltr

Add a pinch of sulphite to the 500ml water before adding and fully dissolving the metol. Then add and dissolve the rest of the sulphite.

D-23 Replenisher:

500ml warm water
10g Metol
100g Sodium sulphite
20g Sodium metaborate

Add a pinch of sulphite to the water before adding and fully dissolving the metol. The dissolve the rest of the sulphite followed by the metaborate.

To use see this blog entry

* If you can’t purchase Sodium metaborate (as in the UK) then it’s easy to make. The 20gm of Sodium metaborate used above is made by mixing 14gm Borax + 3g Sodium Hydroxide in 150ml warm water. Use this solution to add to your replenisher.

I have finally replaced my three classic developers

Finding your favourite developers is important for both consistency and expression of your work. Here's how I replaced the developers I used in the past with modern and better equivalents.

Read More…

A daffodil with diXACTOL

Casework:The Daffodil
Only 3 stops separation in the flower. That's not a lot.
Here's what I did…
Read More…

3 Tips to 'make' a photograph not 'take' a photograph


I think these are great tips that help slow down your photography and make great photographs.
When you see something you want to photograph:
1. Stop and think. Is this the best position? Moving just a short distance can sometimes make a much better picture.
2. Is this the best light? Following on from 1, is the light showing off your subject? Can you wait for a cloud to pass or move to capture shadows differently?
3. Is this the best time of day? People, traffic, even sun's position might be improved by coming back at another time.
Think of these three things, when you next bring your camera to your eye, and you'll 'make' great photographs.

Casework Findhorn

Casework: Sailors Warning

Sailor’s warning.
Pyrocat-HD 1:1:100 12 minutes @ 20c
Film: Ilford FP4+

Findhorn Bay and the surrounding beaches are some of finest in Scotland. Miles and miles of beautiful sands run along the coast of the Moray Firth. Occasionally, as on many beaches in the UK, the beach is interrupted by old weather-worn World War II tank traps and bunkers that present a fascinating insight into the past.

As I walked down the beach I spotted this warning sign. A warning to sailors of a hidden danger near the shore. It stood stark against the sand, the contrast of the sun etching it from reality and pasting it back again, almost as an afterthought.

Setting up the shot

I walked around the scene looking for the best point of view and set up my tripod and camera, fitting the almost obligatory yellow filter to darken the blue sky. I needed the white clouds to give that huge Scottish sky some interest and the yellow filter would set them off against the blue well.

Personal film speed

Running a personal film speed tests had given me very accurate exposure control and adding the compensation for each colour filter is easy, yellow being two thirds of a stop. To compensate I use the exposure meter which can be adjusted in third stop increments.
My personal film speed with Pyrocat-HD is 125 ISO for Ilford FP4+ film and of course that’s what I had on my meter. To adjust for the yellow filter which ‘steals’ 2/3 of a stop of light, I set the meter to 80 ISO, 2/3 less that 125 ISO. In effect, this is telling the meter that my film needs two thirds of a stop more light than normal. If the filter takes one stop of light I would have set 64ISO on the meter, and so on.
Exposing the scene
Exposing, for a scene like this is potentially difficult. I could see that the sky was bright, the sand was bright, pretty much everything is bright in this shot. Any regular meter reading would be too dark and under expose the film. As I’ve explained before, with black and white film, we need to expose for the shadows and control the highlights through development. “Exposing for the shadows” means placing the shadows correctly in the zone system. My usual way of getting exposure is to look for shadows that I want to have detail in and take a meter reading of them. I then close down two stops. In this scene I saw that the left side of the warning is in shadow and so I took a spot meter reading of those shadows, set it onto the camera, and closed the camera down two stops.That places the shadows in just right place! Let your development do the rest.
I think the photograph works. It’s stark, just as the warning should be to he who ignores it. Yes, one of my better shots I think.
This is a blog post from a few years ago that I’m reposting.