A daffodil with diXACTOL | Pictorial Planet Blog

A daffodil with diXACTOL

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


The daffodil stood lonely against the cold backdrop of bleak winter grass. An early pioneer and welcome sight after a long and barren January. It stood between the old dry leaves that smelled of compost, and the crackly bracken’s wizen stems bowed down by the winter's frosty breeze. It was a cold January in Scotland and there weren’t any other flowers prepared to risk the snow, all preferring, quite sensibly, to stay cozy underground waiting the sun’s warmth and encouragement for spring growth.

Except this lonely yellow flower was not by itself today.

There, pressed up beside it, was my 50mm f4 macro lens mounted on my trusty Pentax MX, looking for all the world like a silver black metal flower, welcoming its long-lost friend in an icy embrace.

I stood beside them both, wrapped in wool and waxed cotton, shuffling back and forth on my feet to stay warm. I pressed my eye up to the cold spot meter, carefully measuring the contrast of the all yellow petals, taking multiple spot readings from shadow to highlight and back to shadow again.

Only 3 stops contrast in the flower petals, 4 stops if I included the background.

Not a lot to work with, but the delicate soft tones were wonderful. I wanted to capture them. I wanted to capture the way the flower reflected the light of the cloudy winter sky.

What to do?

Even on this dull day, it was definitely worth trying to capture this early venturer, such a brave flower deserved it! As I studied the flower, I knew I didn’t need too much contrast. It was such a precious subject. I’ll give N+1 development, I thought, that's what I'll do; to provide the enlarger with 4 gentle stops for the flower's higher tones. I remembered that N+ development stretches the mid to upper tones far more than anything under zone 5, and almost not at all at zone 3 shadow. The dark background would remain the same, just what I wanted.

In the mounting excitement, typical for me as a photograph comes together, I couldn’t help myself planning the next steps. I needed a developer that would compliment the gentleness of the daffodil, one that would make the flower stand proud against the dark background, and one that would enhance the wonderful mid tones of the soft light on the yellow petals. I wasn’t concerned with grain, the FP4 Plus would give fine classic grain anyway, which I really liked, but I wanted acutance that would make the flower stand out against the dark background.

This was quite a list of needs. With 35mm I knew I’d need to keep the grain manageable if I wanted softness in the rendering, so maybe D23 replenished would fit the bill? No, then I’d lose the sharpness and I wanted that against the dark backdrop of the image. I’d also lose film speed, which might mean blur as the flower moved in the breeze. No, I needed full box speed, 125 ISO. If grain wasn’t too much of a concern, then I knew a developer that would give me all I wanted and more, Barry Thornton’s diXACTOL Ultra. DiXactol would give me full film speed and present a tonal rendering that is special for these kind of photographs, photographs with soft, glowing, detailed highlights. N+1 will stretch those gorgeous mid tones to print beautifully on multigrade paper aided by the brown stain of pyrocatechol which suits multigrade better than pyrogallol based developers.

It’s worth really getting to know your developer to help make these decisions.

DiXACTOL Ultra develops many films for the same time, either as a two bath (try 4 1/2 minutes in each) or single bath. With the single bath, mixed at 1 + 7 + 300, FP4 Plus, HP5 Plus and even Pan F Plus all require 7.5 minutes with Ilford agitation to bring them to beautiful contrast for printing or scanning. I agitate for the first minute, then 10 seconds every further minute and develop at 21C.

I think you’d agree, looking at the print, I got everything I wanted from this classic formula. I developed the negatives in a single bath for the regular 7.5 minutes plus 30% to increase the contrast by a stop placing the high values around zone 7-8. There’s a glow to the print reminiscent of Rodinal, but without the obvious grain. It also has a softness of tone that Rodinal finds hard to give. I later toned the flower in thiocarbamide toner and
made a video of it for my YouTube channel.

It’s been four months now, since I started making and selling the Thornton and Hogan pyro developers, alkali stop, and alkali fix, and by far the most asked question is “Which developer do I recommend?”

I can’t decide that for you but I can show how I’m using them in this blog. I hope it helps. Next demonstration will be Prescysol which I know you’ll love.

If you like my books, my website, and my YouTube channel, why not become a Patreon (
https://www.patreon.com/JohnFinch). There you can drop me a line and keep in touch. You’ll also get a discount from my shop, special videos, more writing, and special offers!