Pushing 400TX

A new set of night shots on film from Barcelona – this time using pushed Tri-X (400TX) developed in ID-11.

The change in film and developer is primarily to reduce costs and also because the powder developers are stable enough to survive the high temperatures that we are experiencing at the moment.

The initial attempt at processing was not a great success, with the negatives under developed and vertical stripes that may or may not have been bromide drag. The next attempt increased the development time 25% and I used a much more aggressive agitation technique – both more vigorous and with 30s intervals rather than the usual 1m.

The resulting negatives were still fractionally under developed and there were no streaks running from the film’s sprocket holes – but the extra agitation had caused the highlights to block-up.

So a final attempt further increased the development time and switched back to a more gentle 1m agitation. The results are cleaner, and although lacking shadow detail compared to Delta 400 and DD-X they are probably now close to what can be expected from the film and developer.

Another potential issue is the hight ambient temperature at the moment. All these films were developed at around 26c, which is warmer than I would like even if the development times are still reasonable.

In daylight, the results are excellent. But at night, with the strong lighting contrasts and uncertainties in exposure, it is much harder to get satisfactory results.

As if changing film and developer were not enough, these were also shot with a fast 35mm lens, rather than 50mm. The aim was to see if this would help ease focus difficulties, but realistically the difference is small. Everything here was shot wide-open at f/1.4 with speeds of 1/30th to 1/60th second, making focus and motion blur an issue when close to a subject.

I am still not clear if I prefer the 35mm or 50mm for shooting at night. There is a difference in character, but not so much that one focal length of obviously “better”. That said, it is sometimes said that the role of a photographer is to tease order out of chaos – which might suggest the 50mm as a partial antidote to Barcelona’s anarchic streets.

Now, more than anything, I need to get out and shoot more – not withstanding the exhausting temperature and humidity that has recently been so painful even late at night.


  1. You should push and preflash the film to get shutter speed up, DoF deeper and contrast down.

    • Pre-flashing should definitely help with the ID-11 developer, but I do not think that it is very practical when shooting any more than a few rolls of 35mm film. Probably a speed enhancing developer would be a better next step (XTOL looks an interesting low-cost alternative to DD-X, although it will be a few months before I will be able to try this).

      The catch for deeper DOF is that the street lighting in Barcelona is very weak, so typical exposures are either 1/30th or 1/50th at f1.4 – there is just not much light to work with in many cases. Going wider is a half solution at best, since this also involves getting closer to the subjects, with the result that DOF and subject motion remain a problem. Pushing Tri-X or Delta to 3200 does not really help either – it would really need a genuinely more sensitive film, although that has implications itself for cost and grain (Delta 3200 film works quite well, but the grain is a bit much for my taste and it is a relatively expensive film).

      So right now, I want to concentrate on both shooting and developing technique…

      • Pre flashing or pre exposure as it’s known in Ansel Adams – The Negative, is relatively easy to do, and lifts the darks quite dramatically.
        Where as pushing tends to one affect the top of the curve, flashing pushes the bottom as well, lifting shadow details.

        30th of a second should be good enough with a rangefinder, with good technique.
        Have you ever heard of or used a string tripod? Tying one of those to your belt, and keeping it tight when firing can help a lot.

        • Yes, but pre-flashing a roll of 35mm film is very impractical. Much easier just to use a speed enhancing developer, which will have a similar effect.

          String tripods are not helpful when shooting moving subjects on a street at f1.4 and 1/30th second. Camera shake is not the problem – but subject motion and ensuring accurate focus in a moving and unpredictable scene are the biggest challenges…

  2. Very nice work, Mark. I enjoy seeing your photographs from the road, and I like the relatively extreme look and feel of these.

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