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Exploring Ilford WarmTone FB & Foma 131 Classic FB

If you have been following me recently, then you know that I have been exploring various paths to find my desired process for my new handmade wild horses book.

Long story short, that is how I got here.

QUICK OVERVIEW

In my journey exploring silver chloride papers for the wild horse book, I discovered that the new Adox Lupex paper behaves much differently than the Lodima silver chloride paper, which should behave the same. The differences in my workflow were not positive, so I started thinking about a new workflow.

I printed from two different boxes of Lupex paper purchased about 6 months apart, so I am unsure if these papers would have been part of the same run or not. I printed from two different stocks of Lodima paper that were purchased years apart, and they behaved the same.

My undesirable results with the new Adox Lupex paper have started me on a line of thinking about a new path for my classic large and ultra large format contact printing and my wild horse handmade book project in particular.

It is fair to note that my version of “undesirable” might be ideal for your style of photography, so I always encourage you to do the work yourself and explore. I found the new Lupex paper to be a stop or slower, which is fine, but the shoulder was unforgiving, and the contrast made my prints look like clown photos.

In theory, there should be no reason to have to redo my negative development workflow for Lupex, but it is clear to me in my case that if I wanted to use the paper, I would need to start from scratch again and create a negative for this paper.

I am looking for something that gives me even more creative control and is not subject to the volatility of the new Adox Lupex silver chloride paper.

Since I needed to create a new negative anyway, I thought I should explore a little and see what happens, but I want to go about my experiments in a smart and guided way.

For example, one of the things that make silver chloride papers so beautiful to me for my large and ultra large format contact prints are the characteristics associated with a silver chloride emulsion (smaller grain, fine detail, and warmer tones). This is one of the key reasons why large and ultra large format contact prints look so much different than an enlarged print, even if they are the same size.

With every problem/challenge, an opportunity is born.

I am testing with my 5×7 for now and will scale up to 8×20 and 16×20 if this works out. The book prints will be 5×7 mounted on 8×10, but if I like this new direction, I will use it to make my bigger Ultra Large Format contact prints.

MATERIALS (NEGATIVES/PAPERS)

NEGATIVES

FP4 in PMK Pyro is a primary focus for the new experiments, and if this works out, I would also bring HP5 into the mix. The combination of FP4 developed in PMK Pyro is a match made in heaven for silver chloride contact printing, as well as other methods like platinum and palladium, for example.

One must tune their negative to their desired printing method and process. Otherwise, you get mediocre results and wine like a baby in photography forums online about how terrible film x or developer y is, and then endlessly go round and round seeking the holy grail. Okay, that was poking fun a little bit, but I do see this type of behavior very routinely. The bottom line, match your negative to your desired printing method/process, and you will make better prints. Also, do your own testing and don’t take anyone’s word as the gospel, which includes me because there are too many unique variables for your work that can’t be accounted for unless you do the work yourself.

PAPERS

Ilford Warmtone FB Glossy (modern chloro-bromide emulsion + mysterious additives)
Foma Fomatone 131 FB Classic (classic chloro-bromide emulsion)

I hope to bend and shape Ilford WT FB Glossy paper to meet my vision because it is a standard enlarging speed paper that is stable and not likely to go away in our lifetimes. The unknown variables, such as additives and the exact composition of the emulsion silver halides, will ultimately determine how far I can push this paper.

The Fomatone 131 Classic FB glossy paper has the most potential from a chemistry perspective, but it is also at a much higher risk of going away or changing than the classic Ilford paper. If the Foma paper is my final choice, I will purchase a freezer full to use for the rest of my life. With this paper being sort of a hybrid between a classic silver chloride contact printing paper and a bromide speed enlarging paper, I am pretty excited to see how the emulsion responds to my alchemist plans. We already know from Lith printers that it performs very well, which indicates it is more of a pure chloro-bromide emulsion.

PROCESS

Up to this point, the film, developer, and paper choice don’t really seem that interesting. Well, maybe the Foma 131, with the classic chloride/bromide emulsion, might be a little more interesting to me because it appears to be the closest to what I want on paper.

First, I am testing a properly developed FP4 neg in PMK Pyro and making a straight Ilford WT FB Glossy print developed in Ilford Multigrade and one in Amidol. I have invested the time and verified the EI rating of this film and developer combination.

I consider these prints above to be my classic baselines. I am secretly hopeful the Amidol-developed print will surprise me in a good way because historically, Lodima silver chloride paper in Amidol is magical.

I will then tone one version of each in selenium. Nothing too exciting so far.

But then, I will develop each print in my custom sepia bleach/toner solution for both archival properties and also see how each paper responds to its ability to vary its warmth. I am after a rich and unique warm tone for my project.

And then, I will close up with a split-tone (sepia/selenium) to see how each paper responds to the core idea of targeting the highlights with the sepia toner and the shadows/blacks with selenium.

Something interesting may fall out of this, but we are still in the realm of a fairly classic workflow.

TIME TO CHANGE THINGS UP NOW

Now that I have my classic prints made and toned, they will serve as a visual library as I begin to depart into a more interesting world.

I should note that I am doing all of this to explore a new signature look for my wild horse LF/ULF contact prints. I want to create a look that educated and intelligent people would say, “I don’t think I have ever seen that tone of silver gelatin print before, and it’s magical for this subject.”

But as you know, this is not just for the sake of being unique. I am chasing a vision that I have in my creative eye that I have been thinking about for a very long time. I also want it to be repeatable and sustainable because I need to be able to create a body of work, starting with my wild horse book project.

Now we are going to do something interesting and take what we know about silver halides and darkroom photochemistry and see if we can bend and shape it in a way to meet my creative vision.

PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON & LET’S GO

When we start with our silver gelatin paper, we know the halides are predominantly either bromide (cooler and bigger grain) or chloride (warmer and smaller grain) in modern papers. I mentioned this at the top of the article when I shared the two papers I am testing.

This is where the choice of Ilford WT vs. Foma 131 Classic should start to get interesting. We know the Foma paper is a “chloro-bromide” type of paper that should play very well in the warm tone realm that I am after, but I don’t think we truly know the halides in Ilford WT paper, other than it’s a custom mixture of bromide, iodide, and possibly less likely to include chloride in any significant proportion. Since the Ilford paper, like all commercial papers, are proprietary formulas, we don’t really know the additives they use, which can have very bad results on our prints.

I think it is safe to say the Foma paper is much more into the chloro-bromide realm, which leans in the right direction for the type of image I seek (small grain, fine detail, warmer tones). The overarching concern before I even get started is the long-term availability of this paper.

At the time of the initial exposure of the large or ultra large format contact print, we get a latent image with Ag (silver) coupled to a halide(s) Br (bromide), Cl (chloride), and I (iodide) in some ratio depending on the emulsion formula. There is no single silver iodide paper but used rather as an additive to the other halides. Kentmere papers were known for their use of iodide.

If a paper is referred to as “bromo-chloride”, this indicates there is a heavier use of bromide (cooler tones, larger grain), and if the paper is referred to as “chloro-bromide” (smaller grain, finer detail, warmer tones), it indicates a heavier use of chloride. This is just a guideline and not a rule. Also, very few chloro-bromide papers still exist today, and the Foma 131 FB Classic paper is an example. Most papers today fall into the bromo-chloride realm.

Also, as a general rule, anytime you see chloride, think slower emulsions and when you see bromide, think faster.

We then place the exposed paper with the latent image (silver halides that the exposure to light has activated) in the developer, and at this point, we have AgClBrI. The developer converts the latent image (AgClBrI) to a metallic silver (Ag) that is revealed in various shades proportional to the amount of light it received during exposure. It is important to understand the unactivated areas (e.g., borders on the print, white backgrounds, etc.) still have (AgClBrI) after development because the light didn’t activate it and make it sensitive to the developer.

We then place the developed paper in our fixer to convert the entire print to metallic silver and wash away the unactivated silver (Ag) + halide compounds (Cl, Br, I) from the unexposed areas.

Now we are light-safe, and this is where the story ends for most people, except for selenium or sepia toning possibly.

NOT US… THIS IS WHERE WE BEGIN OUR JOURNEY INTO A MORE INTERESTING REALM

By using a bleach/reducer (ferricyanide), we can reduce our new fancy metallic silver print to a nearly invisible image that is now in a new form (ferrocyanide). This silver is still in the paper, just in a different form! You have to love chemistry…

Now, if we add a halide (Br, Cl) back in the mix with the bleach/reducer, then we can convert the image back into a silver halide from the ferrocyanide form, BUT only where the original image was, and everything else is unchanged. And we think we are smart today. The photochemist’s dating back over the last 125 years are smarter than I could ever be in 100 lifetimes. It is difficult enough to learn all of this, much less invent it.

I should note that you could use a copper-based bleach vs. a traditional ferricyanide bleach, but since that would not keep the image in the warm tone realm, I don’t plan to explore it.

Now things are getting interesting… Where do we go from here?

OUR OPTIONS?

a) We could redevelop the print again to completion, convert it back to metallic silver, and then tone it.

We could use a different type of developer for the re-development (e.g., cold, warm, soft, high-contrast, etc.). The possibilities are endless from a creative standpoint. I think I will start with something like a standard warm tone developer, either DIY self-mixed or a commercial version like Ilford WT developer, and THEN use Amidol at this stage to see if I can get those beautiful open shadows and even warmer tones. Possibly do it in the reverse as well to see if it makes a difference. And, as you know, we can add/vary some potassium bromide (KBr) with Amidol to alter the degree of warmth and tint too.

Okay, that all sounds fun, but we can get even crazier with this option.

b) We could put the bleached/reduced print in a Lith developer

This is different from the classic lith process because we started out with a classic silver gelatin print, reduced it with ferricyanide, and redeveloped the print with a Lith developer (2nd pass Lith, coined by Tim Rudman).

Second pass lith has me hopeful with the Ilford WT paper because it could open up some options with this paper; otherwise not possible if I were trying to make a classic lith print.

Second pass lith printing is interesting on a chemistry level because we are effectively reshaping the emulsion of our paper. In the case of Ilford WT fiber paper, since I don’t know what additives are in the emulsion, by bleaching with ferricyanide first, I am stripping the emulsion down to elemental silver and gelatin and introducing a new halide such as bromide or chloride, and then giving new life to additional options like lith developers that only respond well to the hydroquinone developing agent. By doing this, I am in control of my aesthetics to a much larger degree.

This is where the Foma 131 Classic chloro-bromide paper should really shine over Ilford WT, is my guess. Because a lith print is still metallic silver, it can be toned just like any other silver print (e.g., gold, copper, selenium, sepia). So many creative opportunities!

I should note that I could start with a lith developer versus a regular developer as described above and still go down the bleaching path as described in the section above and pursue the redevelopment as described in this section. It is beyond the scope of this article, but I should mention that lith development is not taken to completion like a normal developer, and this will impact some of the methods and choices. It’s too complex to account for all of that right now because I am not thinking I want to start with a classic lith print.

This is the most creative path with endless and very unique looks that could be developed.

A quick look at Tim Rudman’s galleries should be enough to validate these ideas. http://www.timrudman.com/print-galleries

c) Classic Sepia Toner

We are not limited to using a classic bleach/reduce like ferricyanide. We could use a sepia bleach and toner, for example. This could be a very good path for me because I can tweak the chemistry of the sepia bleach and toner baths to shape the tint and effect of my image.

We know that sepia toner works on the highlight values first and then progresses towards the mid-tones, shadows, and blacks over time. We control our aesthetics by time in the solutions and the chemistry we use, and its dilutions. Many options here for unique warm tone goodness. Paper choice is key with the sepia process and this is why testing is critical.

The sepia toner could be used as my archival toner vs. selenium without going down the rabbit hole that I am discussing with these options, OR it could be used as a final step when coming out of the rabbit hole.

d) Split-Toning (Sepia/Selenium)

Same comments as above, but we start with the sepia to target the highlight values and then use the selenium to target the shadows and blacks, which creates some split-toned magic sauce.

I should note that if I go down the 2nd pass lith option path, the sepia or split-toning options here still apply or not based on my preference. If I like the tint and aesthetic of that path, I would probably tone with selenium 1:25 for 3 to 4 min and call it good. If not, I can crank the “chemistry knobs” and continue shaping the final look.

And to close things out as a final step, we could mix up some “liquid sunshine” and literally paint in some targeted highlights to sculpt and shape our prints as if they were paintings.

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