Ever wonder how photographers like Edward Weston were able to get super high contrast black and white prints? It wasn’t all in the printing, it wasn’t all in the negative, and it wasn’t all in the camera. You need all three and a wee bit of mathematics.
Anyone can achieve those super high contrast black and white images with a little bit of mathematics, some understanding of light and the chemicals involved in developing film. Okay, I just reread what I wrote and I think I made it sound harder than it is. Here is the basic technique: underexpose your shot and overdevelop your film. It helps first to compose a scene in interesting light. The two images attached to this tip were taken in bright sunshine beaming in on a porch. The light was coming in from the south and shining directly on a chair in one corner of the porch. There was a lot of shadows on the rest of the porch as it was late afternoon. I decided to underexpose the shot but wasn’t sure how much I needed so I took two shots, the first shot was underexposed by two f/stops and the second by 3 f/stops. Underexposing means that there will be a lot of blacks and very little whites—a dark shot, too dark. But that’s okay because you can bring back those whites while developing the film.
When black and white film is developed the blacks develop first and stop developing after the first two or three minutes, the whites keep developing as long as the film is in the developer. So depending on how much you underexposed the film will determine how long you overdevelop the film. Since I underexposed by two to three f/stops I overdeveloped by half. For example, using Sprint developer, Kodak TRI-X 400 needs 10 minutes, so I developed it for 15 minutes instead to bring out the whites that were underexposed. You get a very thick negative which requires longer processing. If you do not develop your own film you will need to explain this process to whomever you use and hope they understand. There is some risk involved. If you don’t develop the film long enough you’ll get flat negatives and flat photos. If you develop too long the highlights (whites) will be blown out with no details. If you scan your own negatives you can adjust your image. But remember you cannot bring back details that don’t exist.
I love high contrast photos especially for still life. They work great for nudes and portraits as well. Good luck and let me know if you give it try. I’d like to see the results.