When a Greater Dilution Goes a Long Way: Compensating Development.


The more we self develop our negatives, the more we realize that it is a constant learning curve. As we take on the skills, we encounter different scenarios and needs for our negatives. One of the common situations is finding yourself wanting more shadow details.

You shot your film at the correct ISO, however, you know that the bright day will cast dark shadows on your images. This could be a good time to implement some compensating development.

First picture dilution H 1:63, second picture dilution B 1:31. Picture by Elisa Parrino

What does it mean, to execute compensating development on your black and white film? This technique is employed when you want to prevent the highlights from further development, but you need to increase density in the shadow which will result in more details.

The dense areas of your negative are represented by the highlights, while the thin parts are your shadows. When we employ a diluted solution, the developer will exhaust the dark spaces when left undisturbed for a long time, resulting in little development for the highlights.

First row of pictures dilution H 1:63, second row of pictures dilution B 1:31. Picture by Elisa Parrino

While in your shadows, the thin areas of the negative, the developer does not drain so quickly, and it continues to work. Summarizing it: the darker areas are blocked and are given less intense development. While the less exposed areas are more subjected to the developer.

For this comparison article, we shot a roll of Earl Grey B&W 35 mm ISO 100. One film was developed using dilution B of HC-110 of 1:31. For the second roll we employed the compensating development technique, done with dilution H, which stands for a 1:63 formula. Our tank measures 900ml, so we had to slightly adjust both formulas. Solution B: 29ml of HC-110 for 885ml of water. Solution H: 14ml of HC-110 for 885 ml of water.

First row of pictures dilution H 1:63, second row of pictures dilution B 1:31. Picture by Elisa Parrino

When working with such a diluted solution, it is clear that there is less chemistry to act on the negative. Consequently, you must consider that your developing solution will need more time to work to properly develop a negative.

This consideration requires you to adjust your time. We doubled from 6.30 min ( standard developing time) to 13 min. Agitation was reduced to five inversions every 2.30 min. This is what allows the HC-110 to work on your highlights and keeps the contrast low.

For the second negative, we used a standard developing process, dilution B, with five inversions every one minute, developing time was standard: 6.30 min. The steps for both solutions are always the same. Changes, when we employ compensating development, happen with time, dilutions, and inversion. While rinsing, fixing, and washing stay the same.

As soon as you get your negatives to dry, you can see the drastic difference in the density of your shadows. Contrast is also one of the most notable differences. Details are visible in both of them in the shadowed areas. However, when we see the scans, we can notice in more detail the work that the developer has done in the shadows and on the highlights.

This is a fantastic solution to employ on your negatives to achieve a wide tonal range of grays. Highlights retain way more details as well as shadow information. As we have said before: in analogue photography you should always expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights.

Bright days are a good example of why it is important to retain highlights and gain shadows. If you are a fan of strong contrast, this might not be your preferred syrup. However, Ansel Adams notes in his famous book The Negative that:

"In general a highly dilute developer will behave like the same developer at normal strength if the time is extended sufficiently, provided that the normal amount of stock developer is present in the dilute solution and agitation is normal. " - Ansel Adams

It is when we apply less agitation, that the diluted developer works on the highlights because we don't allow rotation of the old developer with fresh developer over your negative.

Have you ever tried different syrup dilution for your black and white film? Share your experience with us and comment below.

written by eparrino on 2022-07-31 #tutorials #black-and-white #tipster #self-developing

Lomography Earl Grey 100 (35mm)

Add a touch of class and contrast to your shots with this majestic black and white film.


  1. manu2021
    manu2021 ·

    @eparrino thanks a lot for your explanation and for sharing your knowledge. Since I'm quite new at developing at home by myself (one year next august), I'm just starting changing time to increase the density of shadows. I didn't know that agitation could affect somehow. I'll try next time I develop. Thanks again!

  2. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @manu2021 Cool! I'm happy if this can help Please, share the results of your trial!

  3. fictionuk
    fictionuk ·

    What a great little read. Not over-complecated, concise, very well explained and certainly a great piece to start as a base for compensating. I've got a few rolls of Fomapan 100 so i'm going to use that with Rodinal and give it a go. Thanx again :-)

  4. guypinhas
    guypinhas ·

    Check the early works of Ralph Gibson who used Tri-X (it was a much more grainy stock then than it is now) and Rodinal 1:25 as a developer. And, if memory serves right, he overexposed and overdeveloped.

  5. guypinhas
    guypinhas ·

    One more thing, don't be afraid to dodge and burn :)

  6. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @fictionuk , it makes me really happy to hear this feedbacks! Thank you so much!

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