Unblinking Eye
A Basic Library for Photographic Experimenters


A Basic Library for Photographic Experimenters

Harvey W. Yurow Ph.D.


Examination of the Internet via such sites as Unblinking Eye or APUG (Analog Photography Users Group) indicates a renewed interest in chemical photography as contrasted with electronic (digital) photography.  For anyone desirous of  exploring chemical photography, three basic principles should be kept in mind:

  1. “All developing agents are not equal.”  Most photographic manufacturers stick to the tried and true metol-hydroquinone or phenidone-hydroquinone combinations.  However, the literature abounds with instances where other developing agents either alone, or in combination, leave M-Q in the dust.  Thus, the Sabatier effect was vastly improved via metol alone (Jolly), or by pyrocatechol plus metol or phenidone.(Buffaloe).  Pyrocatechol compensating developers were used for showing details in an incandescent light bulb (Windisch).  Acid amidol gave low fog with various antique photographic papers (Yurow), and infectious developers containing hydroquinone and low sulfite concentration gave high contrast with lithographic film (Mason), and colored silver images with photographic paper (Rudman).

    In this connection, two important considerations are:  a) each developer has a pH profile (Dickerson, Mees) so that it is effective within a certain range, usually dependent upon its ionization constant(s); b) developing agents can give both direct development and solution physical development (James and Vanselow), whose rate ratios are dependent upon pH, presence of silver halide complexation, e.g., ammonia, and inherent properties of the agent.  Silver particle size and color will depend upon the magnitude of this ratio (James and Vanselow).
  2. “There's more to life than gamma one.”  Quoting Kodak (1936), “The contrast of the print does not bear any fixed relationship to that of the subject, but may be either less than or greater than that of the original, according to the visual effect desired.” -  thus, the popularity of the late, lamented Brovira #6, lithographic films and poster effects (Seeley), and this author's experience with thiourea blue developer, and with Kodak Technical Pan and reversal development.
    A picture is worth 10,000 words – and this also applies to the density vs log exposure curve (D log E).  Not only does the slope of the mid-section of the curve (gamma or contrast index) indicate the mid-tone contrast, but the shape of the toe region (short, or “bow-shaped”), or of the shoulder region, determines the extent of detail to be found in the highlights and in the shadows.  Further, the toe region is amenable to modification via developer additions (Miller).

    For those who relish complexity, “three-dimensional” photographic plots are found in the literature (Tomamichel) for various reversal effects, e.g., Sabatier, in which density is plotted versus both a first and a second exposure, and resemble contour maps, these sometimes in conjunction with “trough-shaped” D log E curves.  In contrast, “hill-shaped” D log E curves resulting from rereversal phenomena are occasionally encountered (Rahts, Verkinderen).
  3. “Interesting chemistry can be uncovered by surfing the old photographic books, both in the hand, and on the net (Google Book Search).”  The 25 books in the list described below have been selected based upon either/or both of the criteria of developing agent comparisons and D log E curves or, thirdly, for a description of a less familiar photographic processes, with accompanying formulae.  Many of these old techniques have been left by the wayside because of manipulative difficulties, incompleteness, or cost.  However, because of a rather more knowledgeable view of the photographic process at present, as well as a wider base of available chemicals, these earlier processes may well be worth revisiting – except, perhaps for the Daguerrotype, because of the hazard of mercury vapor!

    As an example of the above exposition, the writer of this article saw a notation on Waterhouse Reversal (1890) in Wilson's “Encyclopedia of Photography”.  The next step was substitutions for the original formula.  Thus, eikonogen, no longer manufactured, was replaced by chlorohydroquinone (a serendipitous choice taken from the shelf), and phenylthiourea by the much more water soluble thiourea.  The negative plates of the 1890's yielded place to a contemporary high contrast film, Kodak Technical Pan, which happened to be on hand.  Fortuitously, the resulting developer pH fell into a narrowly permissible slot, and the result was a blue negative, brown positive equidensity image.  A follow-up examination of the photographic literature indicated that: pH is critical, a high contrast film is preferable, chlorohydroquinone contains impurities that enhance the significant solution physical development required, and the D log E curve resembles a trough in cross section.  As a bonus, the mechanism of the reaction was explained in 1924.

Before discussing the book list, brief mention should be made of photographic periodicals of special value. The writer has found that the two journals he most refers to are The British Journal of Photography and its accompanying B.J. Photographic Almanac (Annual), and Photographic Science and Engineering.  In this connection, George Eastman House Library (and possibly other photographic museum libraries) has both an internet catalog and a photocopying service.

What follows is an alphabetical  list compiled by the writer of his 25 favorite photography books, based upon the aforementioned criteria.  Most of these books can be purchased for a moderate price from  internet sources such as Abe Books, Alibris, or Amazon.


    Adams, Ansel, The Negative, Little, Brown, Boston 1981. The author, via his Zone System  has worked out black-and-white exposure and development on a rigorous scientific basis.   Adams often favors faithful reproduction over a wide range of  gradations, which has its adherents, rather than higher gamma values.  These are illustrated by a section on film test data, with an appreciable number of D Zone (log E) curves for various films.

  2. Anderson, Paul L., The Technique of Pictorial Photography, Lippincott, Philadelphia 1939.  More than any other writer, Anderson popularized non-silver printing methods, including platinum, palladium, carbon, carbro, gum-dichromate, and oil.  Recent revival of these methods has produced a number of useful books on the various techniques (see Arnow below).  Anderson's book should be read in conjunction with Miller's (see below), which gives illustrative D log E curves for some of the processes.  The pictorial illustrations and accompanying technical information are a bonus.  Portions of this book are found in Henney and Dudley, and in articles in American Photography, Oct. 1937 and July 1938.
  3. Arnow, J., Handbook of Alternate Photographic Processes, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York 1982.  Working directions are given for salted and printing-out procedures, and pigment techniques.  There is an excellent bibliography.  Earlier, but comparable volumes are:  William Crawford, The Keepers of Light and E.J. Wall and F.I. Jordan, Photographic Facts and Formulas.
  4. Attridge, Geoffrey, Photographic Developing in Practice, David and Charles, London 1984.  The emphasis here is on the more recent developers. Attridge gives the ideal (to my way of thinking) combination of detailed description with formulas and D log E curves. hapters include developers for film and prints, reversal processing, increased film speed, high and low contrast, acutance, monobaths and lithographic effects.
  5. Boni, Albert, Photographic Literature, Morgan and Morgan, Hastings-on Hudson,  New York, 1962, 1972.  This is the primary source for a listing of photographic books.  It  first appeared as a supplement in early editions of the Photo Lab Index.  See also book listings in British Journal Photographic Almanac.
  6. Boucher, Paul E., Fundamentals of Photography, D. Van Nostrand, New York 1947.  This book is unique for the significant number of fairly sophisticated practical photographic experiments.  Noteworthy are those on the D log E curve, UV photography, x-ray photos, and reversal processing.
  7. British Journal Photographic Almanac, Greenwood, London, various years.  Useful listings included are the important properties of primary chemicals used in photography, formulae for negative and positive developers and for toners, organic chemicals used in color photography.  Later additions (1970's) in the BJP Annual, contain formulas for more recent color developing as  well as Crawley's FX series of black-and-white acutance developers.  As a bonus, there is a pictorial section, and detailed descriptions of new products.  The continually updated listing of books on photography is also useful.
  8. Dictionary of Photography, A.L.M. Sowerby, editor, various editions, Iliffe, London.  Of particular value to the experimenter are the numerous formulas, the descriptions of various photographic chemicals, and solubility tables. Also covered in detail are non-silver printing processes such as platinotype and gum arabic.
  9. Edwal, Modern Developing Methods for Prints and Fine Grain Negatives, E.W. Lowe  Editor, Edwal, Chicago 1939.  Edwal gives formulas for a number of developers which contain less common developing agents such as p -aminophenol, chlorohydroquinone, glycin, and pyrocatechol, as well as the alkali trisodium phosphate, and the anti -foggant benzotriazole.  Also of value is Lowe's classification of contemporary printing papers as bromide, fast chlorobromide, slow chlorobromide and fast chloride, and chloride.
  10. Encyclopedia of Photography, B.E. Jones editor, Arno, New York 1974.  This is a reprint of a 1911 book, and is probably the best source for early photographic formulas and processes.  A table comparing various developing agents is noteworthy as is the entry for emulsions.  The listing of solubilities is even more comprehensive than that of Sowerby.

    Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, desk edition, Frederick Purves, editor, Macmillan, New York, 1960.  This is one of several editions.  Relevant in-depth sections include:  chemical substitutions, alkali comparisons, developer and developing agent comparisons, and toning.

  12. Friedman, Joseph, History of Color Photography, American Photography, Boston 1944.  Much of the chemistry in this book is of a theoretical nature, but the chapters on toning and tinting have practical applications, as does the section on carbon and carbro.  The book is a  successor to E.J. Walls’ History of Three Color Photography, printed before integral tripacks such as Kodachrome and Anscocolor were introduced.
  13. Glafkides, Pierre, Photographic Chemistry, 2 volumes, Fountain, London 1958.  Although hard to find, and rather expensive (see Mason below for a relatively inexpensive alternative), it is by any standard the premier work on the subject, with the first volume concerned with black-and-white chemistry, and the second with color.  Reference lists are extensive, although some developer formulas are provided without reference.  The exhaustive chapter on emulsions with many formulas, would be a good starting point for anyone interested in this field.  A more recent work by Grant Haist (1975) Modern Photographic Processing (2 Vol.) is also very detailed, but the cost is prohibitive, and is best looked for on the reference shelf of a larger library.
  14. Henney, Keith and Dudley, Beverly, Handbook of Photography, Whittlesey, New York 1939.  The chapter on known developing agents is the most comprehensive in all of the literature, with accompanying patent numbers.  Also included is a lengthy list of known alkalis for development.  A large number of formulas are found in this volume, including those in Paul Anderson's chapter on special printing processes.
  15. Henry, Richard J., Controls in Black-and -White Photography, Butterworth, Stoneham, MA 1986.  This book is for the advanced experimenter, who uses such instruments as transmission and reflection densitometers and pH meters.  Detailed, well-illustrated studies involve film and paper granularity, acutance, and resolving power.  Analytical concepts of precision and accuracy are stressed.
  16. John, D.G.H. and Field, G.T.J., A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry, Chapman and  Hall, London 1963.  As well as being a good introduction, this volume has a number of informative tables not found elsewhere, including: quantitative physical and chemical characteristics of typical negative and positive emulsions, and factors affecting image color.  A chapter on seeking sources of photographic information, mainly Great Britain, but applicable elsewhere, can be of value to the researcher.
  17. Kodak, Creative Darkroom Techniques, Rochester 1973. Various lesser known methods are covered, including toning, high-contrast pictures, Sabatier effect, and gum-bichromate.  The book is profusely illustrated. Further books in a similar vein include Kodak's Here's How volumes 1 and 2.
  18. Lowe, Edmund W., What You Want to Know About Developers, Fine Grain and Otherwise, Camera Craft, San Francisco 1939. This book is practical and quite readable.  There are 66 formulas, developing agent discussions, and the photomicrographs of grain structure for many developers are edifying.  The pH measurements given, and the various fine tuning steps are useful.
  19. Mason, L.F.A., Photographic Processing Chemistry, Focal, London 1965 (1975).  This book can serve as an update on Glafkides.  Detailed chapters include chemistry of developing agents, e.g., a comparison of metol and phenidone, mechanism of development, formulae, colour development reactions and processing.  Excellent compilations of black-and-white development formulations are found in:  Edward T. Howell, American Annual of Photography1942 and 1950; N.I. Kirillov, Problems in Photographic Research and Technology, Focal, London 1962; Stephen Anchell, The Darkroom Cook Book, Focal, Boston 2000.
  20. Mees, C.E. Kenneth, The Theory of the Photographic Process, Macmillan, New York.  There are 4 editions of this massive tome, 1945, 1954, 1966 and 1977, the last two with T.H. James.  This is the ultimate reference for the scientific side of photography.  Chapters on black-and-white and color development, and internal image effects are of special interest.  Based upon availability and completeness, the writer would recommend the third edition.  Less comprehensive books on the same theme are:  Neblette's Handbook of Photography and Reprography, 7th edition , Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York 1977; Paul Kowaliski, Applied Photographic Theory, John Wiley, London 1972; T.H. James and G.C. Higgins, Fundamentals of Photographic Theory, Morgan and Morgan, New York 1960.
  21. Miller, Carl W., Principles of Photographic Reproduction, Macmillan, New York 1942.  Probably the best first book for the novice experimenter.  The abundant use of D log E curves for clarification of various processes was among the first.  The tie-in with Anderson's book in connection with platinotype, gum-bichromate, etc. is important. The sections on straightening the toe of the D log E curve with excess bromide or ammonia in the developer, resulting in better highlight contrast, are quite valuable.
  22. Milner, C. Douglas, Making Lantern Slides and Film Strips, 3rd edition, Focal, London 1957.  Undoubtedly the best book on developing, toning and tinting of diapositives.  There is a plethora of formulas and tables on possible variations in color.  The discussions on light transmission of slides, contrast, and the concept of translucency are quite impressive.  Production of colored slides by solution physical development is covered quite well.
  23. Nietz, Adolph, The Theory of Development, Kodak, Rochester 1922.  The best comparisons among photographic properties of various developing agents, including some obscure ones, occurs here.  Nietz's attempt to correlate various properties with bromide potential was a noble one, but was not successful.  However, his experimental design can serve as a model for the experimenter.  The calculation involving concentration of bromide ion released during development into the emulsion at a given silver density is impressive, and the bibliography is very extensive.
  24. Photo Lab Index, various editors and editions.  Morgan and Morgan publishers.  This book can be found either as a bound volume, or in a loose leaf edition with periodic update supplements.  Formulas are given for black-and-white developers, fixers, and toners for the major manufacturers.  A photographic chemicals section is also provided.  For color processing formulas, refer to the British Journal Photographic Almanac or Annual.
  25. Todd, Hollis N. and Zakia, Richard D., Photographic Sensitometry: The Study of Tone Reproduction, Morgan and Morgan, Dobbs Ferry, NY 1969.  This is one of a number of books that examine the D log E curve in a variety of situations.  Exposure effects including Herschel, Clayden, Solarization, Sabatier, and Albert, are clearly explained. Another recommended book on the subject is L. Lobel and M. Dubois, Basic Sensitometry, 2nd edition, Focal, London 1967, which has an abundance of D log E curves.

Undoubtedly, I have left out some books that others may feel that I should have included, for which I apologize in advance. However, please note that this is my favorite list.



  • Buffaloe, Edwin, “Controlling the Sabatier Effect”, www.unblinkingeye.com.
  • Dickerson, M.H., “Notes on the Design of Developers for Rapid Photo Processing”, Photographic Engineering, 5: 109-116 (1954).
  • James, T.H. And Vanselow, W., “The Influence of the Developing Mechanism on the Color and Morphology of Developed Silver”, Photographic Science and Engineering, 1: 104-118 (1958).
  • Jolly, W.L., “An Explanation of the Sabatier Effect”, Photographic Science and Engineering, 29: 138-143 (1985).
  • Kodak, Motion Picture Laboratory Practice and Characteristics of Eastman Motion Picture Films, p 200, Rochester, NY 1936.
  • Rahts, W., “Das Umkehrverfahren”, (The Reversal Process) Die Kinotechnik, 13: 207-212 (1931).
  • Rudman, T., The World of Lith Printing, Aurum UK 2007.
  • Seeley, J., High Contrast, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York 1980.
  • Tomamichel, F., “Erscheinungsformen von Umkehreffekten an Silberhalogenidschichten” (Appearance of Reversal Effects on Silver Halide Emulsions), Reprographie, I. Internationaler Kongress, Koln 1963, pp 96-102, Verlag Dr. Othmer Helwich, Darmstadt. (copy available at U Cal San Diego Library).
  • Verkinderen, I.H., “Reversal Processing”, British Kinematography, 13: 37-45 (1948).
  • Windisch, H., The Manual of Modern Photography, Heering, Vaduz 1956.
  • Yurow, H.W., “Collecting and Developing Antique Photographic Paper”, www.unblinkingeye.com

Copyright 2009 by
Harvey W. Yurow


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