The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

Behind The Print: Saltwick Bay Nab

I have been meaning to write this for ages but have been incredibly lazy of late.  Plus I have been planning my trip to Iceland in May.  These are my excuses and i'm sticking with them. 

This is my latest print from a negative exposed just under a year ago whilst holidaying on the east coast of England, around Whitby.  Its 12x16 in size so I had to scan it in segments and stitch it in Photoshop.  Normally I would scan and save as a TIFF file however with images this big my computer has a meltdown trying to stitch them.  Unfortunately this means that there are some dodgy artifacts on the final image.

A little internet research prior to our trip had shown a lovely looking stretch of coast that was somewhat hidden from view and contained many of these rock formations (called nab's).  I was keen to shoot along this stretch of coast so on our chosen day we loaded up the car, grabbed the dog and headed down the cliff path.  We were met with a lovely sand and stone beach with a rock platform stretching out to our left and right.  As the tide was heading out we knew we had plenty of time to potter around taking photographs and playing with the dog.  A number of rock formations met my eye so we headed up and around the coast at a leisurely pace to see what they would bring. 

In the end I shot a full two rolls on this day which is a refreshing change for me as I usually struggle to finish a single roll on a shoot.  The holiday continued and then we headed home and back to reality.  I got side-tracked making prints of the various frames on my newly shot negatives over the next few weeks and this frame got somewhat pushed aside.  I dabbled in trying to print it but without success.  As can be seen from the image below the negative is very contrasty - there is very little sky detail and the nab itself is very dark indeed.  At the time there were easier and better frames to print so my focus was on those.


It is only recently that I decided to dig this frame out again and give it some real effort.  So, I got setup and made my test sheets, opting to try out some 12x16 Ilford MG FB WT paper I had recently acquired.  I knew that I would have to do something serious with the sky or the viewers eye was just going to fall off the top of the print.  I also knew that I wanted to print out a lot of the detail in the nab and get more of a silhouette look to it.  Plus I knew that I would need to burn in the bottom of the print to hold the viewers eye on the subject and not be lead out of the frame.

After much test stripping I had figured out my dodging and burning times as can be seen in my plan below:

By the time I had completed the burning required on this print my back was destroyed.  In total there were 11 stops of burning in required, that's 558.8s which is 9.5 minutes!  I sat down to rest as the print washed for an hour.  Then, reinvigorated after a bowl of cereal I commenced toning.  I knew exactly what I wanted from this print - deep, rich blacks leading into soft sepia highlights.  I used a potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide bleach diluted 1:7 for 2 minutes before sepia toning then followed this with a 1 minute dunk in selenium 1:9.  Any longer and I feared that the selenium would start to go brownish red as it so often does on warmtone papers.  Whilst this is very effective on many prints (most notably for me my "Glencoe Cottage" print) I didn't want the shadows to go red as this would reduce the impact of the shadow areas on the eye.  I needed to make sure that the shadows stayed bold and black.

Once dry I inspected the final print and, much to my surprise, it was spot on!  It's always nice when a print comes together easily.  This one was a joy to print, which makes me nervous about the next one.

I have another negative of a larger Nab which is very similar in many ways, perhaps I will try to print this one next.  Or maybe i'll get off my lazy bum and get some more film shot.  Either way I will keep you all updated of course.  But until that time - happy printing!