Is Pyro right for me?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by ong_cun, Dec 19, 2003.

  1. Alright, I've been studying photography for about 6 months now. I've
    developed about 20 rolls of film; all at my school's darkroom. I'm
    VERY excited about this art form and I'm very passionate about it.
    I'm always thinking about photography and I want to be the best I
    can be. I've been reading this forum like crazy because I'm very
    interested in everything about photography.

    Naturally, I've been reading a lot about Pyro and I think I'd like
    to try it. I'm going to be developing my film at home so that I can
    get more time in the darkroom at school. One thing bothers me
    though: printing Pyro negatives on variable contrast paper. I read
    that the Pyro stain reduces contrast. How much of a problem will
    this be? If it's difficult to print on VC paper, is it worth it for
    me to use this developer?

    Basically, I'm trying to figure out if VC paper limits the "power"
    of Pyro. Yes, I think I've fallen for the allure of Pyro. A LOT of
    people are passionate about this developer and it's making me very
    curious. So if anyone can shed any light on this, please let me know.

    I know that Pyro is going to be this magic solution that makes my
    prints worthy of being in a gallery or something. I know that,
    instead of reading about photography all the time, I should be
    getting out and actually photographing. It's just that, I want to
    know that I'm doing the best for my film. I'm passionate about my
    work and I want to use the tools that are best for me.

    By the way, the films that I use are:

    Fuji Neopan Acros 100 (long exposure, maybe macro), Ilford Delta 100
    (maybe some macro) and Ilford HP5+

  2. Try Pryrocat-HD instead of PMK it has a brown coloured stain
    which doesnt cause the flat highlights PMK seems to give with
    VC paper. Grain is finer, speed seems almost half a stop higher
    with some films and the stain is just as strong as PMK.
    I recomment trying Fp4+ , Fortepan 200 or Hp5+ for the best
    staining effect.
  3. What format are you using? 35mm? If so, I doubt that pyro will magically transform your work. Pyro is not the best developer for 35mm film.
  4. "I know that Pyro is going to be this magic solution that makes my prints worthy"....

    Not to sound ugly, but what is going to be the magic solution is learning to make good negatives, and practice, practice, practice and more practice. THe more we practice the luckier we get.

    I use PMK and like the developer, however I also use HC 110 or .... fill in the blank. THe choice depends on the subject matter, the film size and a variety of other reasons including; how do I want the grain pattern to appear. Some folks use only PMK or a version of Pyro to control contrast ranges for LF and contact printing. Many feel that using this on 35mm film is worthless. Who is right?? That is an individual descision and you are going to get a hundred different answers.

    As you have just started on this journey (and believe me it is a life time event for many of us)I would just slow down a bit. Pick one film , one developer , one paper, one paper developer and work with it for more than 6 months. THis will begin to give you a better sense of what you are doing. Build one piece of infomration on another. Start with ABC before moving to MNLOP, etc.

    More specificaly, I know several people who have used PMK or a staing developer with Acros (120 version) and really liked it, but they are doing a lot of Alternate process work which may be influence that choice.

    Keep working and stay passionate, shoot a lot of film.
  5. PMK is not easy to use, but I use it almost exclusively. It's not magic, and it IS somewhat tricky at times - recently, I've been getting a lot more pinholes in my negatives, which I think might mean my PMK stock is slightly contaminated. I use ONLY distilled water, and am very careful with my chemistry, but it seems it might be time to crack open the new bottles I have..

    W2D2+ is something I'm insanely interested in - keep in mind that in my somewhat limited experience, stained films seem to scan a bit better than those processed in non-staining developers. I shoot 35mm & 6x7, and almost never bring 35mm into the darkroom..

    That said, I have had just as happy-making results using TMAX developer, R09, XTOL, and HC-110. I've just standardized to some extent, and now keep only PMK, R09, and Diafine on hand.

    XTOL is pretty neat stuff, easy to use, and I can't fault it EXCEPT for that it's a powder and I can't stand mixing powders as I don't have a good spcae for that.
  6. Tony: Also remember that Pyro (I use PMK) can be quite toxic (systemic and from fumes). Especially if you use it around your house take the necessary precautions. Refer to Gordon Hutchings "The book of Pyro" avail through Calumet and Photographers Formulary. Ms Clancey is correct, keep it simple and build up from there.
    mark smith
  7. Hi Tony. I'm guessing that you meant to write that pyro is NOT going to be a magic solution, and you're right, it's not magic. It does however possess unique characteristics, some of which may or may not benefit your work. All pyro developers are not created equal, and the differences can be important. I use ABC Pyro to develop 8x10 HP5+ by inspection, and that has proven a very good combination for me. I contact print on a very slow VC FB paper called Fomatone MG, and get beautiful highlight separation. ABC Pyro is grainier than other pyro developers, and most people consider it unsuitable for enlarging, though some have done so. It is also not well suited to rotary processing, as it oxidizes quickly in that application, leading to high levels of fog. The stain is a greenish color, but restricted to the silver portion of the negative, meaning it leaves very little general stain, which lowers overall contrast. PMK is reputed to leave more general stain, and the stain is brownish rather than greenish. The color of the stain can be important when printing on VC papers, because it acts as a kind of filter when printing, and the color of the stain affects the contrast in different ways. Here's a link to some good information:

    That article, and the others at that site should provide a good primer on the subject of staining developers and their varying effects with various papers and processes. Good luck.
  8. Click on my name and look at the prints titled 'Paradiso Cafe'.

    The originals were even more tonally separated, I just have a crappy scanner.

    Anyhow, W2D2+ is a pretty nice developer, easy to use, and not terribly effective on 35mm. It does amazing things though with sheet film and 120. See the print of Blodgett Canyon done on Agfa APX100 4x5. I have heard it doesn't work well with Acros but that is a rumor, nothing more. Only you can tell.

    I have had no problems printing W2D2+ negatives on variable contrast paper.

    Anyhow, with where you are, I would just put a lot of work into developing a style and not worry about magic developers. If you can build a portfolio using D76 and/or Rodinal, you can do anything. Many of us have done just that and after we felt comfortable with where we were with those types of developers, we moved on.

    See this interesting link:

    tim in san jose
  9. I've had very good results with WD2D+. The stain color of most pyro solutions is greenish, which creates challenges with VC paper. WD2D+ has a more yellow stain, which pretty much solves that problem; in fact, it was created by John Wimberley as a pyro developer for VC paper. My only quibble with it is that, with the dilutions and agitation listed in the instructions, it can be a little flat. However, by upping the amount of developer by 30% or so, and/or giving more aggressive agitation, it does fine. It's a very good developer for high contrast situations, i.e. bright sunlight. I've yet to have a blown highlight with it.

    In other lighting situations, there are other developers that are better suited, and that's as it should be. Tri-X in Rodinal produces big honkin' razor sharp grain, but for some situations, that's the look that works.

    So, don't try pyro expecting a magic bullet. As Ann and others have noted, is not a substitute for burning lots of film and keeping careful notes.
  10. Dear Tony,

    I'd suggest that if you have to ask, it's not for you. Wait until you have more experience. You may or may not decide that you need it. Personally, although I like the tonality, I don't like the toxicity, and I'm as happy with the tonality I can get in other ways.

    An extremely pertinent comment I heard recently:

    If I'm not satisfied with one of my pictures, it's rarely for technical reasons, and if I really like one of my pictures, it is rarely because of its technical excellence.

    Shoot more pictures and refine ALL aspects of your photography -- composition, exposure, developing, printing -- at the same time, rather than concentrating on one technical aspect.


  11. Read this entire thread from the Photo.Net Leica Forum:

    There is no magic bullet.
  12. Tony,

    It is difficult, but try not to allow yourself to become a gearhead.
    Find something easier simpler and less toxic and use it for a while.
    Consistency is most important.

    Most prints hanging in galleries weren't done in Pyro. Pyro can be great for some
    types of film and subject matter but I have seen it cause problems with VC Paper.

  13. I did my own black and white darkroom work for the better part of two decades before I tried pyro. I'm extremely glad I did.

    Hans got it wrong when he said that pyro isn't suitable for 35mm. It is, if you use a modern formulation. PMK, WD2D, Pyrocat HD... these are all good for 35mm. Older formulations like ABC Pyro might not be the best choice for any modern films, but particularly for 35mm.

    My personal opinion: for traditional non-t-grain emulsions, pyro is fantastic. I'm not so convinced on t-grain film (I use XTOL instead).

    PMK negatives print fine on variable contrast paper, but you get a different character of image. No one film and developer combination is perfect for all subjects. Sorry to burst the bubble of those who like to stick with one combination. Film and developer combinations are like camera and lens combinations; sure, you can use only one, but it's going to restrict you. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's a reality. You can shoot with a 50/2 lens all the time, but it's not going to be ideal for subjects that require very long or very short focal lengths.

    My advice: try pyro soon, but not quite yet. 20 rolls is not that much film. A few months' experience will teach you more about what you can do with what you're currently using, and give you more perspective when you try pyro. Also, pyro is finicky about technique, so you should have excellent consistency and agitation technique before you use pyro. Don't be scared about this; it's not that bad, it just takes some care.
  14. I am going to say something that will risk me being flamed: I don't know why
    someone in the creative field would ever tell another NOT to expand their
    skillset. Expansion of one's knowledge and experiences with different
    methods IS why we are photographers, not just happy-snappers. We don't
    simply record history, we impart our creative interpretation of the event. This
    IS accomplished through experimentation. As an artist, if you don't expand
    your experiences, your inspiration simply dies, along with your art.

    Now, on with the show.


    I say, by all means, try PMK Pryo. It IS the magic bullet, as compared to HC-
    110 and others. And, it IS NOT difficult, and it is not expensive. Read and
    follow Gordon's book. The biggest advantage is not really the stain Pyro
    produces, but the increased edge-effects. Negs look sharper partly because
    grain size is kept in check.

    As a beginner, you will probably fair better than an experienced photographer
    because you have not developed any bad (poor, sloppy) habits. So, learning
    Pyro will not be that difficult. Pyro was introduced to me after developing my
    own film for only two weeks. I never had a bad neg because of Pyro (8 years).
    In fact, Pyro helped a few wrongly-metered negs because Pyro is very
    forgiving. The highlights will not blow out and the shadows will not block up. If
    I can do it, so can you. I've even shot in a dark old warehouse with windows
    and the highlights did not blow out. In fact, you could still see the wooden
    dividers in the pane. That scene had a 13 zone difference from the indoor
    shadows to the sun blasting through the windows. No other developer will do
    that. Other Pyro developers, maybe.

    That gets me to another point. Other Pyro developers have several more
    chemicals than PMK Pyro. All these chemicals will have an effect, somehow. I
    figure simple is better, so I go with PMK. I have not used any other Pyro
    because I have not had a need to do so. I don't get streaking, mottling,
    oxidation, excessive fog, etc. I think this is because I did start using PMK
    early, and I follow the book to a 'T'.

    For 35mm film in tanks, Pyro requires aggressive agitation, not the gentle
    swirling motion from one hand to the other as in HC-110. I take the tank
    length-wise in one hand and twist my wrist to the left, then right 3 times, then
    wait about 15 seconds, then repeat. Easy.

    The dangerous part of Pyro is not the pryo chemical, it is the metol. Metol is
    far more toxic than pyro. Metol is found in many darkroom chemicals. So, use
    medical-type latex gloves throughout the entire process, even if you are using
    daylight tanks. I use gloves for just about every chemical-related procedure. I
    want to keep my liver.

    Buy Pryo pre-mixed, not in powder. The powder form will hurt you (chemical
    dust gets into your lungs). The pre-mix is more safe (no dust).

    I do not have very good luck printing any Delta films. The Delta films are less
    forgiving because of the unique triangular-shaped silver emultion. If you have
    trouble printing Delta films (as I did) try anything non-Delta. The problem is
    not with Pyro. Others report FP4 can be tricky with Pyro, but I have not had
    any problems.

    Hope this helps.

  15. Jim:
    "Hans got it wrong when he said that pyro isn't suitable for 35mm. It is, if you use a modern formulation. PMK, WD2D, Pyrocat HD... these are all good for 35mm. Older formulations like ABC Pyro might not be the best choice for any modern films, but particularly for 35mm."

    What I said was that pyro is not the best for 35mm, not that it was entirely unsuitable. There is a difference.
  16. Hans, I've tried a lot of developers, and I've gotten what I feel are my best results with PMK, which is a pyrogallol-based developer. In my experience, it is the best developer for 35mm traditional emulsion films. Is it for everyone? Perhaps not, but it's for me.

    Steve Anchell said something to the effect that no developer can top pyro. Some can match it, but a well-processed and -exposed pyro negative is as good as it gets. My results agree with his sentiment about pyrogallol.
  17. I use PMK for 4x5, MF & 35mm, although the latter only recently and due to lazyness.

    It suits the majority of what I do with black & white which is landscapes and it is very forgiving in the highlights in the bright conditions I often find myself in.

    Is it for everyone, obviously not. I have become quite addicted to the negatives myself - if it didn't look silly to everyone else I would frame my tri-x 4x5 PMK negs on a small light box on the wall.

    The use of it for 35mm took me some time - I didn't find the stain came through as much and had to adjust my printing slightly.

    as with everything, test,test test and learn it backwards technically then go and burn some film!

    good luck
  18. I use PMK pyro on Ilford HP5 plus, and have also used HC-110. I have learned
    some hard lessons and among them is the content/composition/ subject matter
    of the shot is what determines the success of the shot. Not the film and not the
    developer. A good shot is a good shot, whether film, digital, pen and ink,
    watercolor, or oil.
    Having said that, nothing makes a print zing like pyro. It's as if the print's
    been etched in. But a boring shot with pyro is still a boring shot, and a good
    shot with HC-110 will make everyone linger over the print when you show it to
    With pyro the highlight separation is good, and if you live as I do in a sunny
    environment with high contrast shots then pyro will serve you well. When you
    do have to burn an area in a print you'll find plenty of detail as a result. Some
    advice with pyro learned from bitter experience--1)presoak the film for 5
    minutes 2)use only filtered water 3)two inversions every fifteen seconds with
    one inversion to the left and the next to the right. If you only invert one way
    you'll get streaked negatives.

    Lee England
    Natchez, Mississippi
  19. Ditto what Lee said, A boring shot is still a boring shot. I use pyro, even on 35mm film. It makes printing easier with high contrast scenes, than with conventional developers. Nice to not have to worry about blown out highlights. I like this developer with Tri-x, HP5+, and FP4+. With T-max100 don't bother to use pyro, tmax400 is ok with pyro, but the 100 doesn't stain well at all. Also, do not use pyro to push film...won't work. Don't worry about not having enough contrast. If you know you will need extra contrast, you can add development time. Just keep in mind that all the shots on the roll will have extra contrast. Here is a shot of a low contrast scene where I increased development by 2 minutes. This prints well with a #2.5 contrast filter on Ilford MG4 FB with no burning or dodging. I hope this negative scans 1/2 as well as it prints. PS, if you use Acros, let us all know how it turns out with pyro. I've been wanting to try this film with pyro because in 4x5 it is available in quickloads. With Kodak it's tmx and x-tol if I want readyloads for my hiking trips.
  20. Yikes, what a crappy scan.

    It prints much better than it scans. My apologies for that scan.
  21. Eric:

    Please forgive me if I am not impressed.
  22. IMHO, too toxic, and too darned much water (45 min wash I think?)
    I agree w/Ms Clancy keep it simple and practise, practise, practise.
  23. Emmett, if you use an alkaline fix, a wash as short as ten minutes is fine - *without* using a hypo clearing agent.

    Pyrogallol is toxic, but so is hydroquinone, metol, sodium thiusulfate, ammonium thiosulfate, and a host of other chemicals commonly found in the darkroom. Wear gloves if you're worried (I do), but don't eschew it for that reason. Barbecuing meat and eating it results in far more toxins to you than developing in pyro.

Share This Page