# A Breathless And Brief Introduction To Stand Development
**WARNING**: *What follows is for the advanced darkroom practitioner.
It is not for beginners and people should be well
acquainted with safety and good darkroom practices.
If you do not already have a least one film/developer
combination "dialed in", don't bother with any of this.*
Low- or no agitation "stand" techniques have been around since
the beginning of photography. These techniques are controversial
among very fine photographers. I set out to test this for myself.
**The Short Version**: True stand development (no agitation after
initial) does not work reliably with modern films. Infrequent
agitation can be made to work reliably and produces useful results
... at least for me.
I've been a black and white silver photographer for over four decades.
In that time, I've worked with a large number of films and developers,
eventually settling down on a few combinations that worked well for
me. In every case, I managed time and temperature and agitated the
film according to the developer manufacturer's instructions.
Recently, I became aware of a newish staining developer called "Pyrocat-HD",
invented by Sandy King. This developer has a great many claimed
virtues among them:
* Semi compensating in the highlights with VC papers
* Tight grain comparable to PMK Pyro
* Much lower sensitivity to oxidation effects than PMK Pyro
* Much less fussy about agitation than PMK Pyro
* Produces negatives that work well for both traditional silver and alternative printing processes
This monograph is *not* about Pyrocat-HD, although all the testing was
done with it. Pyrocat-HD turned out to be a gateway drug to my
learning about "stand" or "still" development. This is an an old
technique used by some of the masters like Atget. Today's modern
masters like Sandy King and Steve Sherman are making use of variations
of stand development to great advantage. But, in the words of Sandy
King, "It is fraught with danger". The technique is tricky and prone
to failing rather horribly. So ... **don't try this with pictures
that matter to you without making backup negatives.** I promise you're
going to mess some of them up.
Be aware that the discussion of still development techniques launches
all kinds of religious debates. This is particularly true on the
internet, where everyone is an expert. I got interested in this
because some very fine photographers make good use of it. On the other
hand, some very fine photographers think it is nonsense.
There are also people out there claiming this is THE best way to develop
everything. These people, in particular, are just ... wrong. Still
development *may* have a place in your workflow if you have the
patience to learn how do it repeatably *and* have subjects that would
benefit from this *and* you are using formats and film that will work
## Why Bother?
When stand (or one of its variants) works, it gives you negatives of
great apparent accutance, full box ASA speed and - this was most
important to me - a way to increase mid-tone contrast without blowing
out the highlights. It is mid-tone contrast that gives prints that
"snap" we're always looking for. David Kachel has a very good
commentary on this:
For example, I recently shot a scene in which the darkest shadows were
on Zone III, and the brightest highlights (snow) were well into Zone
VIII. Depending on how you do exposure control, this is either normal
development or slight N-. The problem is that the dominant geometry
in the scene was a bunch of boards that - at best - showed a Subject
Brightness Range of about 3 stops. This was the most important part of
the scene but, I was stuck with two bad choices:
- Normal, or worse still, contracted development would shove all these
tones together to produce low local contrast in the mid-tones.
i.e., A picture that held the entire tonal range, but boring because
the primary image geometry had low local contrast.
- But if I did N+ development to improve middle tone contrast there
was good chance the snow highlights would blow out to Zone IX or X.
Because Pyrocat-HD is a semi-compensating developer, I likely would
have been able to burn through this *if* I could control the burn
This is where a form of stand saved the day. By developing the negative
using stand techniques, I was able to get full box film speed in the shadows,
jack up the mid-tone contrast, and preserve the highlights from getting
pushed up too far.
When reading about stand development, you'll run into a lot of
discussion of "edge effects". These occur as a byproduct of the way
stand works chemically, especially when using Pyro staining
developers. The edge effects show up as a line in a transition
between a light and dark subject. In the extreme case, it can
actually manifest itself as a "halo" behind the transition. (This is
one of the reasons you don't want to overdo stand development.) This
edge effect is perceived by the human eye as higher sharpness. It's
sort of an illusion, but it's a useful one. (For those of you who do
digital post processing, this is approximately the chemical equivalent
of an unsharp mask.)
It's worth mentioning that there are other approaches to the problem
of holding highlights while expanding mid-tone contrast. You can use
a lower contrast or "compensating" developer like D-23. This is
a very simple and inexpensive 2-component developer you can easily
David Kachel - no fan of stand processing but a superb contributor to
this craft - has a novel technique called "SLIMT". In a negative with
really bright top zones, he adjusts for shadow and mid-tones as
necessary, *and then mildly bleaches the negative* during the pre-soak
phase prior to development. It's a novel technique and uses minimal
chemistry. I plan to also explore this at some point as well:
## So How Does It Work?
Stand techniques depend on a basic property of how film develops -
*The highlights develop much faster than the shadows.* One Kodak
engineer was heard to say that "Development ends after 3 minutes, the
rest of the time is spent increasing contrast." This is just another
way of saying the same thing.
As the highlights develop, they exhaust the developer around them much
faster than the shadow areas do. In other words, the brighter the
object - say white snow - the quicker it will exhaust the nearby
developer. The darker the object - say a shadow - the slower it will
exhaust. Mid-Tones live, well, somewhere in the middle.
For those of you with a technical bent, I highly recommend a careful
reading of this explanation of film behavior by David Kachel:
Normally, we don't notice this because *we agitate regularly* thereby
replenishing the supply for fresh developer everywhere, most
especially the highlights that have "run out of" useful developer.
Stand development exploits this by ... *not agitating at all or very
little*. Highlights are allowed to exhaust because they develop
quickly and don't really need more developer. But by letting the film
sit in a really dilute developer solution for a looooooong time
without agitation, the shadows continue to develop and so do the mid
tones. This means we are:
* Fully developing the shadows (getting full box speed ASA)
* Raising the H/D contrast curve for the mid-tones
* Doing little to the highest tones
In effect, stand techniques add two other things we can control about
how we develop film. In addition to time and temperature, we now add
developer dilution and frequency/duration of agitation as development
It's worth mentioning that this is super tricky to get right. In
the words of a retired Kodak film engineer, "Kodak did not consider
still development in formulating its films. It is not a recommended
practice." That's right, it's not. And you're not supposed to
tune your stock Ford engine to produce more horsepower either. It
is not recommended by the manufacturer ;)
## What's The Downside?
As film develops, it produces chemical byproducts like bromides that
we usually don't notice because ... we're agitating regularly. This
serves to "wash away" these byproducts with fresh developer. But when
you stand develop, these byproducts can come to rest on your negative
and interfere with the development. This results in streaks and marks
on your negatives and can be entirely ruinous to the process. That's
why the Great Yellow Father, Kodak, recommended so strongly against
this approach. This mess is often referred to as "bromide drag".
All manner of techniques exist to avoid these problems, with varying degrees
of success. Among them include:
* Developing and standing negatives in open trays
* Using specialty tubes made of PVC plumber's pipe to hold the negative during standing
* Using minimal contact hangers to hold the film during standing
Formally and properly, stand development should be done with the
negatives laying flat in a tray or the equivalent. They should *stand
laying down* not hanging vertically in a tank. My testing suggests
that this is not absolutely necessary and at least one other approach
It's also worth noting that the photographers who pioneered this
approach a hundred plus years ago were using very different films and
plates. Modern thin films do have more a propensity for bromide drag
than their grandfather films did.
Still, this can be conquered and - at least in my view - should be in the
arsenal of tools for any advanced monochrome silver photographer.
There are many references to this sort of development in the literature
and the terminology isn't used consistently. For our purposes we'll
define things as follows:
* **Normal Development** - Using developer at recommended dilutions and
agitating regularly once or twice a minute.
* **Stand Development** - Using highly dilute developer, agitating
vigorously for the first 1-2 minutes and then just letting the film
sit untouched in the developer for 45-60 minutes or even more.
* **Semistand Development** - Using highly dilute developer, agitating
vigorously for the first 1-2 minutes, and then once again for 10-15
seconds at the development halfway point. So, for a 60 min stand,
we'd agitate at the 30 min mark.
* **Extreme Minimal Agitation (EMA)** (Attributed to Steve
Sherman). Using highly dilute developer, agitating for the first 1-2
minutes, and then again for 10-15 seconds at 2 or 3 evenly spaced
intervals for the remaining time. Say we initially agitate for 2
minutes and want a total development time 30 minutes. We could
split up the remaining 28 minutes into three intervals and do 10-15
second agitations at 9 minutes, 16 minutes, and 23 minutes.
Semistand and EMA were conceived to overcome the nasty development
artifacts (artefacts if you live in the UK ;) like bromide drag. The
occasional short agitation during stand development reduces the
likelihood you'll see these gremlins appear in your negatives.
Surprisingly, I discovered that even the single midpoint agitation of
a semistand development can increase apparent contrast and - in the
case of Pyrocat-HD - level of stain (as well as Film Base Plus
Fog). So each of these techniques has a place.
## How Did I Test?
I exposed and developed a variety of films using all four of the
development techniques above. As I did so (and failed more often than
not) I began to do my down "dialing it" of what worked and what did
* For all cases, I used Pyrocat-HD as the developer at a nominal
I should mention that I designed and built my own
temperature-sensitive timer to keep temperature considerations out
of mind in the darkroom. You can find the details here:
This is certainly not a requirement and you can do ordinary
time/temperature corrections as usual in your own work.
* Pyrocat-HD is a developer mixed from two stock solutions. Dilution
is expressed as `Part A : Part B : Water`. For Normal development,
dilution was `1:1:100`. For the various stand tests, dilution
was either `1.5:1:150` or `1.5:1:200`.
* Developer and fixer were mixed with distilled water.
* 4x5 films tested included Kodak TXT, Agfapan APX 100, and Ilford
FP4+. Not every film was tested with every agitation method, but
across all film types, the tests covered stand, semistand, and
extreme minimal agitation.
* I tested 120 Ilford FP4 as well as 35mm Tri-X and Agfapan APX 100.
Both formats were tested using semistand in open half-gallon tanks
with Nikor stainless developing reels.
* Development was in open tanks and - in a few cases - a Yankee 4x5
tank with insert.
* A variety of different film suspension systems were tried including
Kodak "framed" film hangars, a Yankee 4x5 tank, and a "frameless"
Kodak film hanger.
* Film was presoaked for 5 minutes in running water to wash off the
anti-halation layer and prepare the emulsion to accept developer.
It's not clear this is entirely necessary with open tanks but it
does no harm.
## What I Have Discovered
First of all, these are **my** findings, built on my workflow and darkroom
technique. These are intended to be guideposts, not definitive rules. They
are intended to be a starting point for you to explore, not some final
word in how to do this stuff. Every statement below should be read
to say "In my case ..."
* Stand development is *really* fussy about how the film is held in
the developer. Framed hangers and the Yankee tank insert all showed
bromide drag effects in varying and unpredictable ways. My theory -
which I cannot prove - is that turbulent effects and developer
trapping is taking place along- and under the hangar frames/insert
supports and promoting bromide drag.
* Semistand development is at lower risk of this, but still shows
some evidence of bromide drag with framed hangers and tank inserts.
* For this reason, all my sheet film is now hung using old frameless
Kodak hangers. They have minimal points of contact with the film.
A likely viable alternative here would be a dental X-ray film clip.
In either case, having more than one sheet in the tank will be
tricky to agitate because there is no frame to keep it in place.
Patience is your friend here.
How good is this? I was able to get a perfect negative with stand
development (no agitation during stand period) using these hangers.
* Well... *almost* perfect. The negative shows just a slight hint of
bromide drag. It is at the end of that negative that was at the
bottom of the tank - exactly where gravity would land it. The exact
same scene exposed identically but processed with EMA and semistand
do not show this artifact.
* In short, *I was unable to consistently get stand processing to
produce artifact-free negatives*. So, even with better film
suspension, at least one midpoint agitation is a really good idea.
This is confirmed in discussions with other photographers doing this
sort of thing, even in trays. (Almost) no one is getting decent
results with pure stand. The issue here isn't that stand doesn't
work. The issue is that stand doesn't work **consistently**.
As a practical matter, there is no reason to do stand over semistand
or EMA. Both of the latter techniques give good results.
* I did some testing with 35mm and 120 on stainless steel reels, but
dunked into open 4x5 tanks rather than the usual daylight tanks
favored by small format shooters. As expected, Normal development
worked fine. To my surprise, semistand was OK as well. I was
expecting bromide drag problems because of the way the reels support
the film. Again, I think strong initial agitation helped here.
I've also noticed a considerable difference of reel spacing from
different manufacturers. If you are going to do 35mm or 120 this
way, I'd stick with the old Nikor reels. They're a bit expensive
but widely available on eBay. I'd also recommend doing these
smaller formats in an open tank, rather than the smaller stainless
tanks that are normally used with these. Why? Because you'll get
more developer around the film no matter what the agitation model.
It does mean working in the dark, though. Under no circumstance
would I use the adjustable plastic reels sometimes found in cheaper
kit. The ridges for holding the film in place are tall and inhibit
smooth developer flow. Using this just begs for bromide drag
* Stand and semistand did best with the `1.5:1:200` dilution. EMA did
best with the `1.5:1:150` dilutions. This makes sense, since EMA
times tend to be a lot shorter than true stand development and more
dilute developers will take longer to act on the shadows.
* Both stand and semistand really need 45-60 minutes to fully do their
* Both stand and semistand need a full 2 minutes of initial agitation
and it needs to be "vigorous". Again, I suspect - but cannot prove -
that really kicking the development off hard at the beginning reduces
the likelihood of bromide drag later.
* EMA was fine with only 90 seconds of more normal initial agitation.
* The single agitation introduced at the midpoint in semistand
development seems to noticeably reduce the risk of bromide
* The single agitation introduced by semistand development seems to
increase overall contrast and density as compared to a no-agitation
stand period. It's not night and day, but given that doing this
reduces the risk of bromide drag, it's probably the preferred long
stand technique and this extra contrast has to be considered.
* Given a normal dilution of `1:1:100` and an EMA dilution of `1.5:1:150`,
I found that a good first order guess for EMA development time was
to double my Normal development time with 2 or 3 equally spaced
agitations during the stand time.
* You can do contrast control with EMA much like you do with Normal
development - increase- or decrease overall time. With stand and
semistand, it's a bit more difficult because you really want that
long development time to fill in the shadows and crank up the mid-tones.
I've not tried it, but changing developer dilution is likely a better
tactic for these development methods.
* You can overdo this. If you have a scene that already has good
mid-tone local contrast, these techniques can give you a cartoon-like
local contrast expansion.
* All the stand techniques gave me full box speed ASA for every film
* You have to be merciless to "expose for the shadows" properly. If
you underexpose, nothing can save you. You cannot develop content
that isn't present in the negative. If you overexpose, you will get
the entire tonal range of the image sliding up the H/D curve in ugly
ways with stand techniques. In this regard, exposure control and
ASA management is much more demanding than most conventional
film-developer Normal development methods.
## Is It Worth It?
Yes, in certain cases. Low- or no agitation development is slow and
finicky. But, it really shines when you want to emphasize mid-tone
local contrast, but have a competing highlight that would get blown
out (or hard to print) if you just did N+ Development.
More generally, these techniques are great when you need to get
maximum shadow detail, but reign in highlight placement.
Stand techniques also work nicely when you want to get best apparent
sharpness on subjects that show a lot of bright-to-dark transition
lines - for example, articulated rock faces.
Think of stand as another arrow in your quiver. You won't always use it, but
it can be a really nice enhancement to your arsenal of tools.
I **strongly** recommend that, if you're going to try this, take at
least two exposures (on separate sheets or rolls) of every scene
you care about. Try one with stand techniques, and have a backup you
can process normally if needed.
## Update 6-3-2021: Very Old Film
Since this was first written I've done a fair bit of testing using
low agitation with very old, expired film. So far, I've
discovered several things worth noting:
* Old Kodak Tri-X (expired 7/1993) takes semistand processing
in Pyrocat-HD perfectly, shows full speed, and has no noteable fog.
* Very old Kodak Plus-X (expired 11/1974) is another matter. It shows
horrible bromide drag at the hanger suspension locations - even
using the most minimal support.
Whether this is the nature of this film or its age isn't clear.
I have to do further testing with other Plus-X vintages. What
is clear is that this is definitely induced by the Pyrocat-HD.
When I took the same film/scene and semistand processed it in
D-23 1:1 for 60 minutes, I got perfect negatives that actually
showed slightly better film speed than the Pyrocat-HD negs.
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