We have another factor to consider now: that is, the rapidity of the plate. If you use plates by a maker who has a name to sustain, you may be pretty confident that they are of fairly uniform rapidity, so after you have got into the way of working any particular brand, the best thing you can do is to stick to it. The exposures in our table are for plates of medium rapidity in good spring light. In my own experience I find that they just suit "thirty times" plates, or fifteen on the sensitometer; but then I like a full exposure with slow development, and I know that others find these exposures just right for "twenty times" plates developed in the usual way. The most rapid plates in the market will not be overdone with half the given exposures. It must always be borne in mind that an error of a fraction of a second in either direction may be corrected in development, and it is impossible to make a very serious error if you refer to the table.
We come now to the light. If you depend on the eye entirely in judging the quality of the light, it will sometimes play you tricks. The rays which are most active on the plates are those which have the least effect on the eye. We can, however, by chemical means arrive at an exact estimate of the active power, and for this purpose an actinometer is used. This is simply an arrangement whereby a piece of sensitized paper is exposed and allowed to darken to a standard tint, and by the time it takes to reach that tint the value of the light is judged. Capt. Abney has, however, pointed out that ordinary sensitized paper is not suitable for bromide plates, since there are conditions of light in which the plates will be fairly rapid while the paper will be very slow. He gives a formula for a bromide paper, which is treated with tannin in order to absorb the bromine set free during exposure, otherwise the darkening would be very slight. I used this paper for a while, but found it rather slow. The tannin also turned brown on keeping for a week or so. I then made some more, substituting for tannin potassium nitrite (not nitrate), which is colorless.
This was an improvement, but still it was just slow enough.
However, noticing in Capt. Abney's article the statement that the bromide of silver should be as nearly as possible in the same state in the paper as in the plate, I thought "Why not Morgan's paper?" This, of course, is just bromide emulsion on paper, and if, as I suspect from its color, it contains a trace of iodide, why, so do most commercial plates. A sheet of this paper cut into strips, soaked for ten minutes in a fifteen-grain solution of potassium nitrite, and dried, gives a sensitive paper which darkens with great rapidity to a good deep tint, and keeps indefinitely. Here is some prepared last summer, which is still quite good. To use this paper make a little box so that a little roll of it can be stored in one end, and drawn forward as required beneath a piece of glass.
Bearing in mind that your table of exposures is calculated for the best spring light, go to the country some bright day next month with note-book, actinometer, and the necessary appliances for exposing a few plates. Select, say, an open landscape, and use your smallest stop. When all ready to expose, get out your actinometer and expose it to the reflected light of the sky for ten seconds (if the sun is shining, turn your back to it, and keep the actinometer in your own shadow); then put it in your pocket, expose a plate according to your table, and in case the light or plate should not be just in accordance with the conditions under which the table was prepared, expose other two plates, one a little less and one a little more than that first exposed. Then note down everything you have done - kind of view, stop, speed of plate, exposure of each plate, and length of exposure of actinometer.
When you get home, the first thing to do is to get hold of a paint box and paint the underside of the glass of your actinometer to match the darkened paper. Do this by gas light. Then scrape away a little of the paint, so as to let a strip of the paper be seen below it. After this develop your three plates with a developer of normal strength, and see which is best. If you have chosen a really bright spring day, and are using plates of medium rapidity, you will most likely find that exposed according to the table just about right.
Now let us see how we can use these aids in our field work. We have ascertained the correct exposure with a given stop on one class of view, with light of a given quality, but now suppose all these conditions altered. Let the view have heavy foliage coming close up to the camera, the stop be a size larger than that used in our first experiment, and the day rather dull. The table tells us what the exposure would be with this stop on this view, on a bright day; and if the actinometer take twenty seconds to reach the painted tint, then we must double the exposure given in the table.
You may sometimes find that the actinometer indicates a very different exposure from what the eye would lead you to expect. For instance, one day last September I went to Bothwell Castle, to get a picture I knew of in the grounds. It was one of those strange yellow days we had then, and the sun, though shining with all his might, was apparently shining through orange glass. The actinometer indicated an exposure of thirty seconds where in good light one would be right. I was rather incredulous. Thirty seconds in broad sunshine! However, I gave this exposure, but for my own satisfaction I gave another plate fifteen seconds only.
On developing, the latter was hopelessly underexposed while that having thirty seconds gave a negative which furnished one of my exhibition pictures.
I have shown you how to reduce the quality of the light to a certainty, also how to reduce to rule the exposure with different lenses and stops on certain classes of subjects, and it remains with you only to guess correctly to what class the view you wish to take belongs; I can assure you from my own experience that there is enough uncertainty about that point to prevent good negatives ever becoming monotonous.
The only aid I can suggest in this case is the continual use of a note-book. Note every plate you expose, and when you have a failure be careful to record the fact, and you will gradually find these accumulated notes becoming a great help in cases of doubt. One hint I can give to beginners is that a great number of the pictures to be met with in this part of the country are intermediate between "Open Landscape" and "Landscape with heavy foliage in foreground;" and it is scarcely needful to say that if you are in doubt, let the exposure be rather too much than too little; you may make a negative of an overexposed plate, but never of an underexposed one. We take from the Br. Jour. of Photo. the following interesting paper read by W. Goodwin before the Glasgow and West of Scotland Amateur Association.