Kodak TMax 100: 10 Tips to Give you the Best Results

I’m going to provide 10 additional tips about using Kodak’s popular TMax 100 that I learned from my experience with it. Hopefully, these set you up for success with your Kodak TMax 100 photos.

1. Have Fresh Fixer

TMax is hard on fixer, and using TMax in old fixer led to blotchy results due to the pink coloration partially surviving fixing and washing. Fixing with midlle-aged and older fixer didn’t take longer in terms of preserving images, but the finished results had an appearance of being unevenly illuminated because the pink coating on the film, removed only partially, caused the positives to have different baseline densities during scanning. So, keep your fixer fresh and replace it conservatively. Alternatively, use old fixer and leave the film in a constant water flow overnight to finish removing the pink coloration.

2. Pull Your TMax 100 to Maximize High-contrast Lighting

TMax 100 works very well as a slower film. I personally liked it the most around ISO 50. Pulling TMax 100 presents a great option for high-contrast settings, such as a dark forest with bright overhead or intermittent light from trees or a valley with deep shadows and sky. The Kodak technical manual for TMax 100 indicates that contrast can be controlled by overexposing the film up to two stops and then developing normally. When you follow this process, the film’s exposure approaches maximum density (DMax). DMax represents the point at which the negative is just black and can no longer absorb photons. This reduces contrast through negative density. Starting from a single stop of pull and then adding another stop of exposure in high-contrast situations lets you increase negative DMax while also reaping the benefits of pull processing — contrast and better detail retention across your tonal range. That accordingly flatter negative delivers easier manipulation in post, either on an enlarger or on your computer.

3. Don’t Pull Your TMax 100 Too Far

The shot below provides another example of pulled TMax 100 and how overexposure can allow for improved contrast in high-contrast lighting. This shot, taken at ISO 25 for six seconds at approximately f/75 (the Astragon is only marked to f/32, but stops down much further) would have required a post-reciprocity exposure of around three seconds given the lighting and setting. Following the data sheet’s advice, I added a stop and exposed it for six seconds. Notice the far mountain ridge and the solarization, a sign of significant and isolated overexposure. The image demonstrates that taking TMax 100 toward DMax works for contrast control and also that taking it too far toward DMax will have unexpected results. In sum, this image received four stops more light than it would have rated at ISO 100. Even with pull processing, that was too much.

4. Don’t Mix TMax 100 With Other Films in the Developing Chemistry

When Kodak first released TMax 100, the chemical composition would ruin the emulsions of other stocks when developed with TMax 100. Though not true for a long time with contemporary film stocks, that may still apply to old, expired film stocks. That said, while TMax 100 will not ruin your modern films, the pink compound on the film can stain other film stocks, and I ran into that when co-developing one roll of TMax 100 with rolls from two other makers. Those other rolls had pink staining that significantly extended their wash time.

5. Track Your Results

Communicate well with your future self. When I use film, I start each roll with a data frame: film type, exposure ISO, date, camera, and lens, at minimum. This allows me, when I review the negatives and scans, to easily identify what film and equipment were used in the image capture. If my camera has a light leak or shutter capping, I know exactly which one. If a lens’ aperture is not stopping down and exposures return highly overexposed, I can look into it. This technique has helped me quickly identify a lot of problem equipment to either fix myself or send out for repair. I use a similar approach in film developing. When I load film into a tank, I use a Sharpie and some masking tape to mark the film type, chemistry, dilution, time, and place the tape on the tank. If the time is one that I’m guessing at, then I mark that with a question mark, which reminds me to submit it to the Massive Development Chart if the results warrant. When the film is finished developing and fixing and I move it into the washing tank, the tape follows it. My primary washing tank holds up to eight 35mm reels in two stacks. I align the tape in the order I place the reels so that I can keep track of each reel. When I hang the film to dry, I affix the tape to a blank part of the film so that the developer data stays with that film when it’s archived. This approach lets me look back at past results in the future and replicate what worked and avoid what didn’t.

6. Shoot Across Formats

TMax 100 performs in the same manner from a technical perspective across formats; however, different formats create different looks. Tonal range, grain profile to an extent, and most importantly, image character all change. TMax 100 is a joy to shoot in medium format, but something entirely different in large format. If you’re an experienced film shooter looking to embrace large format work, TMax 100 is a good first film if you’re familiar with the manner in which TMax 100 performs.

7. Warm-Tone Filters Work and Help

This has a caveat in that orange and yellow work and can help, but red I am no fan of with TMax 100. TMax 100’s high sensitivity to blue and cyan light causes skies to wash out and can remove drama from tonal recession areas. With my specific filters, the results lacked the drama I expected; However, the photo below shows that the orange filter I used increased tonal recession separation in the mountains between the trees. In addition to the mountains, notice the difference in the trees’ needles and trunks. A warm-tone filter will do a lot to improve your outdoor work; just note that warm filters can be unflattering for portrait subjects.

8. Maximize Your Tonal Range With Proper Metering and Developing

TMax 100 provides up to 13 stops of tonal range when exposed and developed well. I have some shots which came close. The shot below, developed in D-76 1+3, shows shadow retention in the buildings as well as detail in the clouds and a dark tone to the sky. Neither metering nor developing is more or less important than the other in obtaining an exceptional tonal range. If you meter off your shadows, almost no matter how you develop, your highlights will be blown out, and the converse holds true for metering highlights. So, to obtain the maximum tonal range, I metered off mid-tones and developed in diluted chemistry with a long developing times. D-76 1+3, being a nice and diluted chemistry with a long development time of 17 minutes at the film’s box speed, consistently retained shadows and highlights.

9. Use Distilled Water to Improve Low-key Images

Darks, especially low-key images and dark shadows, render beautifully on TMax 100. You need to have a good film developing process for this, however, or you’ll spend hours in post cloning out spots. Darks in images arise from thin or unexposed film, which are clear or near-clear areas on the negative. That means any dust on the film, dried chemistry, remnant dissolved solids from your tap water, or other processing-induced issues will show up on your film. If you want to use TMax 100 to shoot low-key, two things can help you improve your results. Firstly, I use a mild dish soap in the primary water wash, which removes a lot of the residual fix and helps prevent dissolved solids in your water from adhering to the emulsion. An added benefit is that dish soap suds clear from the wash tank at about the same time that film can be removed. Secondly, rinse it multiple times in distilled water after the primary wash. I use some cleaned glass containers for this and usually line up three in a row. I dunk the rolls or sheets into the first distilled water bath and lift and dunk a handful of times. This removes any surface dirt on the film that’s trapped by the very thin soap film. Two more distilled water baths in the second and third containers ensures that any residual chemicals, fixer, or impurities in my tap water wash off as each new bath is clean and ready to remove more contaminants. (As a note, if you have hard water or a water softener, distilled water washes will always help improve your negatives.) This process of multiple distilled water baths after washing provides the best, and most-easily-worked-with low-key image negatives you can obtain. Of course, you could also skip that and spend considerable time in post combing through your negative to clone out all the dust and minerals that show through in the shadows.

10. Photograph Everything

TMax photographs every subject well. Chrome on old cars looks great. TMax 100 flatters people. Building’s shadows and details render nicely for a lifelike look. Almost any landscape can turn out well. So, the final and possibly best tip that I have for you is to use TMax 100 on every subject you photograph, track how you use it, and then when you see results that fit your image aesthetic, replicate it. If you understand how TMax 100 performs on multiple different subjects and with different lighting, developing, filters, and other factors that affect images, you can then understand how to manipulate the film so that it yields the images that you want for your work.

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