#FP4Party

For the last six months or so I’ve been using Twitter to interact with some of the film photography community scattered across the globe. I’m not a huge social media user, in fact this was the third or fourth time I’ve had a try at using Twitter. This time was slightly different as I’d written an article for a website and the owner had suggested a few people to follow and a way of insinuating myself into the community. Six months on I’ve a good circle of like-minded folk that I regularly interact with; some I’ve collaborated on projects with, others who I’ve established an off-Twitter conversation with and three of us who chat regularly and have even combined to purchase raw chemicals to make our own chemicals.

One thing I have enjoyed has been some of the themed projects and even anti-social me has joined in and enjoyed the experience. The main “event”for April 2020 has been the annual “FP4 Party” and I purchased four rolls of 120 especially for the occasion. Admittedly one I used on the day before the party so it’s been “disqualified” but the thought was there.

Ready for the off!

Most people set themselves a particular challenge and so entering into the spirit I decided to shoot my film exclusively in the Bronica ETRS with a 40mm lens and yellow/green filter, rating the film at box speed of 125 ISO. Ilford’s FP4+ is a film I rarely use so simply using it has been a novelty in itself. I’ve also been using my Horizon S3 almost exclusively recently so forcing myself to use a well-loved but rarely used camera was also in the spirit of #FP4Party I felt. If that wasn’t enough I also decided on a semi-stand development in Rodinal at 1+100 for 45 minutes. All of the chosen parameters, from film, camera, chemicals and development process were outside my recent norms, the only consistent factor was that I was using black and white film.

The first full week of April has been set aside for exposing the film and the second week for developments etc before “show and tell” week in the third week of April.

I’ve made three trips this week with just this camera in my bag (my S3 is sulking in the corner) and today was my final “shoot” for the party. The final roll was developed at lunchtime and I’ve now got three rolls of negatives sleeved and ready for printing. I’m planning on printing six images on Fotospeed Oyster RCVC paper for sharing on Twitter during w/c 19th April. Three of these are drying as I type and I now need to choose another three to print over the next few days.

Sadly, no pictures to share though as these are embargoed until week three!

Me: Photographer

I have had an interest in photography since my early teens and I suspect my experiences, at least in parts, will be familiar to many. I remember using a Kodak Instamatic to make photographs of industrial dereliction in the Valleys of South Wales for a school project. Small, fuzzy prints with strange colours but I thought they were fabulous. I passed my Environmental Studies exams too.

Early days – before marriage, mortgages and kids the soon-to-be Mrs W

Like so many of my generation my first SLR was the hefty Zenith E. I’ve claimed many times that you could knock nails in with this beast but never actually tried it if I’m honest. Looking back most of my surviving transparencies and negatives are on the soft side and nowhere near as sharp as I’d remembered. There are exceptions though. I chuckled recently when I saw how sought-after those Helios lenses are especially amongst digital users. I quickly shut up when I realised I had bought several in recent years.

Soft? Or artistic intent?

A Canon AE1 was next. Checking on the web I must have bought mine within six months of it being released although mine was definitely bought used. In fact I would be in my fifties before I bought a brand new camera. I acquired a second pre-owned AE1 fairly soon after and a telephoto lens from a chap at the local camera club. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw me photographing a lot of sports with this brace of Canons. I loved photographing motorbike scrambling and in those days with a high-vis jacket and a press pass courtesy of a friend of a friend at the local paper it was access all areas and no health and safety. Looking back it was recklessly stupid but at the time I was in my element. I even bagged a few jobs for the local paper on the back of these images. Not glamorous, mainly photographing school swimming galas but pictures of the kids swimming I was free to sell to parents, all the paper wanted was pictures of the Mayoress handing out the silverware!

In the mid-1980s a work colleague introduced me to a local studio photographer and for the next eighteen months I worked for him on an unpaid, casual basis helping run studio nights for local camera clubs and other organisations. Lots of fetching and carrying but I had great fun. They were mostly model evenings but occasionally he ran still-life workshops and the like. A promotion at work meant I no longer had the time to spare and sadly had to give this up but I’d learnt a lot and had a fabulous time doing so.

Fujichrome. Canon AE1 50mm f2.8 lens. Transparency film is very unforgiving but this scanned beautifully without me needing to tinker in PS. Not bad for a slide thats over 35 years old! It’s sobering to think this lass will be in her fifties now too. 1982/3, shot in a studio where I helped out by sweeping floors, lugging light stands etc whilst the Boss had paying customers in (usually camera clubs). I got to spend ten minutes with one of the models afterwards in lieu of pay!!

I even used the camera as a way to get out of works-organised football matches, obstacle courses, “fun” runs and the like simply by volunteering to be the office photographer. Of course, the downside was I also had to photograph the Christmas dances, presentations etc.

I was well hooked by the time I was in my late teens and whilst my circumstances would force me out of the hobby for periods of time over the years I returned to it with amazing regularity and never lost the interest.

Coinciding with this promotion was the birth of our first daughter. It was also the start of three house moves in six years due to work promotions and by the end of the decade we were living on the south coast with three young daughters and another due. Another move was also imminent, we didn’t know it but we’d be living in Bristol before number four arrived. Photography was very patchy during this period as evidenced by the number of baby pictures. Daughter One was well documented but this gradually reduced and by the time Daughter Four appeared I was taking very few photographs, a fact she still reminds me of regularly. Photography had to fit around the many demands of a young family, large mortgage and a very demanding employer.

It was a Nikon Coolpix 775, my first ever brand new camera, that was the catalyst for me returning to photography in a serious way again. It was 2002 and to acknowledge 25 years with my employer I was sent a corporate catalogue with a rather uninspiring choice of gifts. Nothing much caught my eye so I opted for an electric shaver for the wife (she’d put up with loads over the 25 years) a new electric drill and with the remainder I bought a small digital camera. This 1.9mp wonder machine had got me thinking what had until then been the unthinkable … digital photography?

Mamiya RB67 Kodak Ektar 100 colour negative film

Long story short, I didn’t enjoy the Coolpix but by 2004 I was the proud owner of a Canon 400D with 10.1mp and two kit lenses. The downward slope into chasing pixels and upgrading cameras before I’d outgrown the previous one had begun. A Canon 40D replaced the 400D within six months (easier to hold with big hands), a 5D MkII arrived (I “needed” the pixels) and a 7D replaced the 40D (better frame rate for wildlife). The 5D MkIII was next on the list (who doesn’t need 22.3 pixels) and my lens collection also grew in direct correlation with promotions, bonuses and pay rises.

The good news however was that I was back in the hobby in a big way and for the first time wasn’t going to be held back by the demands of a young family, although the hefty mortgage and demanding employer were still there. In hindsight though, the bad news was that I’d become obsessed and was constantly chasing perfection, buying ever more powerful software, obsessing over image quality and a paid-up member of the pixel chasers club. Relentless dissatisfaction with my images was starting to become the norm despite winning club competitions on a regular basis. By 2013 however I was starting to realise that this was sucking the fun out of my hobby and that the pixel race was getting ridiculous. I started to question what I was doing. So, it was rather ironic that this was also the year in which I decided to switch systems and moved to Nikon. I’d been a Canon user since the 1970s so this was quite a big deal at the time. I took a huge financial hit by selling a complete Canon digital kit I’d built up over almost ten years and bought a Nikon D800E and the “Holy Trinity” of zoom lenses (14-24, 24-70, 70-200). My pixel chasing had reached its zenith but, although I had no notion of it at the time, my interests were even then moving away from the all-singing, all-dancing digital cameras and back towards the tactile pleasures of my Canon AE1. Yes, it was still in the cupboard.

But there was one more twist in the digital tale. Starting in 2016 or thereabouts I started a three year process that saw me switch systems again, this time from Nikon SLRs to a mirrorless Fuji X system. I’d owned the Fuji X100 since it’s launch so the growing Fujifilm ecosystem and their approach to improving existing cameras through firmware releases really drew me in. It’s the only digital system I use now in 2021 but as my regular reader knows it’s not my first choice system any more.

© Dave Whenham
The start of my Fuji “journey”. Fuji X100 Winter 2011.

September 28 2015 was an auspicious day. On my 57th birthday I fulfilled a dream I’d had for most of my adult life and became the owner of a Hasselblad 500CN. I had a lovely Pentax 645 (why oh why did I sell it?) and four or five years earlier I’d also purchased a Mamiya RB67 that was going for a song in the local camera shop, so this wasn’t my first medium format film camera but it was a dream come true. It also was the catalyst for what I am doing now in 2021 as this was the moment I decided to get back into the darkroom. Whilst clearing space for my makeshift darkroom I also rediscovered a box of negatives, dated 2009-2011, and these formed the basis of my return to the dark.

© Dave Whenham
Birch trees on limestone outcrop
Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster

From that moment on I was destined it seems to return to film photography as my principal hobby. Learning from past experiences though I did not trade-in my Fujifilm mirrorless system but have run both film and digital side by side. I’ve even embraced the so-called hybrid approach, using film and then scanning the negatives. I refuse to spend more than a few minutes converting an individual negative though and only use those tools I could employ in the darkroom. From shooting >95% digital in 2015 though I’ve steadily increased my film usage and now in 2021 the situation has reversed and <5% of my photography these days is digital. I must emphasise here though that I enjoy both; each plays it’s part in my enjoyment of the hobby and I have no time for the digital vs film debate – it’s all photography. I even have a drone these days!

Ringstone Reservoir. It can be a little disconcerting putting the drone up into mist for it to temporarily disappear but it gives an angle I could not get otherwise.

Of course, the story goes ever on. Once I’d made the decision to concentrate on film and build a darkroom I also retrieved the Zenith E and Canon AE1 from their exile in the loft, remember them? A Nikon SLR or two (OK, several) followed as did a dalliance with a Pentax ME Super. Then there was the Olympus OM10 and because I liked the form factor of the Fujifilm X100 digital camera I started “needing” a compact film camera, or three, or more. I will draw a veil over some of the other purchases I think just in case the wife reads this. Many of these have however featured in blog posts of course.

Then, the Curse of Image Quality struck again. This time not pixels but film formats. A Mamiya TLR joined the stable, the RB67 was brought out and I started to use less 35mm and more medium format film. For a short period I became obsessed again with image sharpness but this time it was very short lived, it seems that with age does, occasionally, come wisdom. I like film for the aesthetic, the film-dependant grain, the ability to alter the look of negatives through choice of developer or processing method and there are situations where less than clinical sharpness are part of that aesthetic. I also enjoy the tactile nature of preparing to make images with film photography. Loading and rewinding film, putting the film onto reels and into tanks, standing and developing the film and never failing to be awed as the roll of negatives is eased off the reel and hung to dry.

Zero Image 612b pinhole camera, Fuji Acros, orange filter. Developed in Kodak D76(1+1)

The cameras I use most often are manual, they are also more tactile; removing dark slides, manually setting aperture and shutter speed, winding the film or removing the film back after each squeeze of the shutter. On some winding the film on and cocking the shutter are separate actions too and I enjoy the routines involved in using these cameras.

This Curse was, rather surprisingly, finally lifted when I moved in to large format film photography. I initially bought a dedicated 5×4 pinhole, partly because it was going cheap and partly because through it I could try out the loading and developing of sheet film before parting with a goodly sized lump of cash on a full LF kit. It was a field of photography I’d never really played with before and I loved the pinhole aesthetic at my first use, it helped the also new to me Large Format process had gone smoothly I suspect! I now have 35mm, medium-format and large format pinhole cameras and the Curse of Image Quality has finally lifted.

Unsurprisingly, a full 5×4 kit does also now have a place in my gear cupboard, albeit fairly recently, and I am enjoying slowly getting to grips with this format. A couple of early mistakes in terms of lens purchases means I have only limited options lens-wise but this in a way is helping as I’m needing to really work in a thoughtful manner. By its very nature LF slows you down, I’m not the first to note that of course, but this slow, deliberate, almost calculated approach is helping me to think first and release the shutter second. You can’t “spray n pray” with one of these!

Out and about in Elland on a foggy morning – I enjoy digital photography too. Fuji X-H1

Thankfully, throughout all of this my love of the hobby has never diminished, even during the barren years when I could afford neither film nor time. I use all of the many cameras I own. I never use the word collection to describe them either – they all have a use and are all tools, albeit well cared-for tools. I mainly use an X-Pro1 or an X100T from the Fujifilm stable when I choose to shoot digital despite the X-T3 permanently clamped to a copy stand. I use film cameras for most of my photography though, from 35mm, medium format, large format, instant cameras and several pinholes in various formats. I no longer see image sharpness as the ultimate goal, although that doesn’t mean I accept any old rubbish from my cameras, they still need to perform in accordance with the aesthetic I’m aiming here for. My embracing of the lo-fi as an acceptable sub-genre of the hobby was compounded recently when I picked up a couple of Diana F+ cameras and a bag full of accessories. They don’t get a lot of use but if the project calls for them they are used with as much enthusiasm as my beloved Bronicas. Sorry, didn’t I mention the Bronicas? They first appear in early 2020 but I’m running out of space here – suffice to say I picked up an ETRS pre-pandemic and then sold my Hasselblad to help fund the Bronica SQ-A kit.

So, there you have it. One photographers journey from film to digital and back again. Featuring constant upgrading to get more pixels and sharper images, returning to film and embracing MF, then getting into 5×4 for ultimate image quality … and then buying a complete Lomo kit!

Bring out the trays!

When I brought the darkroom back into use recently I had a problem with the slot processor leaking at one of the seams. It’s an old unit, but it has been very well used and I’ve repaired it before so this was not unexpected although still frustrating. It’s the developer slot that’s weeping but fortunately near the top so I’m fine so long as I don’t want to print along the top two inches of the paper! As I’ve mainly been printing panoramas from my Horizon S3 on 10×8 this has been a mere niggle rather than a hindrance.

Two versions of one negative

But, then I decided to print a few 6×4.5 negatives from the Bronica ETRS. These basically use all of the paper’s surface so the “missing” couple of inches become more problematic. So, Plan B it is then.

Back to the trays!

My darkroom space is small. Three bookcases line one wall, with a small filing cabinet in the corner upon which the slot processor sits. The opposite wall has my desk (this room is my office after all) and on the short wall by the door sit my enlargers.

View from the slot processor – before the 5×4 enlarger made it upstairs

Adding space for trays therefore is a challenge but needs to be done until I can repair the slot processor. A 4’ x 2’ folding picnic table provides a solution. True it’s a tight squeeze with little available floor space once it’s in place but the legs can be folded up into the table which can then be stood in front of the enlarger table when not in use.

All lined up – ready to go

If I’m honest, whilst I really appreciate the space-saving and convenience of my slot processor the one thing I really miss is watching the image “magically” appear before my eyes. The trays provide this “magic”. I’ve just come down from a very pleasant couple of hours using the new layout and I can report that it works very well. It just shows that you don’t need a huge space with running water to print your negatives – just the will to problem solve.

A print in the hand …

Calder & Hebble Navigation

I reported recently on the results I had achieved with a box of rather old, discontinued paper and promised to share a couple of scans. With no childcare today I thought I’d pop a couple on the scanner for you. These are scans of darkroom prints, viewing these on screen is like trying to evaluate the taste of a gourmet meal via the telephone. But, ironically, it’s the only way that many will get to experience these. They have a wonderfully rough texture, are a good weight in the hand and there is something so enchanting about such tactile objects.

Elland Wharf

One thing I’ve noticed is that the texture of the paper does not scan very well, being scanned into two dimensions has appeared to have compressed the texture making it slightly indistinct. But then , no-one would expect the scans to match the three-dimensional reality of such papers.

Woodland on the outskirts of Elland
  • Camera: Horizon S3
  • Films: Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5+
  • Paper: Kentmere Art Classic

Pictorial Planet

Back in the day there wasn’t the internet to guide and inform the wannabe photographer. There were plenty of magazines and books but resources like YouTube were not even a gleam in a developers eye. Heck, home computers weren’t even a “thing”! So, when I returned to the film photography fold a couple of years ago I was amazed at the number of dedicated websites, personal blogs and, best of all for someone who likes to see things being demonstrated, there was also a growing band of personal channels on YouTube all dedicated to film photography.

The bubble burst fairly quickly for me though and within a few months I was an occasional visitor only and it wasn’t unusual for there to be well over a hundred unread notifications in my Inbox. There were still some good channels, there were also some who every now and then put out something interesting but on the whole it seemed to me that “influencers” had cornered the market. Homogeneity was taking over and style rather than substance was the order of the day. One roll of film was all it took for some of them to pronounce on the efficacy of a particular film stock. They didn’t even develop it themselves, leaving that to a fashionable film lab.

Now that’s a broad brush and of course there are still good channels out there and I’m sure that there are loads I’ve yet to find but recent trends have been enough to put me off regularly dipping into YT as a source of helpful information. Plenty of entertainment certainly, but content seems a little thin to me. Film photography is currently “hip” and finding simple, straightforward advice from experienced users is not easy. I’m lucky, I have a good grasp of the basics, but a newcomer really needs to be a detective to find answers to some of the basic questions. Or perhaps I’m not savvy enough to home in on the good stuff.

So, when a channel pops-up that can meet the needs of beginners and more experienced photographers alike I feel it needs to be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

Enter Pictorial Planet – https://www.youtube.com/c/PictorialPlanet/videos “Sharing tips and personal views on analog film and darkroom workflow. From the author of The Art of Black and White Developing and Pictorial Planet website.”

It is a fairly new channel, with around 150 subscribers, but material is being added regularly from quick tips to detailed explanations on determining the true speed of your film given your choice of developer and processing technique. But what I like most is that it is practical, gimmick-free and succinct. It reminds me of when I first started photography in the 70s and the biggest source of information was usually some of the members at the local club who freely gave of their time and experience to help a newcomer to the hobby. Dipping into this collection of videos is like having club night every night.

So, thank you John Finch for providing a rich source of easy to understand and truly useful information for both the buddying film photographer and more experienced hands. I’m looking forward to making FX55 next month – inspired by a Pictorial Planet video.

Drying fibre-based papers

OK. Not an exciting subject but a vexed one for many darkroom printers. I generally avoid using FB papers but when I do use them I resign myself to a frustrating period of waiting before I can view them properly. Six, 10×8 FB prints, laid one on top of each other can easily reach six inches in height. So, as I don’t have anything better, the dried prints spend a week underneath a pile of the six biggest books I own.

So, you can imagine my delight when I spotted a YouTube video which promised a solution.

Pegs!

Not elegant … but it works!
Six dried prints – straight off the washing line!

Once the prints have been thoroughly washed simply place two prints, back to back, and hang them to dry (see above). Once dried, remove pegs and you will have prints that lay reasonably flat. Certainly flat enough to trim and properly examine. They will still need a day under the books but what a difference!

What a difference a peg or two makes!

I’ve just ordered some clear plastic mini-pegs to use in lieu of the big pegs around the sides and bottom. It’s a small price for flat FB prints – guess who’s going to be using a lot more FB paper going forward!

The YouTube video I referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=159vkrfHefo

A Classic

Some while ago, pre-pandemic certainly, I was given a few boxes of materials by a friend who had decided that as he clearly wasn’t going to resurrect his darkroom again he might as well have a clear out. Long-expired film, photographic papers and chemicals, some opened others sealed, all-in-all a veritable treasure trove.

Much of the film I shot over the next two months as I tested new-to-me cameras. Some of the chemicals were clearly way past their best so these I discarded straight away whilst a few unopened bottles are still in my cellar awaiting investigation. There was a large carrier bag of opened boxes of photographic paper too and as my cellar darkroom was still operational I tested most if not all of these. Some fogged beyond any practical use in the darkroom and some only slightly fogged and therefore usable. The one unopened, still sealed, box remained in my paper store for another day.

.

That day was yesterday

The paper is Kentmere Art Classic, 9.5×12 inches, with a warm tone ivory tinted emulsion coated on a 240gsm fibre base. I got that from the slip of paper inside the box. It also told me that the paper was around grade two. I wouldn’t be playing with split-grade printing therefore.

The negative I chose was a woodland scene, fairly even toned across the whole of the negative with no large patches of shadow or huge expanses of sky. It was partly a way of keeping it simple but largely I thought the subject would suit a warm tone textured paper. Spoiler: I was right!

An initial test print showed I would be working with relatively long exposure times compared to my recent prints. This initial test also led to a second test strip at 15 second intervals. As I’d hoped the test strips showed that my hunch re the negative was good and that I wouldn’t need any dodging or burning. I decided to make two prints, one at 60 seconds and one at 90. Both turned out very nicely and I loved the tone of the paper and it’s tactile, textural quality. I decided to see if I could buy some more, this was going to be a real favourite.

Long story short? Kentmere discontinued the paper in 2006, and in 2007 their paper making division was acquired by Harman. I won’t be getting any more when this runs out. A shame as I wanted to see what changes fifteen years had made to this lovely paper.

The finished print

This morning I made a few more prints on this paper and I will post those once they are dried and (oh, irony) scanned. I’m going to hoard it for a while though – or at least until I discover something similar!

West Vale

26/3/2021: Horizon S3, Kodak Tri-X, D76(1+1)

West Vale is a village in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England. The village falls within the Greetland and Stainland parish of the Calderdale Council. West Vale is part of Greetland. The reason it is not called East Vale is because it used to be part of Elland District Council who historically ‘gave’ the area to Greetland.

This panoramic was taken from the edge of Elland which overlooks West Vale.

Developing like a Boss

This weekend Zac decided he wanted to finish the roll of Ilford HP5+ in his Canon Ace and develop the film – himself!

We ended up developing the film, cutting and sleeving the negatives and this morning printing one of them in my makeshift darkroom. Wherever safe and practical he did everything himself and as we worked we chatted about what we were doing and why. It was a very nice way to spend a few hours with my Grandson and we both enjoyed ourselves.

On a whim I posted a fifteen second video of him agitating the developing tank to my Twitter account. Expecting my usual 20-30 interactions I was stunned when my phone started going crazy. Within twenty-four hours it had racked up over 4,500 views, 33 people had retweeted it and around 60 have commented on it.

Who knew that a 15 second snippet of video could attract so much attention!

Under the lens

Well, the Ilford under lens filter kit arrived this week, you may recall I mentioned it in an earlier blog post. I quickly put it to use and can report it works exactly as I’d hoped and solves the problem I was having. I have some concerns about it being being below the lens rather than above but I’m trusting that Ilford know what they are doing and that image quality won’t be adversely impacted.

I’m trusting that image quality won’t be adversely impacted.

My new workflow entails me placing both filters I need for the print on the base board in numerical order, ascending left to right. When it comes time to change filters it’s a breeze. No more squinting at the dials on the enlarger head. Excellent.

But…

There’s always a but isn’t there. It’s brought another issue into sharp focus. The timer. Mine is a dial version and of course I can set the initial times with the main light on. However, changing timings for the second exposure means getting my nose close to the dial but even then I’m still often a second out in setting the new time. That bothers me because in all of my film processing and darkroom printing I endeavour to be consistent; to make each process repeatable I have a consistent workflow and make notes of what I’m doing as I progress. Admittedly, in the darkroom I often forget to make these notes being wrapped up in creating but my short term memory is good enough to enable me to repeat things during the same session.

A new timer is out of the reach of my pocket at this time so I sat down in the darkroom one evening last week to ponder the problem. The answer was literally staring me in the face. I have two enlargers and two timers. The bigger (5×4) enlarger has a timer with a digital read out which is a joy to use. However, the plugs and sockets are different to those of my main (6×6 and 35mm) enlarger. Now, fear not, I’m not about to discourse on plug physiology, suffice to say with a few minutes on t’internet I’d discovered a world of plugs I never knew existed and most importantly for this tale, a tale of plug adapters.

Even after a year the sight of a totally deserted high street doesn’t cease to catch me unawares. Horizon S3 Pro – Kentmere Pan 4– – Perceptol (stock) 7/3/2021

My wallet is the princely sum of £7.99 lighter but I’ve just been upstairs and can report that the digital timer, plus it’s adapter, is now sat proudly, plugged into my main enlarger and having tested it works I’m all set for a session in the dark this afternoon and evening.

By the by, the images here are a couple of random film photographs from the last few months – I didn’t think anyone would want a picture of a plug adapter, however relevant to the tale!