Yesterday …

I’m in a reflective mood this morning. Although it was published this morning my call to arms on behalf of our descendants was actually written late last night. Waking up to a couple of messages regarding the piece I got to thinking and idly picked up the phone sat on the table by my usual chair. Flicking through the photo album I found the earliest snap was from 2008, a copy of one I took with a digital camera it’s the only image from that year. Ditto for 2009, a single image and a copy of one from a digital camera. There is then a gap until 2013 when there are six … you get my drift.

It’s 2016 before any meaningful numbers of images are to be found. My photos from 2008 – 2016 aren’t lost, they are on various hard drives, but they may as well be as who is going to want to trawl through a box of assorted hard drives in the future? But enough of my soap box, the purpose of this follow-up post is simply to celebrate just a few of the memories contained on my phone – whether or not they originated on a phone.

Took four attempts to get this sweep panorama right
Very proud of his new “grown-up” specs
A memory of a lovely walk – I even did a selfie with a 360 camera on that walk
The ginger against the blue – the householder changed the curtains a couple of days later
I wasn’t feeling very well … until grubby Dr Harry arrived
Burke & James 5×4 and my first darkroom print from a large format negative
Our first trip out post-lockdown

There you have it, half a dozen or so images picked at random from my phone. Everyone has a memory attached and the ones of the grandchildren will have meaning to many other members of the family too.

Remember to record the everyday

As someone who spends a lot of time making photographs and puts a lot of thought and effort into both creative and technical concerns you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a very serious hobby of mine and one not to be taken lightly. But one look at the photo stream on my mobile phone would probably be enough to dissuade you from such thoughts. I take a lot of pictures with my phone and by far the largest number of these relate to my grandchildren. There’s also a fair share of shopping lists, empty wine bottles (to remind me which ones I liked), pictures of my cooked breakfast (to wind up son-in-law who’s likely only had a cereal bar), pictures of cameras or developing tanks for blog posts I’ve yet to write, quirky signs I see on the high street … the list goes on.

Reminder of a blog post I didn’t actually write!

“… to wind up son-in-law who’s likely only had a cereal bar…”

I also use my camera’s phone as a sketch book, capturing potential compositions to return to with a specific camera and/or film stock. Many of the illustrations for my blog posts are captured and edited with my phone. It’s used too as part of my ongoing 365 project, either capturing an “insurance” image (in case I don’t get a chance to do a “proper” one later in the day) or for consciously making that days 365 image. But the primary purpose to which I put this ever-present image recorder is for capturing those family moments.

Another blog post I’ve not yet written … and may never get around to!

The candid images, unplanned and planned get togethers with other members of the family, capturing special moments or just a picture of the kids playing, perhaps to send to Mum or Dad so they can see their offspring are having fun with Grandad/are covered head to toe in mud/have eaten a chocolate mousse with their fingers/insert situation here.

These moments, the big and small, formal or informal, are an important element of photography for me particularly in an age when everything is digital. Whole lives are organised and revolve around the plastic and glass electronic marvel in our pocket or bag. With a few taps on the screen I can capture an image and send a picture inmost instantaneously to any of the family wherever they are and share a special moment or simply raise a smile.

These matter. As does preserving them in a more tangible form. As a photographer with a darkroom some (but not all) of my negatives will be printed and hopefully preserved. But these are a tiny proportion of the images I will capture of the grandchildren in any given period. The phone does such a good job in this moments that it is unashamedly my normal tool for the job. Not the sole tool, I do use a “proper” camera on a regular basis, but it’s the one that is most likely to be at hand when something record-worthy happens.

Three consecutive images … seconds apart … five minutes after I had woken him from a nap.

Every month therefore I print off 40-50 “snaps” from my phone using one of the many Photo Apps available. For around £5 I can purchase 50 prints that can be handed around, sent to Great Grandma or simply added to the suitcase of family photographs that goes back to my own childhood and has been passed down through three or four generations now. The quality is perfectly good enough for the intended use and considerably better than my workhorse inkjet printer (budget, all-in-one, non-photo type machine) could produce.

Slightly out of focus – but who cares?

Every few months I also put together a simple photo-book, again using an online service, and with this I will often add a few words of context or explanation for future readers. I do the same periodically with some of the more “serious” images incidentally so I have something I can hold in my hands and view in comfort. Many of my film images are scanned for social media or emailing and a good number of these also live on my phone or tablet so it is a simple job to also print these or have them preserved for posterity within the pages of a relatively inexpensive book.

So, my point is this. Don’t get so caught up in the hobby that you forget to record the mundane and everyday aspects of your life. It goes without saying I’d have thought that we should also capture those special family moments that will in years to come actually mean something to people (hopefully with your camera – film or digital). As an example, the large colourful canvas on my living room wall of three rowing boats pulled up on the pebbled shore of the only Lake in Scotland, with the sun setting behind them means a lot to me, I was there for a start, but is just a pretty picture to my family. The twenty less-than-perfect snaps I took of Louie playing in the back yard last week will be viewed and shared by the whole family who will give them far more attention than they do my “art”.

So, to recap, take pictures of your family – regularly. But whilst recording all this family activity don’t get so caught up in the immediacy and convenience of your electronic friend that you fail to remember it’s lack of permanency. Once a month, once a quarter if you prefer, set aside twenty minutes and go through your bulging photo stream on said electronic marvel and commit a selection to paper and ink. Even if you simply throw them in a shoebox you will be preserving something for future generations. Taking the trouble to add dates, names and locations will be treasured by your descendants too – especially if it is in Great Grandmother’s own hand writing. Your mobile phone won’t last forever, who knows how many digital assets will be lost to the ether over the years. That box of cherished memories however, being tangible and real, has I would suggest a fair chance of surviving longer than the electronics or digits we currently give so much of our attention to.

In closing, (I make an assumption you’ve lasted this long) all of the images here, be they of my breakfast or of my grandchildren, reside on my phone and were captured with the camera on my phone, all of them were processed on my phone and all of them are candid, unposed and unscripted. They represent small slices of real life a world away from reciprocity calculations, lens and film choices, megapixels or dots per inch, developing methodology, choice of developer or any of the myriad other things that define photography as a hobby. They also matter more than all of these things too.

Priceless … and will be in the next batch of prints

Capture the everyday – and physically preserve it!

To meter or not to meter …

I promised in a recent post to share my metering approach when using the 5×4 camera and as the weather here is disgusting at present what better time to do so. I’m also very aware that my last dozen or so posts have been very “dry” too; which it certainly isn’t outside!


Why did I specify 5×4 and not just generalise? Well, my approach differs depending on what camera I’m using and how I’m using it. With pinhole photography I’ve found that a reading taken with the App on my phone, adjusted for reciprocity and with a bit added on for luck gets me where I need to be pretty much every time. I’ve written before about how I use my Horizon S3 panoramic camera and my metering approach there is based on an initial reading as I leave the house which is adjusted based on experience so that I can enjoy the free-flowing experience of using that camera.

Similarly, on the rare occasions that I use an SLR, typically a Nikon F801, I make use of its onboard meter, putting the camera in aperture-priority and only interfering with what the camera determines when I have a specific need to. When using the Bronica cameras handheld I usually adopt the same approach as I do with the Horizon S3 but when I take the trouble to lug a tripod about I automatically default to my 5×4 methodology which is what I’m going to talk about here.

Now, my current methodology has not been a tried and tested system that’s worked unchanged for years but has been evolving over those many, many years. Over the last few years however it has gradually settled into a more consistent approach using a spot-meter. Realising that I had settled into a set routine in the last twelve to eighteen months I recently decided to harness this further by formalising my note-taking so that I had all the information at my finger tips when getting ready to develop the films or when reviewing the negatives on the light pad.

In the field

Ready to “read” the scene and calculate exposure settings

Every DDS has a post-it note on the back with the holder number and the film it contains written upon it. This helps me determine between empty and loaded film holders as well as being a reminder of what is loaded. I scribble brief exposure notes on these at the time (f32 1/15 for example) but I also make more detailed notes in an A5 notepad I carry with me. Once home these scribbles are transferred to an A4 sheet which captures and organises the information in a logical fashion. One thing I always do in the field is a rough sketch of the composition on to which I write/scribble the spot-meter readings. The example below has a recent innovation … a picture of the scene captured with my phone (see above) to replace the pretty rubbish field sketch I made at the time.

Whilst this sheet is for a couple of glass plates it is exactly the same method that I use for film too.

The numbers on the image of the scene represent the spot-meter reading for that part of the scene. They represent the EV value for that area given the speed of the film in use. I take a series of readings from around the scene making sure I capture areas of highlights, shadow, middle tones and particularly the darkest area of shadow where I want to be able to see some detail in the finished print. Many of you will realise that this approach uses the Zone System as it’s basis and if you’re not familiar with this method I’d encourage you to check it out in more detail. For me, these readings, give me everything I need to calculate the exposure I need.

For the scene above I was keen to retain some of the details in the area at the base of the building which has been painted black. There was a lot of small details there such as a ventilation grill, gas bottles and other detritus and I wanted these visible rather than an amorphous lump of black shadow. The EV reading was 9 and so that gets plotted on the grid to the left as Zone III. This is the lowest zone that will render texture and detail in a print. Where we “place” this value on the grid is as much an aesthetic choice. I could have chosen Zone IV for example and brought out even more detail but for the image I had in mind I chose Zone III.

The next thing is to determine what the range of tones is in the image. My method is to simply count down the grid and seeing on which Zone the highest EV reading will land. In this example EV 14 lands on Zone VIII which is perfect for my needs. This gives a full range of tones which are also within the tonal latitude of the film. Had the highlights fallen on Zone IX or higher then they would have been completely blown out with no detail visible in the print. A choice would then need to be made in this case – whether to sacrifice the shadows, the highlights or to expose for the shadows but make a note to adjust development time to bring the highlights back into the tonal range. As this doesn’t apply here we will leave development adjustments to a later date and a later blog post.

So, I now have all the information I need. I know where my shadows need to be for my creative intent and I therefore know where Zone V, or 18% grey, sits. I also know that the full range of tones in the scene can be captured with out needing to make any adjustments in development. So where do I get my aperture and shutter speed from?

Well, depending on my aesthetic intentions I firstly choose either the aperture I want to use or the shutter speed I need. In this example I wanted everything sharp across the scene so I chose an aperture of f32. I then take my Zone Wheel from my bag, a high tech mix of cardboard and metal work, and setting the readings on the discs I can read off the necessary shutter speed.

Mr J Martin (junior) kindly made my Zone Wheel

So, the EV value 9 has been placed alongside the Zone III marker, see how the other EV values slot in just as they did on my grid? Look at the bottom and you will see a range of f-stops. I wanted f32 which, reading off the time opposite gives me half a second. I wasn’t using any filters and reciprocity isn’t a factor at this shutter speed for this emulsion so my base exposure becomes 1/2 second at f32.

At this point I could adjust matters if I thought 1/2 second was too slow, for example, on a blustery day when I wanted no movement in the image, but these changes are just extrapolations of the base exposure. I could open up to f8 for example at 1/30th second for the same overall exposure.

My final decision is whether or not to tweak the exposure based on my experience. However, the exposure we’ve calculated will give a good result so it is not an absolutely necessary step. In this instance I was using a dry glass plate and my experience with these shows that an extra stop would do no harm and therefore I opted for a one second exposure at f32.

Back home

Back home I try to sit down with my holders and my notebook and a supply of blank forms and write everything up as soon as practical. The scribbles in the notebook provide most of what I need, but I have the post-it notes as a back-up and by doing it whilst everything is fresh in my mind I can capture some of my thought process too. If I need to adjust development times I note this in large letters on the form and also on the post-it note which will stay with the film holder until the sheet of film is transferred to the developing tank.

Once the films have been developed the post-it notes and on location scribbles get put in the recycling bag and I file the A4 sheets along with the negatives in a ring binder so everything is together where it can be referred to as required. When it comes to printing the negative in the darkroom the reverse of the form can be used for printing and development notes – one day I will formalise these too!

So, there you have it. I have tried to keep this focused on the practicalities of calculating exposure in the field but there is plenty more to learn. I have referred to the underlying principles which relate to the Zone System and would recommend further reading as a full appreciation of this methodology will help you to use this approach more successfully in the field.

FOOTNOTE: whilst many people decry phone-based metering apps I’ve found the one I use to be reasonably reliable. In the example above the App suggested 1/4 second compared to the 1/2 second I calculated. Bear in mind that I was specifically looking to hold detail in a small area of shadows and you will see that it isn’t a million miles away.

Dry: successful start to phase 2

This is just a quick update following yesterday’s post. It comprises of just a few images – the negative, positive and “final” version of one of the two plates I exposed on the canal. Both were successful but I’ve only used one for this update as they are very similar and this was my favourite compositionally of the two.

One thing I do need to keep in mind is that owing to the nature of the emulsion detail in skies is probably going to be a rare commodity. The composition that I rejected was in the vertical format with a large amount of sky which was simply a dark block on the glass.

I metered for the shadows in the black area at the bottom of the building and looking at this part of the plate I’ve got exactly the amount of shadow detail I was anticipating. This is good news as it confirms that my exposure calculations, which include spot-metering and a touch of applying my nascent experience, are working out well thus far.

What is very apparent, even in these scans, is the amount of detail in the plates. Of course, I was using a good quality 180mm lens, stopped down to f32 with everything rock solid on a tripod. Nevertheless, the detail, especially in the wall and vegetation in front of the building, is lovely.

For the “final” image I cropped to 16×9 to exclude some of the sky and also gave the image a sepia tone which seems to suit both the subject and the conditions quite nicely. Your mileage may vary of course.

Onwards and upwards (when I get some more plates of course)!

The Last C41

One job I’ve been putting off since my grand colour film clear-out is disposing of the C41 chemicals. And this week I’m glad I prevaricated! Getting a camera ready to package up and post I found it had a roll of film in it. Just six frames exposed so I wound it back and popped it in a Sprocket Rocket intending to double-expose the start of the roll and have a play with the rest. The film was Kodacolor 200 and I was pleased I still had the chemicals as I probably wouldn’t have bothered to send it off for colour processing and would probably have developed it in Rodinal.

Who forgot to wind on!

Now, having seen the developed roll, the pictures themselves are nothing special … we can’t always be on the top of our game I guess … but I would nevertheless have sent the roll away for developing so having the chemicals on hand has saved me a few bob too.

So, there we have it, the final, small episode in my short C41 “career”. Since developing my first colour film in early 2020 I have enjoyed the challenge but my colour blindness has created some additional frustrations and I have decided to concentrate on my black and white photography. The last of the C41 chemicals have been properly disposed of and I am a colour-free zone.

Apart from twenty 5×4 sheets of Ektar in my fridge!

Dry: Seconds out … round two!

Back to the canal today with a couple of J Lane Speed plates (the last in the box) along with the Intrepid 5×4 and a bag full of optimism. I’m using the new ChromaGraphica double dry plate holder. When I used it for the first time last week there was a suspicion of a light leak but I suspected then that it was probably me loading the holder for the first time and in a hurry. So, I had a few dry runs this morning with one of the earlier “failed” plates before loading the two new plates in a changing bag. I realised that the dark slide needs an extra final push to fully seat it in place. This probably explains the slight light leak I experienced a couple of days ago. The slides are currently very tight and need a good push but I suspect they will get smoother with use.

Back to my “muse” location and unfinished business

I headed for Elland Wharf, scene of the previous disappointment but also a favourite location. I also regularly test cameras out here so it was, and is, a logical place to head for as I started phase 2 of the dry plate project. I’ve used the Intrepid a fair bit recently and have got much quicker at setting it up on location so it wasn’t long before I was taking spot readings and determining exposure. I will share the notes I made in a separate blog post – suitably tidied up of course!

The double plate holder is quite a bit thicker than my usual film holders and stretches the Intrepid to its limit. It also needs a little persuasion to sit properly but once it’s in place you know it’s going nowhere. I exposed two plates choosing two slightly different compositions rather than one composition and bracketing the exposures. I chose to do this on the basis that despite all the issues I’ve had, obtaining correct exposure hasn’t been one of them.

Back home, I prepared 500ml of HC110 (dilution B) and headed for the darkroom. Thirty minutes later I had two successful glass plates in the print washing tray. Both look well exposed, sharply in focus and not a light leak to be seen – fingers crossed.

They are now drying and tomorrow I will copy them and share the results in a new blog post and no doubt on Twitter too! The new holder also worked well and I’m keen to crack on with the project. I am however awaiting delivery of a new box of plates but it’s good to know that a corner has been turned and it’s full steam ahead.

Dry: An Update

If it’s been rather quiet on the dry plate front it’s not because I’ve not been busy. Indeed, I’ve used most of a box of the Speed plates in the last ten days or so. So, why the silence? A picture might help here.

Notice anything odd?

The example on the left of the three is something I’ve seen before as it happened on my first plate and I’d put it down to user error. However, chatting to Andy who owns the plate holders I was using, revealed he had a similar plate so unless we were both making exactly the same error, be it with loading or seating the holder, then the likely culprit was the holder. We were certainly not using the same camera and lens!

The issue with the other two is different to the first plate, suggesting perhaps that one holder was used for the first and the other for the second two examples? The shape of the light leak, whilst not exactly the same, is very similar too. There’s clearly an issue so some more thinking and testing was called for.

In the case of all three glass plates, used on two different days, each was exposed using exactly the same set up and at the same time as a sheet of 5×4 film. The sheets of film were all absolutely fine. Looking at the scans above shows that the exposures used for these plates were good too which is a small positive from this. I’ve plenty of experience with 5×4 and whilst it’s not impossible I think I can rule out loading errors. To be sure, I used one of the failed plates to load both holders in daylight and could find no way to mis-load them without it being very apparent.

I’ve even tested the plates from the current box themselves. Taking a fresh plate from the box in the darkroom, staying at least six feet from the safelight and putting it straight into the developer gives a perfectly clear plate. What we would expect. Later that morning I used a plate in an Ilford Obscura pinhole (no holder required) which also confirms the plates are probably fine. The other factor in favour of the plates not being the issue is that my first fail was with one of the plates that Andy gave me initially and not from those that I bought for this project.

As a final test I exposed a further plate with a newly-purchased double plate holder. It was a very bright, sunny day and the holder was positioned with the slide pointing upwards as is my norm for vertical compositions. There is the suspicion of an ingress of light, perhaps from where the slide goes, but nothing like the pattern on the earlier plates. I will remember to cover the plate holder in future just to be on the safe side, although that’s something for another day. Taken with everything else though this final test does seem to suggest that there is an issue with the holders I’ve been using.

Speaking to Andy last night he thinks he can see a split in one of the holders so we’ve both spoken to the manufacturer and explained our respective experiences. He is sending replacements to Andy and is going to test the original holders. I have to say the response from him has been first class and very refreshing.

So, a disappointing end to this phase of the project not to say an expensive one as I’ve used one and a half boxes of plates getting to this point. Undeterred though, my new double plate holder arrived last week and I am going to be ordering another box of plates today, I go into the next phase with some confidence.

Despite the issues I’ve demonstrated that I can accurately calculate exposure and I’ve had valuable hands-on experience in handling the plates. The developing methodology I’ve adopted is working well and I’m pleased with the results from the HC-110 too. So, loads of positives and I genuinely believe that despite the setbacks and disappointments I’ve learnt a lot so far. The next stage is to concentrate on compositions and locations that will utilise the glass plate aesthetic to its full.

That’s gonna be the tough part!

Running with the dogs …

… or shuffling about midst the early morning dog walkers!

“Saturday morning can you take the garden waste to the council recycling place”. “Yes, dear”. Those two little words had me out of the house before 8am and by 8.15am, chore completed, I was parked close to a local park to give my Holga WPC pinhole camera a run out. Apparently it’s also the time at the weekend when all the local dog owners take their pets for their first run out of the day. I lost count of the number of leg licks I received, or the numbers of “sorry mate!” they produced.

The purpose of this morning’s wander was to put a roll of Fomapan 100 through a newly acquired Holga WPC. This is a wide angle, pinhole camera from the doyen of lo-fi film photography and was an impulse buy driven by a member of the Twitter film community whom I won’t name to spare Will’s blushes. Having spent most of the previous week with a 5×4 large format camera, wielding a spotmeter and reacquainting myself with the Zone System it was a bit odd wandering about with a plastic camera, mini-tripod and a very laissez faire attitude towards metering.

But, sometimes that is exactly what is needed. Having spent the week being rather serious and deliberate it was very refreshing to spend forty minutes playing.

This mixture of the serious and the playful helps to keep me creatively motivated. I also have a natural tendency to have several projects ongoing at any time and this also helps keep me motivated. If one project is stalling slightly then no worries, just switch attention to another for a short time before returning. My dry plate project has stalled temporarily at present. It looks to me as if the batch of plates I purchased has a fault (I will cover this in my next Dry project update) and so I am pausing, taking stock and planning my next move. In the meantime, my ongoing interest in pinhole photography has stepped in to fill the gap as it were.

Prices of film camera gear have been increasing steadily for a while now but, is it my imagination, or do they seem to have accelerated since Brexit. In particular, cameras such as the Holga WPC have recently seen an upturn in prices. Whereas a few months ago the WPC could be had for between £40 and £50 new the prices are creeping up and the same online sellers are now asking £60-80 for the same camera. Brexit or profiteering whilst hiding behind a Brexit excuse? You take your pick!

So, a successful trial run means that the Holga WPC will be added to my pinhole arsenal. I’ve recently sold the 35mm pinhole camera as I’ve decided to concentrate on pinhole using Fomapan 100 in 120 and 5×4 but I still have five or six if you include the 5×4 doing the rounds on the “Dave’s Pinhole CameraWorld Tour”.

Pulling HP5+

I’ve been using film since the 1970s and in the last year or so it’s become my main photographic medium. In the last eighteen months I’ve developed over three hundred rolls of film and around a hundred sheets. One thing I’ve not done in all this time however is to “pull” a roll of film. Over-exposing when making the exposures and then reducing development time to compensate. Some people do it deliberately. Pulling film reduces contrast and brings out details in the shadows so can be helpful but it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to do, certainly not with a roll of film. Until this week.

Arriving at the beach in Seaham on Monday afternoon I pulled the ONDU out of one pocket and the roll of Fomapan 100 out of the other. Only it wasn’t Fomapan; I had inadvertently put a roll of Ilford HP5+ in my pocket. Now, I like Fomapan 100 in the pinhole. The slower speed and the gravity-defying reciprocity give me many seconds of exposure which makes life easier when the shutter has to be opened and closed manually. With a 400 speed film I was getting shutter speeds of half-a-second and faster. What to do.

Seaham – North Beach

In the end I rated the film at 100/200 ISO, whatever gave me a workable shutter speed, and ignored the reciprocity factor. By my reckoning I will have therefore over-exposed the film by between one and two stops. After cogitating, and speaking to fellow photographer John, I decided that a 20% reduction in development time would be about right.

Getting low

So, today was the day. Back home, the laundry up to date, grandson Louie having his morning nap and I am in the kitchen developing the film. Ilford HP5+ developed in Ilford ID11, diluted 1+1, would normally get thirteen minutes in the tank but today I’m reducing that to ten minutes.

The negatives are well exposed although as expected they are a little flat in terms of contrast. Loads of detail in both shadows and highlights too. Perfectly printable in the darkroom however or indeed readily converted in a digital workflow. The images here were in fact copied with a digital camera and converted/processed in the Snapseed app on my iPad.

So, what’s the verdict? Or more pertinently would I do it again? Undoubtedly I would not hesitate to pull HP5+ again if the need arose. Would I do it deliberately? Probably not. Don’t forget we are talking roll film here. Using sheet film, where we can tailor the exposure and development of individual negatives, I would have no hesitation using this approach if the scene demanded it. This experience has shown me that the concept works and I suspect that I was lucky that the whole roll was used on the beach in consistent light and conditions. Had the roll contained a mixture of scenes and lighting conditions the results might not have been so consistent.

Face in the wood

So, the outcome of this enforced experiment has been very positive. Whilst I would not aim to deliberately over expose and under develop roll film it can work and my logic on this occasion was sound. I didn’t use the technique deliberately but nevertheless it’s been a very useful exercise and further proof that you’re never to old to learn new tricks!