Wednesday 30th June and the final pieces I needed to start my dry plate experiment arrived so, just after lunch, I headed to my back yard for my first attempt, clutching my Harman Titan pinhole camera rather than the Obscura I’d intended using. I still plan on using the Obscura but with the Titan newly arrived and also film holders on loan from Andy I wanted to give those a try.
My head full of the advice I’d gleaned from the pictographica website, messages from fellow photographers on Twitter and various other sources I set about taking the light reading.
I started by metering the scene with an app on my phone. This wouldn’t be my go-to method for any photography other than pinhole. Experience has shown that for pinhole work, with all its foibles, the phone app is just as good as any other method. I was using a J Lane speed plate so I metered at f22, ISO 25. This then needs scaling to f206 and for this I use a conversion table that I’ve printed out, photographed and then saved to the Favourites folder on my phone. This is actually for an aperture of f216 but is close enough for my needs. My 1/20th second, see above, thus became 6.5seconds. Reciprocity then needs to be accounted for and over 4 seconds with these plates requires a fifty percent increase, so in this case 10 seconds which I “rounded” to 15 seconds for good measure. You can see why pinhole photographers have a plethora of camera supports in their bag.
It was then time for the darkroom to tray develop the glass plate, a technique that surprisingly I’ve never tried always preferring tank development. I rarely venture into the darkroom during the warmer months and was very quickly reminded as to why this is so. Even in shorts and tee-shirt it was soon very warm with the room blacked out and the door firmly shut.
The recommended developer for these plates is HC-110 but having none I used the ID11 stock that I had ready for use. I was using my usual darkroom trays as the simplest way to develop these plates is using open trays. I couldn’t find a suggested time for ID11 but there was a time of 9 minutes for D76 and given the similarities between the two developers this is what I opted for. Develop, stop, fix and wash. Straight forward and so it was out of the dark and back into the light.
This was the first intimation that something hadn’t gone to plan. I know the camera is OK as I’ve since tested it with sheet film so the options were either a dodgy plate or user error. I immediately tended towards the latter as being the culprit and inspecting the plate later I came to the conclusion that I probably did not have enough developer in the tray. I’d used up what was in the bottle and whilst this would have been sufficient for developing paper I suspect that it was not deep enough to fully submerge and keep submerged a plate of glass 1.3mm thick. I knew that there would be a learning curve with these and here was the first lesson. I as also using a black tray and so couldn’t see what was happening very well either.
But what were the positives from this? The negative image that is visible is properly exposed which hopefully suggests that my experience with film and pinhole cameras will stand me in good stead as the project progresses. I shan’t be using pinhole cameras exclusively either with glass plates as I have ordered my own dry plate holder so I can use the Intrepid too.
Whilst I had been concerned about dish development, apart from the warmth of the room this proved to be a straightforward process although as we’ve seen I probably do need to adjust my methodology. Finally, I now have a glass plate I can use for practicing loading both the Obscura and dry plate holders and also for “dry” runs with the trays so that’s a positive too.
So, two immediate next steps. I’ve ordered a set of 5”x7” trays which will both reduce the amount of chemicals I need and also stop the plate clanking around in a tray designed for 12” prints. I’ve also ordered a bottle of HC-110, Jason Lane’s preferred developer, for use with the dry plates. I make ID11 in five litre batches for day to day use and yesterday only had around 300ml available. Not wanting to spend the time making up a new batch of developer and cooling it down for use I simply went with what I had – which probably wasn’t enough in hindsight. Using HD-110 as a one-shot developer at dilution B will hopefully be more convenient without sacrificing the consistency I am looking for.
Whilst I may expose a second sheet over the next day or so I won’t be able to develop it until the smaller trays and HC-110 arrive; no hardship as I am hoping this little project will keep me occupied for a few months yet. From late September onwards UV levels will start to drop considerably here in the UK from what I’ve read, if this is true I want to have nailed my technique for exposing and developing before the more challenging winter light.