Dry: impatience

Ever since my first, only partially successful, foray into the world of dry glass plates I’ve itched to put into practice my thoughts on solving the practical issues I identified. It’s been at least a day for goodness sake! What was holding me back? I am awaiting delivery of the smaller trays and the bottle of HD-110 developer. Due Monday, although I’m away until Thursday next week and will be childminding that day so it’s going to be Friday at the earliest before I can get back in dry glass plate action.

This Friday I made up a fresh 5 litre batch of my usual ID11 film developer in order to develop that days roll of 35mm panoramic goodness. As I agitated the tank back and forth my mind was busy thinking whatever it thinks when my hands are absorbed in a task which no longer needs the full attention of my aged system. I rarely know what it’s coming up with until a fully formed thought pops into my consciousness.

Simultaneously I was putting away crockery and the like (I can develop film on autopilot) so I was fully occupied and not paying any attention to what my mind was doing. Until it popped!

The small ceramic baking dish in my hand clearly needed liberating from the confines and heat of the kitchen and was being called by the cool, darkness of the darkroom. Where did that come from? Once it had arrived however it wasn’t going anywhere (apart from upstairs) and thus after I’d hung the 35mm film to dry I was stood in the darkroom working out how I could develop a dry plate with one ceramic dish that was AWOL from the kitchen. It was a simple solution really.

Excuse the well-stained towel!

Four jugs, ready to hold developer, stop, fixer and clean water respectively were arranged in order along the bench. The empty dish would first be filled with developer to the required depth to fully immerse the glass plate. Once it’s time was up I would remove the plate with my left hand and pour the developer back into the jug with my right. The dish would then be moved along the bench, the stop would be added and the plate returned to the dish for the required time. Repeat until plate sat in the clean water. It takes longer to type/read than actually do in practice.

That didn’t solve the lack of HC-110 though. But I could spare some of the new batch of ID11. But of course I hadn’t any plates awaiting development. I did have two loaded though into the holders Andy had loaned me.

You’re ahead of me of course. Ten minutes later I was lugging a tripod, 5×4 Intrepid camera, a handful of loaded film and plate holders together with cable release, dark cloth, lens etcetera into the back yard. Earlier in the day I’d hung a mirror on the garden wall above some flowers. That, together with the reflection of a strategically opened shed door might make a suitable subject.

Don’t get too used to colour!

I decided that along with exposing two dry glass plates I would also expose a couple of sheets of 5×4 film using the same set-up. This would be my way of determining if any failures were down to the way I had set up the camera or whatever. The only variable would be the shutter speed – everything else would be locked in and locked down.

I decided to use the lens at its smallest aperture of f45 and after metering and evaluating the scene I chose 1/8th second for the first sheet of Fomapan 400 (this film stock was chosen simply because it was the only loaded film holder). A second exposure at 1/4 of a second was also captured for insurance purposes although it turned out that my initial choice was the correct one.

With the two sheets of film exposed it was time to load the first of the dry plate holders into the camera. Extra care with putting the holder into the back of the camera revealed what had gone awry with my first plate – on the plate holder I was using there is a small ridge across the full width of the holder and this formed a natural stop as the holder was pushed in. Inspection revealed however that it needed to go a touch further for the holder to be properly seated. I’d (hopefully) corrected the first issue that I had encountered on my maiden outing.

Time to calculate the required exposure time. I was staying at f45 as I’ve already noted and these plates have a nominal 2ASA rating. It was middle of the day and consulting the graph of UV sensitivity I calculated that the sensitivity would be between ASA 2 or 3. The meter suggested 5 seconds and as reciprocity doesn’t kick in until 45 seconds that should logically have been my chosen shutter speed. Except. I had a hunch that the scene might need a touch more so I went for 10 seconds. No logic, just put it down to experience perhaps? The second holder was soon in place and I was deciding whether to try the original exposure calculations of 5 seconds or to increase the exposure by a stop and go for 20 seconds.

What would you do?

I went for 30 seconds. Yes, no rhyme, no reason, just instinct. Spoiler alert: both gave good negatives but 30 seconds gave a lot more detail in the reflection of the green shed in the mirror.

Mission Accomplished

The developing went exactly according to plan and it was with a feeling of immense relief that I later took two glass plates out of the wash and placed them onto a drying rack. I’ve compared the film and glass plate images in Dry Comparisons so won’t repeat that here.

So, I successfully applied all the lessons from my first attempt and ended up with two very nice negatives. What is interesting is that despite the differences in the exposure times the garden plants are very similarly toned in both plates, the main difference is to be found in the reflection of the green-painted wooden shed which has really benefited from the extra exposure. It’s clear that experience is going to be a key ingredient in determining the correct exposure with these plates. Good metering technique will get me well on the path to the correct exposure, years of using film will help further but I suspect that experience with the dry plates will also be an important factor.

J Lane Glass Plate (2ASA), Intrepid 5×4 camera, 180mm lens, 30 seconds at f45

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