A digital interlude

I’m away at the moment, a few days rest and relaxation for the Boss and myself and a house to themselves for my eldest and her family who all live with me. It’s a celebration, our Ruby Wedding Anniversary was a couple of weeks ago and this is an indulgent stay in a castle twelve miles from the north-east coast.

Because it’s a “time away together” I’ve kept the kit to a minimum. An ONDU pinhole, my Bronica SQ-A and a Fuji X-H1. The deal is I carry the pinhole and the Fuji with one lens when we are wandering together but I can have a few hours each afternoon with the Bronica for more leisurely photography. It’s a compromise that’s worked well in the past and this morning it’s cost me a mornings retail therapy … but the Boss is happy for me to spend it in a coffee shop whilst she wanders – hence this post!

We’ve been up this way before, indeed we’ve stayed at the castle before too but never in a State room. The coast at Seaham has a wonderful pebble beach, a free car park, a gentle yet interesting walk and a harbour with lighthouse at the other end. It’s good for a day out for us and caters for both our interests

Tomorrow is our last day and we are planning on spending a few more hours at Seaham before pointing the car towards home. Together with, hopefully, a couple of hours this afternoon I’m hoping to be able to expose a few rolls of 120 and have some lovely abstracts to print in the darkroom this winter. Certainly the “sketches” I made yesterday with the Fuji are full of potential in my eyes.

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

Butterflies

If you’ve come here for tips on photographing our four-winged, six-legged friends then let me save you some time – this isn’t the place for you. If however you enjoy the whitterings of someone old enough to know better then welcome!

Candid/street photography is a recurring theme as opportunities arise

A social butterfly is someone who is social or friendly with everyone, flitting from person to person, the way a butterfly might dance from flower to flower perhaps. In a similar way I am perhaps the photographic equivalent in that I have an interest in all aspects of the hobby and regularly flit between different genres or topics. At the moment it mainly pinholes and panoramas (catchy title for a future post there) although my regular reader will know that I have also embarked on a project involving dry glass plates during the last week.

Out of date Polaroid film was one passing interest

I think I decided early in life that I was going to be a jack-of-all-trades rather than a Master-of-One. It definitely sums up my working life well and also to the myriad of interests I’ve had over the years. I was a county-level basketball player in my teens with an England trial to my credit (I made it into the final round but not the final cut) and played every opportunity I could until the interest faded as my career took over. I collected stamps, researched family history, walked the fells, had a thriving home-made beer and wine making set-up for years. Keeping, breeding and showing cage and aviary birds took up a big chunk of my early teens, an interest that was rekindled when my own children were younger and resulted in five or six, self-built aviaries in the garden of our Bristol home. DIY, cycling, astronomy, home computers – all have consumed my spare time almost obsessively at one time or another. Photography of course, and at one time I would have a try at virtually anything the digital camera magazines could write about. Local history, social history, writing. Everything apart from cars basically. The drawers and cupboards in my home are testament to many and varied interests over the years but the one constant since the early/mid-1970s has been photography.

In the Pink – post-production textures from another passing interest

Over the last dozen years or so however, I have calmed down and photography has been my main and for the most part my only hobby. No more flitting then? Well no. The flitting has evolved and I now flit from subject to subject within the more limited confines of a single hobby. Currently I am concentrating mainly on pinhole photography and the lens-based large format and medium format cameras that I own are sulking in the cupboard. The Horizon panoramic cameras however have been a constant in my bag since last October and it’s probably no exaggeration to say I’ve exposed at least one roll of film per week in either the Kompakt or the S3 since then.

As I sit here my shoulder bag is at my feet. It contains an ONDU 6×6 pinhole, the Horizon S3 and the Fuji X100T digital camera that goes almost everywhere with me. The larger Fuji digicams are upstairs, one is used almost exclusively for photographing negatives (it’s my most used digicam by a country mile). The two Bronica cameras are sulking in their respective bags along with their lenses and various accompanying accessories. There are also an embarrassingly large number of other cameras kicking around unused now for months and in some cases over a year.

Making the best of staying indoors

I have made some efforts to give life to my collection, all of which I have used by the way, just not recently in most cases. My Mamiya C3 Professional TLR is on loan as is the Mamiya RB67 and of course one of my 5×4 pinhole cameras is currently on a “world” tour. I keep promising myself that I will either use or move on cameras but rarely get that far although I did pass a spare Holga to a fellow photographer recently so I have made some effort!

But, am I alone as a photographic butterfly? I suspect not. The hobby has so many options that it’s hard to be anything but. Only the most single-minded and focused individual dedicates themselves to a single aspect of the hobby. It’s a hobby that caters to a whole spectrum of interests. For the digital photographer with an interest in computers there’s endless opportunities for combining the two interests. Like making things? Handy with tools? Photography has you covered! Interested in historical processes or chemistry perhaps? Say no more. Photography has an avenue you can follow to your hearts content. The list goes on.

Astrophotography? Nikon D750

So, I will remain a photographic butterfly, probably until I shuffle off this mortal coil, and I am sure that there are many subjects I’ve yet to experience. One thing is for sure though and that is that the wide and varied range of skills and knowledge this butterfly has acquired over the years is all of great use as these interests develop (no pun intended). This photographic butterfly has been accumulating a decent spread of transferable skills along the way!

Photographing the grandchildren will never grow stale – we are up to number ten at the moment

Dry Comparisons

I have now copied the glass plate from yesterday and also developed and copied the 5×4 film that I exposed at the same time to act as both a comparison but also a check that my process at the “taking” stage was correct. With the exception of shutter speed everything was the same – same camera, lens, aperture, composition. Everything locked down on a tripod so all I had to do was put the two holders into the back, set the shutter speed and press the cable release. The film was Fomapan 400 simply because that was what I had loaded and the glass plate was a J Lane 2 ASA plate.

Same scene, same camera and lens.

On the left Fomapan 400 5×4 film with a modern emulsion whilst on the right a 5×4 glass plate with a gelatin based emulsion created to an 1881 formula. The “vintage” emulsion is UV/blue sensitive whereas the Fomapan is panchromatic – you can see differences in the lupin flowers which are blue/purple and particularly in the enamel sign reflected in the mirror with its red tomatoes. Note also the bright orange flowers visible in the lower left portion of the mirror – the older emulsion renders these very dark whereas they shine in the panchromatic film.

More on what I’ve learnt so far in a future post but meanwhile here’s the dry plate in its solo glory.

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

Dry success

Yes, you read that right. We have a successful dry glass plate washing as I type! I will write more once I’ve scanned the plate and been able to look at it properly but wanted to shout out loud!

Four jugs – one dish

Impatient to check my logic after the failure of my first attempt I decided to liberate a ceramic baking dish from the kitchen and put into service the measuring jugs from my now defunct C41 kit. Add developer, place plate in carefully, 9 minutes, remove plate, tip developer back into jug, pour stop bath into dish, replace glass plate … finally ending in a dish of fresh water.

Excuse all the extraneous reflections – couldn’t wait for it to come out of the wash!

More in a few days when I’ve had time to scan the plate and cogitate/reflect on today’s adventures.

Dry beginnings

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.

Initial light reading of the subject

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.

Houston we have a problem

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.