(Almost) Instant Photography

I’ve been playing with Polaroid and Instax instant film this past month as well as a little thermal paper instant photography. So instant results has been the order of the day.

But what about my more usual silver-based photography? That has not been neglected all though to be fair it’s taken a bit of a back seat – until this weekend. Doing some routine tidying in the cellar I came upon a box of 5×4 Harman Direct Positive Paper (DPP) that’s been skulking around for some time now. Coincidentally my 5×4 pinhole returned from its UK tour this week too so that was still sat on the coffee table. Acting on an impulse I took the box upstairs and loaded a couple of film holders with four sheets of the paper.

Although I’ve never used it before, I was at that moment drawn to its potential to produce prints without a darkroom. DPP is a fibre-based, traditional silver gelatin black & white photo paper. It produces direct positive prints without a film negative, making it perfect, so Ilford claim, for pinhole photography. The image is reversed left to right but otherwise it’s a standard print. The specs go on to say:

  • Positive paper – no need for a negative
  • Coated on 255gsm fibre base
  • Fixed grade, high contrast paper
  • Glossy surface
  • Slow ISO speed (around ISO 1-3)

I also read (yes, I read the instructions – in full) that it is best developed within a couple of hours of exposure to avoid the latent image fading so that was ideal I thought for a potter in the back yard. Could I produce some traditional silver gelatin prints “instantly”?

The first challenge is exposure, after some research I was still unsure on the optimal ISO and not wanting to mess with test exposures I made an executive decision. I would expose at ISO 2, and push/pull development as required. The paper uses normal print developer so I’d be using Ilford PQ Universal and as a starting point for tank development a time of two minutes. I’d tweak development times as required, staying within the recommended one to three minutes, to get the desired result. If this failed I would adjust the ISO and try again.

In the event 2+2 was a good choice as I had four decent prints at the finish, and when I repeated the exercise the following morning I also had a further four successful prints. But that is getting ahead of myself. The first challenge was determining the appropriate exposure. Luckily my Weston Master V will measure down to 0.1 ISO so my chosen value of two was no problem. I then simply extrapolated my f16 Weston Master reading using my usual pinhole conversion charts to arrive at the required exposure time. Unsurprisingly, we were talking minutes – ranging from six to twelve minutes on these first eight prints. No mention was made in the literature of reciprocity so I ignored it.

Ready for my close-up

I processed the exposed paper in a Stearman 5×4 tank using Ilford PQ Universal developer for two minutes. Rather than my usual agitation routine for sheet film I replicated as near as I could what I would do in the darkroom. Not being able to see the developing print however, I decided to standardise the routine. Thus fifteen inversions initially followed by two inversions every fifteen seconds thereafter. I stopped and fixed as normal before washing the prints and hanging them to dry still in the film frames.

First print – hanging in the Stearman frame
Froggy – yes, I flipped it the right way around!

So, there you have it. My first foray into the world of direct positive paper and it was I think a success. I will give it a go in my Intrepid 5×4 at some point in addition to my pinhole cameras. I don’t think it will become an everyday part of my practice, but, like dry glass plates it will definitely feature in my repertoire from time to time.

This pigeon has some flare!

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