On Digitising (Part 3 – my process)

In part 1 of this series I introduced my digitising set-up and in part 2 I then talked about how I hold the negatives flat and steady for copying. In this third and final instalment I want to cover the copying itself and finally the post production.

Let me start by saying that I keep it simple. No stitching, no fancy software, no wet-mounted negatives or any of the other interesting things that you may be aware of. So, keep that in mind. This is not a highly technical article but the real-life process of someone who recognises the need to digitise his film especially for sharing on social media but dislikes doing it and rarely prints digitally. My printing is done in the darkroom and only very occasionally do I purchase an inkjet print (I do not own an inkjet printer).

I guess that is the first point I would make for anyone contemplating getting into digitising their negatives. What are you going to use the files for? If it’s just for social media, websites or blogs etcetera then I believe that my method as described here will work very well. If however you want ultimate quality then what I am going to describe may not be your best approach. That said, I believe that the results from this form of digitising negative film can be far more than simply adequate! I will give an example at the end of the post.

Capturing the files

So, let’s start with the hardware that I use to capture the files. The copying set-up (left) was briefly discussed in Part 1. It comprises a Fuji X-T3 mirrorless digital camera, a 60mm f2.8 Nikkor Micro lens with adapter, a copy stand and various holders.

I’ve already mentioned that I work in a darkened room to avoid reflections but it is worth knowing that the 60mm lens I am using has a front element that is very deep-set in the lens body so I doubt any stray light is going to be striking the lens but nevertheless I am continuing to work in the dark.

I use a solid copy stand so everything is kept as stable as is possible and I also use a cable release so I do not need to touch the camera itself. I use an aperture of f8 or f11 and move the camera up and down the stand until I fill the frame from left to right with a single negative. I manually focus on the negative using the focus peaking feature of the camera to guide me. In practice I find that once I’ve set the focus for a roll of film then I do not need to touch it again for that roll, however I keep an eye on the LCD screen throughout to make sure the focus peaking lines are still glowing.

I manually set the shutter speed using the histogram to guide me. I will typically bracket one stop either side of the camera’s recommended shutter speed* but often find that I can create four exposures that all fit within the histogram without clipping. Incidentally, when considering clipping don’t forget that black parts of the holder or bare parts of the light pad will skew the camera’s recommended exposure. At some point I will do some experiments to see whether simply exposing for the highlights/shadows is all that is needed but for now I like having my options open without needing to rescan the negatives on another occasion. Hard drive space is cheaper than my time at present but one day I will sit down and work out which works best for me.

Me. Now, that’s an important word for You. Whatever you read, watch or listen to is only that person’s way of working. It’s what works for them and you are right to use it to inform your experiments but ultimately it’s what works for you that matters. Ooops, nearly slid the soapbox out from under my desk then! Back to business.

* Since preparing this post I have found a resource which suggests exposing at the camera’s metered exposure, or one stop over (exposing to the right). All of which seems to validate my approach – apart from making one exposure at -1 of course. I will adopt this going forward.

Converting the files

So, I have a memory card holding my newly copied files with a choice of exposures and also saved in both RAW and JPEG. This is an old habit from when I worked exclusively with Fujifilm digital cameras but is actually helpful given that I process the files on two different systems. Depending on where I am and/or what mood I am in I will typically convert my files using either the iPad or my desktop computer. Whilst all these negative images are destined to live on my computer hard drive I typically use the JPEGs on my iPad and the RAW files on the computer.

As a rule of thumb, and pending any proper experiments, this approach of effectively bracketing exposures currently works for me. I typically use the file with the most central histogram as it usually gives a flat, low-contrast image with which to work. Why make life complicated if you don’t need to?

SNAPSEED is my conversion software of choice on the iPad. It is simple to use, does everything I need and was free. I start by straightening the image and cropping away all the extraneous parts, leaving me with just the negative itself in whatever format I was using. I then apply a normal black and white adjustment to ensure I have no colour cast. I capture JPEGs as monochrome on the Fuji so this is probably a redundant step but it keeps the process consistent compared to my desktop conversions.

Rotate followed by Crop (highlighted)

I then Invert the image using a Curves adjustment (again as I would on the desktop). This gives the basic image from which to work and from here it’s a case of using the normal local and global adjustments to convert the image to taste.

ADOBE CAMERA RAW (ACR) and sometimes Photoshop (PS) are my weapons of choice when using a desktop computer. I use the RAW files, hence I always start in ACR and oft times that is enough. However, if I want to add borders or undertake anything more involved I will take the initial conversion into PS. I have tried to keep the desktop workflow very similar to that used on my iPad and on the whole this is what I do, however there’s no escaping the greater scope that PS offers when required. Whilst I try to avoid using the computer as much as I can I will sometimes take a few of my digitised negatives into Photoshop for a “play” – more on that perhaps in another post.

So, my basic workflow in ACR is as follows. Open and immediately crop and rotate as required. I then reduce Saturation to -100 and invert the Curve to give me the basic conversion. I then make any global adjustments in the Basic panel, typically adjusting contrast and overall brightness using Clarity, Dehaze, Exposure and Contrast. If that gives me what I want I will add a vignette if required and sharpen both from within ACR and save out my finished file.

ACR conversion – this hasn’t been into PS

Sometimes, perhaps if I want to add a Duotone or a border to the final image, I will take the file into PS for finishing off but I will still do all the basics in ACR. For my recent woodland series this was the approach I took; tidying up the crop and a basic conversion in ACR then into PS for the duotone and final tweaks before adding a large white border.

Conclusion

None of this is overly sophisticated and of course it only relates to black and white and not colour negatives. I do occasionally use colour and for what it’s worth use Lightroom and Negative Lab Pro for my conversions but that’s out of the scope of this post. In fact, I use it so rarely I wouldn’t be so bold as to write about how I use it!

My specific reasons for digitising negatives, to give me something to post to social media, informed all of my choices from the start to the finish of this process. Yours should too. I share my images with like-minded folk on Twitter and often use a film image for my picture-a-day challenge on Flickr. But that is usually the limit of my expectations for these files. If my reasons change then I will of course be re-evaluating the current process in the light of any revised requirements.

Finally, I did mention that I occasionally have a digital print made and recently I had a 24×12 inch metallic print made from a 35mm negative from the Horizon S3 Pro. The negative had been scanned using the method described here and was processed in ACR and PS again using the approach described here. I didn’t do much in Photoshop apart from add the large white border and rather than sharpen in ACR I did sharpen it in PS too. Framed, and on my wall, it looks fabulous.

Now framed and hung on my wall

I hope that these notes are of some interest/use to you the reader. I’m always happy to share my workflow and experiences and when I do eventually sit down to work out the optimal exposure for the digital copies I will be sure to post my thoughts here. Don’t hold your breath though as this is working at the moment – for me!

Holga Week 2021 – days 1 & 2

Welcome to my #HolgaWeek2021 Diary and specifically to days 1 & 2.

Holga Week 2021,  a week long celebration of the humble, oft-revered and also oft-maligned Holga camera. This year it runs from 1st – 7th October. I have two in my collection, both use 120 film; one is a traditional 6×6 format whilst the other is a 12×6 pinhole camera.  The Holga is one of those cameras than can truly aspire to cult status and once you get into the right mindset they are a truly liberating experience.

Holga 120N – August 2021

Less than two weeks ago I was photographing along the beach and waters edge at Hunstanton with a drone in the mornings and a Bronica SQ-A medium format camera in the afternoons. Both require a level of technical mastery to get the best from them.  In the case of the drone some skills are needed simply to get it back on the ground safely! Exposure settings for both are all down to the photographer and with the Bronica so is the focusing. So, why am I spending a week limited to only using two cameras which have no exposure controls, little or nothing in the way of focus controls and in the case of the pinhole no viewfinder? The only things the photographer can control are the composition (well, mostly) and the film to be used.

  • Because I can?
  • Because they (the cameras) are there?
  • Because they are great fun to use?
  • Because they are a complete antidote to my normal style of photography?
  • Because they produce unique images?
  • Because you can never be certain what will be on the roll?

Or perhaps – all of the above?  They both have one thing in common though – they are great fun!

Day One was literally a washout. Rain poured down from the sky in quantities that made even me want to be indoors. I am usually happy to venture out in the rain, especially with the prospect of interesting skies and a few sunny intervals. But stair rods? No thank you. I should really have scanned my films from last week, but of course I decided to spend the day writing a three part blog post on my scanning routines. It was at least a productive day and whilst the weather did brighten up for an hour in the afternoon I decided to restrict Day 1 Holga activity to choosing the films for Day 2.

Day Two started brighter but still wet and grey, albeit a steely-blue-greyness to the sky at 7am which was white blandness by 8am.  Not a day for including lots of sky then!  I was glad for the 400 speed film in the Holga 120N. I’d prevaricated sufficiently that the pinhole camera was still devoid of film.  I was booked in for my flu jab at the doctors at 8:30am, so popped the Holga in my shoulder bag and set off.  

Back home, I loaded my first film of #HolgaWeek2021 into the developing tank with the usual feeling of anticipation.  Which lasted until I hung the roll up to dry.  Whilst there is definitely something usable on the film, and an experiment I tried at the end of the roll has worked out OK, it’s not on the face of it the best start to the week.  However, I’m not sure if we are supposed to share work yet so no spoilers … something to check out though!

In the meantime playtime is over for today and it’s back to the domestic grindstone … looking forward to Day 3 already!

On digitising (Part 2 – holding still)

In Part 1 of this series I talked about my set-up and the gear I use for digitising negatives. In this second part I will describe my experiences using the two film holders that I briefly introduced in Part 1. How I set-up the Fuji X-T3 and my workflow once the negatives have been copied will go into an (originally unintended) Part 3 as this part got very long very quickly.

When I first saw the Pixl-Latr I immediately thought that it was a simple and very practical solution and looked far better than the Lomography Digitaliza masks I’d been using up to that point. Up until then I had only been copying negatives occasionally so it was something I put up with but with my film usage increasing I wanted something to make the process easier.

The premise is simple. Use the supplied gates to create a masked area into which the negative sits. Turn the frame over, place the negative into the opening you’ve created and pop the diffuser back on. Turn the whole assembly back over, place under the camera and off you go.

Except for me it wasn’t as straightforward. I found that every time I turned the frame over to put the diffuser at the bottom I had to hold it really tight to avoid it all spilling open and me having to start again. It is not practical to load film with the frame and diffuser the correct way up and even turning the diffuser over made no difference. For a while I went back to using the Digitaliza for 35mm and 6×6 120 film. With no alternatives for 5×4 however I found an uneasy peace with the Pixl-Latr for the limited amount of large format copying I carried out. (Stick with me – there’s a happy ending and I really like this mask).

That might have been how the story was left if it hadn’t been for Josh from Pixl-Latr who got in touch with purchasers to see how they were getting on via an after-market online survey. I shared my experiences happily mainly because I wanted to help this small company to continue to thrive. I was very surprised however when Josh got in touch to find out more and even more surprised when he offered to send me a replacement frame and diffuser as to him it sounded like I probably had a less-than-perfect kit. He was right, the new one arrived whilst I was working on this post and it is a big improvement. Top marks for customer service Josh!

A recent addition was the Pixl-Latr A4 Mask which has three primary functions:

– Masks extraneous light
– Helps prevent pixl-latr from slipping on the surface.
– Grips strips of roll film either side of pixl-latr

All of which it does and it has replaced my home-cut foam board mask. I’m not normally big on after-market accessories but this was one I was pleased to have bought. As an aside, the diffuser on its own is fabulous for copying glass plates, I simply place the mask over the diffuser to mask out unwanted light from the light pad and pop the glass plate on top.

Lockdown wasn’t kind to many people but one person who probably had a better time than most was Andrew Clifforth. To quote from his website: “The Essential Film Holder started as my ‘lockdown project’ and has now shipped nearly 3,000 units to film enthusiasts in over 29 countries around the globe.”

Pretty impressive figures and as one of those 3,000 or so enthusiasts I can attest that the holder is pretty impressive too. The Essential Film Holder (EFH) delivered everything that was claimed for it on the website and has considerably sped up the process for me. I have 120, 35mm and 35mm panoramic masks and using these I am able to copy entire rolls of film in one go. Set up once and then copy until the roll is finished.

If I was actually copying the negative I would have curtains drawn and room light off

The EFH is a self-contained unit with a built-in diffuser and a 120 mask forming the next-to-bottom layer of the unit. Above this can be placed masks for other formats including 35mm panoramic (XPan format) and standard 35mm frames. These are held in place by wing nuts and the design cleverly means the 120 masks can stay in place permanently. Once in place you thread one end of the full roll of negatives into the unit and then push/pull the strip through stopping as each new frame comes into view and making the exposure. I use my right hand to gently push the negatives through and my left hand to release the shutter using a cable release.

The one fiddly part is removing/replacing the guides and masks when changing format. I find the retaining nuts fiddly. Not a deal breaker by any means and you really do need to replace the wing nuts to be able to control the grip on the negatives. I have large hands and slightly arthritic fingers though so I cannot imagine it will be an issue for many!

When considering which of the many systems to use it makes sense to consider how often you will use it, what you will be copying and whether or not you use multiple formats. If I only copied negatives occasionally and used multiple formats then the Pixl-Latr wold be a no-brainer for me. If I only used the standard 35mm format then the EFH would be my choice regardless of how many rolls I digitised a month. That said, you do need to consider the cost per roll if you only use film occasionally. I will exceed two hundred rolls of 35mm and 120 combined this year so the cost/roll ratio is less relevant.

So, my current set up for holding the negatives uses both the Pixl-Latr and the EFH and to my mind plays to their various strengths. Whilst it can easily cover all my formats, for me the Pixl-Latr is perfect for my 5×4 sheets, for non-standard formats such as the 35mm panoramic negatives from my KMZ FT-2 and for larger 120 negatives such as the “stream of conscious” pinhole images I occasionally create on 120 film. It is also just right for my glass plates as I’ve already mentioned too. The EFH on the other hand I use primarily for quickly copying a roll of 35mm or 120 before cutting it for sleeving and filing and it is amazing how quickly I can work through a full roll. Perfect for someone who doesn’t enjoy this process!

This simple set up is a far cry from the days when I spent more time loading negatives into the Digitaliza frames than actually copying them. The EFH is used before the rolls are cut for sleeving and it handles the bulk of my copying needs quickly and efficiently at a reasonable price. The Pixl-Latr is very competitively priced and very versatile. I choose to only use part of its potential but know that if needed it has all my bases covered. In particular, it covers everything that my current EFH rig cannot as yet (I’m choosing words carefully as I know that EFH are working on further improvements).

So, there you have it. A lot of words which perhaps can be summarised in a sentence. I digitise all my film with the help of EFH and Pixl-Latr holders to hold the film in place. I hope this has been of interest. Part 3 (of what was intended as a two-part series) will cover the digitising and post production itself.


Disclaimer: My only connection with these two companies is as a very satisfied customer and these notes are based purely on my personal experience. The links below are provided as a service, I have not been asked to post them and I receive no reward or other incentive from their use.

LINKS (non-affiliate!)
Pixl-Latr
Essential Film Holder


On digitising (Part 1 – the gear)

I am in the fortunate position that following the end of home schooling there is a spare desk in the house so I’ve been able to set up a reasonably permanent digitising/scanning station. It isn’t immune from being dumped on by other people off-loading their junk onto the nearest clear(ish) space but on the whole it’s generally ready to go at a moments notice.

So, what do I have on the desk? The one indulgence is a proper copy stand. I did buy a cheap stand from a certain auction site but it almost toppled when I added the camera and, not for the first time, I decided it had been a false economy. A tripod would not have been practical given the lack of floor space around the desk and as I wanted to have an ever-ready desk-based system I came to the conclusion that a copy stand was the most practical option. After researching and then checking prices I purchased a Kaiser RS2XA copy stand which on checking this morning has gone up considerably in price since I bought mine. However, having a rock-steady means of holding my camera and lens with a good-sized baseboard has made home digitising a far more pleasant experience in the long run.

The camera I use is a Fujifilm X-T3 and this is paired via an adapter with a Nikkor Micro 60mm f2.8D lens. Both pieces of kit were already in the gear cupboard (my digital set-up is a Fuji mirrorless system and pre-Fuji I worked with full frame Nikon DSLRs). A cable release (just sneaking into frame bottom left) is permanently attached and held in place with a blob of blu-tac.

I have a generic A3 lightpad which I use for looking at negatives and a small Kaiser Slimlite Plano, which was a birthday gift and probably more than I actually need, that I use to illuminate the negatives when digitising. Also on the desk is a normal desk lamp. I work with the curtains drawn and room lights off so this gives me a spot of light when reloading film holders etc and is easily turned on/off without leaving the desk.

I haven’t done any testing to see whether it is strictly necessary but I like to exclude as much extraneous light as possible so have made some masks from old mounting boards into which the film holders can be sat. The usual small tools of the trade such as dust blower, pens, loupe etcetera sit at the top of the desk along with the 35mm film cutter (every 35mm photographer should have one IMHO). To the right are scissors and a small plastic box to hold trimmed negative ends prior to them making their way to the bin. A minor thing perhaps but it’s great not having bits of negative strewn across the desk!

Holding the negatives is the aspect that I’ve seen more words written about than perhaps any other aspect of digitising negatives apart perhaps from which software to use. My approach, as it is with all aspects of this, is to keep it simple. I have a couple of Lomography DigitaLIZA film scanning masks which for quite a while were all I had. Effective but fiddly and certainly not time-efficient when digitising a lot of film. So. when it first came out I invested in a Pixl-Latr film holder which came with a diffuser as part of the kit and several “gates” which can be used to mask-off the negatives. I will write more about using the Pixl-Latr in Part 2 but suffice to say it’s still in use despite adding a second system to my kit a few months ago.

The Effective Film Holder came to my notice during one of the Lockdowns and after a lot of reading and thought I purchased one as, based on my experience to that point, I felt it would complement the Pixl-Latr. It’s not going to spoil Part 2 by saying that my hunch was correct and that these two relatively inexpensive systems together meet all of my home digitising needs.

In Part 2 I will talk about my experiences using these two film holders. I had intended to also use part 2 to write about how I set-up the camera and my workflow once the negatives have been copied thus making this a two-part series. However, as I typed, part 2 quickly became longer than expected so these aspects will be covered in Part 3. Fingers crossed I don’t end up with a four-part series!

Changing the view

Horizon S3

Over the last eleven months or so I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for my swing-lens 35mm panoramas so it’s a bit of a surprise to note than in recent weeks I’ve moved to pinhole and large format in preference to the panoramas.

Until you think about it that is.

Zero Image 612b

I rarely move far from home these days so it is no surprise that I’ve temporarily run out of things that I want to photograph locally in the panoramic format. Once Winter arrives there will be different conditions and the chance of fog, rain, snow and ice to revitalise my panoramic wandering. Until then I’ve other formats to play with whilst still ploughing my local, urban furrow.

“What about Autumn!” I hear someone cry. Well, it’s no secret that I’m generally a black and white film worker but what will be less known is that once Autumn arrives I typically pick up the Fujifilm X-H1, a digital camera, and a 16mm lens for those colourful autumnal clichés. As I decided a few months back that I was no longer going to develop colour film myself there is also less incentive to load colour film. B&W film photography fits around this diversion.

Fuji X-H1

Incidentally, I’ve still used my panoramic cameras. I’ve been experimenting with gels as contrast control filters on the KMZ FT-2 for example. I also took the Horizon S3 Pro to Hunstanton recently, but my main focus (see what I did there?) here at home has been urban pinhole and woodlands in 5×4.

As an aside when I went to the Norfolk coast recently I took a bag of 120 film along with the ONDU 6×6 and the Bronica ETRS. For the 35mm Horizon I took three rolls of 200 speed colour film, yes you read that right, colour. I used two and these will hopefully make an appearance here on the blog shortly. Once I get them back from the lab; but more on that in a future post.

Fuji X100

So, whilst I get most enjoyment from my panoramic cameras, and wouldn’t dream of leaving Elland without one, I am pragmatic enough to recognise that mixing up the formats helps keep me fresh and interested. Especially in the current circumstances when our “normal” activities are anything but. Your mileage may vary of course but as a self-confessed photographic butterfly mixing up the formats can be just as effective at keeping my mojo alive these days as travel did in the past.

Chocks Away!

Just got back from a few days on the Norfolk coast and having spent most of yesterday developing the film from that trip I am now faced with the bit I like the least – the scanning! So, by way of putting it off for a bit longer I thought I’d post a few of the drone pictures I took last week.

These were all made on Tuesday morning. Drone regulations mean that this is the only practical time when I can fly the drone in this location. It is also one of the better times of the day light-wise usually. I’d love to fly the drone in a location such as this at dusk but there are usually too many people about to do so whilst staying legal.

I usually take advantage of being an early riser and go out every morning, rain or shine, but in the event this was my only flight this week. A catalogue of things meant I wasn’t able to manage the other three mornings – but I’m keeping those to myself!!

Into the Woods

Over the course of five days last week I made four visits to a small wooded area close to where I live. Carrying an Intrepid 5×4 camera in my backpack and a tripod in my hand it was my intention to use the dull, dismal and damp conditions for some atmospheric woodland images. To be fair on the fourth visit the sun did play cat and mouse with us a little but it was still quite challenging and every time I got something set up and metered the sun disappeared/reappeared just as I inserted the film holder into the back of the Intrepid and I had to repeat the metering dance again, only to revert to the original when the sun promptly did an about face.

My mission was twofold. Practice with the 5×4 was high on the agenda as most of my 5×4 work this year has been with various pinhole cameras. As I’ve already mentioned, I also wanted to test myself in less than ideal conditions to produce something atmospheric and engaging. Another consideration which quickly revealed itself under the tree canopy was focusing. I quickly recalled that the last time I’d tried using the 5×4 in a dimly lit woodland I had considerable difficulty focusing the 90mm lens with its f8 maximum aperture. I had previously removed the fresnel screen as I’d not been happy using it despite it adding some brightness. A few visits with more time to spend would of course help me hone my skills and also I hoped determine whether or not I’d made a mistake and I needed to restore the fresnel screen.

Over the course of four visits I exposed a selection of black and white films. Some Fomapan 100 and 400, a couple of sheets of Ilford HP5+, my last two sheets of Ilford Delta 100 and a dozen sheets of Ilford FP4+ kindly given to me by John Martin.

I thought however that I’d use this post to share my approach. John shared his thoughts on “the dance” of large format photography recently and it’s a performance that all large format photographers can probably relate to. I have found that having a set routine definitely helps avoid schoolboy errors but sometimes, especially with rapidly changing light, it can be a bit of a scramble to do everything in the correct order and complete it all before the light changes again. That’s where practice comes in so useful – muscle memory is only created through repetition.

With the tripod and camera set up and the composition chosen the next step for me is to focus, something I always do before worrying about exposure. Deciding where to put the main point of focus is the first decision and then deciding how much needs to be in focus follows quickly; both are aesthetic choices even if achieving the desired result is a very technical process. Choice of aperture comes in here too as it is closely allied to the focusing considerations. I’m not going to walk through the focusing process here, it’s something better suited to the video format I think, but it was one of the main skills that I was practicing last week. I found over the course of the eleven to twelve hours in total that I spent in the woods last week that I could focus in the dim light even at f8 but I needed to let my eyes become accustomed to the gloom under the dark cloth before attempting the final, critical focusing. I also needed to ensure I was looking at the ground glass screen straight-on and not from an elevated or indeed lowered position. It reinforced the concept of practice, practice and practice, so if anyone reading this is new to large format photography let me reiterate that there really is no substitute for putting in the time.

Focus achieved its time to consider exposure. Aperture was already determined as part of the focusing process. Film speed is determined by the film being used so in reality it’s time to determine the shutter speed. If you’re my regular reader you will already be aware of my general approach to metering from a blog post earlier in the year. I use a spot meter for determining exposures but recently I’ve also taken to using a metering app on my phone to record a snapshot of the scene to keep with my exposure notes. This also shows what exposure the app would suggest and a couple of times I found this useful as it was so different to what I was planning on using that I stopped and rechecked everything thus averting possible exposure errors (on one occasion the app had been set to 100 and the meter to 400 when I was using 400 speed film so my chosen exposure was correct but on the other occasion it was the spot meter that had the incorrect film speed and not the app).

On my first visit I wasn’t really sure that what I was capturing was meeting my original “moody” objective but back home with negatives developed and scanned I could finally get a look. The first couple reminded me of some images I’d taken at another part of the woods a few years back with a converted digital camera creating false-colour infrared images. Those had what I can only describe as an under-the-sea kind of feeling (sort of) due to the rendering of the false colours and so on a whim I applied “Vintage” filter 10 in Snapseed and immediately knew that I’d met my objective and that I’d also found the “look” for this series. It’s a split tone basically, something I’ve played with in my digital past as Duotones in Photoshop. Incidentally, whilst all of the images posted to my Twitter account last week were created with Snapseed I’ve since reprocessed all of them in Photoshop using a custom duo tone. I shall hopefully be using the PS versions in a ‘zine later in the year. The pictures here are a mixture of both.

Now whilst I’ve tried to fully embrace the hybrid digital/analogue approach it’s always been an uneasy alliance at best. Last week, probably for the very first time since I moved to a primarily film-based approach two years ago, I fully appreciated what the hybrid approach could do. For the first time I wasn’t just using the digitising as a way to share images in social media I was actively using the software, first Snapseed and then Photoshop, to realise my artistic vision. A small lightbulb moment but an important one. On the final two visits I was trying to think in terms of a split/duo toned final image.

I tend to use the darkroom mainly in the late Autumn and Winter months so my printing gets saved up for me to binge-print as it were. Whilst I’ve always restricted my software usage to the types of things I can do in the darkroom this is the first time that I’ve consciously gone beyond that to create a coherent series of images. Yes, I can tone in the darkroom but not with the finesse and fine control that I can in the software. I shall get some of this series digitally printed when funds permit and it will be interesting to compare them with what I create in the darkroom. Time will tell how fully I embrace the hybrid method; all of us who share film photography on social media have to accept the need to digitise our creations, whether that’s the negative or a darkroom print.

Toning? Take your pick!
Or keep it black & white!
Spot the walker!

One thing I have been pondering is how to replicate the subtle glow within the darkroom that the Snapseed filter has added to some of these. Or, indeed, if it is achievable. Quite by chance I found the answer. With no wifi in the holiday caravan I was pleased that I’d taken an old book to read. It was a series of film landscape images with notes on how they were taken and in many cases how the print was handled in the darkroom. Much of the text talked about bleaching and toning prints but towards the end of the book is a woodland landscape, and the photographer has used a diffuser under the enlarging lens for a third of the exposure. Not only that he actually specifies which filter, the Cokin A Diffuser 1, a filter which I have somewhere in the depths of one of my drawers back home. I have the beginnings of a printing plan!

So, how did I do against my original objectives? Well, I certainly got some focusing practice in low light and looking at the negatives I definitely got them right. I started by using f32/f45 just in case but by the fourth trip most of the images were exposed at f16 or f11, using front tilt to achieve the desired plane of focus. I did replace the fresnel screen at the weekend but haven’t yet been out again to see if it is an improvement.

Ilford Delta or FP4+?

In terms of the images themselves I’m very pleased with the series I’ve produced and they’ve also had a positive reaction on Twitter particularly the toned versions. The proof though will be in the printing!

If you’ve made it this far then I applaud your stamina! There were frustrations aplenty along the way, and no doubt more are ahead when I open the darkroom in a few weeks time. But, overall it has been a very successful project with hopefully a little more to be wrung out of it in the coming weeks.

Dry: Update

The primitive emulsions used to coat dry glass plates are as we’ve already seen a little different to what we film photographers are used to these days. For a start they are a lot slower; my current J Lane plates are 2 ASA (ISO for you youngsters). As we’ve also seen already in this project, they have extremely fine grain and a beautiful tonality, a lack of an anti-halation coating and a response that dips well into the ultraviolet. This latter quality can render skies white which is something to consider when composing, it can also cause problems with metering especially later in the year here in the UK when UV levels are generally lower. Arguably, but based on my research, the optimal time for using plates here in the UK is from late March to mid-September. I shall be researching that further over the next few months.

So, on the 16th of September I headed into a patch of local woodland armed with two plates and a few loaded film holders for my fourth visit that week. The scene I chose for the dry plates was as it happened the last one of the day and I first made two exposures, one each with Fomapan 100 and 400 film, before leaving everything set up to expose my two plates. I was using the Intrepid 5×4 with an 180mm lens set at f22 and decided to leave everything as it was. I metered the scene at 12 seconds which I would need to double to 24 seconds to take account of reciprocity. From experience I knew that these plates like plenty of light so I increased that to 30 seconds and also decided to expose the second plate for 60 seconds.

I was glad that I opted for extending the exposure time as both were under exposed when I developed them a couple of days later. There was however sufficient detail in both to render them usable and I digitised them in my usual fashion before converting the negative image to a positive. I think an exposure time of 120 seconds or even 240 might have been more appropriate.

So, a very pleasing image and some more knowledge and experience gained. A very good day at the office I’d say!

Whet your appetite Wednesday

I’ve been for a few walks in a small local wood over the last four days. Accompanied by an Intrepid 5×4 large format camera, a couple of lenses and a bagful of assorted black & white sheet film I have battled dry, damp, dull and dimly lit conditions in the pursuance of my art. Blog post to follow when I’ve finished developing and scanning.

A Wanderer in Wilsden

Walsden is a large village near to Todmorden on the western fringes of West Yorkshire. Apparently, it has few claims to fame, or few that Wikipedia bother to list, but it does have a sprawling garden centre which is why I was there last week – as chauffeur for my garden-centre-loving wife. The Rochdale Canal also runs through Walsden, hugging quite close to the main road. So, after first consuming my wages of a bacon sandwich and strong black tea, I set off down the road to find the canal whilst the wife went off for her retail therapy. I was light of heart despite knowing I’d be light of wallet later and despite the nagging headache I’d woken up with.

As ever I was travelling very light with just a small shoulder bag. A mini-tripod, a few rolls of film, a couple of filters and an umbrella were the only accompaniments to the Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro, both loaded with Ilford Delta 100, a film I rarely use but had bought on a whim earlier in the month.

I had no real agenda or project in mind but instead was keeping my mind and my eyes open as I wandered. A few hundred yards along the main road I stopped to look at the textures of an old wooden fence, crudely patched with a wire mesh in places. I heard a bus pulling up fifty yards behind me and almost simultaneously I saw two ladies running towards me gesticulating at the bus. The camera in my hand was the Horizon S3 Pro and I instinctively raised it but then paused, realising that the image would have more impact if I could give the viewer some context. I waited for them to pass and then photographed them running towards the distant bus. It was I knew a good start to my wander.

All images: Delta 100 developed in ID11
Cameras: Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro

Moving on down the road I wasn’t sure where I could access the canal but knew it would be on my right. Coming to a large junction I spotted my route and turned right to join the canal at a road bridge. There were five potential routes from this one spot and so I was glad I’d plumped for the right one.

Reaching the canal I turned left and continued walking out of the village. I knew I would have to turn around fairly soon but was keen to explore a little way in both directions.

I got talking to a chap walking his dog and enquired as to whether when I turned to head back I could come off the canal nearer to the garden centre. He explained I could but that it was easy to miss the point of exit as it wasn’t obviously a footpath. Armed with full instructions and a warning that if the garden centre appeared on my right then I’d missed the turning I turned and started walking back in towards Walsden.

I found the exit very easily with the instructions I had been given and I almost certainly wouldn’t have noticed the way out without the clear description from the chap I’d chatted to earlier..

By this time I had wandered for around an hour, using both rolls of Delta and enjoying the opportunity to wander out of doors. I made the last exposures with the S3 Pro just yards from the point at which I would rejoin the main road and decided not to load new rolls but to return to the car. My headache was no more, I had a few new nettle stings and the opportunity for a cool bottle of water was very appealing.

My favourite from the day

Back at the car I unloaded both cameras, checked Twitter on my phone and caught up with notifications and new posts from overnight and enjoyed a drink of cool water (always park in the shade folks). My wife is known for completely losing track of time at a garden centre, or any shop for that matter, but in the event she was only in there for three hours or so which by her standards is a quick visit. We celebrated this achievement by sitting in the car with an ice cream each before heading for home. Driving back, with some decent latent images (I hoped) on the films nestling in the pocket of my shoulder bag I reflected that it had been a grand day out.