Dry: successful start to phase 2

This is just a quick update following yesterday’s post. It comprises of just a few images – the negative, positive and “final” version of one of the two plates I exposed on the canal. Both were successful but I’ve only used one for this update as they are very similar and this was my favourite compositionally of the two.

One thing I do need to keep in mind is that owing to the nature of the emulsion detail in skies is probably going to be a rare commodity. The composition that I rejected was in the vertical format with a large amount of sky which was simply a dark block on the glass.

I metered for the shadows in the black area at the bottom of the building and looking at this part of the plate I’ve got exactly the amount of shadow detail I was anticipating. This is good news as it confirms that my exposure calculations, which include spot-metering and a touch of applying my nascent experience, are working out well thus far.

What is very apparent, even in these scans, is the amount of detail in the plates. Of course, I was using a good quality 180mm lens, stopped down to f32 with everything rock solid on a tripod. Nevertheless, the detail, especially in the wall and vegetation in front of the building, is lovely.

For the “final” image I cropped to 16×9 to exclude some of the sky and also gave the image a sepia tone which seems to suit both the subject and the conditions quite nicely. Your mileage may vary of course.

Onwards and upwards (when I get some more plates of course)!

Dry: Seconds out … round two!

Back to the canal today with a couple of J Lane Speed plates (the last in the box) along with the Intrepid 5×4 and a bag full of optimism. I’m using the new ChromaGraphica double dry plate holder. When I used it for the first time last week there was a suspicion of a light leak but I suspected then that it was probably me loading the holder for the first time and in a hurry. So, I had a few dry runs this morning with one of the earlier “failed” plates before loading the two new plates in a changing bag. I realised that the dark slide needs an extra final push to fully seat it in place. This probably explains the slight light leak I experienced a couple of days ago. The slides are currently very tight and need a good push but I suspect they will get smoother with use.

Back to my “muse” location and unfinished business

I headed for Elland Wharf, scene of the previous disappointment but also a favourite location. I also regularly test cameras out here so it was, and is, a logical place to head for as I started phase 2 of the dry plate project. I’ve used the Intrepid a fair bit recently and have got much quicker at setting it up on location so it wasn’t long before I was taking spot readings and determining exposure. I will share the notes I made in a separate blog post – suitably tidied up of course!

The double plate holder is quite a bit thicker than my usual film holders and stretches the Intrepid to its limit. It also needs a little persuasion to sit properly but once it’s in place you know it’s going nowhere. I exposed two plates choosing two slightly different compositions rather than one composition and bracketing the exposures. I chose to do this on the basis that despite all the issues I’ve had, obtaining correct exposure hasn’t been one of them.

Back home, I prepared 500ml of HC110 (dilution B) and headed for the darkroom. Thirty minutes later I had two successful glass plates in the print washing tray. Both look well exposed, sharply in focus and not a light leak to be seen – fingers crossed.

They are now drying and tomorrow I will copy them and share the results in a new blog post and no doubt on Twitter too! The new holder also worked well and I’m keen to crack on with the project. I am however awaiting delivery of a new box of plates but it’s good to know that a corner has been turned and it’s full steam ahead.

Dry: An Update

If it’s been rather quiet on the dry plate front it’s not because I’ve not been busy. Indeed, I’ve used most of a box of the Speed plates in the last ten days or so. So, why the silence? A picture might help here.

Notice anything odd?

The example on the left of the three is something I’ve seen before as it happened on my first plate and I’d put it down to user error. However, chatting to Andy who owns the plate holders I was using, revealed he had a similar plate so unless we were both making exactly the same error, be it with loading or seating the holder, then the likely culprit was the holder. We were certainly not using the same camera and lens!

The issue with the other two is different to the first plate, suggesting perhaps that one holder was used for the first and the other for the second two examples? The shape of the light leak, whilst not exactly the same, is very similar too. There’s clearly an issue so some more thinking and testing was called for.

In the case of all three glass plates, used on two different days, each was exposed using exactly the same set up and at the same time as a sheet of 5×4 film. The sheets of film were all absolutely fine. Looking at the scans above shows that the exposures used for these plates were good too which is a small positive from this. I’ve plenty of experience with 5×4 and whilst it’s not impossible I think I can rule out loading errors. To be sure, I used one of the failed plates to load both holders in daylight and could find no way to mis-load them without it being very apparent.

I’ve even tested the plates from the current box themselves. Taking a fresh plate from the box in the darkroom, staying at least six feet from the safelight and putting it straight into the developer gives a perfectly clear plate. What we would expect. Later that morning I used a plate in an Ilford Obscura pinhole (no holder required) which also confirms the plates are probably fine. The other factor in favour of the plates not being the issue is that my first fail was with one of the plates that Andy gave me initially and not from those that I bought for this project.

As a final test I exposed a further plate with a newly-purchased double plate holder. It was a very bright, sunny day and the holder was positioned with the slide pointing upwards as is my norm for vertical compositions. There is the suspicion of an ingress of light, perhaps from where the slide goes, but nothing like the pattern on the earlier plates. I will remember to cover the plate holder in future just to be on the safe side, although that’s something for another day. Taken with everything else though this final test does seem to suggest that there is an issue with the holders I’ve been using.

Speaking to Andy last night he thinks he can see a split in one of the holders so we’ve both spoken to the manufacturer and explained our respective experiences. He is sending replacements to Andy and is going to test the original holders. I have to say the response from him has been first class and very refreshing.

So, a disappointing end to this phase of the project not to say an expensive one as I’ve used one and a half boxes of plates getting to this point. Undeterred though, my new double plate holder arrived last week and I am going to be ordering another box of plates today, I go into the next phase with some confidence.

Despite the issues I’ve demonstrated that I can accurately calculate exposure and I’ve had valuable hands-on experience in handling the plates. The developing methodology I’ve adopted is working well and I’m pleased with the results from the HC-110 too. So, loads of positives and I genuinely believe that despite the setbacks and disappointments I’ve learnt a lot so far. The next stage is to concentrate on compositions and locations that will utilise the glass plate aesthetic to its full.

That’s gonna be the tough part!

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

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.