Embracing the Bulb

I wrote recently about my unintended foray into the world of using a Holga handheld in bulb mode. I was initially annoyed with myself but I digitised the negatives regardless and copied the files to my iPad and a few evenings later settled down to have a play using the Snapseed app.

Now, none of them are likely to make my 2021 Top Ten Images, and many are just bleugh, but some I quite like! So in the spirit of sharing and perhaps also a spot of public flagellation, here’s a selection!

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your honest (but polite) thoughts on these images – drop me a note below.

My Holga Week 2021 Diary – Day 6 epilogue

I have owned a Holga or five over the years but until this last week had only ever used them occasionally and rarely more than once in a single week. Nevertheless I’ve used them often enough to know how to handle them (bear with me, there’s a reason for saying this). I currently own two, the 120N and the WPC, and whilst I loaded both at the start of the week I only ended up using the 120N in the end. I’m not short on practice with it therefore.

I’m currently looking at the three rolls from Day 6 and have noticed something odd about the third roll. The first six frames are fine but the second six are all very over-exposed.

I’d spotted it when hanging them to dry but had assumed it was just the “Joy of Holga”. Until now.

On the light box I can see that they are all delightfully blurry!

Curious!

The roll from Day 7 is still in the Holga, awaiting my release from daily chores when I can develop it (which is looking like Saturday now). I pick up the Holga, turn it over, and … you’re ahead of me I suspect!

Somehow after frame six of roll six I managed to knock the switch on the bottom of the Holga from N to B. I’d used it in bulb mode for those six frames. It also means I’ve used it in bulb mode for all twelve of today’s rural images!!! I don’t normally indulge in multiple exclamation marks but think this is worthy of them.

Day 6: Looks like I’ve spent too long in The Albert!

So, despite being used to the Holga, despite understanding it’s unique quirks, despite knowing to check the N/B switch regularly, the first time I’ve forgotten to check is also the first time I actually managed to knock the switch.

But, this is Holga photography. We know what we are signing up for before we start and we embrace the quirky results. Sometimes we even need to embrace unforeseen “quirks” too!

I at least know that Day 7’s roll has been over-exposed I guess so I can reduce development time to compensate in terms of exposure. Unfortunately it won’t sharpen the images – my only rural images at that!

My Holga Week Diary 2021 – Day 7

I hadn’t intended going out today so for me the final day of Holga Week was going to be getting ready to process the scanned images. In passing, it seems odd that my week is finishing on a Thursday but I got over it pretty quickly.

I wanted to finish the scanning from earlier in the week and develop the three rolls from yesterday. Not necessarily in that order. School run complete, a leisurely breakfast consumed and I was ready to develop the films. I find developing films a relaxing process and not the chore that some seem to find it. I’ve use Perceptol as stock for this week’s films, mixed fresh on Day One, so today would be films 4, 5 and 6 and the end of this litre of developer as I typically only put half a dozen rolls through each batch. It all tied up nicely.

Until. Looking at the accumulated negatives once I’d finished the development of these final three rolls, I realised how exclusively urban they were. Not a surprise really as it’s been my go-to genre for a while now. I hesitated. Was it such a bad thing? After all it’s what I do. Then the little imp on the shoulder chipped in. “But there’s a fresh roll loaded in the Holga … would be a shame not to add another roll. Make a tidy 7 rolls, one for each of the days in Holga Week”. A quick trip down to a local nature trail would give me the chance of a few rural images too I thought, rather unhelpfully aiding the imp.

Here’s one from this walk that I did earlier – Fuji X-H1
September 2021

The imp won. And so it was that I found myself enjoying some early afternoon sunshine and a short stroll. I took just the Holga and that one roll of film for my final trip out for Holga Week 2021.

I’m not sure why, perhaps it appeals to the completer-finisher in me, but an average of a film a day seems about right. I managed to get out on five of the seven days too which was more than I’d anticipated. In terms of effort then I’d class Holga Week 2021 a success.

Just one roll to develop and I’m ready to start on the shortlist for my three submissions. Fingers crossed I can get that done on Friday or at the very latest Saturday.

I shall be back soon to share some images I hope!

My Holga Week Diary 2021 – Day 6

Day Six. Wednesday 6th October, designated by Senior Management as the start of Christmas shopping for 2021.

Holga Week requires verification that I have the Holgas

But, I’m not despondent as over the 45 or so years we’ve been together we’ve slowly evolved an understanding about marathon shopping sprees. I don’t do them. What I do though is drive to the designated shopping centre or wherever, park up and then we go for breakfast. Suitably fed we then part for the duration; the wife goes shopping and I take a walk, with a camera. Usually my Fuji X100T or the Nikon L35AF with its ever-present YG filter. But this is Holga week so it’s the Holga 120N and Ilford HP5+ this time.

Today it is Huddersfield town centre and the sky is blue. A novelty as invariably it’s raining and I get a good soaking. However, as I’m just as likely to be stood in dark alleyways as out in the autumnal sunshine I opt to rate the film at 400. That is to say that I will develop it as if it was exposed consistently at 400 ISO. Not that consistent is a word usually found in the same sentence as Holga! It’s one of the camera’s charms and one of the reasons I always enjoy playing with it, even if it isn’t something that I use every week.

I mentioned in an earlier diary entry that I could pull/push this film if required and whilst each of the two lighting situations I’m likely to encounter today would normally have me rate the film at 250 or 800 it is unlikely that any of the rolls I use to day will be exclusively exposed in one type of light. This will add to the excitement of the morning I hope.

11.20am. I’ve spent the last hour or so zig-zagging my way through the town centre, down alleys, up brightly lit streets and ambled through a town centre park. It’s busy, there’s a university in the town centre, but nowhere near as busy as I remember it from 2019. Two completed rolls are nestled in the pocket of my shoulder bag and a part-used roll sits in the Holga awaiting the next opportunity. It’s time for a strong black tea though and an opportunity to update this diary. In pre-pandemic days I’d visit Huddersfield every few weeks but we’ve not been here for well over a year now. I’m pleased to find my favourite coffee shop still doing business and even happier to find my “usual” table upstairs is free.

This is the first time I’ve attempted a daily diary and it’s rather strange talking about going out and using the Holga but not including examples of the resulting images. I’ve not noticed anyone on Twitter, my main social media outlet, sharing images as yet so I guess it’s not the “done” thing. I’m still developing within 24 hours though, usually within a few hours, so I at least am able to see the fruits of my labours.

But enough of that I’ve a roll of film to finish and potentially a fourth and final roll awaiting its moment in the sunshine. My weekly tally from the first five days has doubled in just over an hour this morning. I’ve a good feeling about these rolls.

Catch you tomorrow for the final day!

My Holga Week 2021 Diary – day 5

Day Five is/was a Tuesday. That’s Louie-Day in my week, the day when we look after the 22 months old grandson. It’s a day I never expect to make photographs, apart from phone snaps, as what with getting two live-in grandsons to school and looking after Louie my day is pretty full-on. But after yesterday’s dismal failure to expose any film for Holga Week I hatched a cunning plan.

I left for the walk to the school at my usual time but instead of rushing back I dawdled via the back streets with the Holga which had somehow managed to find its way into my coat pocket. On my return, Louie was stood at the back door with his Grandma waiting for Grandad to sort his breakfast. I thought he may have been totally oblivious to the fact I was ten minutes late getting back but clearly his stomach had noted my absence! Nevertheless, I had managed to expose my third roll for Holga Week and even if there were no keepers I’d at least used the Holga which is part of the aims of the event.

Which got me thinking. Which was most important to me – using the camera or having a roll full of keepers? I think it’s the former; the actual act of using the camera gives me a lot of pleasure. Keepers are a bonus almost, the icing on the cake as it were. Peer appreciation is perhaps the cherry on top – but perhaps I’m spreading the analogy rather thinly now. I may only have spent ten minutes making my pictures but then the Holga encourages that sort of approach for me – don’t think too much, let your shutter finger be guided by the camera almost.

10:47am, thankfully Louie still has a mid-morning nap which means I get time to do household chores, and today to sneak in the developing of my sneaky roll of HP5+. So, whilst completing the laundry and tidying up generally I also developed the film which, with 12 nice-looking negatives is currently hanging to dry in the bathroom. No click-panoramas today. Just eleven “straight” exposures and one (deliberate) double exposure. The negatives looks good and I’ve a positive feeling about roll number three.

Day six falls on a designated Christmas shopping day (don’t ask) so I will be chauffeur as always whilst the wife starts the annual retail binge. Fortunately she know I dislike shopping immensely so I will at least get to wander Huddersfield town centre with the Holga. Well, that’s the plan at least. Check back tomorrow to see how the day unfolded!

Holga Week 2021 – days 3 & 4

Day Three was a Sunday and despite the weather it arrived as it was bound to. By 7am I had poured the day’s first mug of strong black tea and reassessed the roll from Day 2 which I digitised yesterday evening. Definitely not as bad as I’d originally thought and in fact there are two keepers, one of which, now that I’ve processed it, I am very pleased with. Not something that happens that often! So, that’s definitely a good start to the day.

The Holga WPC hasn’t yet seen any #HolgaWeek2021 action – but is sat patiently in my bag

Last night I got my last brick of Ilford HP5+ out of the fridge. The light and the weather are definitely favouring higher ISOs and I know how much I can abuse (push or pull) HP5+ if required. I used my last roll of Fomapan 400 yesterday and had planned on using some Rollei 200 but seeing yesterday’s negatives I suspect that I will definitely need at least 400 for Holga Week. But the Rollei stays in my bag just in case.

Today my attendance was required at an under-six rugby match, in the role of doting grandparent. Sadly, old men with cameras aren’t the done thing around lots of youngsters these days and so I got there early and made my images before the kids arrived. As I wound the film on after frame 12 I realised the flaw in my plan; I then had a full hour to wait until people arrived and the match could get underway! Again it was cold, windy and wet and so I was frozen by the time the youngsters and their parents arrived. So, it was lucky that the rugby club was well organised and I could get a coffee and a bacon butty … and later a spam butty.

We may be two days in, and I may only have exposed two rolls but I’m enjoying Holga Week so far!

Holga WPC – July 2021

Day Four. It seems to me that Holga Week is destined to be chock full of domestic chores. Turns out that the annual central heating service is scheduled for today. Estimated time is between 7am and 6pm. An eleven hour window! At least yesterday’s roll, which I developed last night, is looking promising.

I say promising, I have to be honest, a largely successful roll, one frame skipped because I missed the number. Thinking back I could’ve stopped, done a “click” exposure and continued. 20/20 hindsight is fabulous. Again, there are two images that I think standout from the others. By my reckoning I now have two contenders for my three HolgaWeek entries, one from each of these first two rolls. It would be nice to reach the end of the week with a small shortlist of say seven or eight!

8:02am, I am busy getting the grandsons ready for school when the mobile rings. We are first on the list and the engineer will be with us in ten minutes! It looks like Day 4 will see some Holga-action after all.

Except … “as we’ve got the day free after all … can you run me into town please for some shopping …”. I look up from loading the Holgas but the look on Senior Management’s face brooks no argument. When I eventually get back there’s a message awaiting me … son-in-law unwell can Grandad pick the boys up from school, feed them and look after them until Daughter gets in at 6pm. By which time it will be dark.

Here endeth Day Four. At 1.07pm. 🤔

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!

My semi-stand week: FT12

Well, somewhat belatedly, the final part of my semi-stand series has finally made it into the ether. The last, but not least, of the films that I am going to talk about for my semi-stand week series is FT12. It was the first roll of film I used during the week and because I’m a contrarian I’ve left it to the end of the series. This was a completely new-to-me emulsion that I bought on a whim from the good folk at Nik & Trick.

So, I spotted the film on the website of Nik and Trick in Folkestone. The blurb states that “Replacing Eastman Kodak’s fanatically loved SO-331 … we think that this lush 50asa film – that was not originally intended for photographic purposes – is better!!” Two exclamation marks, how could I resist. Especially as they went on to claim “… incredibly high contrast negs with a good range of mid-tone detail and amazing sharpness with near zero grain…”. They recommended rating the film at 50 ISO and stand developing in Rodinal for forty five minutes. The semi-stand week was born.

Admittedly I chose a fairly dull day when there was little or no interest in the sky but even I was surprised by how contrasty the negatives were. They certainly delivered exactly what the folk at N&T promised!

The conditions were probably not ideal for such a simplistic camera as the Horizon S3, with limited control over exposure and no local exposure options such as graduated filters. My usual urban compositions which typically look in two directions at once, as in the image above which looks down the main road to the right and the cobbled back lane to the left, just weren’t working when I got the negatives on the light pad. I was able to crop (see below) but whilst that helped with tonal balance it spoilt the composition to my eyes.

To summarise, FT12 is a slow (50 ISO) film – that was not originally intended for photographic purposes! I believe it is intended for sound recording. Based on this one roll, it certainly produces incredibly high contrast negatives with a good range of mid-tone detail and amazing sharpness. To be fair this is exactly as promised! Whether or not it’s the film for you though is a matter of personal preference. It has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone for sure.

So, there we have it, a week of semi-stand development in Rodinal and a week in which I found a new respect for this venerable old developer. Would I do it again? Indubitably! Do I keep Rodinal on my shelf at all times? Absolutely!

Sunday Pinhole

Even after more than nine years of retirement I still cannot lie-in bed once I wake.  Nor does my body seem to want to change the habits of a working lifetime and whilst I’m not crawling out of bed before 5:30am these days I rarely sleep beyond 6:30am.  Today was no exception and so at 7am I was out of the house with a 5×4 camera and a few sheets of film in my shoulder bag.

Sheet 1: I could have got a lot closer to the gates

The detectives amongst you will have already worked out from the title that it was a pinhole camera, a Zero Image 5×4 to be precise.  The plan was to visit four locations around town that I have visited recently and recreate the images using the pinhole – and one sheet only, no bracketing and one composition only.  I often impose restrictions on myself to make things more challenging and keep me on my toes.  With the cost of 5×4 it is also a sensible approach.  Being a Sunday each location was quiet meaning I didn’t have to worry about getting in peoples way, especially at the final location which involved me standing the tripod in the middle of the road. That was sheet five (see next paragraph) however so won’t be making an appearance here.

I took six sheets of film with me and used five.  Why five sheets and just four locations especially given the parameters I’d already set?  User error!  At the third location I set everything up, metered the scene, adjusted the reading for the pinhole and adjusted for reciprocity and finally removed the dark slide ready to open the shutter. Except it was half open already.  A lapse of concentration as I generally check the shutter as I place the camera on the tripod and also just before I remove the dark slide.

Take 2!
Spot the difference

Except it was half open already. 

A lapse of concentration, as I generally check the shutter as I place the camera on the tripod and also just before I remove the dark slide.

My Stearman tank holds four sheets of film, part of the reason for limiting myself to  four locations.  I developed the first four sheets, from the first three locations, as soon as I got home. I chose Rodinal at a dilution of 1+49 partly because I’d not used it in this way before and I was hoping this would give a good compromise between the typical dilution of 1+25 and a semi-stand in 1+100.  A dilution of 1+25 generally gives good contrast and acutance whilst I really liked the grain and detail I got from the semi-stand series so wondered if a dilution midway would give good negatives without a forty five minute semi-stand.  By 9:30am the four sheets were hanging to dry, the errant third sheet clearly showing the effect of accidental pre-exposure on approximately a third of its surface (see above).

It was at 9:31am that I remembered I’d not had any breakfast yet – but that’s another story!

Sheet 2: This will be a challenge to print – on the negative the centre is much brighter than the edges

I was very happy with the negatives as they came out of the tank and impatient to get them on a light box and under a loupe but of course these things can’t be hurried so after breakfast I started this blog post in readiness and anticipation. 

With all four sheets on the light pad I was very happy with the fruits of my morning’s labour, despite the momentary lapse. There’s plenty of detail in each sheet and the grain is very restrained. They all scanned nicely (with a mirrorless camera not a scanner) and on the whole look as if they will print well even if the puddle reflection above will take some work to tame the much brighter central portion.

Sheet 4: A Sunday morning pinhole – around 7am to get an empty car park! Zero Image 5×4 Pinhole camera, Fomapan 100, 2 second exposure, developed in Rodinal (1+49)

The Zero Image at 25mm gives quite a strong vignette but I like this effect so it doesn’t displease me. With high contrast scenes it can produce tricky negatives as with sheet 2 above but these challenges are all part of the fun of pinhole photography and darkroom printing. The field of view is very wide (I have three frames but only used one today which equates to approximately 25mm) and in all of these images I could have got much closer to the subject if I’d wanted to. For the reflection image I used a mini tripod at the very edge of a deep puddle so perhaps not that one but certainly I will revisit the third location (sheet 4) and place the pinhole much closer to the rusty door in the middle of the frame.

If you’ve not given pinhole a try yet I can very much recommend it – especially as an introduction to the joys of 5×4 large format photography.