Dry: the 2023 Update

This one is especially for Dean who very kindly enquired as to whether there would be an update on my “Dry” adventures.

My experiments with dry glass plates began in 2021 and whilst I did expose a few plates in 2022 I didn’t post about it at the time. One of the last things I commented upon in my series of posts in 2021 was how “dry plate season” in the UK could be said to extend from March to September. Having missed the bluebells this year due to poor diary management I was determined not to miss the, admittedly larger, window of opportunity for dry glass plates.

First off was a trip into Halifax with the Chroma Snapshot 5×4 camera and a bag of film, paper and two glass plates. I noticed the expiry date was March 2023 but was hopeful that there would be plenty of latitude especially as I was only seven weeks past the date. I must go and check the dates on the other twenty plates whilst I remember!

With an ISO of just two I knew I’d need a tripod so I followed my usual pattern. Find the composition, tweak it and then expose a sheet of film. Without moving the camera I then popped in the plate holder and photographed the same scene with the dry glass plate.

Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f32 | 60 seconds

The first composition (above) required an exposure time of sixty seconds and as can be seen there appears to be a light leak to the right of the plate which runs top to bottom. I suspect that some stray light entered through the side of the holder during the sixty seconds the dark slide was out. An easy enough thing to remedy for the future by shielding the holder during the exposure. Light leak aside I was very pleased with how this one turned out.

Development of both these plates was using the tried and tested routine in the darkroom that I developed back in 2021. Tray development in HC-110 (1+31) for five minutes followed by stop and a four minute fix before washing. I’m lucky that I can create a workable darkroom space in a few minutes but whilst stood there I did wonder if I could tank process the plates using the Stearman 5×4 tank I develop sheet film in.

Just about to go into the wash … these plates are things of beauty in their own right (excuse the pink porcelain)
Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f32 | 16 seconds

I came away from the trip with two exposed plates which both produced lovely images as you’ve seen. There were two more plates left in the box and I vowed to use those this week too. My opportunity came two days later.

The location for the second pair of dry glass plates

I took my tripod, the Chroma Snapshot and the final two dry glass plates from the box and headed to a location I’ve photographed many times as it’s on one of my regular walking routes. Tripod up, camera in place, composition sorted, exposure checked and dialled in … where the heck is the cable release? Sixty second exposure, no cable release and no T-mode on the lens. I swore quietly. And held my breath for sixty seconds as I held the lens open in bulb mode.

Back home it was time to develop the two plates. I was using a new double plate holder this time, one I bought with adapters for developing tintypes, and included with the holder were two plate holders for use in the Stearman 5×4 tank. It was therefore time to try tank development. I figured that as the plates were potentially spoilt by my lack of a cable release then this was a perfect opportunity to try a different way of developing.

One of my aims back in 2021 was to produce a standard development process that could be repeated and thus ensure greater consistency and a greater chance of success for each plate. I am not a fan of development-by-inspection but it came in useful when I was first experimenting and after some trial and error I came to use a fixed five minutes immersion in HC-110 for tray development. It was logical therefore to use this as a starting point for tank development and to also use the same agitation regime (initial thirty seconds then ten seconds every minute). The plate holders were easy to load and sat nice and snug in the Stearman tank. I was then able to turn the lights on and take the plates downstairs to develop in the comfort of the kitchen.

Long story, short. It was a success, I followed my usual tank processing workflow including washing and brought the processed plates back up to the bathroom for drying. I made one small change and substituted water for the usual acidic stop bath but otherwise proceeded as if it were two sheets of Fomapan rather than two glass plates. A quick look with a loupe suggested that the dreaded camera movement had been avoided too so I was a happy boy. Not only could I develop two plates at a time in the tank but I now had two working dry glass plate holders to double my productivity in the field.

Contact print hanging to dry

The ultimate aim for me is to print some of my negatives in the darkroom and I felt a good place to start would be to contact print a couple of the glass plates onto photographic paper. I was well pleased with the outcome (above) and will look now to create a 10×8” print with the antiquated enlarger that occupies one corner of my darkroom. More on that in due course.

Digitally scanned: Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f16 | 20 seconds
Digitally scanned: Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f32| 60 seconds

So, there you have it, an update on my dry glass plate adventures. I’ve four more plates loaded ready to go so watch this space!

WPPD 2023: the runners-up

I used eight sheets of Acros for my WPPD entry this year, of which just one will be submitted to the WPPD portfolio. I’ve narrowed it down to two (see previous post) but what of the others? Well, of the eight, one sheet just didn’t work out for me, but the others are presented here for posterity along with the shortlisted two.

I probably need to take the processing for this one!

I chose an iconic location and made the iconic composition albeit with a pinhole camera. I then explored a few compositions that I’ve previously photographed with a lensed camera, before my final two sheets which were a composition I’d not spotted prior to that visit. Whilst I did take them with the Canon VL before leaving the two sheets through the ONDU 5×4 Rise pinhole camera were the first and they are also the shortlisted pair.

World Pinhole Photography Day – the image

So, the sheets have been developed and I’ve been deciding which image will be my WPPD contribution for 2023.

Behind the scenes

The ONDU 5×4 Rise pinhole camera has three pinholes enabling for more control of the composition. The “middle” puts the horizon line central whereas the “top” captures more of the upper portion (sky) of the scene and less of the foreground.

“Middle pinhole”
“Top” pinhole

So, I’ve chosen from the five different scenes, but which version of this chosen scene should be my WPPD submission? The jury is still out!

World Pinhole Photography Day – on location

Well it took some negotiation but I managed a pass for WPPD despite grandson having a rugby match close enough for us to get to easily. Negotiations only concluded the night before and so I awoke on WPPD with no clear idea on a location. I’d only decided on the camera I’d be using the night before.

I decided to use the ONDU 5×4 Rise, packing an orange filter and eight sheets of expired Fuji Acros (original not the current Acros II) in the shoulder bag with it. In previous years I’ve used two pinhole cameras but I wanted to keep things simple this year. For the same reason I left the spot meter at home and took the TT Artisan cold shoe meter with me and cross-checked exposures with my phone.

On location
Metered at 1/10th second became a twenty second exposure

Still undecided on exactly where to go I jumped in the car and allowed myself to go with the flow. I found myself heading into Halifax and at that moment made a decision. The snicket it would be.

Unusually for me a “shot list” began to form in my mind. Two from the bottom (the traditional viewpoint), two half way up and two of the bridge at the top. The composition for the final two sheets would occur to me once I was on location I thought, as indeed it did.

The third composition

So, eight sheets of expired Acros 100 have been exposed, I will hopefully get to develop them tomorrow morning and once they have been developed, dried and digitised I will be back with WPOD – the images.


Three Sheets of Acros 100

I recently came across my few remaining 5×4 sheets of the original Acros 100; expired 12/2016 but as I’d stored it in the cellar at a constant, cool temperature I was pretty confident it would be just fine so decided against making any exposure adjustments to allow for age. Spoiler alert: it was just fine.

Intrepid 5×4 | 180mm lens | Acros 100 | f32 | 1/4 sec | no filters
Intrepid 5×4 | 180mm lens | Acros 100 | f32 | 1 sec | orange filter
Chroma Snapshot 5×4 | 65mm lens | Acros 100 | f22 | 1/4 sec | orange filter

For the curious I developed these sheets in Moersch Finol staining developer at a ratio of 1+1+100 for 17 minutes at 20° using my trusty Stearman tank.

Three Sheets

Having been using 35mm rangefinder cameras almost exclusively for a few months now I decided it was time for a change. What could be more of a change than putting the Intrepid 5×4 large format camera in the car and taking that for a spin. I made three exposures using the 180mm lens. Unfortunately, my spot meter chose that morning to go on strike so I was left to meter the scene with my phone. Not ideal for large format film but it worked out OK in the end.

Fomapan 100 | F32 | 1/4 sec | no filter
Fomapan 100 | F32 | 1 sec | orange filter
Fomapan 100 | F32 | 1/2 sec | orange filter (toned in post)

Back home I developed the sheets in HC-110 (diluted 1+31) for six minutes at a temperature of 20° and hanging the wet sheets to dry I was immediately struck by the amount of detail and also the range of tones captured. The lack of a spot meter and the reliance on average metering from my phone did not appear to have been a problem. I shall however be investigating the problem with my spot meter as it is invaluable in more difficult or complex lighting situations. Fortunately the location I chose for these sheets was fairly straightforward to meter for.

I did take a couple of sheets of Fuji Acros with me. I shall pop those two sheets in a separate post however.

Snapshots in the dark

A couple of days ago I reached an intermediate milestone in my 365 project – 1,900 consecutive daily images in an unbroken sequence from October 30th 2017. I wanted to mark the occasion suitably and after some cogitation decided to bring forward the handheld 5×4 in the dark idea I’ve been contemplating.

The choice of camera was easy. I recently purchased a 5×4 camera specifically for handheld large format photography. The Chroma Snapshot was the logical choice and whilst I’d some experience with a loaned copy this would be my first outing with my own which had arrived prior to Christmas but which a bout of the flu had prevented me from christening.

Chroma Snapshot, 65mm lens f5.6 1/30th handheld

As I’ve already written in an earlier post I’ve been using a Nikon F801 and Ilford HP5+ to gain some experience of photography in the dark with film so I was confident that, whilst I’d not finished my experiments, I had enough knowledge to make it a feasible proposition. I had a few sheets of HP5+ in 5×4 left from a project last year and so I loaded up a couple of film holders and set forth.

The lens I have paired with the Snapshot is a wide-angled 65mm but it only has a maximum aperture of f5.6, two stops slower than the f2.8 of my Nikon 24mm which I’d been using on the Nikon F801. Looking back at my notes, 1/15th to 1/60th of a second at ISO 3200 was the ballpark for exposure depending on how much streetlight was in the frame. Bear in mind that I was planning on handholding the Snapshot, I would have preferred to have set 1/60th but needing to make up at least two stops I went for the pragmatic choice of 1/30th and bumping ISO to 6400, knowing that I was heading beyond the 3200 limit that both Ilford and many online commentators considered the maximum for this film stock.

A bit of extra detail pulled out at the expense of some increase in grain

I had four sheets so would photograph one scene (top image) where the subject was reasonably well lit (well lit is a relative term at night) and I would get in close, a second would be a similar scene but from a distance of around 15 feet (middle image) and then two others where the scene was a wider field of view with the light points well scattered (bottom image).

Would have benefited from a little extra exposure

So, as the results above show this experiment was a reasonable success albeit with room for improvement in terms of my technique and perhaps also my copying of the negatives and subsequent processing. I will cogitate and come back to this in a future blog post.

For completeness, these sheets were developed in stock Microphen for twenty three minutes; the suggested time was twenty minutes thirty seconds which I rounded to twenty three to allow for the fact that I’d already used the chemicals for a previous roll.

The other thing to note is that all the images here were created by copying the whole negatives with a mirrorless camera as a single frame and then inverting the images in Snapseed. For improved quality I need to copy the negatives in three or four segments, stitching and processing them in Lightroom. I shall do that for the next stage of the experiment.

Watch this space!

5×4 without a tripod

No, it’s not click-bait. It means exactly what it says. I’ve been walking around Elland, making photos, whilst handholding a 5×4 camera. This week I’ve been out a couple of times with a 5×4 film camera in my bag, a couple of film holders and a Reveni light meter in my pocket. Not even a mini tripod hidden in the side pocket of my shoulder bag. This set up was lighter than pretty much every camera combination I own except perhaps my wooden pinhole cameras.


So, to what do I owe this lightweight and eminently portable large format set up? Well, in part to Andy Smales who lent me the camera so I could road test it before deciding whether or not to place an order. But largely to the Chroma Snapshot camera from Chroma Cameras.


But, let’s step back for a moment.

Whilst I’ve been playing with cameras for 50-years or so I only entered the realms of large format in the last three or four years. I was starting with zero prior knowledge and made a few mistakes early on in terms of kit purchase despite extensive reading. Most were small purchases but one, the purchase of a 65mm lens, still rankles. On my Intrepid camera it didn’t focus to infinity and more importantly it needed a recessed lens board, which rendered the cable release/shutter inaccessible. Despite being advertised as a 5×4 lens I eventually determined that it was intended for smaller formats so rather than being the advertised 5×4 inches it’s coverage was in medium format, 6x9cm territory despite its physical bulk. I’ve been looking for a way to use it ever since the penny dropped that I’d been sold a pup. Caveat emptor and all that.


Anyway, chatting to Andy on Twitter one evening the vexed topic of my unused lens came up. Long story short, the following morning his Snapshot was winging its way north and less than two days after that original discussion I was testing the theory that this thus far unused lens was usable with the Snapshot. I tested it wide open at f5.6, at f8 and f11 then finally at f32. A tiny, tiny amount of vignetting at f5.6 but less to be honest than I usually add myself. It was more than usable so the following day I was out with camera, four sheets of film and no tripod.

The other attraction for me was the potential for night photography due to the Snapshot’s zone focusing capability. More on this in a later post.

Now isn’t the occasion for a review. I need to use it for longer to provide a cogent and reliable review. Initial impressions are very positive. It has worked well both tripod mounted, and more importantly, hand held. Suffice to say, I exposed 29 sheets of film and my order is in at Chroma Towers.

Handheld and lens wide open

Zoned Out

The Zero Image 5×4 pinhole camera that I use has a rotating turret with a selection of pinholes and zone plates. Until recently I was using the basic frame which has just one pinhole and one zone plate, so as a pinhole user I set it to pinhole when I received it and never touched the turret again. However, recently I bought the deluxe version with not only a cable release but with three pinholes and three zone plates on the turret. The camera is modular and the idea is that as you add or remove additional frames (effectively changing the focal length) you slide in the appropriate sized pinhole for that focal length.

On a recent trip to Brighouse I was happily changing between pinholes as I moved between 25mm and 50mm focal lengths and as I packed the camera away I remembered to move the turret back to the 25mm setting.

Or did I?

Of course not; if I had this post wouldn’t have been written!

I next used the Zero Image in the local memorial park on Remembrance Sunday, intending to use the images for my “365” Challenge. However on developing the film all four sheets were fuzzy and not at all what I was expecting. I put it down to the lightweight tripod and the fact that I’d forgotten my cable release. I didn’t immediately spot that the negatives were rather dark, indicating over-exposure.

The following day I set out again with a sturdier tripod and two cable releases. After three sheets I decided to amend the configuration of the camera. As I went to move the pinhole in the turret for the new set-up I saw what the problem had been – when I’d reset the camera after my Brighouse outing I’d lined up not the pinhole but the zone plate!

Suddenly, all made sense. Fuzzy images and over-exposed negatives – not camera shake at all! A zone plate lets in more light than a pinhole so I’d metered “incorrectly” and zone plate images are naturally blurrier than pinhole.

So, will I be doing this regularly? Well, I hope that I won’t accidentally select a zone plate again certainly. As for the images themselves I’m not sure if they aren’t a step too far for me. I have happily embraced the soft, ethereal imagery of the pinhole but the jury is out on zone plate images. See what you think, time will tell if I deliberately set out with zone plate in mind but never say never!

Best of Both

Since I returned to using mainly film for my photography I’ve established a small darkroom in the corner of my office and have enjoyed reacquainting myself with the “dark arts”.  I’m no more than a competent darkroom printer, at best, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable aspect of the hobby.  It’s also an aspect which provides lots of opportunities for problem-solving which is something I enjoy, not least because it keeps my brain engaged.

Of necessity though I have also had to learn some digital ways, mainly so that I can share images on social media.  Even if I darkroom printed everything I’d still have to scan the prints!  So, I have had to embrace the so-called hybrid approach and I have to say I’ve enjoyed the challenge.  It was also good to refresh some of my digital skills and apply them to a negative-based media.

I was musing on this over the weekend as I was working on a 5×4 negative in the darkroom. I had made the image earlier in the week with my wooden Zero Image 5×4 pinhole camera and after developing the sheet had done a very quick copy with my digital camera. As much of my social media bound images are, this was quickly processed in Snapseed on my iPad and uploaded to Twitter. 

5×4 film negative, scanned and converted with Photoshop

The response was, for a post from me at least, phenomenal.  

I had already made up chemicals for a weekend in the darkroom but hadn’t decided which negatives to print.  I usually only print one or two negatives in a session and, allowing for domestic duties, I expected to get two sessions over the weekend which meant I would usually have earmarked three or four negatives. However, the response to my Brighouse pinhole image meant that there was no need to think too hard … it had been selected for me by my friends and colleagues on the Twitter-verse.

Saturday morning, I set up the trestle table for the developing trays, moved the safelights into position and blacked out the study cum office which as I’ve mentioned before also serves as my darkroom.  I positioned the negative in my aged Johnson V5 enlarger, composed and focused the image ready for a sheet of 8×10 paper.  Everything was ready for when I could escape the domestic chores.  I’d only need to pour out the chemicals and don my apron and I’d be away. As is my usual practice I looked at the negative projected onto the easel for a few minutes before turning off the focusing lamp and heading downstairs.

Something was nagging at me as I walked downstairs and it was whilst I was folding the washing that I realised what it was.  Whilst the digital camera had pulled every last bit of detail from the negative and the localised adjustments applied in Snapseed had created a lovely result the negative itself was horribly underexposed around the bottom and very overexposed in the centre particularly.  This would be a huge challenge for my basic skills.

After my usual test strips to get a feel for the negative I quickly realised that my concerns were real, the bottom left and the centre of the image were going to be tricky. I made a test strip from the whole negative and used this as the basis for a printing plan … which got overwritten numerous times.

Long story short, I had three sessions in the darkroom over the weekend and ended up working with just the one negative and with just one “finished” print hanging to dry overnight.  I’m definitely not finished with the negative however as I’ve not yet created a final print I am totally happy with.  I went to bed a little low but woke up reminding myself that it was a tough negative to print and that I am by no means an expert darkroom printer.  There will be another day!

Almost but not quite

It also reminded me of the importance of getting it right in-camera, something I do strive for and always have, but brought home very forcibly over the weekend.  Could I have done much more at the taking stage? Possibly, possibly not.  I was using an ambient light reading as I rarely take my spot meter out when working with pinhole cameras.  On this occasion I might have made good use of a spot meter though to accurately place the shadows on zone III but without filters the central portion would still have been over exposed.   However, there’s no mileage in playing “could’ve, should’ve” at this stage, simply add it to the store of knowledge and experience and move on.

On this occasion then, my hybrid workflow will eventually* provide me with a nice print from this negative.  I learnt a fair bit from trying to print it in the darkroom and I will no doubt learn plenty more from playing further with the negative in the darkroom; I’ve already started scribbling notes to guide my next attempt.

I’m enjoying this hybrid approach although have to say I’ve also enjoyed being in the darkroom this weekend. 

Which, all leads me to conclude that there is a lot to be said for my approach. Part-hybrid and part-traditional, I am at least able to complete my vision with a print and to me it’s not a photograph until you can hold it in your hand.

*as my regular reader might remember I do not have a digital photo-printer at the moment.  I have however ordered a small printer for this purpose and you can be sure that this will be the first image I print on it!