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!

I #believeinfilm

“How do we want to use our artistic voices? Do we want to elicit a favourable response from others by playing to the crowd, or do we want to speak the Truth as we see it with the things that we make, even if the response from people isn’t the one we want?”

Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making

These are not my words, they are from photographer Sean Tucker, known to many for his YouTube channel but watched I suspect by many people just to hear his philosophies on life and in particular the art of photography. He articulates better than I’ve ever done a recurring theme in my own personal philosophy towards my photography. I was only truly happy with my work when I stopped playing to the gallery.

This conscious ploughing of my own photographic furrow started a few years back and pre-dates me joining Twitter and engaging with fellow photographers, mostly film photographers, and encountering the #believeinfilm community. I have found that by consistently being true to myself I’ve connected with like-minded souls. Some have similar tastes to mine but many have different tastes and I’ve enjoyed seeing and discussing their work immensely. I have also enjoyed seeing the pleasure others derive from their own work and this encourages me to stay true to myself. Whilst it’s not necessarily influenced changes in my own approach it has definitely led to a greater appreciation of other approaches and been a source of inspiration and motivation. Oft times too it has sparked an idea which I’ve then run with on my own terms as it were.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes post a “crowd-pleaser” for the enjoyment of others. I do – but only work that remains true to myself and thus I hope that it is not solely for my own gratification (although we all appreciate an ego stroke occasionally). I’ve also learnt how much pleasure, and at times inspiration, these images give to others. I make that last assertion carefully, it’s not intended as arrogance but in recognition of the mutual support the community gives to each other.

This support ranges from the emotional to the practical and I’ve encountered so much of it in the twelve months I’ve been active on Twitter that it’s changed my own attitudes too. In the last few months I’ve loaned out five different cameras, one of which is doing a UK Tour, gifted many items that I no longer need but others would find useful and provided support in many other ways by sharing my experience and learnings from the last 45 or more years. In return, I’ve had the chance to borrow cameras and even glass plate holders, tap in to a wealth of knowledge, exchange ideas and experiences and learn from so many talented photographers. This corner of social media has for me turned out to be a friendly, supportive one that I look forward to dipping into every day.

Another quote from ST:

“… find joy in the act of photographing alone and not necessarily from the results.”

Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making

Again, this captures exactly how I feel. There have been many times when I have been totally underwhelmed by a strip of negatives yet have had so much pleasure in the process, from loading the film through to hanging the negatives to dry that I don’t feel in the slightest bit disheartened. The physical act of creating those negatives in all its tactile glory has often been enough for me. This quote also ties in nicely with my philosophy of creating work that makes you happy and count any positivity from others as a bonus.

I know that this has in some degree trodden old ground for me, but it has hopefully put that into its current context. I shall continue making film photographs until I stop enjoying it or until I’m robbed of the faculty to do so. I hope that I will continue to plough my own furrow, to share and interact with like-minded photographers around the globe and gain enjoyment from the sum of the many parts that form the hobby and not get fixated on simply the outcome – however important it is.

Posted to my blog with thanks to the whole #believeinfilm community on Twitter.

Random colour

Slightly OTT – but at least on my terms (see below).
Friday morning Salford Quays

As a follow-up to last nights post here’s a few random colour images from yesterday and this morning. The phone will capture in black and white, although I rarely do so preferring to convert the images myself in Snapseed. Still on the phone but I at least take control. The first image above is a case in point. Despite constantly turning it off the wretched phone keeps turning Live Picture on. This not only captures a gaudy HDR-style image on many an occasion but also captures a few seconds of video either side of the actual image. I converted this one to B&W for a Twitter update but when I decided to post some colour images I was torn. I liked the composition but not the colours. I therefore desaturated it and added a negative vignette to tame the image. It’s still a bit over the top for me but it kinda works I think.

I was terrified I was going to drop the phone – the hotel window was restricted so only a few inches gap to push phone into.
Thursday evening – Salford Quays

I have a love-hate relationship with colour. I stopped using colour negative film a while back as I had massive problems getting natural colours when processing the negatives on the computer. My daily urban style of working probably isn’t best suited to colour slide film although I enjoy playing with Instax instant colour print film. However, some scenes scream out to be photographed in colour, Autumn in particular, and for this I have my digital cameras.

Thursday morning – Salford Quays
Thursday afternoon – yes it is colour!
Thursday lunchtime – I also photographed this scene with my Nikon L35 AF, will be interested in seeing a comparison

So, as I was using a Nikon L35 yesterday loaded with Kodak Tri-X I also made a few images with my phone. My phone was also in my pocket early this morning when I went out to photograph before breakfast. The glorious morning light will look very nice on my Tri-X negatives but it also looked very pleasant on my phone too.

Worth getting up for whilst the wife snoozed on

When I made yesterday’s post I added a tongue-in-cheek plea for people not to judge me for using a phone when I had a fully-loaded camera with me. For clarification I’m of the firm opinion that we should make use of whatever tools we have at our disposal. Whether that’s an Intrepid 5×4, a KMZ FT-2, a mirrorless digital camera or a phone. Each of these is capable of producing images worth enjoying and I wouldn’t hesitate in using any of them. I forgot that a dry sense of humour isn’t always appreciated in the written form 😊

Checking compositions ready for the morning

Another use for the phone is in checking compositions especially when the light isn’t quite as I would like it and I’m planning on returning another day. I did this Thursday evening as we walked back to the hotel from our pub meal. I’d deliberately left the camera in our room but the phone enabled me to check a few compositions before returning before breakfast on Friday morning.

The other thing I regularly use my phone for, especially if I don’t have my Fuji digital camera with me, is behind the scenes style images for my blog. Friday morning was no exception and the final image here, already converted to black and white and inserted into the blog post awaiting me developing the films from this short trip, is a case in point.

My weapon of choice for these couple of days away.

So, there you have it. Two iPhone posts in as many days and one in colour too. Normal service will be resumed in the next day or so.

Have phone will photograph

Out for an early evening meal with the better half we left the pub to find the rain had gone and the blanket of grey above was starting to break up. I’d promised an evening without a camera … but still took my iPhone. Back at the hotel I looked at the pictures on the phone and thought that I might as well have some fun with the processing too – don’t judge me! So, for a bit of fun here’s some phone pics direct to you from my hotel room.

Yesterday …

I’m in a reflective mood this morning. Although it was published this morning my call to arms on behalf of our descendants was actually written late last night. Waking up to a couple of messages regarding the piece I got to thinking and idly picked up the phone sat on the table by my usual chair. Flicking through the photo album I found the earliest snap was from 2008, a copy of one I took with a digital camera it’s the only image from that year. Ditto for 2009, a single image and a copy of one from a digital camera. There is then a gap until 2013 when there are six … you get my drift.

It’s 2016 before any meaningful numbers of images are to be found. My photos from 2008 – 2016 aren’t lost, they are on various hard drives, but they may as well be as who is going to want to trawl through a box of assorted hard drives in the future? But enough of my soap box, the purpose of this follow-up post is simply to celebrate just a few of the memories contained on my phone – whether or not they originated on a phone.

Took four attempts to get this sweep panorama right
Very proud of his new “grown-up” specs
A memory of a lovely walk – I even did a selfie with a 360 camera on that walk
The ginger against the blue – the householder changed the curtains a couple of days later
I wasn’t feeling very well … until grubby Dr Harry arrived
Burke & James 5×4 and my first darkroom print from a large format negative
Our first trip out post-lockdown

There you have it, half a dozen or so images picked at random from my phone. Everyone has a memory attached and the ones of the grandchildren will have meaning to many other members of the family too.

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.

A digital interlude

I’m away at the moment, a few days rest and relaxation for the Boss and myself and a house to themselves for my eldest and her family who all live with me. It’s a celebration, our Ruby Wedding Anniversary was a couple of weeks ago and this is an indulgent stay in a castle twelve miles from the north-east coast.

Because it’s a “time away together” I’ve kept the kit to a minimum. An ONDU pinhole, my Bronica SQ-A and a Fuji X-H1. The deal is I carry the pinhole and the Fuji with one lens when we are wandering together but I can have a few hours each afternoon with the Bronica for more leisurely photography. It’s a compromise that’s worked well in the past and this morning it’s cost me a mornings retail therapy … but the Boss is happy for me to spend it in a coffee shop whilst she wanders – hence this post!

We’ve been up this way before, indeed we’ve stayed at the castle before too but never in a State room. The coast at Seaham has a wonderful pebble beach, a free car park, a gentle yet interesting walk and a harbour with lighthouse at the other end. It’s good for a day out for us and caters for both our interests

Tomorrow is our last day and we are planning on spending a few more hours at Seaham before pointing the car towards home. Together with, hopefully, a couple of hours this afternoon I’m hoping to be able to expose a few rolls of 120 and have some lovely abstracts to print in the darkroom this winter. Certainly the “sketches” I made yesterday with the Fuji are full of potential in my eyes.

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.

A dry subject?

I read something recently that piqued my interest. In a nutshell it stated that older film emulsions were colour-blind and respond differently than modern emulsions to light and color. As often happens when my interest is drawn to something I then pick at the subject, wandering around the internet or my bookshelves over the next few days and this time my searches ended up at … dry plates.

A dry plate is simply a glass plate coated with a gelatinous emulsion of silver bromide. Unlike the wet collodion process which preceded it, dry plates can be stored until exposure, and after exposure they can be brought back to a darkroom for development at leisure. These qualities were great advantages over wet collodion, where the plate had to be prepared just before exposure and developed immediately after – which meant actually on location. The dry plate, which could also be factory produced, was introduced in 1871 by R.L. Maddox. It was eventually superseded early in the 20th century by the celluloid film that we are now so familiar with.

Of course, my searches inevitably led me to see if there were any modern dry plates suppliers. Very few as it happens (I found two) but as I had no interest in pursuing the subject further that was no bad thing. I did just investigate a little further though to see what the modern take on dry plates was from one of the producers. I couldn’t do better than quote from the makers own website:

“J. Lane Dry Plates resurrect the look of early 1880s un-sensitized silver gelatin emulsions. If you wanted to pin down a year, these are what you’d expect in high quality plates in 1881. The dry plate era was a critical time in the development and mass marketing of photographic negatives, and many of the world’s first amateur photographers took their first photographs on dry plates very similar to ours. With the advent of sensitized emulsions (orthochromatic, panchromatic) and other advances in emulsion engineering, the original silver gelatin emulsions were lost to time and no longer produced by anyone until today.”

https://www.pictoriographica.com

At almost £5 per plate however, that was where I left the subject. In point of fact I left it to go upstairs and sort out a rather untidy cupboard. But why mention this mundane domestic matter? Well, whilst doing so I found an Ilford Obscura 5×4 pinhole camera I’d forgotten about. It’s a lovely camera but it doesn’t accept traditional film holders as the film goes directly into the camera. Exposing more than one sheet therefore requires a changing bag. Much more practical to carry a handful of DDSs to my mind.

That evening, and I’m very shortly coming to the point of this post, as I reclined in my armchair with a glass of red, the two subjects, dry plates and an excellent but impractical pinhole camera, came together in what passes as a brain in my head. A few minutes later I had discovered that the size (specifically the thickness) of the J Lane dry plates and the construction of the Obscura meant that the dry plates could be used in the pinhole camera.

Thus was born my next project … dry plates have been ordered, the Obscura dusted off and a dry plate holder has also been loaned by Andy ( @holga_pics on Twitter) meaning I can also try this first batch of dry plates on my regular 5×4 camera.

As the saying goes … watch this space. I’ve done a ton of research over the last 48 hours, there’s loads more information to impart, the dry plates have been despatched and are due on Wednesday and of course I’ve had some excellent advice from the #believeinfilm community to supplement my own research too. I will share this in a future post … or posts!