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.”

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!

The Quay to success …

Like many of us amateur photographers I fit my hobby around family life. I’m luckier than some in that my family are all grownups although with ten grandchildren and the cost of professional childcare along with the failure of many employers to cater for working parents with school-age children that benefit quickly gets negated. I probably average only one solid four or five hour block of time to myself in an average week. If like today that coincides with awful weather with no redeeming features such as dramatic clouds or light then enthusiasm can wane a tiny bit.

Four-consecutive-frame “panorama” with Olympus EE3

But, I am lucky in that my better half understands and encourages my hobby so I can often sneak in an hour or two when I should be sorting my domestic chores. She is also fairly tolerant when we go out for the day and so long as I’m not toting a huge bagful of kit she’s happy for me to take a camera, or three, along. She’s also happy for me to wander with a camera whilst she is shopping so long as I’m back at the designated spot on time and not so far away that I cannot be summonsed to give an opinion on something.

Two consecutive frames forming a diptych- Olympus EE3

A recent weekend away in Salford, staying at a Travelodge on the Quays, was a case in point. I took a shoulder bag as normal (I am required to carry any bits n pieces designated as necessary) and still managed to squeeze in three cameras, a mini tripod, Z-plate, a few filters and half a dozen rolls of 120 and 35mm film. The ever-present Horizon S3 Pro was joined by the new Ondu 6×6 pinhole and as a last-minute impulse the Olympus EE3 half-frame 35mm camera.

And not a security guard in sight – Horizon S3 Pro

Now, the Quays, or more specifically the Media City UK complex, don’t hold particularly fond memories for me. Twice in three previous visits I had been harassed by security guards controlled by a remote, faceless supervisor with CCTV determined to be a total jobsworth. The first time I had a little sympathy for them, I had a large tripod and a pro-spec Nikon DSLR. They mistook me for a professional photographer and demanded my permit. Explaining I was not a professional and the images were just for my own amusement was futile so I asked where do I need to go to request a permit. Turned out it had to be done in writing well ahead of time! As there were very few folk about at the time I was fairly frustrated by this totally jobsworthian attitude. The fact that my companion on the day, a professional shooting images for her business, was not even spoken to just rubbed salt in the wounds.

Horizon S3 Pro – the security guard turned aside when he heard the clockwork motor!

So, despite not toting a large tripod or large “professional -looking” camera I was nevertheless wary. In fact, I was only approached by a lanyard-wearing official once but he turned away when he heard the clockwork whir of my Horizon!

Over the weekend I used all three cameras, all six rolls of film and also the “emergency” roll of Tri-X I keep in the pocket of the Horizon case. Three 35mm rolls through the Horizon, the Ondu swallowed the three rolls of 120 and I chewed through seventy five half-frames with the Olympus. All of which was accomplished whilst walking with the wife or whilst waiting whilst she explored the outlet shopping centre (twice).

Media City in the background – Ondu 6×6

One of my hobby horses is the advisability of knowing your cameras inside out such that you don’t need to think about the operational aspects; using the camera becomes instinctive and you are free to concentrate on composition. Such is the case with any camera I take out on an outing with other people, especially non-photographers. I save new or rarely used cameras for those occasions when I can concentrate totally on the photography. By following this maxim I was able to scan for possible images whilst walking knowing that I could take the camera out of the bag and make the exposure with barely a break in my stride. The pinhole is an exception here of course and I simply stored up possibilities and went back for these whilst the better half was shopping.

Ever patient wife to the right

And I guess that’s my point. An understanding wife, a thorough understanding of the camera and film you are using and a can-do approach means that “serious” photography is possible even when you don’t have a “serious” amount of time to do it in. Hopefully the images accompanying this post don’t disprove my theory!

Ode to a wooden box

Fear not, I’m not about to get all poetic in my appreciation of the aforementioned wooden box. The box of which I speak is my Zero Image 612b pinhole camera. The ‘b’ is for basic of course, whereas the 612 indicates a maximum negative size of 6×12. In reality the negative is bigger than 6×12 as I’ve mentioned before. It is also multi-format as baffles inside can be moved to create 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9 in addition to the titular 6×12.

When I bought it I felt it was expensive for what it was and even more so when it languished on a shelf for month after month once the first couple of rolls had been exposed. None too successfully at that if I’m honest. However, just recently I’ve used it more and have started to learn to appreciate it properly. I’ve also started to get the hang of using it more effectively too.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that it likes to be close to the action – very close! I’ve taken a couple of images recently featuring coffee mugs – with said mugs never more than three inches from the wooden box. Really, that close. I’m finding that for my taste, using a very obvious main subject very close to the box helps create depth and a real sense of three dimensional space. That’s not to say that every pinhole image I make has a subject right up close but it’s fair to say that I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve got in close and many images could have benefitted from being closer to the subject. This little box does have a fair sized field of view!

One of my early mistakes with this box was with regards to exposure calculations. I metered as I would normally but still seemed to get under-exposed negatives. My mistake was treating the given aperture value as gospel – my box likes light, plenty of it too. I now almost always add on at least a stop to the exposure time I calculate and am never afraid to bracket if in doubt. Reciprocity should also be taken seriously in my experience, especially with the Fomapan 100 I favour for my pinhole work. I chose Fomapan precisely because of its huge reciprocity values. It is actually helpful to have longer exposure times when your shutter is manually opened and closed by simply sliding a piece of wood to reveal and then hide the pinhole.

This is a seriously lightweight piece of kit and despite accommodating 6×12 negatives it is surprisingly small. It fits comfortably in my shoulder bag even with an SLR/DSLR with a second lens already present. Spare film and my mini tripod also fit in and I’ve made plenty of images that I’d not have been able too if the box took up more room. I like to travel with minimal kit and this box adds extra artistic capability without being a burden.

Not only is this box light and therefore easily carried in my shoulder bag “just in case” I need it, it is also pretty water resistant. No electronics to fizzle under the persistent rain we are blessed with here in the UK for a start. No lens to become rain spattered and smeared either. A quick wipe with a micro-fibre cloth and it’s like it was never wet. I’ve used this little box in torrential rain, on the beach, low down on a mini tripod with the sea lapping around and whilst I’ve been careful not to submerge it in water I’ve yet to have any issues with a malfunctioning box!

Of course, this isn’t my only pinhole camera. It isn’t even my only Zero Image camera. I have pinholes in 35mm, 120 and 5×4 large format. All of them are simply wooden boxes. I’ve written about them regularly, including this post which could have been sponsored by a rubber band company! It wasn’t but I’m still open to offers!

For some people, pinhole equates to fuzzy, unsharp images but whilst I’ve my fair share of such pictures, with or without a lens, it is my experience that a pinhole camera can also produce lovely crisp images. To support this assertion I present the image above created with the Zero Image 5×4. The key is technique. Which applies to all forms of photography I guess. Whilst a pinhole camera may be a very simple technological concept it is true that you still need good technique. For a start there are no electronics to assure good focus, the correct exposure or even adjust for slight camera movement. The first requirement is that the camera doesn’t move either during the exposure or at the time the shutter is opened or closed. This requires two things. Firstly, a tripod or other support to keep the camera still. A wall is helpful here if you find yourself without anything else although for my part a mini tripod is always in the bag with the camera. Secondly, a steady hand to ensure the camera isn’t knocked whilst operating the shutter. Some pinhole cameras have a cable release mechanism built in allowing the use of a standard threaded cable release although sadly none of mine feature this innovation.

The last ingredient I want to mention is aesthetics. Specifically YOUR aesthetic. It is my view that pinhole photography does not rely on technique alone. Good technique will help tremendously but it is not enough on its own. Using the camera regularly is vital if the photographer is to start to “see” through the pinhole. Not everything you point the pinhole at will work visually in two-dimensions and it takes time and practice to judge what will and won’t work. There’s little point though in me trying to tell anyone what will or won’t work; photography is a very personal medium and what works for one person may not necessarily work for others. Of course, it’s great when other folk appreciate your work but as ever the most important viewer of your work is you.

This has been a short appreciation of the humble pinhole camera and I have hopefully shared a few thoughts that will help those new to pinhole photography or indeed those thinking of jumping in to the fascinating genre. Technique is the key to successful images but even technique is subservient to the aesthetic.

Developing like a Boss

This weekend Zac decided he wanted to finish the roll of Ilford HP5+ in his Canon Ace and develop the film – himself!

We ended up developing the film, cutting and sleeving the negatives and this morning printing one of them in my makeshift darkroom. Wherever safe and practical he did everything himself and as we worked we chatted about what we were doing and why. It was a very nice way to spend a few hours with my Grandson and we both enjoyed ourselves.

On a whim I posted a fifteen second video of him agitating the developing tank to my Twitter account. Expecting my usual 20-30 interactions I was stunned when my phone started going crazy. Within twenty-four hours it had racked up over 4,500 views, 33 people had retweeted it and around 60 have commented on it.

Who knew that a 15 second snippet of video could attract so much attention!

Returning to the dark-side

Whilst I have been making digital photographs since around 2003 I actually took up photography in the 1970s so I have always kept an interest in the film photography world and have also continued to shoot the occasional roll of film. Thus it was no surprise to me when I found myself shooting film more regularly in early 2019. What had been half a dozen rolls a year became a couple of rolls a month. My year-end tally for 2019 however still showed that around 85% of my photography was still digitally based. 

Another misty morning meandering with the panoramic camera and a roll of film. Horizon Kompakt and Ilford HP5+, home developed in Diafine (3+3) Shot 9th November Processed 11th November Scanned with a Fuji XT-3

This was the situation going in to 2020 and then the World as I knew it went mad.  However, despite the pandemic and despite shielding at home for four months, I still made images. On digital and film. Thus it was that by the end of 2020 the situation had reversed and over 90% of my photography that year was film based; I shot and developed 180 rolls of film, both 35mm and 120, along with around 40 sheets of 5×4 film.

But why? 

Well, initially it was down to Lockdown that affected me from mid-March until early August 2020.  Not being able to go beyond my front gate for over four months I ended up reading more and I also bought a few more rolls of film to amuse myself. Cameras that had been in boxes for years saw the light of day, were cleaned and brought back into use.  A few purchases to replace lost filters or minor accessories such as eye-cups soon became a project to build up a full Bronica ETRS medium format film system; don’t ask me how! By the time I emerged from my isolation in early August 2020 I was shooting film daily and almost exclusively.

Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak Tri-X | D76 (1+1) Shot 8th February 2021 between 8.45 and 9.15am

It wasn’t all film though. My 365 Challenge, which I had started in October 2017 was still going strong and my most-used tool for this job was still the Fuji X100T.  I realised however that I was using it like a film camera, often taking just one or two images with the 365 in mind.  In early August when my consultant gave me the thumbs-up to take short walks I found myself walking to every corner of the small town I live in. Nowhere is more than 20 minutes walk, so forty minutes there and back. This was when my ongoing project, documenting Elland’s urban landscape on black and white film, was born.

This project however hit top gear in October thanks to an impulse buy. I bought a new-to-me camera, the Horizon Kompakt. A Russian-made, swing lens camera for shooting 120 degree panoramas on 35mm film.

Needing to run a few rolls through to test the camera and also get it moving freely again I bought a brick of 35mm film and got out of the armchair and onto my feet. I found that as each completed roll of negatives hit the light pad I was starting to see subtle changes in the way I was using the camera; my eye was becoming attuned to the panoramic format and how to create depth within the image. All the usual photographic skills however, nothing different or new. Simply using light and shade, shapes within the urban landscape and utilising the sound knowledge of exposure acquired through years of using cameras manually and regularly choosing not to use the automatic modes or at least knowing when to override the electronic Brain in the camera. Of course, many of the cameras I’m using these days are purely mechanical with no electronics. The Kompakt for example is clockwork as is the Horizon S3 Pro I bought as a late Christmas present to myself.

Calder & Hebble Navigation 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

One of the first tangible results of this project was a ‘zine’. An A5 Landscape book/magazine with 50 pages of 170 gsm silk paper with a 350gsm gloss cover. Over 20 double page spreads where incorporated and I was thrilled with the quality. I had twenty copies printed, kept one for myself and sold the rest via Twitter so fellow film photographers in the UK, EU and America; so I covered my costs too which was a welcome bonus.

I will return to the project in a future blog post but in the meantime to celebrate my return to full-time film photography and the start of my urban panoramas project I’ve included a few images in this post come from the first few months of seriously shooting film panoramas.

Flooded woodland – frozen and enchanting. 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

FOOTNOTE: When I first returned to using film more extensively I initially felt that I had left the warm cozy world of photography magazines, unlimited YouTube videos and countless other online resources relating to digital photography and in to an arid desert. But I was wrong. There is a thriving worldwide online community dedicated to film photography and none more so than on Twitter. Many images get shared but the biggest plus for me is that there is real interaction and it is on the whole done in a fabulously generous and tolerant way.