Dry: An Update

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

Notice anything odd?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s gonna be the tough part!

Running with the dogs …

… or shuffling about midst the early morning dog walkers!

“Saturday morning can you take the garden waste to the council recycling place”. “Yes, dear”. Those two little words had me out of the house before 8am and by 8.15am, chore completed, I was parked close to a local park to give my Holga WPC pinhole camera a run out. Apparently it’s also the time at the weekend when all the local dog owners take their pets for their first run out of the day. I lost count of the number of leg licks I received, or the numbers of “sorry mate!” they produced.

The purpose of this morning’s wander was to put a roll of Fomapan 100 through a newly acquired Holga WPC. This is a wide angle, pinhole camera from the doyen of lo-fi film photography and was an impulse buy driven by a member of the Twitter film community whom I won’t name to spare Will’s blushes. Having spent most of the previous week with a 5×4 large format camera, wielding a spotmeter and reacquainting myself with the Zone System it was a bit odd wandering about with a plastic camera, mini-tripod and a very laissez faire attitude towards metering.

But, sometimes that is exactly what is needed. Having spent the week being rather serious and deliberate it was very refreshing to spend forty minutes playing.

This mixture of the serious and the playful helps to keep me creatively motivated. I also have a natural tendency to have several projects ongoing at any time and this also helps keep me motivated. If one project is stalling slightly then no worries, just switch attention to another for a short time before returning. My dry plate project has stalled temporarily at present. It looks to me as if the batch of plates I purchased has a fault (I will cover this in my next Dry project update) and so I am pausing, taking stock and planning my next move. In the meantime, my ongoing interest in pinhole photography has stepped in to fill the gap as it were.

Prices of film camera gear have been increasing steadily for a while now but, is it my imagination, or do they seem to have accelerated since Brexit. In particular, cameras such as the Holga WPC have recently seen an upturn in prices. Whereas a few months ago the WPC could be had for between £40 and £50 new the prices are creeping up and the same online sellers are now asking £60-80 for the same camera. Brexit or profiteering whilst hiding behind a Brexit excuse? You take your pick!

So, a successful trial run means that the Holga WPC will be added to my pinhole arsenal. I’ve recently sold the 35mm pinhole camera as I’ve decided to concentrate on pinhole using Fomapan 100 in 120 and 5×4 but I still have five or six if you include the 5×4 doing the rounds on the “Dave’s Pinhole CameraWorld Tour”.

Pulling HP5+

I’ve been using film since the 1970s and in the last year or so it’s become my main photographic medium. In the last eighteen months I’ve developed over three hundred rolls of film and around a hundred sheets. One thing I’ve not done in all this time however is to “pull” a roll of film. Over-exposing when making the exposures and then reducing development time to compensate. Some people do it deliberately. Pulling film reduces contrast and brings out details in the shadows so can be helpful but it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to do, certainly not with a roll of film. Until this week.

Arriving at the beach in Seaham on Monday afternoon I pulled the ONDU out of one pocket and the roll of Fomapan 100 out of the other. Only it wasn’t Fomapan; I had inadvertently put a roll of Ilford HP5+ in my pocket. Now, I like Fomapan 100 in the pinhole. The slower speed and the gravity-defying reciprocity give me many seconds of exposure which makes life easier when the shutter has to be opened and closed manually. With a 400 speed film I was getting shutter speeds of half-a-second and faster. What to do.

Seaham – North Beach

In the end I rated the film at 100/200 ISO, whatever gave me a workable shutter speed, and ignored the reciprocity factor. By my reckoning I will have therefore over-exposed the film by between one and two stops. After cogitating, and speaking to fellow photographer John, I decided that a 20% reduction in development time would be about right.

Getting low

So, today was the day. Back home, the laundry up to date, grandson Louie having his morning nap and I am in the kitchen developing the film. Ilford HP5+ developed in Ilford ID11, diluted 1+1, would normally get thirteen minutes in the tank but today I’m reducing that to ten minutes.

The negatives are well exposed although as expected they are a little flat in terms of contrast. Loads of detail in both shadows and highlights too. Perfectly printable in the darkroom however or indeed readily converted in a digital workflow. The images here were in fact copied with a digital camera and converted/processed in the Snapseed app on my iPad.

So, what’s the verdict? Or more pertinently would I do it again? Undoubtedly I would not hesitate to pull HP5+ again if the need arose. Would I do it deliberately? Probably not. Don’t forget we are talking roll film here. Using sheet film, where we can tailor the exposure and development of individual negatives, I would have no hesitation using this approach if the scene demanded it. This experience has shown me that the concept works and I suspect that I was lucky that the whole roll was used on the beach in consistent light and conditions. Had the roll contained a mixture of scenes and lighting conditions the results might not have been so consistent.

Face in the wood

So, the outcome of this enforced experiment has been very positive. Whilst I would not aim to deliberately over expose and under develop roll film it can work and my logic on this occasion was sound. I didn’t use the technique deliberately but nevertheless it’s been a very useful exercise and further proof that you’re never to old to learn new tricks!

Dry beginnings

Wednesday 30th June and the final pieces I needed to start my dry plate experiment arrived so, just after lunch, I headed to my back yard for my first attempt, clutching my Harman Titan pinhole camera rather than the Obscura I’d intended using. I still plan on using the Obscura but with the Titan newly arrived and also film holders on loan from Andy I wanted to give those a try.

My head full of the advice I’d gleaned from the pictographica website, messages from fellow photographers on Twitter and various other sources I set about taking the light reading.

Initial light reading of the subject

I started by metering the scene with an app on my phone. This wouldn’t be my go-to method for any photography other than pinhole. Experience has shown that for pinhole work, with all its foibles, the phone app is just as good as any other method. I was using a J Lane speed plate so I metered at f22, ISO 25. This then needs scaling to f206 and for this I use a conversion table that I’ve printed out, photographed and then saved to the Favourites folder on my phone. This is actually for an aperture of f216 but is close enough for my needs. My 1/20th second, see above, thus became 6.5seconds. Reciprocity then needs to be accounted for and over 4 seconds with these plates requires a fifty percent increase, so in this case 10 seconds which I “rounded” to 15 seconds for good measure. You can see why pinhole photographers have a plethora of camera supports in their bag.

It was then time for the darkroom to tray develop the glass plate, a technique that surprisingly I’ve never tried always preferring tank development. I rarely venture into the darkroom during the warmer months and was very quickly reminded as to why this is so. Even in shorts and tee-shirt it was soon very warm with the room blacked out and the door firmly shut.

The recommended developer for these plates is HC-110 but having none I used the ID11 stock that I had ready for use. I was using my usual darkroom trays as the simplest way to develop these plates is using open trays. I couldn’t find a suggested time for ID11 but there was a time of 9 minutes for D76 and given the similarities between the two developers this is what I opted for. Develop, stop, fix and wash. Straight forward and so it was out of the dark and back into the light.

This was the first intimation that something hadn’t gone to plan. I know the camera is OK as I’ve since tested it with sheet film so the options were either a dodgy plate or user error. I immediately tended towards the latter as being the culprit and inspecting the plate later I came to the conclusion that I probably did not have enough developer in the tray. I’d used up what was in the bottle and whilst this would have been sufficient for developing paper I suspect that it was not deep enough to fully submerge and keep submerged a plate of glass 1.3mm thick. I knew that there would be a learning curve with these and here was the first lesson. I as also using a black tray and so couldn’t see what was happening very well either.

But what were the positives from this? The negative image that is visible is properly exposed which hopefully suggests that my experience with film and pinhole cameras will stand me in good stead as the project progresses. I shan’t be using pinhole cameras exclusively either with glass plates as I have ordered my own dry plate holder so I can use the Intrepid too.

Whilst I had been concerned about dish development, apart from the warmth of the room this proved to be a straightforward process although as we’ve seen I probably do need to adjust my methodology. Finally, I now have a glass plate I can use for practicing loading both the Obscura and dry plate holders and also for “dry” runs with the trays so that’s a positive too.

Houston we have a problem

So, two immediate next steps. I’ve ordered a set of 5”x7” trays which will both reduce the amount of chemicals I need and also stop the plate clanking around in a tray designed for 12” prints. I’ve also ordered a bottle of HC-110, Jason Lane’s preferred developer, for use with the dry plates. I make ID11 in five litre batches for day to day use and yesterday only had around 300ml available. Not wanting to spend the time making up a new batch of developer and cooling it down for use I simply went with what I had – which probably wasn’t enough in hindsight. Using HD-110 as a one-shot developer at dilution B will hopefully be more convenient without sacrificing the consistency I am looking for.

Whilst I may expose a second sheet over the next day or so I won’t be able to develop it until the smaller trays and HC-110 arrive; no hardship as I am hoping this little project will keep me occupied for a few months yet. From late September onwards UV levels will start to drop considerably here in the UK from what I’ve read, if this is true I want to have nailed my technique for exposing and developing before the more challenging winter light.

#Dave’s Pinhole Camera World Tour 2021

Little did I know when on an impulse I offered John Martin the loan of my homemade (not by me) 5×4 pinhole camera that this would be the genesis of a collaboration with photographers from around the country joining in.

What if we send it round the world and make a ‘zine? Round the world may be a bit ambitious but certainly round the UK is doable.

The whisky talking?

I was sat in a cafe with a pot of tea on 16th June 2021 when John messaged me via Twitter. He’d been chatting to James, another photographer, about the camera he’d been lent. James was keen to try it out and John knew I’d be more than happy. After a few whiskys though they came up with the idea of a world tour for the camera and perhaps also a ‘zine. Thus was born this collaborative project.

Ready to start it’s tour

The camera itself was the result of an impulse buy I made from a charity shop; I figured that even if I didn’t use the camera regularly I was still doing some good for the charity. So, you could say that this whole project was founded on impulses.

Next week the camera moves on, down to the south coast if I recall, and the recipient is I believe a complete newcomer to both pinhole and large format photography. One of the things John and I are keen on doing is encouraging people who’ve never used large format before and to this end John is lending three DDSs to the project – which will be going south fully loaded!

The maiden image

The camera has a 50mm field of view, a 0.2mm pinhole and an effective f-stop of f250. To put that in context, a scene that meters at 1/30th second at f16 becomes an exposure of eight seconds BEFORE taking into account the reciprocity failure of the film stock. So, if you are using Fomapan 100, which is my go-to for 5×4 pinhole, this 8 second exposure becomes 56 seconds once reciprocity is factored in. If, like me you also routinely use a contrast filter for black and white photography (a yellow/green in my case), then this becomes seven and a half minutes!

The project already has five participants in addition to John and myself and we’ve only been kicking the idea around for ten days or so. Hopefully, as more images are shared with the #DPCWT2021 tag then more people will want to get involved. Watch this space!

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.

A Sense of Place

After the very successful ‘zine of urban panoramas last year I’m currently working on my next ‘zine offering. Whereas the panoramas were all made within a short period of time the images I will be using for A Sense of Place were created over a much longer period of time and in fact were not originally intended as a series, let alone a zine.

Zero Image pinhole camera, Ilford HP5+ Cresswell Bay, October 2020

Although I have been creating images by the water for as long as I have been making photographs the genesis for this collection are the four pinhole images above. They were created one after the other at Cresswell Beach in the north of England using a Zero Image pinhole camera and Ilford HP5+ film in early October 2020 after four months of being confined to the house and a further three months confined to within a few miles of home. I had never been to Cresswell before – but it was like coming home.

Whilst I’ve not made the final selection yet, and in fact I have not finished the photography yet, all of the images will feature water; representing my “happy place”. Time spent by a river, alongside a lake, walking the canal towpath or strolling on the seashore is always a relaxing and peaceful place for me. I am at peace alongside water, calm and relaxed – even when the camera is playing up!

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.

Modifying my pinhole

I am a relatively recent convert to the joys (and unpredictability) of pinhole photography, even building one myself not so long ago.  As with the majority of my film photography I tend to use black and white film in the pinholes, indeed cannot remember ever having used colour film in one.  I have pinholes that accept 35mm, 120 and 5×4 film of which my most-used is a Zero Image 612b, multi-format pinhole that uses 120 film.  It is multi-format in that it has a pair of baffles inside that can be moved to facilitate using the camera at 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×12.

Zero Image 612b pinhole camera, Fuji Acros, orange filter. Developed in Kodak D76(1+1)

As a black and white photographer I routinely use filters to control contrast, indeed with most of my film cameras a yellow or yellow/green filter is ever-present on the lens.  However, my Zero Image is the basic version and therefore has no bells and whistles such as external filter rings. I lack the tools and skills to adapt the front of the camera working around the sliding “shutter” so have reluctantly accepted the lack of filter options.

Until now.

I have recently modified the Zero Image to accept filters internally. I did this by taking a 25-37mm step up ring and asking my grandson to take the 25mm thread off (without removing his own fingers).  This was then super-glued inside the camera, with the pinhole centrally situated within the ring.  Because of the camera’s internal dimensions a 37mm filter ring was the largest filter diameter I could accommodate and still screw filters on/off with my old fingers. By incorporating a screw thread inside the camera and purchasing a few small filters I am now able to use not only contrast control filters but also a 720nm filter to enable me to use infrared film with the pinhole. The only downside is I have to choose upfront what filter I will need and install it before loading the film.  In addition, I cannot change the filter part way through the roll. Other than that it works fabulously though and the 37mm yellow filter is rarely out of the camera.

Zero Image pinhole camera | 720nm filter | Rollei Infrared 400

At the 6×12 setting the outer edge of the ring is visible onthe edge of the negative as a very definite vignette BUT once cropped the usable negative area still measures 6×12.1.  There are no issues at 6×6, 6×7 or 6×9. I haven’t yet tried 6×4.5 but on this evidence I do not envisage problems, although I very rarely use the smallest negative size with this camera.