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!

1+1+1=1

I’ve mentioned before that I keep the process of digitising my negatives as simple as possible. However, it is not that I am a Luddite nor that I am an incompetent, I simply prefer fresh air to a computer keyboard. My purchase of the RSS 6×17 though has meant I have needed to rethink this a little as the negatives are so large I waste over half of the sensor if I try capturing the whole negative in one go.

My previous post mentioned that I had stitched two “negatives” together to make an image with a wider field of view by harnessing the power of having a camera with top and bottom shutters. It didn’t however mention that the two files I used were each comprised of three parts which were also stitched together.

My technique was essentially the same as I would use to capture a digital panorama in the field adapted slightly for the new purpose. I adjusted the height of the camera on the copy stand until the vertical side of the negative completely filled the frame. I then made three exposures, moving the negative between each to ensure I captured the whole of the 6×17 negative (see below). Three exposures gave me a good overlap between each negative which helps the software with the stitching. Incidentally, I had photographed each portion of the negative with the same settings on the camera and at this stage I have not made any adjustment to the RAW files.

Three digital files cover the whole of the 6×17 negative

Selecting the three RAW file in Adobe Bridge I then selected the Tools menu and then Photoshop and Photomerge from the sub-menus.

Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge

I then sat back and let Photoshop do its magic and after a few moments it presented me with a stitched file with three layers. It appeared to have done a very good job of aligning everything and so I simply flattened the file and processed it as normal.

Three “scans”, one stitched file and the final result

Now, there’s no point asking me for optimal settings etcetera as I won’t know the answer! This method was intuitive and worked for me. I am sure that I will take more notice of discussions on stitching in the future so may well improve on this methodology but for now it works for me!

Not really so subtle

My latest acquisition in my panoramic explorations is a 6×17 pinhole camera from RealitySoSubtle (RSS). It’s anything but subtle. From its black, boxy exterior with no fewer than four chunky silver clips to the massive negatives it produces the RSS 6×17 screams “look at me!”

Quoting from the website, the RealitySoSubtle 6×17 is a dual pinhole/shutter curved film plane 6×17 panoramic pinhole camera that uses 120 film. The dual pinhole allows for the horizon to be placed on the upper or lower third of the frame, although what exactly comprises the horizon is dependant on the level that your camera is at. I regularly use a pinhole low down to the floor so for my test roll I popped the camera on a mini tripod and headed to my front yard and a much-photographed bench.

Same camera placement – the only difference is in the pinhole chosen.

Whilst I was deciding whether or not to buy the RSS6x17 I got into a discussion with John Farnan on Twitter. I’d originally intended to buy the “F” version which has one, centrally positioned, pinhole with a filter ring. I use contrast filters a lot in my black & white photography so it was a logical choice for me. However, I had underestimated the power of a dual pinhole camera, a fact that John was quick to point out! He also shared some images to prove his point and so I found myself emailing RSS to amend my order!

The two images above demonstrate the benefits of the dual pinhole quite nicely. The top version is using the top pinhole and the bottom using … yup the bottom pinhole! A powerful tool to add to my compositional armoury.

Of course, with the negatives on the light pad I quickly saw the opportunity for combining the two negatives for some added real estate (look at the two pictures above again). By stitching the two images together in Photoshop (other photo-software is available) I created a 2×1 image which still kept the 141° horizontal field of view but brought the foreground back too giving what I would estimate as a 60° vertical field of view, for another take on the scene. Despite only four frames per roll I can see me experimenting with this a fair bit initially. However, John assures me I will quickly default to the top pinhole 90% of the time!

I think that me and this pinhole camera are going to be emptying my wallet of beer tokens at an alarming rate over the next few months! I probably should set up a KoFi account! 🙂

Discovering digital pinhole

My previous post talked about making a pinhole from a body cap to use on my Fuji X-series cameras. I made three of these pinholes yesterday morning although the first was too large so was put to one side. This post talks about what happened next.

As I was putting away the few tools I used to make my pinholes I remembered the first cap which I’d put to one side. Could I remove the aluminium pinhole and thus free up the cap for further use? Despite being superglued it came out with a little bit of persuasion and some downward force. The body cap survived and therefore before clearing away for the day I had another go, this time using a small dressmakers pin. Popping the finished item on the Fuji X-Pro1 I was very happy to note that this was, as I’d hoped, a small improvement on caps two and three.

One thing I had noticed was that I could preview the image on the Fuji’s LCD screen. With the X-Pro1 it’s a rather dim image until you depress the shutter part way when you also get the exposure preview.

Finally, some of the guesswork taken out of framing a scene, especially helpful for getting in close.

This morning I thought I’d try the pinhole cap on my Fuji X-H1 which has an articulating LCD screen so easier to use when working low down which is my habitual way of working with the pinholes. The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t need to half-press the shutter to see the exposure preview. I did pop in and get the X-Pro1 and double checked that exposure preview hadn’t got turned off by mistake – it hadn’t!

Sun flare – in preview too!

The next thing I noticed was the screen … the live preview was showing the effect of sun flare in all its glory. I had the camera on a tripod so took the picture then compared that to the live view … they matched. I was able not just to frame the image but also to preview how the light was going to react with the sun in the frame or close to it.

I then had the idea for a pinhole selfie. Before now these have been very hit and miss and often ended up with a very central subject, but I realised I could get the composition more accurate. By standing behind the tripod-mounted camera and holding my hand in front I could work out where my face would need to be to sit where I desired in the frame (see above).

Sunday morning pinhole selfie!
Flare-free selfie (3 consecutive images – all uncropped)

So, will my new found pinhole freedom tempt me away from my film pinhole cameras?

Absolutely not! I love the unpredictable nature of my pinhole cameras and the serendipitous images that seem to occur more regularly than you’d expect. Yes, there’s a certain satisfaction from knowing that you’ve definitely nailed the sun flare but there’s also a great sense of anticipation when removing a roll of 120 or some sheets of 5×4 from the tank and holding them up to the light for that first look.

It wasn’t all about flare!
But it mainly was!

So, whilst the digital body cap pinhole won’t be replacing my film cameras any time soon, it will be something I will probably keep with the camera at all times. On occasions, usually when out with Senior Management, I will take just a compact camera with one lens. This is usually the Nikon L35AF but occasionally I will take a digital mirrorless Fuji instead. I don’t always get the opportunity for some dedicated photography time but one of my small cameras in my pocket or shoulder bag is a good insurance policy should an opportunity arise. Having a pinhole option without carrying two cameras will be a good bonus.

With tuppence for paper and string …

One of my favourite scenes in the original Mary Poppins film (1964 – I first saw it when I was six) was when the Banks family make their own kite … from paper and string. Sadly, my fine DIY skills are rather limited, I’ve built several large scale aviaries in my time but give me something that needs finer motor skills and I’m stuck.

I’ve considered buying a body cap pinhole for my (digital) Fuji cameras many times but have always been put off by the cost. My own research, backed up by many YouTube tutorials have suggested that making my own shouldn’t cost more than a couple of pounds – or tuppence for paper and string! Ironically it was the gift of a variable pinhole “lens” for my birthday a couple of weeks ago that finally stung me into action.

I will write about my experiences with the Thingyfy pinhole adapter in a future blog but suffice to say that whilst I can see it’s creative potential I was on the whole underwhelmed with something that costs around £80. It was this that stung me into action and online to buy a couple of generic Fuji X-fit body caps. I spent £3.50 on three body caps and as all the necessary tools were here, including superglue, along with several empty fizzy-pop cans awaiting recycling that was my total outlay for three (potentially at least) body cap pinholes.

I won’t bore you with the “build” as there’s plenty of material online doing just that. But, even for me with my meagre skills, it was a simple enough task and I was left wondering why I’d taken so long to get around to it.

Come in number three …

I used a hat pin for the pinhole as it’s a good size for my arthritic hands. My first pinhole turned out to be a little too large although the image it produced was very like that from the Thingyfy. This was at least a promising start. I looked at the hat pin and realised that the point is slightly bent so when I pressed straight down I was inadvertently pushing the widest part of the pin into the aluminium. So, with caps two and three I used the hat pin at a forty-five degree angle making sure that I didn’t actually fully pierced the metal. Just a small indentation which I then sandpapered away to reveal a fairly neat little pinhole.

Eureka!

And it worked! Cap two was a big improvement and cap three slightly better still. Both in fact are very usable and with the bonus that I think I can improve further still. My initial test subject (above) was the nearest thing to hand from where I was sat but I then took the camera into the front yard for a “proper” test.

Headless!

I misjudged the height of the image with the first attempt (above) but the instant feedback from the digital camera meant I could adjust things and try again (below).

Having noted that I think I can get the pinholes slightly sharper here are a couple of other observations relating to the camera I used, a Fuji X-Pro1.

For this test I used the cameras automatic exposure capabilities, set to the multi metering mode, with the ISO at 1600 simply to keep exposure times below 30 seconds. I found that indoors I needed to set a +2 exposure compensation whereas outdoors I was able to use around +1 or a third of a stop more.

One of the usual “features” of pinhole photography is the vignette that is often seen on the resultant images. My first pinhole body-caps show very little vignetting. One thing I did do which isn’t always mentioned in tutorials, was to chamfer the edges of the hole that I drilled in the lens cap such that the outer edge of the hole is slightly wider than the inner.

So, there you have it. My first foray into DIY digital pinhole photography. It won’t be my last either as I’m convinced I can get an even smaller pinhole with a bit more practice and a smaller pin.

A stream of consciousness

My last blog post generated a fair bit of conversation over on Twitter even though the images themselves were only to be seen in the accompanying video. To rectify that here are a few “views”extracted from the rather long negative.

As experiments go it was one of my more successful and whilst I cannot claim it as an original idea, I’m sure its been done many, many times in the past, it was new to me. Roman on Twitter kindly commented:

I like these photos a lot. Feels like a kaleidoscopic impression of a walk.

Roman W S on Twitter

I’d seen them as a visual stream of consciousness but like Roman’s description too. It’s given me an idea for a variation on the occasional 9 in 45 series. Just need to find the right opportunity – perhaps Holga Week in October?

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!