A print in the hand …

Calder & Hebble Navigation

I reported recently on the results I had achieved with a box of rather old, discontinued paper and promised to share a couple of scans. With no childcare today I thought I’d pop a couple on the scanner for you. These are scans of darkroom prints, viewing these on screen is like trying to evaluate the taste of a gourmet meal via the telephone. But, ironically, it’s the only way that many will get to experience these. They have a wonderfully rough texture, are a good weight in the hand and there is something so enchanting about such tactile objects.

Elland Wharf

One thing I’ve noticed is that the texture of the paper does not scan very well, being scanned into two dimensions has appeared to have compressed the texture making it slightly indistinct. But then , no-one would expect the scans to match the three-dimensional reality of such papers.

Woodland on the outskirts of Elland
  • Camera: Horizon S3
  • Films: Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5+
  • Paper: Kentmere Art Classic

Pictorial Planet

Back in the day there wasn’t the internet to guide and inform the wannabe photographer. There were plenty of magazines and books but resources like YouTube were not even a gleam in a developers eye. Heck, home computers weren’t even a “thing”! So, when I returned to the film photography fold a couple of years ago I was amazed at the number of dedicated websites, personal blogs and, best of all for someone who likes to see things being demonstrated, there was also a growing band of personal channels on YouTube all dedicated to film photography.

The bubble burst fairly quickly for me though and within a few months I was an occasional visitor only and it wasn’t unusual for there to be well over a hundred unread notifications in my Inbox. There were still some good channels, there were also some who every now and then put out something interesting but on the whole it seemed to me that “influencers” had cornered the market. Homogeneity was taking over and style rather than substance was the order of the day. One roll of film was all it took for some of them to pronounce on the efficacy of a particular film stock. They didn’t even develop it themselves, leaving that to a fashionable film lab.

Now that’s a broad brush and of course there are still good channels out there and I’m sure that there are loads I’ve yet to find but recent trends have been enough to put me off regularly dipping into YT as a source of helpful information. Plenty of entertainment certainly, but content seems a little thin to me. Film photography is currently “hip” and finding simple, straightforward advice from experienced users is not easy. I’m lucky, I have a good grasp of the basics, but a newcomer really needs to be a detective to find answers to some of the basic questions. Or perhaps I’m not savvy enough to home in on the good stuff.

So, when a channel pops-up that can meet the needs of beginners and more experienced photographers alike I feel it needs to be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

Enter Pictorial Planet – https://www.youtube.com/c/PictorialPlanet/videos “Sharing tips and personal views on analog film and darkroom workflow. From the author of The Art of Black and White Developing and Pictorial Planet website.”

It is a fairly new channel, with around 150 subscribers, but material is being added regularly from quick tips to detailed explanations on determining the true speed of your film given your choice of developer and processing technique. But what I like most is that it is practical, gimmick-free and succinct. It reminds me of when I first started photography in the 70s and the biggest source of information was usually some of the members at the local club who freely gave of their time and experience to help a newcomer to the hobby. Dipping into this collection of videos is like having club night every night.

So, thank you John Finch for providing a rich source of easy to understand and truly useful information for both the buddying film photographer and more experienced hands. I’m looking forward to making FX55 next month – inspired by a Pictorial Planet video.

Drying fibre-based papers

OK. Not an exciting subject but a vexed one for many darkroom printers. I generally avoid using FB papers but when I do use them I resign myself to a frustrating period of waiting before I can view them properly. Six, 10×8 FB prints, laid one on top of each other can easily reach six inches in height. So, as I don’t have anything better, the dried prints spend a week underneath a pile of the six biggest books I own.

So, you can imagine my delight when I spotted a YouTube video which promised a solution.

Pegs!

Not elegant … but it works!
Six dried prints – straight off the washing line!

Once the prints have been thoroughly washed simply place two prints, back to back, and hang them to dry (see above). Once dried, remove pegs and you will have prints that lay reasonably flat. Certainly flat enough to trim and properly examine. They will still need a day under the books but what a difference!

What a difference a peg or two makes!

I’ve just ordered some clear plastic mini-pegs to use in lieu of the big pegs around the sides and bottom. It’s a small price for flat FB prints – guess who’s going to be using a lot more FB paper going forward!

The YouTube video I referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=159vkrfHefo

A Classic

Some while ago, pre-pandemic certainly, I was given a few boxes of materials by a friend who had decided that as he clearly wasn’t going to resurrect his darkroom again he might as well have a clear out. Long-expired film, photographic papers and chemicals, some opened others sealed, all-in-all a veritable treasure trove.

Much of the film I shot over the next two months as I tested new-to-me cameras. Some of the chemicals were clearly way past their best so these I discarded straight away whilst a few unopened bottles are still in my cellar awaiting investigation. There was a large carrier bag of opened boxes of photographic paper too and as my cellar darkroom was still operational I tested most if not all of these. Some fogged beyond any practical use in the darkroom and some only slightly fogged and therefore usable. The one unopened, still sealed, box remained in my paper store for another day.

.

That day was yesterday

The paper is Kentmere Art Classic, 9.5×12 inches, with a warm tone ivory tinted emulsion coated on a 240gsm fibre base. I got that from the slip of paper inside the box. It also told me that the paper was around grade two. I wouldn’t be playing with split-grade printing therefore.

The negative I chose was a woodland scene, fairly even toned across the whole of the negative with no large patches of shadow or huge expanses of sky. It was partly a way of keeping it simple but largely I thought the subject would suit a warm tone textured paper. Spoiler: I was right!

An initial test print showed I would be working with relatively long exposure times compared to my recent prints. This initial test also led to a second test strip at 15 second intervals. As I’d hoped the test strips showed that my hunch re the negative was good and that I wouldn’t need any dodging or burning. I decided to make two prints, one at 60 seconds and one at 90. Both turned out very nicely and I loved the tone of the paper and it’s tactile, textural quality. I decided to see if I could buy some more, this was going to be a real favourite.

Long story short? Kentmere discontinued the paper in 2006, and in 2007 their paper making division was acquired by Harman. I won’t be getting any more when this runs out. A shame as I wanted to see what changes fifteen years had made to this lovely paper.

The finished print

This morning I made a few more prints on this paper and I will post those once they are dried and (oh, irony) scanned. I’m going to hoard it for a while though – or at least until I discover something similar!

West Vale

26/3/2021: Horizon S3, Kodak Tri-X, D76(1+1)

West Vale is a village in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England. The village falls within the Greetland and Stainland parish of the Calderdale Council. West Vale is part of Greetland. The reason it is not called East Vale is because it used to be part of Elland District Council who historically ‘gave’ the area to Greetland.

This panoramic was taken from the edge of Elland which overlooks West Vale.

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!

Under the lens

Well, the Ilford under lens filter kit arrived this week, you may recall I mentioned it in an earlier blog post. I quickly put it to use and can report it works exactly as I’d hoped and solves the problem I was having. I have some concerns about it being being below the lens rather than above but I’m trusting that Ilford know what they are doing and that image quality won’t be adversely impacted.

I’m trusting that image quality won’t be adversely impacted.

My new workflow entails me placing both filters I need for the print on the base board in numerical order, ascending left to right. When it comes time to change filters it’s a breeze. No more squinting at the dials on the enlarger head. Excellent.

But…

There’s always a but isn’t there. It’s brought another issue into sharp focus. The timer. Mine is a dial version and of course I can set the initial times with the main light on. However, changing timings for the second exposure means getting my nose close to the dial but even then I’m still often a second out in setting the new time. That bothers me because in all of my film processing and darkroom printing I endeavour to be consistent; to make each process repeatable I have a consistent workflow and make notes of what I’m doing as I progress. Admittedly, in the darkroom I often forget to make these notes being wrapped up in creating but my short term memory is good enough to enable me to repeat things during the same session.

A new timer is out of the reach of my pocket at this time so I sat down in the darkroom one evening last week to ponder the problem. The answer was literally staring me in the face. I have two enlargers and two timers. The bigger (5×4) enlarger has a timer with a digital read out which is a joy to use. However, the plugs and sockets are different to those of my main (6×6 and 35mm) enlarger. Now, fear not, I’m not about to discourse on plug physiology, suffice to say with a few minutes on t’internet I’d discovered a world of plugs I never knew existed and most importantly for this tale, a tale of plug adapters.

Even after a year the sight of a totally deserted high street doesn’t cease to catch me unawares. Horizon S3 Pro – Kentmere Pan 4– – Perceptol (stock) 7/3/2021

My wallet is the princely sum of £7.99 lighter but I’ve just been upstairs and can report that the digital timer, plus it’s adapter, is now sat proudly, plugged into my main enlarger and having tested it works I’m all set for a session in the dark this afternoon and evening.

By the by, the images here are a couple of random film photographs from the last few months – I didn’t think anyone would want a picture of a plug adapter, however relevant to the tale!

Do it for yourself …

I was sat in the front yard yesterday reading Gradient Light by Eddie Ephraums and was struck by the truth of something he says really early on in the book, on page 10 to be precise:

… judge the quality and content of our images by our own standards rather than those dictated by photographic convention

I found myself nodding at the page. Not because it was an earth-shattering revelation nor because it was an “Eureka!” moment. It was simply that it resonated so strongly with my personal belief. It just struck a chord with me … so many within the hobby seem to strive to make images to satisfy club judges whereas I’ve always thought that was secondary to making work that is pleasing to yourself. Competition success or the applause of your peers shouldn’t be the goal but the cherry on the cake – a welcome bonus yes, but not a means of validation.

A very recent pinhole – Zero Image, orange filter, Acros.

Take pinhole photography. I love experimenting with pinholes, I enjoy the unpredictable nature of the genre and I like the aesthetic. But I know better than to put a pinhole image into a monthly folio at my only photography club. Or rather, I now know not to enter a pinhole image.

I’d enjoyed some unexpected success in the club’s annual competition and had graduated from “new member” to “not a bad photographer”. As I said earlier, I do not seek validation for my work but at the time I was working 60+ hour weeks and so the club was a way for an anti-social old #insert word# to chat to others about the hobby. I decided therefore that following this success it was time to let loose my art. That is, my more creative and less conformist images. I was ready to share those images I really cared about rather than the homogenous, sterile work I’d been producing in order to fit in. I started with a pinhole image of an old harbour and a receding tide.

Now whilst I was ready to share, I wasn’t ready for the barrage of comments from the others in my folio group. “Not a sharp line anywhere”. “A bit soft … you perhaps need to improve your PS skills”. “I can’t work out where you focused”. “Not sure what you’re doing here …” and the real sting “I thought you were a decent photographer … so I’m really disappointed in this”.

Luckily, after working in banking for many years my skin was very thick, and so I wasn’t bothered by any of the comments although if I’m honest, the last one stung a little. But, I quickly came to the conclusion that my image wasn’t the problem it was the mindset of the others in the group. Most of the group were slavishly following whatever was flavour of the month with the judges on the club circuit. Rather than creating work that pleased them they were striving to produce work to satisfy the whims of a self-elected group.

Now, you might be thinking that I voted with my feet at this point. But no. I enjoyed the company of the group and decided that differences over art weren’t going to rob me of the friendships I’d made. I did however stop entering the annual open competitions. In my own mind I guess that I pragmatically decided to agree to differ and look for an alternative outlet for my less conservative work.

As an aside I once entered a darkroom print into a monthly print folio. Eleven inkjet images and just my lone silver print. My favourite comment? “I think you needed to add a subtle S-Curve and perhaps tweak the Levels too in Photoshop.” To reassure you, dear reader, I’ve not spent the last year or so looking for the Curves and Levels sliders on my enlarger.

So, the point of my soapbox this afternoon is – do what pleases you. If you are doing things to please others then you run the risk of pleasing no one. If you enjoy validation from your peers then consider looking for like-minded folk to share your work with. Not sycophants though, they are good for your ego but not your art.

The last word goes to Geoff on Twitter:

Couldn’t agree more, the image needs to satisfy the intuition not the intellect … Geoff McGuffie

Blundering in the dark

After a break of almost a year I returned to the darkroom this past week. Mainly prompted by wanting to produce a darkroom print from a negative of mine that a friend is producing cyanotypes and kallitypes from. He’s used a processed TIFF that I created from a scan and used that to create digital negatives to then contact print. In conversation he mentioned that he had no darkroom himself these days so I decided to jump back into mine and make him a darkroom print.

So, up front, a disclaimer. I’m a competent printer rather than an accomplished one. I know the basics and occasionally produce a very nice print somehow but I still class myself as a novice. There’s no false modesty here, just simple facts.

Now, one thing I was starting to get reasonably competent at early last year was split grade printing. It was something I’d never attempted first time round back in the 70s as I did not have access to variable grade papers in those days. It was available but generally inferior to graded papers, so these were what was used largely by us amateurs. Variable grade paper began to become more mainstream in the 1980s however but by then I was raising a family and no longer had a darkroom.

Getting there – but base exposures still not right

Variable contrast paper however, has been a revelation to me over the last couple of years and I’ve eagerly researched how to get the best out of it. Split-grade caught my attention mid-2019 and I’d been exploring that process immediately prior to the pandemic. However, returning to darkroom printing I seemed to have totally forgotten everything I though I’d learnt about the process.

Several (OK – many) sheets later and two days in I decided to go back a step by revisiting the really useful online resource I used last time to get me started … but couldn’t find it! However, I did find a couple of tutorials that recommended a different approach which seemed simpler so that was the approach I decided to try. Within two sheets, the negative that had given me two days of grief (not full days you understand) gave up a pleasing image on the paper. Not perfect but acceptable and by now I’d had enough of staring at that negative on the baseboard and in any case was keen to try another. I will return to it later I’m sure though.

Negative two was dusted and popped into the negative holder. Compose, focus, tweak framing, set timer to two seconds and all set for making a test strip. That was sheet one. Fifteen minutes later I was putting sheet two in the easel and had my printing plan in my head. Six minutes later this second sheet was in the washer and I was returning the negative to it’s sleeve. Yes, you read that right, one test strip and one print. Split-grade, localised dodging and burning and most importantly a printing plan I could, in theory, return to later.

Hanging to dry – at the first attempt!

Which I did the following day. Same base exposures but slightly different dodging and burning approach to create a slightly different look. One take and done.

Two images printed a day apart but with different burning plans

Now, my main enlarger is a Durst M605 which has a colour head. I got it a few years back for a steal so even though my colour blindness will make colour printing problematic it was a better buy than a black and white enlarger at the time. When I started split grade printing I realised I could use the colour head to vary the colour of the light (the basis of split-grade printing with variable contrast paper) and initially thought the colour head would therefore save me the cost of filters.

It definitely works, but trying to read and adjust the dials by the dim light of a safelight is an absolute pain. At least it is for me. I end up covering the partially exposed paper and bringing the safelight to within inches of the head and my nose just as close to be able to make mid-printing adjustments.

Long story short I’ve just ordered an Ilford under the lens filter kit to save me the headache of bringing a safelight up close to the enlarger head so I can peer at the numbers on the Y& M filter dials!! It’s due later this week so I shall report back in due course.

Cryptic – but it works!

So, in a nutshell, my new (to me) approach to split-grade printing is:

  • With 2.5 filter in place (10 magenta on my enlarger) create usual test strip
  • Evaluate as normal to determine base exposure (call it B) and also determine dodging/burning plan.
  • Now dial in 0 filter (70 yellow for me) and expose for B/2
  • Without moving paper dial in 5 filter (130 magenta for me). The time in theory should be B/2 but with filters =>4 it needs increasing – I choose to use (B/2)x1.5 as a start.
  • Expose for second part. You now have the basic exposure.
  • At this stage you can develop the sheet and assess however I tend to carry out the planned burning in too.
  • Develop and reassess.

This will hopefully give a very good basis to work from. If the image needs more contrast use a 1 filter in the first step using B/2 as before. If the shadows need controlling then adjust the time for that element. The Ilford rule of thumb for the second exposure is the original base time (B) for filters 4-5 but in my recent experiments I’ve found (B/2)x1.5 a good starting point. You don’t need to restrict yourself to 0 and 5 filters of course but they make a great starting point.

I hope this has been of interest, for a very easy to follow introduction you could do a lot worse than check out this video from Ilford.

Metering with the Horizon

As I’ve already noted elsewhere the Horizon panoramic cameras I’m using are basically point and shoot models with no electronics. This includes, or perhaps should say does not include, the light meter many of us are used to finding on our cameras these days. As a photographer of a certain vintage this is not a deal-breaker for me. I have many manual cameras and a choice of traditional light meters in my arsenal. I have a large spot meter, a smaller multi-purpose light/flash meter and an older Weston light meter. I also have an app on my phone these days.

Horizon Kompakt | Ilford HP5+ | Kodak D76 (1+1) Shot 15th Fenruary 2021

Now, the Kompakt has no meaningful controls so there is no need for a light meter. I make a judgement as to what speed film to load before I leave the house and forget about bourgeois concepts like correct exposure. It’s a very liberating experience as I’ve also noted before. However, wandering looking for compositions freed from the tyranny of exposure calculations is fabulous until the light changes or until a really good scene presents itself and I start to hope that the exposure latitude of my film will be enough.

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

The S3 however has a decent set of exposure controls and I’ve been able to be a little more precise with choice of settings. Initially, I read the light for each exposure using a light meter but this spoilt the spontaneity and freedom I’d experienced with the Kompakt. I eventually settled on an approach whereby I took a base reading with the phone app as I left the house and then used my experience to tweak settings from this base as necessary only taking a new reading if the light changed materially. The restored much of the freedom and has been the approach I’ve happily used for several months now. And then the sun came out!

March 17th we saw something we’ve not seen that much of for months – the sun! Deep shadows, blue cloudless sky and bright, bright sunshine. After months of grim, damp days who could resist the chance to take a walk without dozens of warm and waterproof layers.

Horizon S3 , Kodak Double XX film, developed in D76(1+1) 17th March 2021

By chance I had a short roll of Kodak Double X to use as I’d just finished the bulk roll. I estimated a dozen frames on the Horizon which would be great for a short walk around the block. Rated at 320 I was getting a base reading of f16 and 1/250th of a second – the top end of the S3s range. It didn’t leave a lot of room for manoeuvre so I popped a light meter in my pocket as a precaution. Not one of my aforementioned devices though but a Reveni Labs light meter, about the size of the dice used in many board games. So small in fact that my biggest fear is not about its accuracy but about losing it! This isn’t the place for a review or full product description but you can find out more on the Reveni website.

The Reveni is designed to sit in the hot (or cold) shoe of a meter-less camera and does what it’s designed to very simply and easily. This was its maiden outing and as the lighting on each scene was quite different from the last due to the bright sun and deep shadows I found myself using it throughout the short walk. Apart from the fiddle factor (the Horizons have no cold shoe and the Reveni is tiny) it worked very well. I decided to trust it, at least as much as I trusted my bigger handheld meter, and see what the results were.

Eleven and a bit – not twelve frames!

As the negatives above show the Reveni didn’t miss a beat – and Kodak XX in D76 looks quite good too. The image above, taken in the memorial park, is a straight “scan” which has been inverted with a curves adjustment and a few tweaks in Adobe Camera Raw. My approach to digitally produced negatives is very minimal; I adjust to bring the negative on the screen looking like the negative on the light pad, invert with a curve and then apply minor adjustments as if I were split-grade printing or dodging and burning in the darkroom. It’s less an aesthetic choice and more that I do not enjoy computer processing!

So, I was very happy with the Reveni meter. It will make a good addition to my kit bag, so long as I don’t lose it. I will look into adding a cold shoe to the S3 at some point for those days when I want the security of a meter but not the hassle of a larger handheld model. I will still stick to the way of working that I’ve evolved over the last six months for the most part though as it frees me to look for compositions and create images rather than concentrate too much on technicalities. That’s been my favourite part of using the Horizons and I don’t want to lose that if I can help it!