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! 🙂

Isn’t it ironic …

I’ve recently reread Nick Dvoracek’s book The Pinhole of Nature, and whilst doing so I made a few notes of particular passages that caught my eye.

A pinhole image of The Pinhole of Nature

“… it is rather incongruous to make a negative by the most primitive method possible, and then, use such hightech methods to make the positive”

Nick Dvoracek The Pinhole of Nature

Now, this resonates quite strongly with me. Not least because it links back to some of the conversations I had last weekend. I do find it amusing (do I mean odd?) that I sometimes spend hours creating negatives or glass plates, only to copy them with a digital camera and import them into Photoshop to finish off. I typically only print from the negatives in my makeshift darkroom during the Winter months when shorter days and unpredictable weather are more likely to see me indoors.

I’ve commented before on the irony of going to the expense, and at times the trouble, to create images using so-called traditional methods only to then digitise them in order to share them with others. Modes of communication have changed and you are more likely to share images and even ideas with fellow enthusiasts via social media these days than in person.

Now, I could use an inkjet printer to make prints of these digitally finished images but that would mean buying a printer and I could never get cast-free black and white prints when I did own a printer. Or I could have prints professionally made, something I’ve done from time to time when I’ve wanted something to hang on the wall.

Media City, Salford Quays – this one hangs on my wall

But who would see them? Who for that matter sees my darkroom prints when I do manage to wrestle one out of my study cum darkroom?

I’ve decided , and your mileage may vary, that it doesn’t matter if I’m the only one who sees my prints because I’m the only person for whom I make prints. I’m certainly not yet competent enough to think about actually making darkroom prints for other people. Which segues nicely into another Dvoracek quote:

“I’m not sure if I could have come up with this good a print with traditional darkroom methods, and it would have taken me forever, wouldn’t be easily repeatable, and driven me crazy. I’ve never romanticized darkroom work.”

Nick Dvoracek The Pinhole of Nature

Now, ain’t that the truth!

Dvoracek was talking about using software and a printer to create digital prints of his pinhole images. He makes a great point. So long as the source file isn’t amended then in general the printer can churn out as many identical prints as you need. But, do we need to reproduce exact copies? If we are not selling prints then I’d argue it is not a necessity. And if we are selling prints isn’t the unique selling point of a darkroom print that it is a one-off?

At the end of the day we come back to a question I’ve posed before. Who are you making photographs for? The answer to that is key in determining if any of this actually matters in the final analysis.

Thoughts on …

I don’t often feel compelled to write a blog post but this morning I’m feeling the need to write … something … anything. Usually, if not from the start, as I finish the first sentence I know what my theme is going to be but today I’m not sure where I am headed.

I’ve spent the last five nights away from home. Initially, it was just the two of us but the last three nights have been spent in the company of members of a photographic group on the group’s annual Rally. The days have been spent out with a camera (never just one with me though) and the evenings spent talking “shop” and catching up on the domestic goings on of the other members. We only meet once a year and for the first few years we attended it was pretty much just photo-talk but as the years have gone on we have spent more time catching up on events in each other’s “real” lives. It’s alway a fabulous long weekend, regardless of the weather.

iPhone 11

This year we were in Shropshire, an area of the country I’ve only ever driven through prior to this weekend. It’s an area I hope to return to though. Until today the weather has been very kind to us. Today, I loaded the car in the rain and we very quickly decided that the planned walk would leave us uncomfortably wet, especially with a three hour, minimum, drive ahead of us. As “luck” would have it we passed a large garden centre just outside Shrewsbury which is why I’m sat pounding a keyboard – garden centres are the wife’s pleasure and definitely not mine!

But it’s give and take. She spent an hour or more yesterday sat on various rocks whilst I photographed a river, a waterfall and then a reservoir. Today is my turn to sit patiently. At least I haven’t had to scramble over slippery rocks and boulders nor have I slipped and slid down muddy river banks. I haven’t even had to wade across the same stream four times, so I count myself lucky.

My habit at home is to develop films on a daily basis, as I expose them basically. Being away, all that I’ve been able to do over the last few days is carefully stow the exposed film in the bottom of the suitcase ready for our return. I have taken a few images on my phone and also on my Fuji digital camera however so I’ve had something to play with in between the various activities of the day. It gives me something to share on social media and I often come up with something that pleases me aesthetically too.

Which leads me now to the point which, unbeknownst to me, this post has been heading all along. I am the only member of the group, which has around 100 members, who still works primarily with film. Two others use film occasionally but everyone else is fully digital. Most of those at the Rally were very interested in what I was doing. Many were amazed at the variety of formats I work with, pinhole, 35mm, panoramic, medium and large format; my regular reader knows how diverse my work is. A very small handful were frankly scornful. With all the digital delights available why was I messing with glass plates, large format cameras and everything else when “you can create the effect in Photoshop”.

But that’s just the point. Everything that they are creating in Photoshop is derivative of earlier photographic processes. They see no irony in the fact that I was creating with my hands a tangible artefact which they were also striving to create, albeit with software on a computer, to exist as only a string of data on a hard drive. One didn’t even realise that the term “dodge and burn” predates photo imaging software. Couldn’t understand how the basics of contrast, exposure, localised and global adjustments, toning and vignettes and much more all have direct references across to darkroom printing. They left much wiser than they arrived.

My philosophy with regards to photography is to try everything at least once. To gain as wide an appreciation of both the history and application of the subject. I have tried virtually all genres of photography, apart from extreme sports and underwater, some of these I enjoyed and continue to work in today, others weren’t my cup of tea and I moved on from. Currently I work primarily in film, predominantly black and white film which I process myself. I also dabble in glass plates and darkroom printing. A secret pleasure is drone photography, I have a full mirrorless system based on the Fuji X-series and have previously used Nikon and prior to that Canon full-frame DSLRs. I’ve been down the Photoshop rabbit hole, have some embarrassing reminders of the early HDR craze, composited images to create a completely fictional world. In short, I have spent almost fifty years learning and trying all sorts of photographic processes – cyanotypes any one?

So, my message to the two “less educated” individuals was that until they’ve tried something for themselves it might be wise to refrain from spouting “digital is the only and best method”. It has many benefits and even I continue to be amazed at what I can achieve in a few minutes on the computer. My first published piece was for Airfix magazine, over forty years ago, when I wrote an article showing how to create the impression of spaceships in flight with models, wire, fishing line, coloured gels and 40 watt bulbs. All on Kodachrome 64 slide film. So, no margin for error. What took me several days in the late 1970s can be done to a far better standard in minutes these days. But I bet I had more fun in the process!

I doubt if even my most patient and loyal reader has made it this far … but if you have thank you an mind as I pop my soap box away … until the next time!

Embracing the Bulb

I wrote recently about my unintended foray into the world of using a Holga handheld in bulb mode. I was initially annoyed with myself but I digitised the negatives regardless and copied the files to my iPad and a few evenings later settled down to have a play using the Snapseed app.

Now, none of them are likely to make my 2021 Top Ten Images, and many are just bleugh, but some I quite like! So in the spirit of sharing and perhaps also a spot of public flagellation, here’s a selection!

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your honest (but polite) thoughts on these images – drop me a note below.

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.

My Holga Week 2021 Diary – Day 6 epilogue

I have owned a Holga or five over the years but until this last week had only ever used them occasionally and rarely more than once in a single week. Nevertheless I’ve used them often enough to know how to handle them (bear with me, there’s a reason for saying this). I currently own two, the 120N and the WPC, and whilst I loaded both at the start of the week I only ended up using the 120N in the end. I’m not short on practice with it therefore.

I’m currently looking at the three rolls from Day 6 and have noticed something odd about the third roll. The first six frames are fine but the second six are all very over-exposed.

I’d spotted it when hanging them to dry but had assumed it was just the “Joy of Holga”. Until now.

On the light box I can see that they are all delightfully blurry!

Curious!

The roll from Day 7 is still in the Holga, awaiting my release from daily chores when I can develop it (which is looking like Saturday now). I pick up the Holga, turn it over, and … you’re ahead of me I suspect!

Somehow after frame six of roll six I managed to knock the switch on the bottom of the Holga from N to B. I’d used it in bulb mode for those six frames. It also means I’ve used it in bulb mode for all twelve of today’s rural images!!! I don’t normally indulge in multiple exclamation marks but think this is worthy of them.

Day 6: Looks like I’ve spent too long in The Albert!

So, despite being used to the Holga, despite understanding it’s unique quirks, despite knowing to check the N/B switch regularly, the first time I’ve forgotten to check is also the first time I actually managed to knock the switch.

But, this is Holga photography. We know what we are signing up for before we start and we embrace the quirky results. Sometimes we even need to embrace unforeseen “quirks” too!

I at least know that Day 7’s roll has been over-exposed I guess so I can reduce development time to compensate in terms of exposure. Unfortunately it won’t sharpen the images – my only rural images at that!

My Holga Week Diary 2021 – Day 7

I hadn’t intended going out today so for me the final day of Holga Week was going to be getting ready to process the scanned images. In passing, it seems odd that my week is finishing on a Thursday but I got over it pretty quickly.

I wanted to finish the scanning from earlier in the week and develop the three rolls from yesterday. Not necessarily in that order. School run complete, a leisurely breakfast consumed and I was ready to develop the films. I find developing films a relaxing process and not the chore that some seem to find it. I’ve use Perceptol as stock for this week’s films, mixed fresh on Day One, so today would be films 4, 5 and 6 and the end of this litre of developer as I typically only put half a dozen rolls through each batch. It all tied up nicely.

Until. Looking at the accumulated negatives once I’d finished the development of these final three rolls, I realised how exclusively urban they were. Not a surprise really as it’s been my go-to genre for a while now. I hesitated. Was it such a bad thing? After all it’s what I do. Then the little imp on the shoulder chipped in. “But there’s a fresh roll loaded in the Holga … would be a shame not to add another roll. Make a tidy 7 rolls, one for each of the days in Holga Week”. A quick trip down to a local nature trail would give me the chance of a few rural images too I thought, rather unhelpfully aiding the imp.

Here’s one from this walk that I did earlier – Fuji X-H1
September 2021

The imp won. And so it was that I found myself enjoying some early afternoon sunshine and a short stroll. I took just the Holga and that one roll of film for my final trip out for Holga Week 2021.

I’m not sure why, perhaps it appeals to the completer-finisher in me, but an average of a film a day seems about right. I managed to get out on five of the seven days too which was more than I’d anticipated. In terms of effort then I’d class Holga Week 2021 a success.

Just one roll to develop and I’m ready to start on the shortlist for my three submissions. Fingers crossed I can get that done on Friday or at the very latest Saturday.

I shall be back soon to share some images I hope!

My Holga Week Diary 2021 – Day 6

Day Six. Wednesday 6th October, designated by Senior Management as the start of Christmas shopping for 2021.

Holga Week requires verification that I have the Holgas

But, I’m not despondent as over the 45 or so years we’ve been together we’ve slowly evolved an understanding about marathon shopping sprees. I don’t do them. What I do though is drive to the designated shopping centre or wherever, park up and then we go for breakfast. Suitably fed we then part for the duration; the wife goes shopping and I take a walk, with a camera. Usually my Fuji X100T or the Nikon L35AF with its ever-present YG filter. But this is Holga week so it’s the Holga 120N and Ilford HP5+ this time.

Today it is Huddersfield town centre and the sky is blue. A novelty as invariably it’s raining and I get a good soaking. However, as I’m just as likely to be stood in dark alleyways as out in the autumnal sunshine I opt to rate the film at 400. That is to say that I will develop it as if it was exposed consistently at 400 ISO. Not that consistent is a word usually found in the same sentence as Holga! It’s one of the camera’s charms and one of the reasons I always enjoy playing with it, even if it isn’t something that I use every week.

I mentioned in an earlier diary entry that I could pull/push this film if required and whilst each of the two lighting situations I’m likely to encounter today would normally have me rate the film at 250 or 800 it is unlikely that any of the rolls I use to day will be exclusively exposed in one type of light. This will add to the excitement of the morning I hope.

11.20am. I’ve spent the last hour or so zig-zagging my way through the town centre, down alleys, up brightly lit streets and ambled through a town centre park. It’s busy, there’s a university in the town centre, but nowhere near as busy as I remember it from 2019. Two completed rolls are nestled in the pocket of my shoulder bag and a part-used roll sits in the Holga awaiting the next opportunity. It’s time for a strong black tea though and an opportunity to update this diary. In pre-pandemic days I’d visit Huddersfield every few weeks but we’ve not been here for well over a year now. I’m pleased to find my favourite coffee shop still doing business and even happier to find my “usual” table upstairs is free.

This is the first time I’ve attempted a daily diary and it’s rather strange talking about going out and using the Holga but not including examples of the resulting images. I’ve not noticed anyone on Twitter, my main social media outlet, sharing images as yet so I guess it’s not the “done” thing. I’m still developing within 24 hours though, usually within a few hours, so I at least am able to see the fruits of my labours.

But enough of that I’ve a roll of film to finish and potentially a fourth and final roll awaiting its moment in the sunshine. My weekly tally from the first five days has doubled in just over an hour this morning. I’ve a good feeling about these rolls.

Catch you tomorrow for the final day!

My Holga Week 2021 Diary – day 5

Day Five is/was a Tuesday. That’s Louie-Day in my week, the day when we look after the 22 months old grandson. It’s a day I never expect to make photographs, apart from phone snaps, as what with getting two live-in grandsons to school and looking after Louie my day is pretty full-on. But after yesterday’s dismal failure to expose any film for Holga Week I hatched a cunning plan.

I left for the walk to the school at my usual time but instead of rushing back I dawdled via the back streets with the Holga which had somehow managed to find its way into my coat pocket. On my return, Louie was stood at the back door with his Grandma waiting for Grandad to sort his breakfast. I thought he may have been totally oblivious to the fact I was ten minutes late getting back but clearly his stomach had noted my absence! Nevertheless, I had managed to expose my third roll for Holga Week and even if there were no keepers I’d at least used the Holga which is part of the aims of the event.

Which got me thinking. Which was most important to me – using the camera or having a roll full of keepers? I think it’s the former; the actual act of using the camera gives me a lot of pleasure. Keepers are a bonus almost, the icing on the cake as it were. Peer appreciation is perhaps the cherry on top – but perhaps I’m spreading the analogy rather thinly now. I may only have spent ten minutes making my pictures but then the Holga encourages that sort of approach for me – don’t think too much, let your shutter finger be guided by the camera almost.

10:47am, thankfully Louie still has a mid-morning nap which means I get time to do household chores, and today to sneak in the developing of my sneaky roll of HP5+. So, whilst completing the laundry and tidying up generally I also developed the film which, with 12 nice-looking negatives is currently hanging to dry in the bathroom. No click-panoramas today. Just eleven “straight” exposures and one (deliberate) double exposure. The negatives looks good and I’ve a positive feeling about roll number three.

Day six falls on a designated Christmas shopping day (don’t ask) so I will be chauffeur as always whilst the wife starts the annual retail binge. Fortunately she know I dislike shopping immensely so I will at least get to wander Huddersfield town centre with the Holga. Well, that’s the plan at least. Check back tomorrow to see how the day unfolded!