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.

Pinhole Adventures – WPPD

Stating the obvious, a pinhole is a small circular hole, as could be made with the point of a pin.  A pinhole camera meanwhile is a simple camera without a lens but with a tiny aperture (the so-called pinhole).  Literally a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through the aperture and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box, which is known as the camera obscura effect.

The camera obscura effect is a naturally occurring phenomenon; early known descriptions are found in the Chinese Mozi writings (circa 500 BC) and the Aristotelian Problems (circa 300 – 600 BC). The first known description of pinhole photography is reputedly found in the 1856 book The Stereoscope by Scottish inventor David Brewster, including the description of the idea as “a camera without lenses, and with only a pin-hole”.  Sir William Crookes and William de Wiveleslie Abney were other early photographers to try the pinhole technique

I was gifted a few rolls of original Acros last year and decided todays urban wander was the chance to try one out – in a pinhole camera. 24th February 2021 Zero Image | Acros | Yellow filter | Kodak D76 | around 12 seconds exposure

An extremely small hole in a thin material can create an image when all light rays from a scene go through a single point. In order to produce a reasonably clear image, the aperture has to be about 1/100th the distance to the screen, or less. The shutter of a pinhole camera usually consists of a hand operated flap of some light-proof material to cover and uncover the pinhole.

If the hole were made bigger then more rays from each point on the subject would pass through the larger hole at slightly different angles causing the image to blur. By making the aperture smaller you block the stray rays of light that would contribute to blur and thus achieve a greater depth-of-field and a sharper image without the help of optics.

I enjoy the occasional foray with a pinhole camera, even building one myself not so long ago and so was annoyed with myself for missing World Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) in 2019. I was determined not to miss it this year however and had even scouted out a couple of suitable locations on the River Calder ready for the big day. I was it seemed all-set and ready to go.

Zero Image | Catlab 80 | Kodak D76 (1+1) 22nd February 2021

Of course, April was in the middle of Lockdown and I was shielding, however I was determined not to miss the fun though and so the night before I loaded a fresh roll of Acros II into my wooden Zero Image 612 pinhole camera and dug out a mini tripod. At 7.30am on WPPD morning I was out in my backyard with pinhole camera, mini tripod and light meter to capture my first WPPD submission.

When set to 12×6 my pinhole camera takes five frames (you can shoot six but the sixth is truncated) and as exposure can be hit and miss it is important to think before opening the shutter. I took three compositions, two of which I ended up scanning. The first two compositions were bracketed, two frames at different exposure times, and I used an App on my phone as a light meter having first checked with my handheld meter that it was reading sufficiently accurately. The benefit of the App is that it will display the exposure for an f-stop of 150 which my light meter does not.

World Pinhole Day 26th April 2020. Zero Image and Acros II. Perceptol (1+1) 14.5 minutes

After breakfast I processed the roll of film in Perceptol (1+1) and was chuffed to find some decent exposures; indeed, every frame could be darkroom printed if desired and the negatives scanned very nicely on my Epson scanner. My chosen image (above) was uploaded the following morning although I did upload it to my Flickr photo stream on the Sunday afternoon along with one of the other compositions. The third composition I chose not to use as it had not worked as well as I’d hoped but two out of three is not bad!

It’s a local thing

Unless you are reading this is 2101 there is probably no need to explain why I’ve been shooting local for the last year. Apart from four days in September/October 2020 I have not left Elland in almost a year now. I’ve continued to make photographs though, indeed in 2020 I shot more rolls of film than in any year since I started photography in the 1970s.

Street photography is a challenge when there are few people on the street

Despite the restrictions though I seriously believe that my photographic skills have improved during this period. I’ve been honing my “eye” for a photograph for many years and like to think I can spot a possibility where many non-photographers would see nothing of interest. But walking the same streets day after day I have refined this even further, coming home each time with at least one new image for my efforts. I really hope that this will extrapolate itself to new scenes and locations when I can travel again.

Bronica ETRS | Bergger Pancro 400 | Kodak D76 | 25/2/2021

Even the stretch of canal nearest my house, which I have walked hundreds of times in the years I’ve lived up here has yielded several new images such as the one above. Fancying a change I chose to walk on the main road rather than the towpath. The road only offers access to the canal at a couple of spots along the route, one of which is immediately below the bypass. I stood here for around ten minutes and came up with two or three images that I was really pleased with. Most of those minutes were spent waiting for someone to walk into the patch of light. There’s another one below.

Under the bypass Bronica ETRS | Bergger Pancro 400 | Kodak D76 | 25/2/2021

As is normal for me the vast majority of my images are in black and white whether film or digital. However, we had a few misty mornings recently and I did something I’d not done before when there’s been mist – I went for a walk in the town. Instead of being frustrated that it was misty and I couldn’t get “somewhere” I got on my feet and went into town (for context, the centre of town is a two minute walk from my back door).

Out and about in Elland on a foggy morning: Fuji X-H1
Out and about in Elland on a foggy morning: Fuji X-H1

I even dusted off the Fuji X-H1 and set it to shoot colour rather than my default B&W. Straight out of the camera I had a handful of very pleasing images, none of them compositions I had shot before and all of them within ten minutes of my home.

By taking a camera every time I go for my daily exercise I have been embracing the old adage to practice, practice, practice, and its born fruit. Without consciously intending to, I’ve even started to shoot my digital cameras as if they were film cameras. I’ve shot fully manually for a long while but I’ve now taken to turning the LCD screen off and only taking one, occasionally two, images of any scene. I usually carry one of my film panoramic cameras which restricts me to 21 frames on a 36-exposure roll of film and usually I shoot the whole roll on my walk. If I take just a digital camera there’s rarely more than a dozen images on the memory card when I get home. By being more selective I’ve not only improved my “hit rate” but more importantly I have been training my eye to “see” better. This more discriminate style of working with digital means less time on the computer which is an added bonus. Indeed, ironically, the only images I process on the desktop computer these days are film scans; almost all of my most recent digital images have been processed on my iPad using Snapseed.

Horizon Kompakt and Fomapan 400 developed in Rodinal (1+25). Shot 30th November in the rain/drizzle around Elland town centre Scanned with a Fuji XT-3

It’s not only my “eye”though. During 2020 I shot and processed 180 rolls of 35mm and 120 film and around 50 sheets of 5×4 film. For the first time ever I developed my own colour negative films, saving £££s in the process; I can develop 18-20 rolls for the same price as having three rolls lab processed. I have experimented with different black & white developers but particularly pleasing has been that the consistency of my processing has increased exponentially. Developing film most days has also improved my efficiency and time management during the process. Without wishing to tempt fate I have been very pleased with the consistently good quality negatives that have come out of the tanks.

Horizon 202, Kentmere Pan 100 Shot 1/12/2020 Processed Diafine (3+3)

Early on in the pandemic I was told to shield, something I did religiously for over four months. During this period, embracing the need to stay at home, I experimented with still life and close-up film photography. I also dug out an old hard drive and reprocessed a few earlier images. However, this was not to be the most productive period of the pandemic as being confined to home for so long became very wearing very quickly. When shielding ended for me I vowed not to follow the shielding requirements quite so slavishly should the need arise again and indeed despite being told to shield during this latest Lockdown I am still taking a daily, socially-distanced walk; walking locally of course and avoiding people (which is my preferred option at the best of times). I don’t believe I have driven my car since November last year.

Bold contrasts for Bold Street, Liverpool (pre-pandemic)
March 2020 – darkroom printing underway … but not for long.

There is one backward step to include for the sake of completeness. Apart from a short flurry in March 2020 I’ve not been in my darkroom in the past 11 months. Darkroom work is mainly an autumn/winter activity for me so I was not surprised that I kept away from it during the very warm summer we had which drifted into early autumn too. However, as Autumn progressed there were few signs of me getting back into the darkroom. A leaky slot processor caused some activity in October and I thought that this would be the catalyst for a return to printing (I do not have an inkjet printer) but no. By early December my darkroom was press-ganged into extra storage ahead of Christmas BUT much of that is still cluttering the room three months later.

Took the long way home from the school run and got rather wet in these heavy April-esque showers. Horizon S3 Pro, Kodak Tri-X, D76 (1+1) Shot 12/3/2021

My darkroom – in reality one side of the small study I am sat in at present.

So, in a peculiar way the pandemic has largely been a real boost for my photography. Photography has also helped protect my mental health and has encouraged me to take some exercise every day even if it was just to take the image for my ongoing 365. I’ve been shooting a picture a day since October 2017 and have been determined not to allow a pandemic to get in the way of the Challenge. If I can motivate myself to reopen the darkroom over the next few weeks I will at least have a large collection of new negatives to play with!

One final image: Horizon S3 Pro, Kodak Tri-X, D76 (1+1) Shot 12/3/2021

Isn’t it ironic?

No, not an Alanis Morissette reference but rather a comment upon the irony of choosing to shoot film as an aesthetic choice and as an alternative to digital only to need to digitise the images to share them to a wider audience. Even creating a book of photographs to be printed requires digitising these days.

Sprocket Rocket teamed with Lomography 800 colour negative film for a riot of abstract colour.

So, to compound the irony, here’s a small selection of recent Sprocket Rocket images that ram home the irony by including the sprocket holes of the 35mm film within the frame! All are scans of the negatives; I use an Epson V550 with Silverfast and NLP software..

Lomography Sprocket Rocket | Lomography 400 Digitized with Epson V550 + Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2 | Digitaliza Home developed in Digibase c41
Sprocket Rocket teamed with Lomography 800 colour negative film for a colourful take on a garage wall
Lomography Sprocket Rocket | Kodak Portra 400. Digitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2. Digibase c41

Talking about GAS

Like most of us I suspect, I did not get into photography because of the gear, I got into because of its ability to capture a moment or preserve a memory but largely because of the satisfaction I got when the occasional “good” image was created.  I got satisfaction from the way it enabled this artistically-challenged teenager (and now an artistically-challenged sexagenarian) to channel some of the inner creativity that always lurked within, unfulfilled but nevertheless a part of me. Curiosity too drove me on. How things work was a childhood interest and as I grew into my teens this developed into a willingness to take things apart (not always successfully reassembling them if I’m honest) and see how they worked.  With photography I could experiment with the chemical processes, trying different developers, exposing a part-developed print to light, toning and even physically manipulating the print. Sadly, none of the evidence of these experiments survived the post-teen, starting-work, kids-of-my-own years. At least not physically, they are still real inside my head.

366-2020-194
C41 film processed in B&W chemicals – still experimenting in 2020!

Even now though there is one aspect that has always stayed with me – the satisfaction that comes when you hear that shutter “click”.  Or more accurately the noise, and sometimes feel, as that mirror slaps and bounces itself out of the way of the film or sensor. These small things shouldn’t be overlooked or down-played either. My Fuji X100T camera is virtually an extension to me now. I use it almost every day and can intuitively do anything that I want to with this diminutive but highly capable digital masterpiece. But, it has no mirror so that satisfying “click”, or “slap”  as some describe it, is conspicuous by its absence.  Even after around 16,000 images with the X100t I still miss the satisfaction of that audible memory of starting in the 1970s with a Zenith E.

FILM: Canalside
Bronica SQ-A

So, if I didn’t get into photography because of the gear why do I have these recurring bouts of what resembles GAS?  I don’t admit to GAS by the way. GAS, or Gear acquisition syndrome, is a bit of a buzz word in the photographic community, and of course it is not a legitimate medical condition, but nevertheless I do feel it is a legitimate concept. Camera and lens manufacturers and the growing list of firms making must-have gadgets and add-ons for the “serious” photographer rely on GAS to provide an ongoing stream of customers for their new products. Economically they have to keep selling to stay afloat and stimulating demand for new products is one way of keeping the cash flowing.  With this in mind it is tempting to say that GAS is driven entirely by manufacturers and retailers of photographic gear but that doesn’t explain why I, and many others, still choose to shoot with old film cameras and to add more of this old kit to our collections.  Incidentally, I am definitely not a collector, I am a photographer and so everything I own gets used, some of it more often than others admittedly, but none of it has been purchased to satisfy a purely acquisitional desire.

366-2020-191
Fuji X100t

My most used cameras at the moment are a pair of Bronica cameras hailing from the late 1970s (a Bronica ETRS) and from the early 1980s (a Bronica SQ-A).  I bought the former in February of this year with two lenses, one film back and a speed grip. By mid-March I had a third lens, a 2x converter, a set of extension tubes, three more film backs and a set of 62mm screw-in filters for black and white photography. This week I took possession of a set of macro bellows too.  In early April, having watched far too many YouTube videos I found that I “needed” a 6×6 camera, specifically the Bronica SQ-A. On the surface a reasonable, if very swift, upgrade to the 6×4.5 ETRS. But, it neglects the fact that I have a Mamiya RB67 (6×7) and a Mamiya C3 (6×6) in the cupboard with a pair of lenses apiece. I therefore have the larger medium formats covered already so despite having perfectly good options for 6×6 I “needed” an SQ-A … GAS! Pure and simple GAS.

But is it as simple? True, I had existing cameras to satisfy that creative requirement. I also have a full digital set-up comprising three Fuji mirrorless system cameras, a range of lenses covering all eventualities from fisheye to macro to long telephoto. So, I do not actually “need” any more cameras or lenses, my digital set-up covers everything I am ever likely to need and I have a selection of film cameras from 35mm SLRs, through 120 folders and TLRs to the beast that is a Mamiya RB67 to satisfy my interest in using old cameras and reliving the simple joys of producing my own negatives and darkroom prints. So, yes, on the face of it, simply GAS. 

Except….

It is this feeling that ones existing camera is somehow devalued by the release of a shiny new upgraded version that is a major indication of GAS and it is this that manufacturers rely on to some degree to keep their business model afloat. But I have not bought a new digital camera model since 2018.  I did not buy the Bronica ETRS because of any perceived gap in my kit or because I thought it was superior to anything I already owned.  I bought it because of a “feeling”.

Yes, a feeling. Remember why I got into photography. The opportunities that photography gave me to explore, to satisfy my curiosity, to exercise some creativity and to experiment. Remember too that satisfying “click” or “slap”? I bought into a new (to me) camera system in February for precisely the same reasons I bought the humble 1960s Zenith E back in mid-1970. For the same reasons I bought a secondhand Canon AE1 in 1978, two years after that debuted. For the same reason I made a pinhole camera last year and purchased a vintage Polaroid SX-70 (manufactured from 1972 to 1981).  For me photography is a way I can satisfy my need for creativity, experimentation and exploration wherever I am and whatever the situation I find myself in – even incarceration in my own house for the past two months or more hasn’t stopped me experimenting and creating.

Rose (alternative view)
Focusing screen of the Calumet Cadet 5×4 camera (taken with iPhone)

Hang on – with a full digital set-up at your disposal surely all these film cameras are evidence of GAS?  Well, for me, film photography is both a nostalgic nod to my past but also a way to further develop (pun intended) my curiosity and with the benefit of experience to reconnect with the spirit of experimentation and exploration of my teenage self.  I also enjoy the physicality of these old cameras. I can’t flick a switch and start shooting within milliseconds.  The Mamiya RB67 is fully manual; I have to unlock the focusing system, remove the dark side, lift the mirror (great big clunky lever on the side) and manually advance the film.  I then need to read the light in the scene and transfer these settings to the lens – yes the aperture and shutter speed are both set on the lens which incorporates a leaf shutter.  All of this provides a satisfying tactile experience and a feeling (warranted or not) that I have created each image myself.  Each of my film cameras works differently and this variety also appeals especially to someone like myself who has the attention span of a goldfish and is constantly seeking something new to explore. The fact that I can do so with gear that was financially way out of reach to me in the 1970s is a bonus.  

So, do I have GAS? 

Well, despite my implied protestations above the answer is probably “yes”. However, in my defence I would point out that all of my gear gets used and rarely gets sold-on these days as I regularly return to them.  I am also not upgrading to the next miracle-electronic-marvel every time Fuji release an upgraded model (my X100T is two generations old) but I am expanding my creative opportunities with new purchases. This past week I have used all three of my Fuji mirrorless digital cameras, both my medium format Bronicas, the Mamiya RB67, an Olympus Pen EE3, a Nikon L35AF, a Canon ACE, the Fuji X100T, the full-spectrum (infrared) converted Fuji X-T1 and not forgetting my smartphone!  

All of which suggests that there are degrees of GAS in the same way that real illnesses have degrees of severity. That GAS is not necessarily a “bad” thing and that GAS does not always benefit manufacturers.  But this is not the forum for such a discussion – and that is not a bad thing either!

We’ve Moved!

Yes, we’ve moved! Not the family you understand but me and my enlarger. Having had to close my previous darkroom so one of the older grandsons could have a bedroom I then set up a darkroom in the corner of the cellar last year and whilst I had some good sessions down there it was never a place I was keen to go. The last time I used it was February and that had been the maiden session for 2020. Once I received the instruction to isolate I thought that I might at least get some darkroom time but eleven weeks in and I’ve not been down there once.

The drawback is the need to set up and then pack everything away; the cellar is in daily use and just recently there have been more things to store as we have been doing one large shop every fortnight rather than smaller shops three or four times a week. It’s amazing how much extra space is needed for two weeks worth of groceries rather than the usual two or three days! It’s also uncomfortable. I’m over six foot tall and the ceiling is barely half an inch from my head. The floor joists are level with my forehead and the light fitting attacks my nose if I forget to duck. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nearly knocked myself out!

Add to the physical constraints the difficulty of keeping developer at twenty degrees when the ambient temperature is a constant fourteen and the picture hopefully becomes clearer. Washing prints means a walk up some old, steep stone steps to the kitchen or if that is in use up to the first floor to use the bathroom. I’ve also lost count of the number of times someone has opened the cellar door forgetting I’m down there – fortunately only two prints have been spoilt this way.

So, after eleven weeks of endless opportunities and not having once been down those stone steps with a bucket of water (for holding prints until washing) it was time to take some action. One option would be to mothball the darkroom equipment again but given the number of rolls of film I’ve developed this year so far (over fifty B&W and 25 colour) that wasn’t very appealing. I have nothing against scanning, the so-called hybrid approach, but much prefer darkroom printing largely because of the sense of satisfaction it gives me. Selling the gear was not even an option but where was I going to put a darkroom in a house with very little spare space?

My study has two desks and computers (his and his – mine and another of my Grandson’s) so no space there.

Unless…

A surprisingly quick negotiation with Senior Management and I had permission to move his desk and computer into the spare bedroom. He’s been doing his schoolwork there, ironically on my original darkroom table, so it made sense to put his computer and all his bits and pieces together with his “school” books. I’d moved everything within three hours of completing negotiations.

The next job was to create a black-out. Usually a simple job – visit to the DIY store, pick up what I need and home to sort the job out. But I’m “shielded” so that wasn’t going to happen even if I wanted to queue for hours to get into a DIY store. Wickes home delivery to the rescue and amazingly I managed to get delivery within 48 hours too. The materials arrived at two pm and by four-thirty I was testing how successful the job had been. Our house is over one hundred and fifty years old and there is not a right angle in the place. Windows are almost rectangular, door frames are rhomboid, you get the picture. I’ve still got a few niggly bits to sort out but to all intents and purposes I have a functioning space.

© Dave Whenham
Des-Res!

So, I now have my darkroom in the corner of my study (see picture above) and I’m now sat in the living room feeling very smug because less than a week after first starting the train of thought I have prints hanging to dry and I’ve just resolved a couple of teething problems with my new set-up so am ready for a “proper” session tomorrow.

© Dave Whenham
Back in business! Bronica SQ-A, Rollei Infrared 400 – scan (oh, the irony!) of darkroom print

The one big compromise I’ve had to make is in the way I process the prints. Since I first started printing I’ve always used open trays. Watching the image appear in the developer was what hooked me back in the 1970s and even now it’s not lost any of its impact. But, there is simply not enough space in my study for a proper wet-side. So, I’ve had to use the slot processor I impulse bought last year but have never used for various reasons. It was this that caused teething problems but they were quickly resolved and I’m now looking forward to being able to print a negative without having to schedule it up front and then spending forty-five minutes getting everything set-up and put away afterwards.

Watch this space!

Another scratch

In my previous post I ended by saying I was off to put some 35mm colour film into a Mamiya RB67. Well, I wasn’t joking so here are the first three scans just to show I’m a man of my word. Once I’ve finished the scanning I will post a full update. A small spoiler though: my first attempt with the RB67 produced 10 negatives, but I managed 13 on the first roll of colour and 14 on the second.

Random Images from Isolation 164
Random Images from Isolation 162
Random Images from Isolation 163

See you soon!

It still itches!

So, having scratched the itch, I also successfully tried the 35mm-in-120 project with the 6×6 Bronica SQ-A which gave a negative 1.5cm longer than the ETRS. I was still forgetting on occasion though that horizontal and vertical are reversed because of the way the film is loaded onto the Bronica back, resulting in some odd compositions. Then I had another thought (awful habit, must stop doing this thinking malarkey) the film back of the Mamiya RB67 runs in the conventional 35mm manner, lengthways, and the film back itself can be rotated to shoot the 6×7 frames in vertical format. The itch flared up again!

Spoiler alert: it worked! Mamiya RB67, 50mm lens and out of date 35mm Kodak TMax 3200

So, despite saying that this was to be a project that I picked up very occasionally, I found myself loading 35mm film into the somewhat larger film back of my Mamiya RB67. One thing to note however. The RB67 film back did not detect the presence of a film and so the first time I tried this I ended up winding the entire 35mm roll onto the 120 spool without shooting a frame. So, out with the changing bag and I removed the now unwound film from the back and rewound it into the original cassette. The solution was the multi-exposure mode of the RB67. In normal use this enables the shutter to be cocked without winding on the film thus allowing multiple exposures on a single frame but I found that by leaving the camera in multi-exposure mode I could still wind the film through without a problem. The longer throw of the 6×7 mechanism means a bigger gap between frames and potentially more waste but I still managed ten shots by attaching the leader of the 35mm film to an eleven inch strip of 120 backing paper to reduce wastage at the start of the film.

The film still needs to be removed in a changing bag (I transfer it straight onto a reel and store it in the developing tank) but that is still only a minor issue especially when shooting at home! I cannot envisage this being something I would spend a whole day doing but if I did for any reason the changing bag is light enough to tuck into a corner of my rucksack.

35mm Kodak TMax 3200 shot using a medium format Mamiya RB67 with 50mm lens. Handheld (test roll) at 250th sec and 400th sec. Aperures f5.6 / f8. Shot and developed 23/5/2020 (ref 2020/063)

No one needs to read an account of loading the film, shooting the images (the rotating back on the RB67 and the horizontal orientation of the film were a huge help) or processing the negatives. The first thing I noticed however when removing the processed film from the tank was the bigger spacing, but then the length of each negative struck me. It’s only 1cm longer, but that is an increase of 1/6, almost 17% longer than the 6×6 negatives and over 50% longer than those from the 6×4.5 film back in the Bronica ETRS.

The negatives were scanned using my old Epson V550 flatbed scanner and the Vuescan software. Rather than lay the negatives flat on the glass as before I used a Lomography Digitaliza 35mm scanning mask to hold the negatives. The Digitaliza holds the negatives by the very edges leaving the sprocket holes revealed. I had read mixed reviews but thus far its proven to be effective and relatively fiddle-free. The loaded mask needs to be handled carefully as it is very easy to nudge the negative out of its magnetic grip – especially with a blast from a can of compressed air! I also varied my technique for converting the negatives into positives but that’s for another day.

Here’s to the next itch – I’m off to load a roll of colour 35mm into a RB67 film back!

Rocking the Rollei

Back in January when I was stocking up with film for the Spring/Summer months I picked up a few single films of different stocks to my usual to try out as the opportunity arose. I think that in the back of my mind was that these would be used for something “special” or a specific project that took into account each film stocks particular properties or quirks. As an enthusiastic (digital) infrared photographer, I have an IR-converted Fuji X-T1, and so I picked up a couple of rolls of 120 Rollei Infrared 400 intending to use it whilst in Devon for a family wedding. Well, I’m consigned to barracks and in any event the wedding is postponed until 2021. So, the first roll, which I bought to test before using the second in “anger”, has now been exposed within the confines of my back yard.

Now before any one shouts I realise that Rollei INFRARED 400 is not a ‘true’ infrared film, but one with near-infrared sensitivity to about 820nm. I’m not going to quibble though and in any case this was about experimentation.

© Dave Whenham

My weapon of choice for this experiment was a Bronica SQ-A, for no reason other than I like using it, plus the mirror lock-up would be useful. The film was rated at 400 ISO per the box and I shot a couple of frames without any filtration at this speed. I then attached a 720nm infrared filter and based on what I had been reading metered the scene at 12 ISO, an increase in exposure of five stops. Finally, I developed the film in Rodinal (1+25) at 20°C.

Contrary to some reports I’ve seen elsewhere on the web, the film went onto the reel very easily with no obvious curl to the acetate.

So, to the pictures. My first impression on hanging the roll of negatives to dry was how sharp and crisp they were. Some were clearly over-exposed but as I kept detailed notes that will enable me to learn from these. Popping the dry negatives on the light pad was an exciting moment as it was then I saw just how successful the experiment had been.

The first three frames (see above) had been taken with no filter, a polarising filter and lastly a 720nm infrared filter that I use with a full-spectrum Fuji X-T1. Just looking at the negatives I could see the dramatic differences between the first and third negative; even the negative has an ethereal feel. The third of these frames is shown, fully processed, below.

Rollei Infrared Film 1
Bronica SQ-A 150mm lens Rollei infrared 400 film 720nm filter 1/4sec f16
Rollei Infrared Film 2
Great definition in the clouds from the infrared film. Bronica SQ-A 150mm lens
Rollei infrared 400 film 720nm filter 1/4 sec f16. Developed in Rodinal (1+25)
© Dave Whenham
A typicsl IR scene – green foliage turning white whereas the table and other fittings are rendered more “normally”

So, what did I make of this quirky film? Well, I have to admit that I was predisposed to the idea as I’ve shot a lot of infrared on my digital cameras as can be seen on my FLICKR account. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I liked these simple front/back yard images. They add a whole new dimension to the portfolio of images I’m creating during the Lockdown. The day I chose was cloudy with sunny intervals and not the full-on sunny day with blue skies I had hoped for but I love the feel of these images nevertheless.

Bronica SQ-A 150mm lens Rollei infrared 400 film 720nm filter – and a blue tone in post-processing

So, what special project will the other roll be saved for? It is simply being saved for the next sunny day here in my back yard. I want to see what effect blue skies will have and can’t wait until I finally get released from the house. Never fear though as I’ve ordered another five rolls to keep on hand for when I do get back out with the camera!

Scratching an itch

When you‘ve got an itch – you’ve gotta scratch it!

Sometimes an idea pops into the head and the only way to get it out again is to stop what you are doing and attend to it. It happened to me last Sunday, and by 7pm, just as I was about to settle down with a book for the evening, the itch became unbearable. So, I grabbed my Bronica ETRS, the 220 film back that I’d purchased in error and a roll of expired 35mm B&W film and headed into the garden. By 7.30pm I was mixing chemicals and by 8pm the still-wet negatives were hanging in my bathroom to dry.

So, what got me so motivated? And surely that’s a typo – 220 back and 35mm film?

The idea of putting 35mm film through a medium format film camera is hardly new or innovative but it’s been niggling away at the back of my mind for a while now and I’ve been itching to try it for myself. I’ve seen a handful of images online and even watched a couple of YouTube videos on the subject so I did have some thoughts on how to approach it. So long as it is loaded carefully into a medium format film back, it is possible to shoot images that extend across the sprocket holes of the 35mm film to cover the whole surface of the film and with my ETRS back you get 45x33mm negatives, including the sprocket holes. If I was to do the same with my SQ-A then the negatives would be around 60x33mm although I’ve yet to try this. I say careful incidentally because you need to ensure the film runs centrally down the film plate as you wind on if you want to be reasonably certain of your compositions.

Spoiler alert: this experiment with the ETRS worked and I’ve already loaded the ETRS 220 back with a roll of 35mm colour negative film for a more “serious” session – when the sun decides to reappear.

I chose the 220 film back as it was designed for longer rolls of medium format film which allowed for 30 shots on the ETRS so I would not be advancing the film back past the number of shots the 35mm film would provide.  There is however a lot of wasted film at the start of the roll due to the way the Bronica winds on the 120 film at the start of a roll, the back is designed for roll film and needs to pull sufficient backing paper through to reveal the film buried inside the roll. I did however manage 21 exposures on this 36 exposure test roll (remember this is a 6×4.5 back and not 6×6 so if using a 6×6 format camera the number of images obtained will be less although they will be wider). I could try sticking a length of old backing paper to the start of the 35mm film I guess to minimise this wastage but that is an idea for another day.

Out of date Ilford HP5+ 35mm film in a Bronica ETRS 220 film back

As the image above shows the idea worked and the subject is lined-up correctly and not sloping due to wonky film loading. So what did I learn?

Vertical = horizontal and horizontal = vertical!

As the picture of the loaded film back shows, first and foremost: vertical = horizontal and horizontal = vertical! The film in a Bronica ETRS back runs top to bottom unlike a 35mm SLR where it runs left to right. Which means the 35mm film inside the 220 back is running down the middle rather than width-ways. It takes some getting used to, and I may cut a mask for the viewfinder to remind me, but basically when holding the camera normally the film is covering a vertical strip down the middle of the viewfinder. Tip the camera on its side (as you would normally to shoot a portrait or vertically orientated image) and the strip now runs horizontally across the middle of the frame.

That aside, and I have a lot of spoilt images because I hadn’t noted that quirk earlier, everything else went well. I used a pair of adaptors on the 35mm cassette which enabled me to insert the film in the same way I would have inserted a 120 roll. In a traditional film camera the 35mm film is loaded with the glossy side towards you but as the emulsion is on the other side of the plastic strip you need to reverse this when loading 35mm film into a roll film back (see above); basically the emulsion (non-glossy) side needs to be foremost in the holder so it is exposed to the lens when the film back is attached to the camera and the slide removed.

This quick and impulsive test was in most respects successful. Yes, every frame is orientated in the opposite direction to that in which I shot it and so many do not make compositional sense but this was not about creating masterpieces but about seeing if I could make it work – and I did. The first few frames were horribly under-exposed as the light meter I was using was still set to 800 ISO from an earlier session and I had also chosen to underexpose by a couple of stops, partly to give a darker frame to the main subject but mainly to achieve a shutter speed at which I could handhold the camera.

There were a couple of images however where, by dint of the 40mm lens I was using, the subject was centrally placed and therefore the composition does still work. Sadly, they were also amongst the first few underexposed frames but I have salvaged one of Grandson Harry which gives an idea of the kind of image I was hoping to capture.

Like many of these techniques, this one is unlikely to become my go-to method of shooting and needs to be used sparingly if it is not to become cliched and, dare I say, a little boring. The occasional 35mm cassette for a bit of fun is all I expect to be exposing in this manner. That said, I have ordered a 220 film back for my 6×6 Bronica SQ-A so I can try out the larger format. I’m hoping to shoot some panoramic images of the rooftops opposite for a sub-project within my main 366 project. There is also a roll of 35mm colour negative film in the ETRS 220 back .

So, as has been said countless times before – watch this space!