How safe is my safelight?

Testing the sensitivity of Direct Positive Paper to my darkroom safelight.

In my previous post, The Bin-cam pincam, https://donaldtainsh.wordpress.com/2019/10/09/the-bin-cam-pincam/ I created a pinhole camera from a redundant food-waste caddy and exposed a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper (DPP). The resulting image was fogged and I subsequently set out to discover the source of the problem.

The paper had been loaded in my darkroom under the glow of my red safelight. It is an AP ‘Dark Red’ light, basically a mains powered 15W lamp with an appropriately coloured plastic cover. I have previously found that DPP can be fogged by over exposure to the safelight but have never attempted to quantify the ‘problem’.

Furthermore, the plastic of which the food-waste caddy is constructed is well weathered and I wanted to assess if and by how much the opacity of the plastic had been affected by the weathering.

I started with a 10″x8″ sheet of DPP from the same pack as had been used for the original image. In total darkness I cut it into approximate 5″x4″ sheets, two to be used for testing, one as a control and one as a spare.

My first test was to expose one sheet in the darkroom as a test sheet at five-minute intervals. The safelight was positioned 2 metres away, just above the level of the test strip gadget. When developed, I was surprised at how sensitive to the red light DPP was:

It may not show too clearly here but just five minutes was enough to visibly fog the paper!

In complete darkness I placed a second sheet inside the Bin-cam pincam and put the camera outside in bright autumnal daylight for three hours. The lid and shutter remained closed for the duration of the test. This sheet was developed and compared against the above test strip and the third sheet which was developed completely unexposed.

Again, it may not show clearly here, but there is visible fogging of the ‘exposed’ sheet compared to the unexposed control sheet, comparable with the 5-minute test strip.

The paper of the original Bin-cam image was exposed to the safelight for two to three minutes while being loaded and the exposure was made in bright sunlight. From my tests, the paper would have been fogged to some extent both by the safelight and the less than perfect opacity of the camera.

With the knowledge I now have, I can take steps to minimise fogging in future, primarily in loading the paper but perhaps also making some alteration to the camera with paint or lining paper.

… Or I can live with it and find pleasure in serendipitous imperfection!

The Bin-cam pincam

How I recycled a redundant food-waste caddy as a pinhole camera.

My local council recently made some changes to our waste recycling collections. Food waste would no longer be collected separately but would instead be put in the garden waste bin. However, residents were told that the redundant food-waste caddy would not need to be returned.

I couldn’t not recycle it and let it go to waste!

The food caddy is a simple moulded plastic design with fixings for the handle and the hinge for the lid being part of the moulding. So apart from the lid opening, there are no holes in the container. Furthermore the lid, which is locked in place by the rotation of the handle, closes over a raised lip on the container’s top edge. The construction is perfect for adaptation as a pinhole camera and the internal size just about right to take a 10″x8″ sheet of photo paper.

I reckoned it only needed a hole to be drilled over which a pinhole could be fitted, something to ensure the top lip would function as a light seal, and a shutter mechanism fitted.

With a piece of paper taped in place I worked out the best position to drill a 25mm diameter hole in the front of the bin. Once drilled, I measured the projection distance and used Pinhole Assist to calculate the ideal pinhole diameter.

The optimal pinhole diameter of 0.72mm is a bit wider than my pin cams usually require (0.3 to 0.5mm) and needed a wider pin than I am accustomed to using. However I found a larger pin and punched first-time a clean hole which measured 0.79mm, checked by high resolution scan, in aluminium cut from a beer can. The pinhole was fixed in place inside the bin with glue and electrical tape, later reinforced with duct tape.

I stuck strips of sticky-backed black foam to the inside of the lid where it would close on the moulded lip of the container. Initially, I had intended to use black electrical tape as a shutter but the tape wasn’t adhering well to the plastic surface of the bin. I decided to craft something more elegant from offcuts of plywood and sticky-backed black felt. A handle moulded as part of the front edge of the container provided a pivot point that I could drill through without going through the container wall.

All that was left to do was to test it. My favourite location for testing new cameras is Queensferry and the Forth Bridge. I took advantage of a convenient brief sunny interlude and with the help of Pinhole Assist, gave a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper a 7min 36secs exposure.

Here’s a straight scan of the result. There’s some fogging but the image is well exposed and pleasingly sharp (I never expect or look for sharpness in a pinhole image!). I’ve had issues with fogging DPP in the past and need to work out whether this was due to over exposure to red safelight when loading, to less than perfect opacity of the (well weathered) plastic from which the bin is made, or a combination of the two. There’s nothing in the image to suggest light leaks which I would expect to see as specific areas or streaks of over exposure.

With the benefit of scanning and thus having a digital file to play with, this is what a little tweaking of the histogram produced.

In my next post, How safe is my safelight, https://donaldtainsh.wordpress.com/2019/10/09/how-safe-is-my-safelight/ I try to find the source of the fogging.

The challenge of Dollar Glen

Dollar Glen in the Ochil Hills is a steep climb at the head of which lies the ruins of Castle Campbell. Two burns run down deep gorges either side of the hill on which the castle stands, the Burn of Sorrows to the west and The Burn of Care to the east.

On a day-trip earlier in the week, my wife and I had visited the castle. We’d climbed the hill by the road on the way up but made our return by way of what was described as a footpath which followed the course of the Burn of Care. It was really just a very rough track with some steep descents made easier in places by steps built in to the hillside. What caught my attention was the ribbon-like waterfalls, the clarity of the water and the way it sparkled in the the sunlight as it lit up the gorge.

I was keen to return on my own with a camera and footwear better suited to the terrain. Low autumn sun like we’d had for our visit lights the gorge briefly for barely a couple of hours in the early afternoon. My opportunity came a few days later and I headed back with my Intrepid camera and a few holders loaded with sheets of FP4+ film.

Having spent some time finding a suitable viewpoint to frame this first shot, I had to decide on an exposure setting. I was faced with the challenge of the low light level in the gorge where it was not lit brightly by sunlight. Ideally for photographing flowing water on film I would aim for a shutter speed of 1/8th or 1/4 second with the expectation of rendering the water with a silky, soft, flowing texture. Taking into account of reciprocity failure, the exposure I required here for the shadows was 4 seconds at f/22. Shadow detail is good but the water has more of a rough texture than I would want. Had I been making a pinhole exposure on paper, the exposure time would have been minutes long and the water would have appeared with mercurial smoothness. I might have preferred that … so much for hindsight!

I was happier with this second shot, 1/2 sec at F/16 with some lens tilt. The challenge here was again the high contrast, this time between the sunlit ferns top left and the darkness of the gorge centre top.

Perhaps I should have removed the leaf on the left – it gives truth to the scale of this little cascade pouring down the hillside by the path! Less contrast to deal with here as all was in shade: 1 second at f/16.

At the foot of the tallest fall I liked the way the water spilled over the rock in this shaded part of the glen. The terrain here was very steep and muddy and restricted my choice of viewpoint. I’d like to have been able to frame it more tightly and to have controlled the plane of focus better. Again, 1 second at f/16.

By the time I got to setting up this last shot, intended to be of the main waterfall drop, the light was past its best with shafts of intense low sun lighting up ferns and foliage centrally, dominating the frame. Struggling to keep my balance on the precariously muddy incline made setting up difficult, even dangerous. My choice of viewpoint was seriously restricted and I would really have been as well saving the film for another day! 1/2 second at f/22 was a gross underexposure, made more out of desperation than calculation!

This location has proved to be a real challenge. I’d love to return again another day to discover more of it and for another go at mastering it.

Reekie Linn

Reek: smoke or mist
Linn: a dark or deep pool

Reekie Linn is one of Scotlands most spectacular and accessible waterfalls. It is to be found on the River Isla a little way to the south of the Cairngorms National Park and is easily reached from a small car park at Bridge of Craigisla on the B954 road, by a track along the north edge of the gorge through which it falls.

It is actually two waterfalls: one of 6 metres, followed by a second of 18 metres but when the river is in spate the two become one, falling the 24 metres into a pool that is another 36 metres deep. The spume, as the water hits the rock at the base of the falls, rises high above the gorge creating rainbows in morning and evening sunlight.

I arrived at the falls on a Saturday afternoon just as the rain which had been falling continuously in the area for almost twelve hours, stopped and late afternoon sunlight was appearing from behind the clouds. The river Isla was a wild, loud torrent tearing through below the bridge by the car park and promised exciting images to follow. The river runs west to east at this point and my intention was to park up overnight in my campervan to be on location to photograph the falls in the early morning, which was forecast to be dry and bright.

My first task was to locate the track and do a quick recce to identify possible viewpoints for the morning. It was easily found and in less than five minutes I had my first view of Reekie Linn where the rushing river was being forced through a narrow gap at the top of the falls. Ahead of me I could see the spume of water reaching high above the trees at the top of the gorge just a little way downstream. I headed further down the track and identified another two spots from which to set up my camera. All I had with me at this stage was my mobile phone and was using it to record some stills and video of the awesome sights before me. I realised that as the river level fell overnight the spectacle would diminish so I beat a hasty retreat to the van to return with my Intrepid to get what shots of the falls I could manage that evening.

The first image, taken in the evening and showing Reekie Falls at their awesome best. One of my favourites from the trip.
The view downstream from the falls from above the gorge.
At the top of the falls. The noise such that couldn’t hear myself think!

I think I captured the power of the river in these evening images and was glad to have made the effort to set up the camera then, rather than wait until morning.

Dawn came about 6:15 and I was keen to find a path on the south bank of the river. I have seen photographs of Reekie Linn taken from the south river bank below the falls and reasoned that there must be a way of getting down the gorge on the south side. The woodland on the south side is dense but I did find a path. I followed it bbeyond the falls and came to what looked like a very narrow track zig-zagging down a slightly less than vertical face. With all the rain that had recently fallen, the track was soaking wet and soft. I’d been a couple of hours getting to this point but a quick personal risk assessment was enough to turn me back! I returned to the van for a coffee and then headed back along the north track to where I’d been the evening before.

The river level had dropped overnight by at least a metre and I was glad to have taken the decision to bag some shots yesterday. But now the sun was from the east and there was still plenty of power in the river, sending the spume above my head as I set up my camera on the track along the top of the gorge. Perhaps I was distracted by the spray and having to keep the lens dry, but somehow I lost concentration and exposed my first two shots on the same sheet of film! Schoolboy error but here’s the double exposure that resulted from it – I quite like it!:

East and west from the same spot. An accidental double exposure that kinda works!

Fortunately I realised my mistake right away as I went to jot down my exposure settings. I re-took both shots before moving on:

East … on it’s own
West … on it’s own!

Just two more shots were taken successfully before I called it a day. (Another schoolboy error, this time removing the darkslide before closing the iris leading to a much over exposed shot, was enough to tell me it was time to go: I’ve not included it in this collection.)

A slight change of position from the last image and a change of lens from 240mm to 150mm.
The ‘morning after’ view back upstream from Reekie Linn falls to Bridge of Craigisla.

All of the above images were made with the Intrepid Mk1 camera on Ilford FP4+ film using Rodenstock 150mm and Schneider 240mm lenses. The film was processed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+14 for 7.5minutes at 20ºC. The negatives were scanned with an Epson 4990 and edited for dust marks and black and white points in Affinity Photo.

Competing with wind, rain and midges

Wind and rain aren’t ideal conditions in which to set up a large-format camera but when they die down, how well could I cope with the scourge of the Highland Midge?

Family holidays gave my wife and I a three week long break from our grandparenting duties and our first opportunity for a proper roadtrip in the campervan we had treated ourselves to following my retirement. Of course, it was also an opportunity for me to explore new locations with a camera!

Our plan was to visit Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, travelling via the island of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula on our way there, and by the Cowall peninsula and the Isle of Bute on our return. Over the course of eleven days we would make eight ferry crossings and stay on four very different campsites.

In preparing for the trip I had subscribed to the Ordnance Survey’s online maps service and had studied the areas we planned to visit to identify possible photo locations. I packed my Intrepid 5×4 and a supply of Ilford FP4+ sheet film which I would use for ‘serious’ photography and also my recently purchased Polaroid OneStep+ camera with a supply of i-Type colour film intended for snap-shots of our adventures. Here are the snap-shots:

Though we seemed to dodge the worst of the weather being experienced elsewhere in Scotland, we experienced very strong winds over the first few days of our trip, and when the wind did die down, thundery rain showers took over. Neither condition was much good for photography with a large format camera and so my Intrepid mostly remained packed away. My only opportunity came on Islay where with the help of the OS Maps I found a lovely waterfall not too far from our campsite among the dunes at Kintra.

I was able to get these two shots at the top of the waterfall before the rain began again. Below here the water fell another 25 or so metres into the sea in an inlet below. I had hoped to get further down but would have had to make a crossing further upstream and then quite a scramble down the rocks to get the view I wanted. With deteriorating weather and an acknowledgement that with age comes less goat-like abilities, I called it a day.

These turned out to be the only waterfall shots I took on our Islay adventure, but having survived eleven days together in our small campervan, once home we decided to make the most of our break from the grandkids and took off again! This time we headed for Coigach in the north-west highlands, an area we know well as it’s where my wife is from and which I have explored widely with a camera in the past.

When we arrived there was no wind to speak of and it was dry. Perfect for setting up the Intrepid, but perfect also for midges. Even with liberal application of ‘Smidge’ midge repellant, even on parts of the body you would never expect a self-respecting midge to reach, the big question was “How long could I endure their inevitable desire to make a meal of me?” I react quite badly to bites from the wee beasties and have plenty evidence to show that they were successful in overcoming the repellant!

On our first full day, I managed these two images of Allt a’ Choire Reidh at the foot of the corrie below the ridge of Ben More Coigach before retreating to the van:

I have a lightweight balsa wood shade that I made to attach to the Intrepid to shield the focussing screen from light. It serves well to get the general framing and focus and cuts down the time spent under a dark cloth, which is still necessary to make final adjustments particularly when employing tilt and swing movements. Under the dark cloth is where the midges like to congregate so the less time I have to spend there, the better!

Day two was a better day. A little brighter and most importantly with a light breeze. The wee beasties can’t take to the air in wind speeds above 6 or 7 mph. The light breeze was enough to thwart them yet not enough to spoil photography. Heavy overnight rain (it’s the best time for it!) meant full, flowing burns so I headed back to the same location. This time I was able to explore the burn further up the corrie to make these images:

Our third and final day was like the second and I revisited the site of an abandoned croft house that I first photographed over 45 years ago.
https://donaldtainsh.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/the-abandoned-croft-house-of-roddy-stewart/
It’s interesting to me to see the advance of nature as time passes. Click on the image to view larger:

All the black & white photographs shown were made with the Intrepid 4×5 camera on Ilford FP4+ film, developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+14 at 20ºC. Scans of the negatives have been adjusted for black and white points and for contrast.

Polaroid progress

Moving on my emulsion transfer experiments to prepared stretched canvas.

In my previous post I went in to some detail to show the emulsion transfer process that I found worked for me. Unfortunately, having successfully achieved transfer of the emulsion to watercolour paper, I discovered that as the paper and the emulsion dried they did so at different rates: this created tensions which caused the emulsion to part company from the paper and in one instance to tear completely!

I have since consulted several more knowledgable friends, seeking advice on alternative transfer media and on methods of protecting and preserving the finished transfer. Watercolour board was the most popular suggestion for alternative media and variations on using the varnish I was already using was suggested for protection and preservation.

I found some watercolour board in my local craft store and gave it a try, unfortunately with little improvement over my earlier attempts on paper. However, while browsing the store my eye caught the display of prepared, stretched canvases. Among them were canvases just 10cm square – a perfect size on which to transfer a single Polaroid emulsion!

I purchased a few of the canvases to try. Now I had originally been attempting to create dyptich or tryptich transfers using multiple Polaroid images but I decided to satisfy myself with single images for now. After all, I was working through my Polaroids at quite a rate and could not afford to be risking more wastage. In any case I could not see any suitably shaped canvases.

Top row L-R: emulsions 8 through 5, Bottom row L-R: emulsions 4 through 1

All went well, at first. I had ten canvases and made a selection of Polaroids remaining from each pack I had shot since I got the camera a few months ago. The first six emulsions lifted quickly and were easily slid on to the submerged canvases. They were easy to manoeuvre around and adjust with a fine brush with almost no splitting. Emulsions seven and eight (top left in the above photo) were a different story altogether.

The two troublesome emulsions.

The emulsion didn’t ‘bubble up’ at all in the warm water bath and had to be teased off quite severely with a brush: each emulsion took almost an hour to separate and as can be seen in the photograph, I was unable to avoid causing damage. I decided to stop there and not risk more Polaroids, and canvases, until I have worked out why these should be so different to handle.

These images had been taken only a few days before the transfer attempt, whereas the others had been taken between one and three months previously. That is the most obvious difference and the only way to determine whether it was the cause is to wait a few weeks before trying another transfer from the same pack.

The second thing I noticed was that the ‘difficult’ emulsions were from a newer batch of film. The colours in images made from this newer batch are also more saturated than those of the earlier batch. That would suggest the possibility of poor emulsion consistency between batches, or perhaps differences in storage or handling. Time will tell.

Moving on, the transfers to canvas have been completely successful in both maintaining adherence to the canvas and in accepting the application of a varnish to protect and preserve them.

Because the canvas is stretched over a wooden frame, all of which has to be submerged into the water for the emulsion to be placed, it takes a long time to dry out. I left the transfers alone for several days before applying a first coat of dilute (approximately 20%) Liquitex Matte. Once dry I then applied a second coat consisting of Liquitex Gloss (approximately 25%) and Liquitex Matte. This gives a pleasant non-glossy sheen and appears to be quite robust.

I can see this being the way forward towards presenting and displaying my Polaroid emulsion transfers. However, if I want to pursue my original idea of dyptich/tryptich presentation I might have to learn how to make a frame and prepare my own custom-sized canvases. I like a challenge!

Playing with Polaroid

My first attempts at Polaroid emulsion transfers.

To make a break from working almost entirely in black and white and to try something different, a couple of months ago I took delivery of a Polaroid OneStep+ i-Type camera and a bundle of Polaroid colour film.

Inspired by instant film work produced by friends and in exhibitions over the past year or so, I wanted to try for myself some of the techniques I’d seen. Multiple exposure mosaics, chopped up prints recreated as panoramas and various takes on emulsion lifts were all ways I’d seen that put an individual twist to already unique images.

I set out to seek subject matter that could be photographed from different angles or viewpoints for the images to be presented as emulsion transfers in diptych or triptych form or perhaps as a composite of overlapping images. What follows is the story so far, of where my experiments have taken me.

After building confidence in single-image emulsion lifts with test shots, I jumped in at the deep end and attempted a four-overlapping-image transfer onto watercolour paper. Due to the camera lens angle of view being considerably greater than that of the viewfinder, the amount of overlap was a lot more than intended . Indeed, what I learned from this attempt was that any overlap was near impossible and that tears in the emulsion were inevitable.

Four overlapping image emulsions – none line up correctly and all are torn!

On to my second attempt. This was to be a triptych. I decided to transfer the middle image first, then the left and finally the right. All was looking good until I tore edges of the final emulsion while manoeuvring it into place!

Tears in the third image – at this stage everything is still wet and was set aside to dry …

Although conscious that as instant film images, these were unique and thus unrepeatable, I was encouraged by the success of the process and cautioned to take greater care with my next attempt. Even in their torn state, the triptych had a charm and still worked albeit not as I had intended.

For the next triptych I decided to try where possible to photograph each stage in my process.

The three Polaroids to form the next emulsion lift triptych attempt.

Polaroid prints are made up of several layers held together within a frame. The front clear plastic has a gelatinous layer behind it to which the emulsion layer attaches. Behind the emulsion is a layer of opaque plastic which together with the frame contains the development chemicals after they are released from the base of the frame as the print is ejected from the camera. An internet search reveals many methods of separating the emulsion from the Polaroid print. I chose what seemed to me to be the simplest.

Cutting the image from the frame.
Gently peeling the opaque backing layer from the emulsion. Note the use of gloves! Allowing the image to soak in warm or hot water can help.
Allow the image to soak face down in a tray of warm or hot water. Use a fine, soft brush to gently loosen and remove residual chemicals from the back of the emulsion layer. Almost no actual contact with the emulsion is needed. As the chemicals are removed, the water becomes cloudy.
Transfer the emulsion, still attached by a gelatinous layer to the front clear plastic, to a second tray of fresh warm or hot water. After a little while the emulsion layer will begin to bubble and separate from the gelatinous layer. Gently brush from one edge to allow the emulsion peel off. Be patient, and very gentle as tearing can occur!
With the emulsion almost totally off, finish the separation in a large tray of clean, cool water. Discard the clear plastic and its attached gelatinous layer.

The emulsion can now be gently manipulated with a brush onto a piece of watercolour paper also in the water, hence the need for a large tray. I needed both hands for this stage so didn’t record my antics on camera! It can be tedious and needs patience to manoeuvre the emulsion into place and draw the paper out of the water such that the emulsion remains in place.

The emulsion will float free of the paper if any or all of it is re-immersed into the water, making the next stages of assembling my triptych rather tricky. (It is also why creating overlapping image emulsions was effectively impossible!)

My completed triptych, still wet, looking good.

I left all my attempts from the session to dry naturally overnight. A surprise awaited me next day …

Ouch! Tensions between the emulsion and the paper as they dried were clearly too much where damage had already occurred to the first triptych. Closer inspection showed similar tension damage along some edges on both.
Ping!
Peel!
Stretch!

The paper I had used was sized heavyweight hot press watercolour paper that I’ve used before for salt and cyanotype printing so I really didn’t expect any problems with Polaroid emulsion. If the emulsion is not sufficiently adhering to the paper it will be very delicate and easily damaged by the lightest touch. I decided to experiment with the application of a varnish.

I decided to apply Liquitex varnish with a soft brush to the remaining two emulsions on the first of my triptych attempts.
Using as light a touch as I could manage and with a minimal amount of varnish, I tackled the peeling corner first.
As soon as the liquid varnish contacted the emulsion, the emulsion began to lift from the paper in places and was easily dragged.
For the second triptych I determined to apply varnish to the edges only. It seals the edges of the emulsion to the paper well but I was unable to avoid dragging.

So that’s where I’m at. I have a process to successfully create emulsion lift diptychs and triptychs but so far have no obvious way of protecting and preserving them, other than perhaps behind glass in a frame. There may be something I’m missing or perhaps I could try mounting them on something other than paper (I have a lovely piece that I bought at an exhibition not long ago, created from instant film, painted and mounted on a plaster-of-paris base). I’ll be consulting those in the know!

Amongst the trees, in search of the woods

In search of inspiration, I took a camera to Fife for a walk around Blairadam Forest Trails.

Grey skies and flat light don’t make for interesting photography and were a frustration on a day that I’d had in mind to get out with a camera.

However the pull of being out with a camera was too great to resist. I packed a bag with my trusty Vivitar V3800n, 28m and 50mm Pentax-K lenses, a few cassettes of Kentmere 400 cut from a bulk roll and headed off to see where the road might take me.

In search of inspiration for photo projects, I’ve been browsing the rather useful website of Forestry and Land Scotland (formerly the Forestry Commission) where access, trails, facilities and points of interest are well laid out. The road took me to Fife and the forest trails of Blairadam Forest, to the west of Kelty.

With uninteresting light and no firm plan, this felt more of a reconnaissance trip in search of inspiration for a future visit, or perhaps I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees! I looked for compositions that pleased me but the negatives I came back with were as dull as the day. Some digital intervention to the exposures and levels was necessary. Here are a few of the better images made.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2019

Pinhole images through a vortoscope: Is it a first?

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) is celebrated annually on the last Sunday of April. For several years I’ve joined my friends in the Edinburgh Lo-Fi Photography Group for a pinhole photowalk and trying each year to do ‘something different’ with a light-tight space, some form of light-sensitive media and a very, very, small hole.

While the ultimate goal in celebrating the Day is to produce a single image that will be uploaded to the WPPD website, it is also a fun, social occasion with friends, a sharing of ideas, coffee, an interesting location, cake, pincam comparisons and inevitably food and drink in a pub or restaurant afterwards. To make the day interesting photographically I usually prepare several pincams and this year I carried three. My intention was to make one pre-planned image for WPPD19 and to simply have fun with the others to see how they turned out.

First was the ‘Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin’ pincam, then came the ‘All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole’ pincam and finally, the ‘Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole’ pincam. Each will be explained below in some detail. (This will be a long blog post)!

The Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin pincam

Choose one pinhole from three … the lower landscape pinhole is uncovered

I last used this 90mm deep biscuit tin which holds a sheet of 10″x8″ paper, a few months ago while experimenting with SE1 emulsion on tracing paper. The success of that experiment was iffy at best but it did confirm the accuracy of the f/360 pinhole apertures (it has three to choose from) and the angles of view achievable. It seemed a safe bet to put it to use for WPPD19 loaded with a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper which would subsequently be developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade.

Our walk passed a large concrete arrow set in the grass. Apparently the arrow had served some purpose to the RAF during the second world war. It seemed an ideal subject for pinhole imagery. I set up the pincam on a high tripod, aiming downward and used the lower landscape pinhole so as to raise the horizon and include the shadow of the pincam in the image.

Using the lower landscape pinhole together with the pincam aimed downwards ensures the inclusion of the pincam’s shadow.

The All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole pincam

The shutter is an old 5″x4″ darkslide fitted with high-density foam and magnets
Five pinholes concurrently uncovered to provide five overlapping image planes

Like the Belgian Biscuit tin, this pincam had been last used in my experiments with emulsion on tracing paper. It is much shallower at only 55mm and although very wide, the angle of view of each pinhole is insufficient to cover the 10″x8″ paper that fits inside the tin. By using multiple apertures light would be projected by the peripheral ones into the areas of the paper unexposed by the central one. This would also create the interesting idea of overlapping image planes.

The challenge would be to produce five near identical pinhole apertures. This would ensure evenly balanced exposures in the periphery while the central area would receive light from all five apertures. From experiments with three holes I reckoned I could meter the subject, divide by five and deduct that well-known pinhole unit of measure: the ‘bit’. I marked out and drilled holes in the tin lid. The f/160 pinhole apertures were created by pushing a dress-making pin part-way through squares of thin aluminium foil which were then measured for accuracy and consistency before attachement to the inside of the tin. Measurement was made by scanning each pinhole at 9600dpi, measuring onscreen at full size and comparing against the known measurement of a steel rule scanned and viewed at the same resolution and size.

steel rule vs pinhole. Scanned at 9600dpi and viewed on screen at full size, surprisingly accurate measurements can be made for consistency across several pinholes

The twist I wanted to put on the image made with this camera was based on the fact that the meeting point to start our walk was to be outside a theatre. Now the universal symbol for the theatrical arts is a mask and with the potential for the overlapping image produced by this pincam to ‘mask’ the subject, I thought I would take it a little further and make a mask for a member of our group to wear while posing for my WPPD19 image!

a simple papier-mache mask with a few splashes of acrylic paint

Unfortunately the person I had in mind (whose ‘big’ wild hair would have set off the mask very well) was unable to attend the meetup so I ended up wearing it myself and taking a selfie! I quite underestimated just how close the pincam to subject distance would need to be: this was taken at about 30cm – it really needed to be half that or even closer!

Not quite as intended – the jury’s out on whether this is worthy of WPPD19 submission.

The Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole pincam

It was while browsing my local craft store for mask materials that I spotted some 5cm square mirrors. Some years ago I had been introduced to vortographs, an interesting technique that once tried quickly found its way to the dark recesses of my memory. Something clicked and I decided it would be fun to make a vortoscope through which to make pinhole images. (A good starting point to learn about vortoscopism is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Langdon_Coburn)

A vortoscope is a gadget that produces kaleidoscope-like images. It is made up of three (I guess it could be more) mirrors formed into a tube-like construction of triangular section which is placed over a lens (or in my case, over a pinhole aperture). The resulting image consists of a central direct section surrounded by peripheral reflections. The ‘diameter’ and length of the vortoscope affects the size and clarity of each of these sections and the abstraction of the image.

I made mine from a pack of 5cm square mirrors which I cut to size with a glass-cutter, a toilet roll core, copious amounts of hot-melt glue and some sticky-back foam. The bodycap has long been adapted for pinhole but to be sure I did re-make the pinhole aperture to the optimum 0.29mm for the 49mm projection distance when mounted on my old Olympus OM1n camera.

I was pretty pleased with the results. The camera was loaded with Kentmere 400 film from a bulk roll and subsequently developed in Ilfosol 3. I make no apology for showing all of the images here, warts and all, because I think they are quite cool! These have been scanned and slight adjustments made in Afinity Photo for exposure and levels. Most of the images were between half and one and a half stops underexposed which was probably down to my poor metering!

WPPD19: which image to submit?

At the time of writing, I have not yet decided which of all the pinhole images made on the day I should submit as my WPPD19 image. I’m open to suggestions.

Pinhole day this year was the first in a long time that I can remember having good, almost too good, weather for pinhole photography. It was unusual for me to come home with nothing I could call a failure!

The best thing about the day? Time spent with friends, sharing our enjoyment of simple image-making pleasures.

A final anecdote

We came across many bird watchers, apparently drawn to reports of two rare species of duck having been spotted along the coast where we were walking. Like us, each of them carried the tools of their hobby: while ours were tin cans and changing bags, theirs were tripods, spotting scopes and big digital cameras with huge long lenses surely capable of resolving the tail-feather detail of sparrows in flight at 1000 metres!

One of them was passing me when he spotted the Olympus round my neck: “Oh! What sort of lens is that? I’ve not seen one of these before.” he asked. Willing to be engaged in a spot of photographic gear talk I removed said ‘lens’ from the camera to show the pinhole end of the device. “It’s not a lens, it’s a vortoscopic bodycap pinhole.” I replied.

Oh dear! The clues were written all over his face. This conversation was going nowhere. It was quite clearly considered that I was some wacko with a screw loose! I need to invest time in the study of ornithology.

Playing safe, for a change

In my previous blog post I wrote about the difficulties of obtaining consistency across a construction of eight pinhole cameras in order to accomplish a single composite image. Following through on what I’d learned, I made adjustments to cameras and method and went out to give it another go.

A 360º composite image formed from eight separate coffee-can pinhole images.

The results this time were better than before. However, to make all eight exposures involved spending two hours or so hovering around my pincam construction in the woods on a fairly cold, breezy afternoon in fading, changing light with the sun dropping in an increasingly cloudy sky. In such conditions it’s not difficult to believe that surely the shutter’s been open long enough!

I failed to make sufficient allowance for the changing light during what were already long exposures in the two central images. Then the image showing the solarised path of the sun was too bright to match with the exposure required for the final image on the left.

I’m tempted to re-think my use of Harman Direct Positive paper with its low sensitivity and very high contrast but it is those very qualities that I love about it and I know they can be harnessed. I really just need better self-discipline. But perhaps too, I just need to take a break from it for a while.

With taking a break in mind I looked out my Harman TiTAN camera, loaded a couple of holders with Ilford FP4+ and went for another walk in the same woods. It’s a safe setup but I needed to make images that pleased me. Though made with a commercially produced pinhole camera and an easy-going emulsion, these retain the softness, vignetting and framing serendipity that to me make pinhole images special:

the pond
deer hill
spaceship woods
woodland way