A trio from the past

Three prints from negatives exposed in 2017.

After quite an absence, I have recently been spending more time in my darkroom. Not that I have any newly exposed film to process but I have been looking back through some of the early negatives made in the months following my acquisition of the Intrepid 5×4 field camera.

Many of these early images were simply scanned or contact printed as at the time I had no way of enlarging them. All that changed when Intrepid designed an enlarger attachment for the camera. I jumped at the chance to obtain one and as readers of my previous blogs will know, I subsequently set up my darkroom.

Lockdown has given me the opportunity to look back and assess these early negatives for printing and I think I have quite a few that will make interesting prints. At the time of making the images large format photography was very new to me and I was being particularly pedantic about setting up, framing, assessing exposure and of course the whole process of making the exposure.

The three prints that follow are from a series of negatives that I exposed and from which made enlarged digital negatives that were subsequently printed as salt prints (https://donaldtainsh.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining/). However, until today I have never made regular darkroom prints from the original negatives.

The film was Ilford FP4+ and the prints are made on Ilford MGRC Pearl paper.

Firm Grip
Sinuous Attachment
Woodland Arches

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Two images from 2020

It took a rather wet and dull day when what daylight there is at this time of year seemed unwilling to make any appearance whatsoever, to get me back into my darkroom.

This has been the year of coronavirus. I have made very few photographs and despite my intentions have found the darkroom an unappealing place to be. The weather during the early months of the year wasn’t great for photography, but I had taken advantage of what opportunities arose and did expose a few rolls of film. With a looming lockdown I’d ordered supplies of chemicals and paper with every intention of spending time developing and printing in my darkroom. In the event, lockdown brought beautiful weather and the restrictions on movement were relaxed to allow taking exercise outdoors. I chose to spend what time I could out on my bicycle. But most times the only ‘camera’ I took with me was my mobile phone. On my bike I was freed from the darkness of lockdown and I found myself not wanting anything that would lead me to the darkness and solitude of the darkroom.

The threat of coronavirus is far from over but with the short, dark days of winter there is less opportunity for escape on the bike and there seems less to lose by spending time in the darkroom. Which is what I did last weekend, setting out to print and tone one negative exposed just before lockdown and another exposed just a couple of weeks ago when unusually, I had taken a camera with me on a misty morning cycle ride.

Both negatives have been printed on Ilford MG ART300 paper and selenium toned. These are scans of the final prints:

Made in early March 2020 on Kentmere 400 film in an Olympus OM1n camera fitted with a bodycap pinhole. The camera was mounted on a forward facing bike rack and the exposure made as I cycled through the landscape. This is my most recent iteration and refinement of my process of creating what I call ‘timescapes’. I chose to print this image as it seems to me prophetic of the dark days and twists of the unknown that lay ahead.

Made in mid November 2020 on Ilford Ortho Plus film in an Olympus Trip camera. During this period of lockdown guidance advised not to cross the county boundary in which I live. On my (almost) daily cycle rides I had taken to ride as far as I could without crossing into a neighbouring county. The still, misty morning with the mist forecast to burn off persuaded me to pack the camera and take a route that skirted the western county boundary. This is as far as I could go and looks west, the trees and hills beyond disappearing into the murk. Even as I made the exposure and took in the scene for a while after, those trees and hills were becoming slowly more visible as the light and warmth from the sun overcame the and burnt off the mist. This is an image that gives me hope of the dark days of 2020 being ended and of light being restored.

Cometh December

Just one pinhole image

2020 has been (still is!) a very strange year indeed. Lockdowns and restrictions on movement and interpersonal contact have affected everyone and I guess I’m no different.

Since Pinhole Day at the end of April I’ve hardly entered my darkroom. Any other time it is a haven of peace in the comfort of the red safelight while I enjoy dabbling with my photographic efforts. But it’s a Dark Room. I sought light and the company of others, albeit at a distance.

On the first day of December I set up my TiTAN pinhole camera at a south-facing window, opened the aperture to admit light on to a sheet of Harman Direct Positive paper and left it exposed for twenty four hours. Once done, the paper was developed as normal to reveal the solarized image of the sun’s path for the time that it appeared, low in the sky.

Even in the dark months of winter in this strangely dark year, light shines on.

Pinhole Day … the ones that got away

Wrapping up the images I made for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2020

In my last post I wrote about how as Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2020 approached I increasingly wanted to recognise the circumstances in which it was to be celebrated, namely the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

But I had already been making preparations for other images. I had set up a number of pinhole solargraph cameras for 6-month exposures ending on WPPD. Two of these remained but due to the lockdown I would be dependant on each of my daughters to close the shutters and store the cameras until they could be retrieved. In case of any problems with these and before I had decided on setting up a room obscura to make the exposure that was to be my WPPD submission, I had also planned a pincam shoot-out in the back garden.

Not only was the pincam shoot-out made on the day, both solargraph pincams were closed by my daughters and have since been recovered without breaking lockdown restrictions. It would be a shame to waste these images so this is their story.

First, the shoot-out. On the left is the Balvenie 12-Year Old Anamorphic Cylinder Pincam and on the right, the WPPD2014 Foamcore Pincam. Both cameras were loaded with Harman Direct Positive Paper and exposed simultaneously for about 30 seconds.

This was the WPPD2014 Foamcore Pincam as seen by the Balvenie 12-Year Old Anamorphic Cylinder Pincam:

… and this is the Balvenie 12-Year Old Anamorphic Cylinder Pincam as seen by the the WPPD2014 Foamcore Pincam:

Both solargraph pincams were Illy coffee cans with drilled pinholes of 0.3mm. The exposures were made on quite old Kenthene VC paper from 26th October 2019 to 26th April 2020:

The hills are alive
Sunshine on Leith

That’s it for Pinhole Day 2020. In the post, I’ve received a surprise package of assorted photo papers of indeterminate vintage and varying degrees of fogging. Lumen and Chemigram experimentation are in the pipeline. Watch this space!

Two metres: Isolation Pinhole

Within the darkness of the obscura, light reached in to every corner.

The twentieth celebration of Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day fell on 26th April 2020. Pinholers and would-be pinholers around the world are invited to participate in pinhole photography on the last Sunday of April each year and to upload a single image made on the day to the WPPD website for display in that year’s gallery Exhibition.

I have participated in WPPD for several years and this year was to be no exception. For some weeks I have been thinking of subject matter and what ‘equipment’ I might use or make with which to capture an image. My planning actually began six months prior to the day with the placement of four coffee-can solargraph pinhole cameras. The intention was to have at least two of these exposing for the full six months ending on 26th April. One was removed from it’s post, never to be seen again, a second was opened after three months to check that all was in order, leaving two to run the full course.

Of course, six months ago coronavirus was not known. There was no pandemic and no lockdown restriction on movement. The two remaining pincams were placed on each of my two daughters’ homes. With a few weeks to go I realised that I might need to rely on my daughters closing the shutters on my behalf and to store the pincams until they could be retrieved and the images within scanned. I needed a Plan B.

Initially Plan B was to prepare pincams to use while out for my permitted exercise and my previous blog post shows some images made on a trial run. However as WPPD drew nearer I wanted more to make an image that somehow reflected on the strange times of the pandemic lockdown. I decided to make a room into an obscura into which a view of the outside world would be projected and in which I could sit in solitude and in silence, watching around me an inverted mirror image of a world from which I was isolated.

The obscura idea developed. I could attempt to make a long exposure photograph of the image within or I could attempt to set up photographic paper on which to record the image. In the UK social distancing measures required that individuals remain a minimum of two metres apart. I decided to set up my paper two metres from the pinhole. A 2mm hole drilled in aluminium reclaimed from a beer can was placed in the blackout material covering the window. I looked out an old projection screen that would assist in framing my image and to act as a support for an array of 10″x8″ sheets of Ilford MGRC paper – the largest I had to hand. The paper array would have to be assembled by safelight once the room/obscura was closed and packed away in a like manner after exposure and before I could emerge from the room. I would be alone for some time.

The image was made not long after sunrise. I had to guess at an exposure and allowed 40 minutes. Allowing for setting up, taking down and just sitting in the quiet of the obscura soaking up the experience, I was in the world of the outside within for about 90 minutes. I watched and listened to birds flying upside down in front of me, the occasional vehicle or pedestrian passing the wrong way, the trees sweeping the sky in the easterly breeze that seemed to be coming from the west. I thought of those whose lives at this time are topsy-turvy, confused and worse, confined to a narrow, unchanging view of a world from which they have been isolated.

But the feeling was not a negative one. In my head I had imagined sitting alone in the dark but in fact I found myself surrounded by light. From a hole just two millimetres in diameter, light and with it the life of the outside world seemed to permeate every nook and cranny of the room. There was light and the light was good.

The contact-printed image hanging on the wall of the room in which it was made

My submission to the WPPD Gallery Exhibition can be viewed at http://www.pinholeday.org/gallery/2020/?id=823 along with many other inspired and wonderful pinhole images posted from around the globe.

Getting into the mood

With just one week until Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2020, I’ve been dusting down old and creating new pincams.

WPPD2020 is almost upon us! This is its twentieth year and will be celebrated across the globe in a variety of coronavirus lockdown conditions.

Six months ago I set up solargraph pinhole cameras at four locations. One was vandalised about five weeks in and I took down another after three months to check that an image was being recorded as I would expect. The remaining two should each have a 6-month record of the sun’s path as seen from each of my daughters’ homes. Lockdown means I may not be able to retrieve the cameras and will have to rely on my daughters closing the shutters for me.

With thoughts of possibly not having one of my planned images to upload to the WPPD2020 website gallery, I’ve been thinking of alternative pincams to use on the day and testing out a few ideas.

Just before Christmas 2017 I received the gift of a vintage VistaScreen 3-D viewer and over that holiday period I made a stereo pinhole camera. Here it is with some of the prints I’ve made from the Ilford MGRC paper negs I exposed over the past couple of days: (To see the 3-D effect, stare at each dual image in turn and slowly cross your eyes to create a virtual third image in the middle)

Another possibility might be to take my Food-Caddy Bincam pincam for a spin. Here it is with an image made on Harman Direct Positive Paper while cycling with the camera mounted on the rear rack of my bike:

Or I could go back to one of the first pincams I ever made. This foamcore box-within-a-box pincam was made for WPPD2014 and is one of my favourites. I gave it a go last week with some Harman Direct Positive Paper:

Lockdown hasn’t been easy. With regular liquid refreshment running low and visits to the shops even for essentials, limited, I’ve been resorting to retirement gifts stored away for a rainy day. The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old Malt was much enjoyed in relieving it’s packaging for alternative use as an anamorphic cylindrical pincam. This image was also on Harman Direct Positive Paper:

I am quite fortunate in living within very easy reach from home of woodland and open space which can be enjoyed in relative solitude. Lockdown restrictions here allow for leaving home each day for one form of exercise, maintaining social distancing. Whether going for a walk or a cycle ride it is quite possible to pack one or two pinhole cameras for when I pause for a rest!

In the mood? You bet I am!

Lockdown Lumens

I have a couple of friends who make lumen prints, exposing organic material onto old photographic paper under sunlight. With the coronavirus lockdown in place I decided to give the process a try.

My stock of photo paper is all quite fresh but I have a bottle of SE1 liquid emulsion of indeterminate age and storage so I thought I might coat some paper with that. On searching for suitable paper I came across a pad of Watercolour Artboard – perfect! Apart from some squashably soft organic material, all I now needed was a sheet of glass, such as found in a photo frame with which to make a ‘sandwich’ for exposure to the sun. Raking through my stuff(!) I found some glass cut to 4″x5″ that had been used previously for glass plate experiments and had been cleaned off ready for re-use.

The bottle of SE1 needed to be warmed to about 45ºC in a water bath so that the emulsion could be poured. With the Artboard cut to size I coated it with the emulsion using a foam brush then set it aside to dry in a dark place. That gave me time to raid the garden and food-waste bin for organic material and then set it out on the glass ready for the coated Artboard to be pressed down on top.

Clockwise from top left: Blueberry and banana skin, Christmas rose and forget-me-not, Primula, Dandelion with daffodil and tulip petals

I had laid out the glass on top of some cardboard and after placing the coated Artboard on top of the organic material I used a piece of plywood to apply even pressure to the ‘sandwich’. Unfortunately, the dandelion was not soft enough and the glass plate below it broke (perhaps I should have used plywood underneath instead of cardboard)!

Three successful ‘sandwiches’ held together with butterfly clips and one broken glass due to the dandelion being too hard.

I placed the three successful ‘sandwiches’ outside in direct sunlight. Rather than waste the Dandelion and petals I pulled out my UV Light Box and placed it under the light without any glass.

After exposing all four for about three hours, they were ready for processing. Under the heat of the light box, the dandelion was a little singed around the edges and the petals had shrivelled up. On the ‘sandwiches’ placed outside, condensation had formed on the underside of the glass, probably due to the emulsion not being fully dry.

After exposure for about three hours

The organic material now had to be removed and any bits remaining rinsed off from the Artboard. To give some permanence to the images they were placed in fixer for a couple of minutes and then rinsed in water for about fifteen minutes before drying.

And the finished images look like this …

Darkroom daze

With my darkroom up and running it’s time to make some prints.

In my last blog post I described the conversion of a spare room into my new darkroom setup. Now’s the time to try out the layout and for the first time, find out how well the Intrepid Enlarger accessory kit works with the Intrepid 4×5 Camera.

Coincidentally, Harman Technology recently announced the introduction of Ilford MGRC paper and its rollout to replace MGIV RC paper which has been the staple of many photo printers for over twenty years. I’d had a box on order, Pearl finish, and it’s arrival was well timed to kick-start printing some of the many 5×4 negatives I made over the summer months. To see how this new paper performs it’s been an opportunity to run some tests, make comparisons with other papers I use and to revisit how I go about split-grade printing.

The first test I ran was to take a well exposed and developed negative with a full range of tones and make 5 second interval test strips through each of my multigrade filters. There are twelve filters in the box, ranging from grade 00 to grade 5. The exercise is useful to show the effect of each filter on highlights and shadows and also serves to indicate the typical exposure time required to achieve desired results from different areas of tonality. I also ran the same tests using an unexposed developed negative to determine the exposure time required to achieve maximum black with each filter.

  • It’s worth stating at this point the importance of using ‘a well exposed and developed negative with a full range of tones’. The results of these tests can be filed for reference and used as a starting point in future printing sessions, saving paper, chemicals and time.
  • The subject of the negative I chose for my tests had been metered using a 1º spot meter on the darkest shadow detail that I wanted to show in the eventual final print. Photographic light meters are calibrated to give a reading for ‘middle grey’ or Zone V in Zone System parlance and this needs to be adjusted to place the shadow detail on Zone III. This is simply done by increasing the meter reading by two stops, e.g. if the meter reads 1/15th sec at f/8, the exposure given would be 1/60th sec at f/8 or a suitable matching combination.
  • Development of the exposed negative should be consistent with the time and temperature required for a ‘normal’ process. A common fault is to start the timer once developer is in the tank and stop it before emptying the tank. In fact once in contact with the emulsion the developer remains active until it is stopped, hence the use of a stop bath. Failure to account for the time between emptying the tank of developer and refilling with stop bath often adds as much as 25% to the actual development time and results in over developed negatives that will never show the shadow detail that was intended to be seen!
  • Finally, a full range of tones in the subject from shadow to highlight is needed for proper assessment of the filter tests.

I am not showing the results of my tests here. They are specific to my workflow and my subjective reading of my negative. However I would suggest to anyone interested in following up on this blog that there is value in carrying out these tests for themselves with their own negatives and darkroom conditions. The investment in paper is not great (I had sufficient spread of tonal range in my test negative that I was able to use a 5×4 test print printer so only needed three sheets of 10×8, cut into 5×4 pieces, for the job), and requires only a few hours in the darkroom.

Armed with the results of my tests I set about making some prints. My plan was to use the split-grade method. (I say ‘the‘ split-grade method, but the more I look into it, the more I realise that there are many variations in use and not all that are to be found on the internet are reliable). My starting point was a tutorial by Dave Butcher that can be found on the Ilford website (https://www.ilfordphoto.com/split-grade-printing/). I’ve experimented with his process and realise that once fully understood it has great potential. If anyone is reading this in the hope of a quick fix, you won’t find it here. Do your own experimentation and make your own discoveries and you won’t regret it.

All that said, what follows is the process I followed in making one final (for now!) print from a negative made during the summer on a walk by a burn halfway up a hillside in north west Scotland. My exposure for this negative was based on a spot meter reading of the darkest shadow detail (some of the lichen on the top of the rock in the foreground) of 1 second at f/22. I adjusted this to 1/4 second at f/22 to place the shadow detail on Zone III. The combination of shutter speed and aperture was chosen to show texture in the motion of the water as it pushed through the rocks.

The negative.
1/4 sec @ f/22, Ilford FP4+, Rodenstock 150mm lens with yellow Y2K filter, Intrepid 4×5 Camera.

My first test strip was made with a Grade 00 filter at 4 second intervals. What I was looking for here was the first appearance of texture in the highlights. I’ve circled what I chose, an exposure of 20 seconds.

Grade 00 test strip

Now I had a choice to make: I could make a composite test strip by exposing the whole of the next test strip for 20 seconds at Grade 00 and then change the filter to Grade 5 and expose that at intervals over the Grade 00 exposure, or I could make a separate ‘intermediate’ test strip with just a Grade 5 filter exposed at 3 second intervals. (I determined what intervals to choose, based on my earlier filter tests and my reading of the negative). What I was looking for here was the exposure required to just produce almost black shadow detail. I think it has to be a matter of individual taste as to which method to choose. Personally I found it easier to find the detail I was looking for by making separate G00 and G5 test strips and it is a simple matter to make a third combined test strip that would confirm my choice.

G5 test strip
Combined test strip: G00 for 20 sec then G5 at 3 sec intervals

For my first work print, I decided to increase the Grade 00 exposure to 24 seconds and from my reading of the negative, to burn in the top and right edges at Grade 5 for and additional 5 seconds.

Work Print. G00 24sec + G5 9sec + G5 5sec burn along top and right edges

I was still unhappy with the top and right edges. There is a slight light leak (consequence of using ‘pre-loved’ film holders bought on eBay!) and I wanted a darker edge to frame in the scene. My solution was to crop slightly but to retain the burn around the edges.

Final Print. Top and right edges cropped. G00 24sec + G5 9sec + G5 5sec burn along top and right edges

It is never a good idea to rush through the preparatory stages and in hindsight I really should have re-done my Grade 00 test strip to show a range of times from 12 to 28 seconds. This would have placed my chosen 20 second exposure centrally and shown that better highlight texture would be achieved with a slightly longer exposure. As it was I realised my error prior to making my first work print and made a guesstimated adjustment to 24 seconds.

All in all I spent most of four days enjoying the red glow of the safelight and filling my nostrils with the aroma of fixer! I made several prints on the new Ilford MGRC and for what my opinion is worth I think it is a big improvement over MGIV RC. The blacks are deeper and the jump in contrast between grades 3 1/2 and 4 is much less pronounced.

Alongside my MGRC prints I also repeated my filter tests and made prints on Ilford MG ART 300 cotton rag paper, one of my favourites. The response is quite different and underlines what I said above about making your own tests of the papers and chemistry you use, with your own negatives and in your own darkroom.

Darkroom dreams

Overcoming inertia to repurpose the spare room as a darkroom in which to use the Intrepid Enlarger.

When I retired some fifteen or so months ago, one of my intended projects was to repurpose the spare room as a useable darkroom in place of the rather cramped facility that also had to function in its primary purpose, as shower room.

The spare room had last been used to accommodate my twin grand children while they, their parents and dog ‘lodged’ with us between house moves. They all moved out a few years ago leaving the room complete with Thomas the Tank Engine and Peppa Pig wallpaper and the two cots that they had outgrown. The room wasn’t sorted out straight away and inevitably it gradually filled with ‘stuff’ to became somewhat of a store room.

Meanwhile, large format negatives made with my Intrepid 4×5 camera were piling up. I could scan them but then they were just digital files to be adjusted on a computer, or I could contact print them using my 35mm enlarger. Neither was particularly satisfactory but I’d subscribed to The Intrepid Camera Company’s Kickstarter project to develop and produce an enlarger attachment. In June the kit arrived complete with film holder and electronic timer. Its arrival was the stimulus I needed to get on with the darkroom project.

Once the room was cleared of stuff the cots were taken apart and reused to make a workbench, a close-fitting blackout blind with blackout curtain for good measure ensured no light leaks, an LED strip provided a safelight and the installation of a hanging system facilitated the display of prints. There is no water to the room so I set up a print washer fed from a large plastic tub reservoir by a fish pond pump. I acquired a solid, square-topped table to support my enlarger and reckoned I was good to go.

To use the Intrepid camera as an enlarger is simply a matter of replacing the camera’s ground glass and film back with the custom fit Intrepid Enlarger attachment. The camera has to be mounted on a stand but although a regular tripod can be used, I found it a hassle to set up and the tripod restricted adjustment, rendering it frustrating to use. I set the enlarger aside until I could find an affordable good quality copy stand on which to mount the camera instead. I was in no hurry. After all it was summer and I was more interested in getting out with the camera and adding to the pile of negatives!

Just a few weeks ago I spotted a professional-quality Kaiser copy stand for sale, described as having ‘minor cosmetic damage’ and at well below half the going rate for a new one. I took a chance and was very pleasantly surprised to receive a badly bashed box and packaging containing a brand spanking new stand that I had to examine very carefully to find the cosmetic damage – a tiny ‘bruise’ on one corner of the baseboard. Bargain!

Intrepid Camera with Enlarger Attachment all mounted on a Kaiser RS1/RA1 Copy Stand

So with the exception of a few unnecessary but nice-to-have bits and pieces that I’d like to have in time, my darkroom was ready for use just as the winter days became shorter, colder, wetter and gloomier. What better way to escape the gloom but to shut the darkroom door behind me, turn on the warm, red glow of the safelight and get printing?

Ready for action

With a box of the newly announced Ilford MGRC Pearl paper to hand I had a lot of printing to look forward to. All of that’s to come in my next blog post.

Red Pepper Day

What? … A camera made from a red pepper? … OK, why not?

A red pepper. Not a green one or a yellow one, a red one and the redder the better. Why? Because the colour of the skin will act as a filter and if the pepper can be loaded with media that can be handled in a darkroom with a red safelight, such as photo paper, the pepper should provide safelight darkroom conditions.

I had to give it a go! This is how I made my first red pepper pincam:

With the pincam made, all I needed was enough light to try it out. The projection distance is about 60mm and the pinhole diameter about 0.4mm so my effective aperture is f/150 or thereabouts. The weather has been wet, windy and dull. Very, very dull. I waited a day but the weather remained very, very dull so on my workbench I set up a pile of empty photo paper boxes and the second red pepper as a still life, lit it with a powerful LED worklight and made an exposure.

Still life set up for trial exposure

Five minutes later I had a paper negative in the developer …

Red pepper pincam paper negative

and here it is scanned, inverted, flipped with some levels tweaking:

I’d been concerned firstly that moisture from the pepper would contaminate the image but although there was some slight staining, the paper came out remarkably clean.

Secondly, there was a risk that the electrical tape would not seal sufficiently and allow light leaks but it adhered well. After 24 hours it held together and there is little evidence of light leaks.

Thirdly, would the red skin of the pepper do the business as a safelight? It did! There are interesting markings on the negative that coincide with natural markings on the surface of the pepper that I think are quite cool but the pepper did the job!

I kept a second pepper until the results from this one were known. I’ll be waiting for beter weather and a more exciting choice of subject matter to set it up.