Polaroid progress

Moving on my emulsion transfer experiments to prepared stretched canvas.

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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

Pinhole (in)consistency

The trials and tribulations of using multiple DIY pinhole cameras to produce consistent exposures across a single project.

My ‘best’ pinhole images, in terms of how I perceive the way others appreciate them, have usually been made with my commercially produced Harman TiTAN Pinhole Camera. For myself, however, the images I find most satisfying to create are those made with DIY pincams created from boxes, cans and bits of card or foamcore with a true pin hole punched in foil or sometimes directly into the material of the camera.

Amongst the seemingly endless proliferation of commercially made pincams all with accurate, etched or laser-cut pinhole apertures the aesthetic of what I think of as true pinhole images is becoming lost in the quest for detailed resolution and sharpness. What I seek from a pinhole camera is a serendipitous softness in which light and time create something unseen by the naked eye.

However when multiple cameras are being used to create several discrete images which will ultimately be presented as one, the serendipitous nature of the DIY pincam has to be somewhat controlled in order to achieve a degree of consistency.

The 8xIllyCoffeePincam

For the past few months I’ve been working on the idea of using eight coffee cans to create what I imagine to be a circular, overlapping 360º presentation of the images made in each pincam. The assembled 8xIllyCoffeePincam is shown above.

Each can is fixed to a circle of plywood which has a tripod quick-release plate bolted through its centre. The interior of each can has been sprayed with flat black paint and the lids have been lined with a strip of black felt. The cans are made of steel and two holes have been punched directly through the side of each with a regular dress-making pin. Exposure time is controlled by a strip of black electrical tape. One aperture is positioned centrally on the vertical and the second is one third up from the bottom. This second aperture enables a raising of the horizon line (or lowering if the camera is positioned upside-down!) recorded on the image, i.e. the same effect as lowering or raising the front standard on a large format view camera. Because the media (paper or film) in the can is curved, using the lower aperture will also cause the image to bow depending on the width and curvature of the media.

My idea is to select a position to locate and level the camera and then to evaluate and record individual images, one at a time, with each of the eight pincams. I’ve experimented with the camera before, each time resulting in a few tweaks and a refining of my technique as a result. Now I need to know if these refinements are enough for success.

For this outing I had the camera positioned fairly centrally in Aberdour Harbour at low tide on a bright afternoon. Each pincam was loaded with a 5×4 sheet of Harman Direct Positive paper mounted vertically and the lower aperture was used to raise the horizon and include more foreground than sky. I used the Pinhole Assist iPhone app to determine each exposure, assuming that the aperture in each can was around f/150 and by holding my iPhone directly above and perpendicular to the central view of each pincam.

Here are the eight images that I recorded. Although each exposure was measured in a consistent manner, it is plainly obvious that my assessment of the size of each aperture was far from consistent. Only one or two (E and SE) were anywhere near accurate and even so they are underexposed by at least a stop.

To resolve the problem, I need to do two things:

  • Reassess and adjust each aperture to get all of them as near as possible the same.
  • Review how I measure each exposure.

Starting with the pincam used for the ‘E’ image, I took a standard dressmaking pin and marked it with some tape at the furthest point it penetrated the pin hole. I then went round each pincam to make comparison and was actually quite surprised at the range and amount of adjustment needed on each pin hole! The aperture on the pincam used for image ‘N’ was by far the smallest, confirming the almost non-existant image produced.

Having made the necessary adjustments I then had to establish the actual diameter I now have in each can. For this I took a piece of aluminium drinks can and with the same pin punched a hole up to the marker. I scanned this alongside a metal rule at 9600dpi and made relative measurements of the full size image on screen. On screen, the pin hole measured 25mm in diameter and a 5mm section of the rule measured 217mm. Simple arithmetic then determined my actual pinhole diameter to be 0.576mm. Measurement of the paper in the can showed the projection distance to the centre as 80mm. This produces an effective aperture of f/138 centrally.

For future outings with the 8xIllyCoffeePincam I will assess exposure using a spot meter to measure the deepest shadow in which I want to record detail and reduce the exposure given for that by two stops thus placing the shadows on zone III with mid greys falling on zone V. (NB: This is a very much simplified implementation of the Zone System and should not be followed without greater understanding of the system’s complexity). For convenience I will base the exposure on f/128 with a bit added for the sake of serendipity!

Now, confident that this time I’ve got it right, all I need is another fine day to go try it all out, again.

Remembering the past to discover the future

Rediscovering my mojo

Facebook does Memories. Depending on my activity in previous years Facebook will remind me that one year ago I did this or five years ago I did that. Generally I don’t share these memories but I like to be reminded of them and am sometimes surprised at how long it has been since the depicted memorable occasion.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of photographic exploits and activities that I’ve found helpful in my present situation of coming to terms with retirement and in determining the direction I might take in my present photographic endeavours.

Three years ago I led a pinhole camera workshop. I’d volunteered in response to a request from the project leader of an organisation to a photographic club of which I was a member. I made plans for a two-day weekend workshop, starting with an explanation of how pinholes work through making pinhole cameras from recycled household containers to making images and developing prints. Unfortunately due to having to change venue the workshop had to be condensed into a single four-hour session! It took a lot more planning but we did it and had a great time in the process.

Just one year ago I was experimenting with what I called ‘timescapes’, moving a pinhole camera through the landscape during the exposure. The results, as is often the case with experimental work, were not quite what I was expecting yet held an appeal that I have yet to follow up on.

What those two Facebook Memories reminded me of was the period of time over which pinhole has been the focus of my photographic interest: I’ve been making pinhole cameras and images for nearly seven years! Reflecting on this, I realise that my subject matter has been quite consistently that of time expressed in the motion that a pinhole exposure renders in an interestingly and somewhat abstract, blurred fashion.

Right now I feel I am at a cross-roads and in need of some direction. Perhaps it’s a seven-year itch! Yet I still want to capture the motion of time passing, of time itself. For years I’ve used the motion of flowing water, of the movement of clouds in the sky and of plants and branches in the breeze to depict time. More recently I have discovered the expression of time in solid rock formed under geological forces over millennia and in tree trunks formed over decades and centuries as the tree has responded to changing light and seasons.

I see time too in human faces yet photographic portraiture is a genre that has never appealed to me. A portrait that has been drawn or painted resonates with me far more than does a photograph. Unfortunately I neither draw nor paint but I wonder whether there is some way to combine a photographic image with a drawing or painting, blurring the division between these arts to create some impressionistic time portrait. It’s something to be thinking about.

In reflecting on these ideas I may also have hit upon one of the factors at play in my adaptation to retired life. I worked in a seaside town, commuting daily forty or so miles each way. Each day I would find time to walk by the shore, usually during whatever lunch break I could take or either before or after the working day. I would escape from the noise and busy-ness of the day in the sound of the waves on the beach or against the rocks. I would often have a camera (not always of the pinhole variety!) with me and would instinctively make pleasing images that somehow matched the mood I would find myself in. Facebook, once again provided a memory, this from five years ago:

Now retired and living a long way from the shore, I realise that I am missing that communion with the sea and the world into which it transported me. Finding a way to return to it or to recreate it is also something to be thinking about.

Opening my inbox this morning has perhaps shown me a way forward Among the exhibitions listed in a regular email was one that immediately grabbed my interest. It has inspirational promise. A meeting is now arranged, a visit planned and my train ticket booked.

Let new adventures begin!

All change, Catch up, Carry on

A catch-up on the year’s photographic endeavours, somewhat disrupted by retirement.

My last blog was posted in March! Here’s what’s been going on: (Warning – It’s a long one!)

All change

The opportunity to retire came my way at the beginning of the year and having decided to accept it, the rest of the year has been taken up with preparation, the deed itself and now readjusting to the life of a retiree.

For the past twenty one years my sister and I have run a small optical practice in a quiet seaside town. The subject of our inevitable retirement and how we might bow out had been discussed off and on and we had a range of possible outcomes in mind. These ranged from one day having to shut the door and walk away, through the more likely scenario of being made a derisory offer with strings attached by one of the big groups, to the dream of someone walking in the door with an offer to buy and to pay the price we asked.

As it happens, dreams do come true! Somebody wanting to expand their existing single practice got to hear of our thoughts and in January I took a phone call that set the rest of the year in motion! A date for transfer of the business was set – 31st August. At first it seemed that we had plenty time to prepare but even by April it was already clear that time was running short! Indeed looking back, from then until the moment we handed over the keys was an uphill race against time, lawyers, surveyors and accountants. We were racing up a hill like lemmings and the cliff edge was 31st August when we would throw ourselves into the abyss of retirement.

Retirement too has been unexpected, at least so far. I can only describe it as a very weird time: After a couple of weeks I was ready to go back to work, as one would after a holiday, but I wasn’t on holiday. Six weeks into retirement I was still waking up at 5am to start my working day. By November I was feeling adjusted to some semblance of a new Monday to Friday routine but somehow I lost track of weekends. It was as if Saturday and Sunday didn’t exist! Even now at the end of December I can’t say I’ve yet settled fully into this new lifestyle.

The process has played havoc with the pursuit of my hobby but there have been occasions when I’ve been able to grab a camera for a brief fix of image making. Unfortunately I’ve had no time to indulge myself in the process of immersion in any one train of creative thought. Experiments haven’t been followed through, prints haven’t been made and consistency has gone out the window.

Catch up

So here’s what I’ve been up to when not preparing for or adjusting to retirement.

April

I managed a couple of outings on my bike with the Intrepid and of course I couldn’t miss Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day!

May

My other hobby is cycling. Somehow I found cycling an easier way to escape than photography. However, I’d acquired an e-bike with the intention of setting it up to do the donkey work of lugging my camera gear around!

June

Another cycle ride, this time to Queensferry to find images of the bridges across the Forth.

July

The present incumbent of the Office of President of the United States of America made a visit to the UK and spent a couple of days playing golf at one of his golf courses in Scotland. Donald Trump wasn’t particularly welcomed here. The media focussed on attempts by protestors to disrupt his golf but made little of several city-centre stopping demonstrations. I took my Vivitar v3800n SLR out, loaded with Kentmere 400 to record the mega-demo through the centre of Edinburgh, thoroughly enjoying a type of documentary photography I haven’t done for years!

August

My artist friend Oonagh has been mentioned in previous posts. We’d intended for months to meet up for Coffee, Cake and Cameras and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity we had to do so in Anstruther at the beginning of August. I truly value any time spent in the company of creative people and Oonagh is no exception. We had a wonderful day each exploring in our own way, she with an underwater camera and a stereo pincam, and me with a Brownie 127 and Vest Pocket Kodak both loaded with cross process colour film and an experimental multi-coffee tin pincam.

Sadly my multi-coffee tin pincam experiment was a failure or perhaps it just worked differently from what I expected, so nothing to show from it. However, Oonagh brought me a present: A set of three 35mm film canister pincams, each with a magnet set in the lid to aid secure mounting on a metallic surface (I later found a tin lid that could be held in the QR mount of my tripod – perfect!)

contact printed paper negs – Oonagh’s filmcan pincams – views from Seafield Law

September

I met up with a group of friends to visit the SS Explorer at Leith Docks. Built as a research ship, it is one of the last surviving steam powered side trawlers still afloat and is being restored by a group of dedicated volunteers. We were privileged to have the opportunity to go on board and take photographs. I took Oonagh’s filmcan pincams loaded for paper negatives and my Vivitar v3800n loaded with Kentmere 400.


October

Just one photo outing this month, to capture some autumn colour with the Intrepid 4×5 on FP4+ black and white film 😉

November

Just one image this month, taken while out on an early morning cycle with one of Oonagh’s filmcan pincams.

scanned paper neg – Oonagh’s filmcan pincam – Murieston Trail

December

I’m beginning to put some thoughts together for photographic projects but my output so far kind of emphasises their experimental nature! I have but two paper negatives to show for my efforts so far but I’m working on it. This image was made in a biscuit tin pincam on 90gsm acid-free tracing paper coated with SE1 Emulsion. There’s a lot of perfecting to be done regarding my coating method and estimating exposures but my goal is to obtain a contact printable paper negative. That should be worth a few future blog posts!

scanned SE1 Emulsion on tracing paper negative – Biscuit tin pincam – Eliburn Reservoir

Carry on

My new life as a retiree is beginning to take shape and there is light ahead even if the tunnel is longer than I had expected.

I’ve taken up the noble retirement pursuit of Volunteering, in my case at the West Lothian Bike Library where I’m getting proper training as a bike mechanic and also as a led-ride leader. WLBL aims to make cycling available to all and has a wide range of adaptive bikes and trikes that are available to those with support needs. It also accepts donations of old bikes which are assessed and refurbished either for sale or for donation in response to requests from Social Services. A couple of days a week gives some structure, routine and purpose to my time in worthwhile activity.

There has been a gradual realisation that I can take an actual holiday. Or for that matter, as many or as much holidays as I can fit in! I can go day trips any day of the week. On my bike I’m restricted to a fairly limited area unless I take the bike somewhere on a train and as my wife doesn’t cycle, too many bike trips tends to selfishness. Of course, retirement gives us the time to spend together that was denied us when I was working. We had a chat, or two, or three about it and took a liking to the idea of a campervan …

… So after much internet browsing, asking about and looking around we’ve put down a deposit. Sometime soon we should be hitting the road in search of places of interest and potential campsites. The prospect beckons of being on location for sunrises and sunsets that I wouldn’t otherwise get to, cameras, bike, coffee and cake all ready to hand in the back of the van.

And so the blog, like life, will go on.

Getting back to silver gelatin on glass

A first attempt at making an anamorphic pinhole image inside a marmalade jar, and it won’t be the last!

At the back of a cupboard I came across a bottle of SE1 Emulsion. It was the remains of the emulsion I had used when I last coated a batch of glass plates, way back in July 2016 and even then it had been several months since the bottle was first opened. From my notes on the box, the emulsion was diluted with 16% Photo-Flo and amounted to about 50ml. I wondered if it would still work.

With Worldwide Pinhole Day 2018 just six weeks away, I have also been trying to think of something new (at least to me) to do this year. How about preparing and coating the inside of a glass marmalade jar with a pinhole in the lid, to create an anamorphic image around the inside of the jar that could be viewed from the outside? It’s not such a crazy idea but subject matter would need to be carefully chosen and exposure might be tricky.

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emulsion and marmalade jar

I made up a small quantity of gelatin (1g in 200ml water) with chrome alum hardener (4ml of 2% solution in water) to sub the inside of the cleaned glass jar which I did by pouring in the hardened gelatin solution and flowing it over the entire area by gently rolling and rotating the jar before pouring away the excess. The jar was left aside to air dry, ready for coating with emulsion.

To protect the emulsion from light, I prepared a two-part light-seal from black card and Duck Tape. The jar would fit into one piece and a second piece with a hole in the top for access to the pinhole, would slide down over the first and the hole sealed to the lid of the jar with black PVC tape. A pinhole was punched/drilled into the centre of the lid and a piece of black PVC tape used for a shutter. From a high resolution scan of the pinhole I measured its diameter as 0.37mm.

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light seal for the marmalade jar

Now sometime over the winter I had tidied out some of my early glass plate attempts, cleaning off the images by immersing them in very hot water and bleach, scrubbing them clean and then re-subbing them ready for re-use. The 50ml of emulsion that I had would cover quite a bit more than the marmalade jar so I used the excess to coat a few glass plates too: four each of 5×4 (for my Intrepid plate holders) and of 5×3 (for my pincam constructed for WPPD2014). Coating the marmalade jar was achieved in the same fashion as I have already described for subbing it. The coated jar and plates were left in a cool, dark place for a few days to dry completely.

With everything prepared, I was now ready to test out whether my well out of date, diluted emulsion would still work. I planned to set the jar on the floor of my old garden shed, thus exposing an image of the underside of the shed roof on the base of the jar and the shed interior around the sides. By way of a check I would also expose a plate of the outside of the shed, in the WPPD2014 pincam.

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the marmalade jar pincam in position in the shed

From past experience I rated the emulsion at ISO 5. For the shed interior I metered EV(100) 8 and thus a 60 minute exposure, and for the outside of the shed EV(100) 13 which gave a 2 minute exposure.

For developer I used Ilford Multigrade diluted 1+19 at approximately 20ºC. The marmalade jar image was developed, as for subbing and pouring, by pouring developer, stop bath and fixer in turn into the jar and swilling it around to cover the surface. Fixer was poured back into the jar and left to stand until the image cleared. The plate from the WPPD2014 pincam was tray developed as normal. Both the jar and the plate were then rinsed in fresh water for a couple of hours before being left to dry.

Unfortunately the marmalade jar image was completely overexposed. The fact that the emulsion is black at least tells me it was still ‘active’ and it is just possible to make out some faint detail in the dried image.

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grossly overexposed, it’s not what I’d been hoping for!

On the other hand the plate from the WPPD2014 pincam was perfectly exposed!

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a perfectly exposed plate, 2 minutes on ISO 5 rated emulsion

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the plate image from the WPPD2014 pincam scanned and inverted

I’m glad to have decided to expose a plate as a check. It tells me the emulsion is still good and that I need to be more careful with my metering for the marmalade jar. For the marmalade jar exposure I think I was fooled by the amount of light entering via the windows and door (which was left open during the exposure), having metered for the dark recesses of the shed. Unfortunately I only prepared one jar so it will be a wee while before I can have another go … but there’s still plenty time before Pinhole Day!

Negative scanning experiments

I spent a day scanning and rescanning at different settings, the same negative to discover what works for me.

My ongoing frustration with viewing scanned images on my Light Moments blog and Flickr with my MacBook Air led me to spend a day experimenting with various methods of scanning and processing 35mm negatives.

Whether or not the method I use to scan and process my negatives has any bearing on their being viewable on any particular device is unlikely to be determined by these experiments but it might at least give me an idea of what output quality is achievable from my scanning setup.

My scanner is a flatbed Epson Perfection 4990 Photo, capable of scanning negatives up to 10″x8″ at up to a claimed optical resolution of 4800 dpi and a Dmax of 4.0. My scanning software is Epson Scan as supplied with the scanner and my editing software is Serif Labs’ Affinity Photo.

Poor weather during the week left me effectively snowed in at work for three days with little work to do. Fortunately I’d taken my camera and a couple of rolls of film with me and was able to spend some time taking pictures of the snowy scene in which I found myself. I’ve chosen a single frame from the processed negatives to illustrate the results of my experimentation.

The film is Kentmere 400 developed in Ilfosol 3 at the standard dilution of 1+9 and at 20°C, Ilfostop and Ilford Rapid Fixer. Scanned frames were output to TIFF files for processing. The files uploaded here were all resized to 1200dpi wide JPEGs at 85% compression quality.

For my scanning experiment I started with a 16-bit greyscale scan at 1200dpi to a TIFF file.  Exposure and image adjustment settings were the standard auto settings provided by Epson. The resulting TIFF was so rough that I didn’t bother attempting any further processing. Scans 2 and 3 were made with the same settings but at 2400dpi and 4800dpi respectively. At full size they show some improvement in resolution which is just discernible here, but not in image quality.

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Scan 1: 16-bit greyscale @ 1200dpi. Epson Auto settings. TIFF file size 3.4MB.

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Scan 2: 16-bit greyscale @ 2400dpi. Epson Auto settings. TIFF file size 13.5MB.

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Scan 3: 16-bit greyscale @ 4800dpi. Epson Auto settings. TIFF file size 53.9MB.

Based on what I could learn from the first three scans I decided to use 2400dpi for the next three.

Scan 4 was also a 16-bit greyscale scan but with manual over-ride of Epson’s auto adjustment of the histogram. I set the black and white points to just left and right respectively of the ends of the histogram, the grey point value to 1.00 and set the output to stretch the histogram from 0 to 255. I also unchecked the unsharp mask setting. The output gave me full histogram values to work with using Levels in Affinity Photo and to my eye produced a much more acceptable result.

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Scan 4:: 16-bit greyscale @ 2400dpi. Histogram manually set in Epson Scan, adjusted in Affinity Photo. B&W conversion in Affinity Photo. TIFF file size 12.8MB.

Scan 5 was made just as Scan 4 except as a 48-bit colour file. Not only does this give me the option to make adjustments to levels but also allows control over the conversion to Black & White and the opportunity to emulate the use of filters on the camera.

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Scan 5: 48-bit colour @ 2400dpi. Histogram manually set in Epson Scan, adjusted in Affinity Photo. B&W conversion in Affinity Photo. TIFF file size 40.5MB.

Pleased with the progress I seemed to be making, Scan 6 was also 48-bit colour but this time with all Epson settings turned off: No auto exposure or colour management, no auto histogram, no unsharp mask and no auto setting of the scan marquee. I was able to manually select for scanning, a little more of the negative than had been automatically selected by the Epson software, hence the slightly larger file size. I was also sufficiently pleased with this one that I took the time to spot and straighten the file once in Affinity Photo.

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Scan 6: 48-bit colour @ 2400dpi. All Epson Scan auto settings turned off. B&W conversion and all adjustments made in Affinity Photo TIFF file size 46.3MB.

I was really very pleased with this. So much so that I repeated it at 48oodpi just to compare the resolution. The 4800dpi at full size is just noticeably better. I also made a slight change to the brightness – not sure I made the right call on that but like everything else that’s a subjective judgement!

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Scan 7: 48-bit colour @ 4800dpi. All Epson Scan auto settings turned off. B&W conversion and all adjustments made in Affinity Photo TIFF file size 185.1MB.

As I said at the top, none of this is likely to have any bearing on my MacBook Air problems (I’m beginning to see the problem being something to do with it, either hardware or operating system) but it’s been an interesting day making these comparisons. For the extra effort and disk space, scanning at higher resolution in 48-bit colour and with no Epson software intervention  makes a huge difference to what is achievable. And the beauty of making edits in Affinity Photo (and I guess any Photoshop-like software) is the flexibility and ability to go back to make adjustments.