The TiTAN and The Countess: A love story

I’ve been keen to take the Countess out for a stroll to see what she can do since receiving her as a gift from Oonagh. The opportunity came last weekend when I also had a day off work on the Monday. It’s been a while since I had the TiTAN out too, so a weekend of photo fun was planned.

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Since receiving her as a gift from Oonagh, I’ve been keen to take the Countess out for a stroll to see what she can do. The opportunity came last weekend when I also had a day off work on the Monday. It’s been a while since I had the TiTAN out too, so a weekend of photo fun was planned.

Once the domestic chores were out of the way on Saturday, I set about preparing cameras for an outing. I gave the Countess another thorough clean and rubbed down some of the rusty ‘patination’ on her plate holders so that they could be operated smoothly. Then I cut and loaded pieces of Ilford MGIV RC Satin paper which would create paper negatives from which I would later make contact prints.  A stack of 5×4 film holders were loaded with Harman Direct Positive paper for the TiTAN and finally ancillary kit such as changing bag, spare paper, tripods and light meter were laid out and packed ready for a sharp exit on Sunday morning.

Sunday dawned fine and dry, if a little misty, and with fair weather forecast I set off early for Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife. My plan was to get there early enough to find a parking space, take a walk around the harbour and then up the coast to Cellardyke, returning to the car to reload the film holders and have a bite to eat before heading down the coast to Pittenweem and perhaps St Monans.

All went to plan and the day was as fine as had been forecast. A gentle easterly breeze kept the temperature comfortable and a light, high mistiness diffused the sunlight to give perfect conditions for photography. The tide was out when I arrived so I wandered the beach around the Dreel Burn, giving both the Countess and the TiTAN their chance to play.

The Countess and Dreel Burn

Here’s the Countess, perched like a pinhead atop my tripod, getting in the first shot of the day with a view of the picturesque churchyard and quayside of the little harbour at the mouth of the Dreel Burn.

Below is an enlarged image of the contact print I made from the paper negative.

 

Dreel Harbour by The Countess
Churchyard and quayside as seen by the Countess

 

Getting the angle on Dreel BurnThe houses and church made an attractive background so I walked a bit upstream to find a spot where the long pinhole exposure of the TiTAN would smooth out the flow of the water and show their reflection. The TiTAN was positioned low to get the best effect.

This is how the TiTAN saw the scene, flipped the right-way-round in software.

 

Dreel Burn pinhole
Reflections in the Dreel Burn, Anstruther

Moving on towards the main harbour area, Anstruther’s fish bars were already busy and the distinctive aroma was filling the air! It so happened that I’d chosen to visit Anstruther on the day of the 2016 Thistle Run, a rally from the Falkirk Wheel to Anstruther for Minis of all vintages. The rally aims to raise money for charities, not least of which is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The main car parks and the quaysides were being filled up with scores of Minis and the RNLI were setting up stalls on the quay beside the lifeboat station. I was glad to have got there early and parked out of the way!

I set up the Countess to take a photograph of the Anstruther lifeboat but I realised too late that I had omitted a vital step in the image-making procedure. Once set up on the tripod with the bellows open and the focussing screen in position the aperture needs to be opened fully so that the brightest possible (i.e. least dim) image can be seen on the screen. Once the lens is focussed (more on that later), the aperture needs to be closed down to the taking aperture, and the shutter cocked. The focussing screen is then replaced with a plate holder and the darkslide removed before the exposure is made by pressing the shutter lever. The darkslide is then replace so that the plate holder can be removed.

It’s a fiddly process but one that should become second nature with experience. I have not had sufficient experience. On this occasion I missed out the step of shutting down the aperture. The lifeboat was inside the station and the required exposure for my chosen aperture of f/32 was fifteen seconds. With the aperture fully open the negative was grossly overexposed! Lesson learned.

Anstruther houses the Scottish Fisheries Museum and in the harbour is berthed the restored historic Fifie fishing boat, Reaper. The TiTAN made this image of her. It’s worth noting that the images made on direct positive paper are created in-camera and as there is no intermediate negative to print from, the image is reversed. (The image at the top of the post has been ‘flipped’ in software to be the right way round after scanning the original.)

Reaper pinhole at Anstruther
Reaper at Anstruther as seen by the TiTAN

 

At the harbour mouth I was setting up the TiTAN to photograph the Chalmers Lighthouse when I heard a commotion in the water behind me. I turned round to see a pod of eight or nine dolphins just offshore making their way down the Forth. Unfortunately the wide angle and long exposure of pinhole cameras are not conducive to action photography!

On the way back I stopped to set up the Countess to take a general shot of the harbour. I was approached by a very pleasant lady who simply asked me if I was a press photographer taking photos of the Thistle Run cars!

The Countess at Anstruther

As seen by The Countess
The Countess set up for a view of Anstruther harbour and the inverted, reversed image on her focussing screen.

 

At this point I need to explain that as a presbiopic astigmatic hypermetrope, focussing on that screen is impossible without the help of a loupe or other focussing aid. Even then there is very little room for maneouvre. The focus adjustment is a bit jerky but there is a detent for what appears to be infinity focus. I’ve taken to setting the aperture to its minimum of f/32, trusting to depth of field to avoid blurry images! It all adds to the fun and is good practice for the Intrepid which is due to join my collection very soon.

Anstruther by The Countess
Anstruther harbour as seen by the Countess

 

The walk to Cellardyke was pleasant and interesting along the narrow streets stretching through the fishing village as it hugged the coastline. Villagers’ washing lines are strung out along the harbour quayside. At low tide the harbour is a sea of seaweed and it was low tide when I got there.

Cellardyke pinhole
Cellardyke harbour as seen by the TiTAN

As happens on my photowalks my estimates of how long I’ll take are always optimistic. I never learn. By the time I returned to Anstruther the RNLI stalls were in full flow and I was lucky to get a burger and a drink for a late lunch. The RNLI is funded entirely by donations and lifeboats are crewed by volunteers who drop what they’re doing and put their lives on the line every time a shout goes up. They deserve whatever support they can muster.

 

Pittenweem was my final photo stop for the day. A couple of miles from Anstruther in the other direction from Cellardyke this is a working harbour with fish market and boats from all around Scotland berthed at its piers. I had just two remaining sheets of paper loaded for the TiTAN and made that do for the day.

Pittenweem

My iPhone’s view of Pittenweem and below as it was seen by the TiTAN.

The TiTAN’s angle of view is much wider, which contributes to the characteristic vignetting, the image is softer due to diffraction of light as it passes through the 0.35mm aperture of the pinhole and the image is reversed on the Direct Positive paper.

 

Pittenweem pinhole
Pittenweem as seen by the TiTAN

 

The TiTAN has been my go to camera for a couple of years or so and Direct Positive paper is my favourite media to use with it. The Countess is new to me and already I’m in love with it too. It arrived unexpectedly and as a result of a spur-of-the-moment decision to join a dry plate workshop at which I found new friends and embarked on a new photo adventure a little bit different but which fits in with how I like photographic things to be. They are soon to be joined by the Intrepid, the result of a crowdfunding project to develop an affordable 5×4 field camera. I’m looking forward to preparing and using dry plate glass negatives with both the Countess and the Intrepid. I’ll have a harem of cool cameras!

My quest to photograph the harbours around the Forth estuary is part of Little Harbours, a long term project which really qualifies for a blog post of its own, and in due course it will.

Author: Donald Tainsh

A lifelong explorer of photography

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