Every cloud has a silver lining

and at the end of every rainbow is a pot of gold.

It’s not often that I rejoice at a weekend weather forecast of heavy rain. However with the attractions of the outdoors in fine summer weather my salt printing project has stalled somewhat. Now I could anticipate spending time in the darkroom without the feeling I was missing out!

A month or so ago I had made some alterations to the salt print process shown to me at a workshop and I have been keen to make further refinements. The process, for me, is time and space consuming and I need to be able to set aside at least a full day devoted to the task. My regular darkroom is a temporary adaptation of a shower room, too small for my salt print needs. Instead, I adapt a spare room where we still have the cots that our grandchildren used when they came to stay over. The cots have been outgrown and with a bit of plywood they convert into a useful, if low, work surface!

Once cut to size and salted, the paper is sensitised with silver nitrate and then exposed under UV light before processing. I use an adapted face tanning machice as my UV light source. Processing the exposed print involves five separate chemistry baths and five water washes – that’s a lot of trays and containers to find room for!

During processing, a salt print changes colour and density quite dramatically and to make a reasonable assessment of exposure times a test strip or print needs to be fully processed through to at least a reasonably dry print. With a shortened final wash and the assistance of a hairdryer to dry it off, processing my test print took a couple of hours but I was rewarded with an exposure assessment of between three and five minutes depending on the density of the negative. Last time round I had been overexposing by a stop or more, leading to lost shadow detail.

By early afternoon I was ready to start printing in earnest. I prepared a project plan which would enable me to process prints at ten-minute intervals and keep a check on which print should be in which bath or wash. My first batch would be for six prints and then after a wee break, a final batch of four prints would take me well into the evening before finishing.

Each time I process one of these prints I discover something new or something changes, apparently inexplicably. The process is serendipitous and I actually quite like that. Reprinting the same set of negatives gives the opportunity for comparison, for re-examination of each stage in the process and for appreciation of the beauty in whatever is the outcome. Perhaps next time I’ll rescan the original film sheets and/or remake the digital negatives with tweaks to the colour screening.

Meanwhile, the task of cleaning up, putting away, and restoring the room to its original purpose awaits!

Drawing parallels with light and shade

Discovering similarities between pencil drawing and photography

Most workdays I take a break for a lunchtime walk and almost always I have a camera of some sort with me. That’s not to say that I always take photographs, it’s just become a habit to carry some means of recording whatever I see that takes my interest.

One day last week I left the camera behind and instead took just a notebook and pencil. My inspiration had come from seeing in a local craft shop window, a pencil drawing that was so precisely detailed I’d initially thought it was a black and white photograph. It got me wondering how I might get on drawing rather than photographing a scene. No harm giving it a go!

sketch

My first attempt was understandably a bit basic. Little more than a few lines on the page, perspective not great and lacking in any sense of depth. But I enjoyed the experience and found myself looking at the scene, one with which I am very familiar, in much greater detail than had I been taking a photograph of it. I realised that just as in a photograph, particularly a black and white one, highlights and shadows, light and shade are used to define the image. There’s more to this drawing lark than meets the eye!

Intrigued, I decided to investigate pencil drawing techniques. Google and YouTube provided a plethora of suggestions, hints and tips to try out. My local craft store provided the basic materials: a set of pencils, an eraser and a pad of drawing paper. I was on the road to making new discoveries!

It took a while to whittle down the internet search results to one or two sites that I found useful and one in particular that I seem to be spending more time on. There are techniques to learn, practice to be done and redone and skills to be honed. Maybe one day I’ll actually draw something that I might otherwise have photographed.

forms

It was interesting to discover the concept of building ‘value’ with just one pencil to create a range of shades or tones from light to dark. Just as in photography, Ansel Adams’ ‘Zone System’ is used to determine exposure based on a mathematically determined scale of values applied to luminance and density, I was recognising parallels with the scale of values that could be produced on paper with the graphite from a drawing pencil.

I’ve been looking more closely at the things I see on my lunchtime walks. Pausing for longer to observe the nuances of light and shade, imagining how I would record them on paper and perhaps taking a photograph from which I might later attempt to make a drawing. I’ve been hooked. Perhaps the next time I book myself on a workshop it will be to learn some aspect of drawing rather than of photography.

Fixing a wayward pinhole

As someone more used to creating pinholes I took a twisted delight in sealing up one in the bellows of a junk-shop find.

Just a few weeks ago my younger daughter gave to me for Father’s Day, a Vest Pocket Kodak Model B camera that she had spotted in a junk shop window. She sure knows the way to my heart!

The camera was clean and appeared to be in good condition. The shutter worked smoothly and the aperture stop control rotated with just the right detent at each stop. The bellows were clean looked to be in good order and the lens assembly pulled out and clicked into place as it should. All that was missing was the scribe for the Autographic function – by sliding open a door on the camera back information could be scratched though the film backing paper and exposed to light to write the information onto the film itself.

Junk shop find for Father’s Day.

It took a bit longer to work out how to open the film chamber. Researching on line for instructions and other information identified that the camera was an early model. Production began in 1925 and in 1928 the method of opening the film chamber was changed from two sprung buttons on the side of the film chamber to a lever worked from the front. My camera has the sprung buttons on the side so is pre-1928. I also came across the suggestion that that my example, made by the Canadian Kodak Co. of Toronto was not only an early model but one that may also be relatively rare. On the other hand it is very common for these cameras to be found minus their Autographic scribe!

One of four apertures is set by rotating a disc situated in front of the lens: They are numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4 but with a bit of careful measuring I calculated them to be f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32 respectively. The shutter has two settings, T for Timed and I for Instantaneous which sounds like something around 1/40 second. The final twist is that the shutter lever operates in both directions.

With all that information the camera took on quite an exciting prospect and I duly sourced a couple of rolls of ReraPan 100-127 black and white film with which to check it out. Fortunately there was an empty spool still in the camera so as soon as the new film arrived I was all set to load a roll and take some pictures.

The day the film arrived was cloudy and I only made two exposures, at the widest aperture setting. The remaining six exposures were made a couple of days later in bright sunlight with aperture settings 3 and 4. The film was developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+9 for 7 minutes at 18°C, scanned and the files adjusted for black and white points in levels.

The light leak was pretty obvious. Even on the exposures made in dull light the triangle of overexposed image was clear. On the sunny day images the same area was obliterated. My ninety year old camera has probably been lying at the back of a cupboard or in an attic for many decades, hence its excellent outward cosmetic appearance and well functioning mechanicals, but it will have been closed up with the bellows tightly folded together. Opening up the camera, and time, has perhaps been just too much for the folds in the leather. A repair would be necessary to restore the camera to working order but given the overall condition I reckoned it would be worthwhile.

It’s been a while since I made a pinhole camera so I decided to turn the idea on its head and make a pinhole image to locate the leak! I took some measurements of the internal dimensions of the bellows and made a template for an insert. In the darkroom, the insert was cut from a sheet of MGIV RC Satin paper and placed inside the bellows with the emulsion side outwards. With the camera back in place, the film counter window taped over and the shutter closed I placed the camera outside in daylight for five minutes or so then returned to the darkroom to develop the insert.

From the developed paper I could be sure the light leak was from a single source, the position of which was easily identified. I made an initial repair with a small piece of electrical PVC tape. It was much easier to do than I had anticipated as the size of the camera allowed easy access to work the leather with my fingers from both sides. I finally remade my repair by taping all the way along both top-edge creases as it looked neater. I tested the repair with by exposing couple of paper negative exposures on MGIV RC Satin paper cut to fit the film chamber.

Paper negatives confirming that the light leak has been fixed.

The electrical tape is light tight and sufficiently thin and flexible to fold up neatly with the original leather of the bellows. With that small repair, I reckon I can be confident to load the second of the two rolls of film I bought and expect good results in bright light. Roll on the sunshine!