Shoebox pincam: Problem analysis and resolution

My shoebox pincam wasn’t performing as expected. I couldn’t rest until I had it sorted.


The problem

The shoebox pincam has been more difficult to master than I had anticipated. In my previous blog post I recorded the design and construction, followed by a test exposure which I estimated to be a little over exposed. This was followed by an exposure that I expected to be good, taken on an outing to a tidal island and for which the pincam had been planned. That second exposure was uselessly overexposed and after some consideration I put the reason down to my error in metering the scene. Yet I’ve been unable to settle comfortably with that conclusion and so I set out this last weekend to have another go with the camera.

To recap: the camera has a constant radius curved image plane to be loaded with four (originally five) 5×4 sheets of direct positive paper taped together to make a 5×16 (originally 5×20) image. After the first two exposures I realised that the angle of view did not extend to a full 180º, but only to about 145º. By adjusting the support for the paper to accommodate only four sheets not only did I save a sheet but I avoided an ugly vignette at either end of the image.

For my testing on Saturday, I returned to the same riverside location that I had used for the original test. Conditions were much as they had been before and I made a similar exposure. When the image was developed I was surprised to find that each of the sheets making up the image were differently exposed/fogged. On the one hand I was puzzled by this while on the other I was relieved that the problem was clearly not one of my metering of the scene as each sheet had received the same exposure!

Assuming a light leak, I made some alterations to the light baffling on the lid of the shoebox, reloaded and returned again. This time all four of the sheets were clearly fogged, but not to the same degree. On one of the sheets there was even a clear difference in the pattern of fogging across it. It was enough to make me suspect either my safelight or (less likely) that the box of paper was bad.

Sunday was a dull, wet day but I have a pincam made from foamcore that is completely covered in gaffer tape rendering it effectively rainproof. I decided to make two exposures with it, one on paper loaded in the total darkness of a changing bag and the other on paper handled as it would have been for the shoebox pincam under the regular safelight in my darkroom. The results convinced me without any doubt that the paper was being fogged by proximity to and time under the safelight.

Towards the end of the afternoon the rain eased and the sky began to clear. By that time I had devised a support-cum-guide to speed up the process of lining up and taping together the individual sheets of paper. I had also relocated the safelight so that I would be working in its shadow and further away from it. With about two hours of daylight left and I decided to head out again for the riverbank. I had no expectation of there being enough light to make a full exposure but actually a couple of stops underexposure would better show up any fogging.


First test image

First testMy darkroom is a temporary setup in a shower room. The walls are matte white and the work surface glossy white. For a safelight when taping together and loading these sheets I had used an old bicycle rear light which gives off a weak red glow, set on the work surface.

Had it not been for what I now recognise as fogging in the right-most sheet, I would have said this image is just overexposed a little with perhaps a light leak from somewhere. However with hindsight I realise that the rightmost sheet was exposed longest to the safelight and closest to it. The light edge to the  left-most sheet should also have alerted me to fogging as the cause.

Second image (not originally intended as a test!)

IMG_5922Again, I should have realised this was fogged rather than overexposed. The vignetting at either end is clear and with direct positive paper any unexposed portion should be black.

When loading these sheets I had set up my regular deep red safelight, positioned on a hook about 1.2 metres above the work surface. Taping each of the five sheets together takes some time and I was doing so with the paper face down on the glossy white surface. Under the red glow it was difficult to see where the edges butted together to place the tape. I took all five sheets from the box at the same time so all were exposed to the safelight for the same length of time, probably three or four minutes.

Third test image

IMG_5923These sheets were loaded under the regular darkroom safelight as before but this time removed from the box one at a time, as needed, and kept face down on the work surface as much as possible. I had to reposition the tape on the third sheet and it probably had more direct exposure to the safelight as a result. The light edges all around each sheet suggest that fogging was occuring from light reflected off the work surface.

Fourth test image

IMG_5924This was loaded much the same as for the previous image. At this stage I was looking to the camera construction as the source of the fogging and had reworked some of the light-baffling and sealing on the camera. I was becoming more proficient at taping the sheets together which I think has led to more consistency in my handling of the paper and the subsequent degree of fogging.

Fogging test and resolution


This is the test pincam in the rain (left) and the two images which clearly show the difference between the paper being loaded entirely in darkness (centre) and having been handled under and exposed to for a couple of minutes, the darkroom safelight (right).

To resolve the fogging problem I moved the safelight to a different hook so that it would be further away from the work surface and in such a position that I would be working with the paper in my shadow. IMG_5920

I also made from black foamcore and mountboard, a support and guide that would both prevent surface reflections affecting the emulsion side of the paper and assist lining up and taping of the sheets. A second piece of mountboard was used to cover each sheet as the taping progressed, thus minimising and equalising the exposure each sheet received from the safelight.

Final test

IMG_5931Although this is almost completely black due to underexposure by two to three stops, the black is actually quite a joy to see. Had the paper been fogged while being loaded, that black would at best have been a lighter shade of grey. There is no suggestion of fogging around the edges of each sheet and consistency of exposure across the entire image is clear.

Conclusion … and a final thought

It has taken an entire box of Direct Positive Paper to reach but I reckon I can safely and comfortably conclude that the problem has been fogging due to overexposure to the safelight. I can also conclude that a resolution has been found.

One final thought: I’ve been using Harman Direct Positive Paper for almost four years. Why have I not noticed this before? The answer is that without realising it, there have been times that I have! Mostly I load single sheets directly from packaging to camera or film holder, often in a changing bag, and there has been no problem. However there have been times when paper has to be cut to size. Often, cutting a single sheet does not expose it sufficiently to be fogged but if I’ve been cutting a batch I’ll have had a growing pile of paper sitting in the light. Those are the cut sheets that didn’t produce the same contrasty ‘punch’ that I expect and love about this paper. Lesson learned!

All that remains will be for me to make a few good exposures in the weeks ahead. And they will have to be good as I have only one box of paper left. There’s no room for error either as I’ve discovered that it is currently unavailable from Harman and out of stock wherever I’ve looked!

The Shoebox constant radius pincam

More pinhole fun, this time with a shoebox.

The plan

It seems to be the way of things with me that ideas spring to mind in the oddest of places at the oddest of times. Sometimes they are gone forever before I have the opportunity to make a note, or they reappear in search of recognition at another odd time. Occasionally I get lucky and the idea stays with me long enough for consideration, perhaps acceptance and ultimately is put into practice.

So it was a couple of weeks ago on a crowded commuter train home at the end of a busy day, that I had the idea of creating a constant radius curved image plane pinhole camera out of a shoebox. A geometric puzzle to keep my mind awake amidst the noise of the train and the jostling of my fellow passengers.

The mental conundrum was too much to deal with but my mind wandered to thoughts of how I would record such an image. Perhaps a strip of art paper with SE1 emulsion brushed on? That would be cool – but it would be a negative image and how would I develop what would likely be a quite long strip of paper? Would I be able to make a positive contact print from it, perhaps on to another strip of SE1 coated paper?

Problems to be surmounted already and the idea still just at the stage of bouncing around inside my head. But how about direct positive paper? Would I be able to tape together enough of the 5″x4″ sheets I use in film holders to fit the image plane? It’s paper that I’m well accustomed to and as individual sheets it would be simple to develop. If nothing else it would be a good way of testing the camera design before moving on to ideas for other, more tricky media.

As I alighted the train for the short walk home my mind was buzzing. I had a plan. I had a project. I was going to create some pinhole art!


Sturdy shoeboxes are too good to throw away. They make useful storage boxes but better still, can be adapted to make pinhole cameras. It happens that I had two or three going spare. The box I chose has approximate internal dimensions of 33cm wide, 18cm deep and 13cm high.

Once made light-tight, the box could be fitted with a curved support on a radius of 16.5cm with a pinhole set centrally in the long side. Assuming full 180º coverage, the image plane would extend to 518cm wide by 12.5cm high and because it follows the radius of the curve, it would be free of both distortion and light fall-off along its entire length. The optimum pinhole diameter for a 165mm projection distance is roughly 0.6mm.

To ensure that the pincam would be light tight, the box and its lid were lined with thin black card. A strip of sticky-backed black felt was attached inside the lid to seal against the tops of the sides of the box. The card lining the sides of the box was extended about 1cm above the rim and folded inwards to form an additional light baffle.

The pinhole was made by pushing a dressmaking pin through a 3cm square of ArtEmboss mat black aluminium foil and positioned with black PVC electrical tape in the centre of the front panel of the box. More black PVC tape positioned over the pinhole aperture served as a shutter.

To form an image-plane support I cut a strip of card 518mm long by 130mm high, the length being calculated as the semi-circle of radius 165mm. A couple of spare pieces of foamcore served as a filler to support the back of the strip within the box.

Under safelight in the darkroom, I joined together five sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper with masking tape to make a strip 500mm long by 125mm high. This fitted neatly inside the box, supported by the image-plane card. With the top of the box secured by a couple of lengths of string I was almost ready to make my first test image.

Tripod support

I know from experience that although a viewpoint might be found, it is often unworkable because there is no way to support for the pincam in position! To get around this I like to make some provision for attaching my pincams to a tripod.

For the Shoebox pincam I took an offcut of plastic rectangular conduit cut to a couple of centimetres longer than the pincam is wide. I drilled a 7/32″ hole in the centre of the base and screwed the 1/4″ thread of a tripod quick-release plate into the hole. The metal thread of the mount effectively acted as a die to cut a thread in the softer plastic. To avoid stripping the new thread by over-tightening, I then fixed a 1/4″ threaded nut to the inside of the conduit, with the help of a big dollop (technical term!) of hot glue.

When the top of the conduit is slid back in place, the support is quite rigid and can be carefully mounted on a tripod. The pincam and support are held together by the string which also keeps the lid of the box in place. It may not be rock-solid but in pinhole terms it does the job perfectly! Being tripod mounted opens up a whole range of viewpoint options, levelling and height adjustment.

First test

I took the Shoebox pincam to the banks of the River Almond on a bright Saturday morning. Shaded by the trees, my hand-held Sekonic L-308S meter and the iPhone Pinhole Assist app agreed on an EV(100) of 9.8, giving an exposure time of 53 minutes for direct positive paper rated at ISO 3. During exposure the light changed as the sky cleared and the sun lit the trees on the far bank of the river, so I reduced the exposure time given to 45 minutes.

Back in the darkroom I opened the shoebox to find that the semi-circulat image-plane support had slumped a bit towards one end of the box. That would need to be fixed.

With the masking tape holding the five sheets together removed carefully so as not to tear the back of the paper, I proceeded to develop each sheet individually, paying particular attention to time (3 minutes each) and temperature (19ºC) to ensure consistency from one to the next as all five would make up the single final image.

Exposure was good, perhaps a little over exposed for my taste. There was distinct vignetting at the end that had slumped while at the other end the print was lighter with lower contrast. Overall I was extremely happy with the result and after making an adjustment to the image-plane support, loaded up the pincam for a second test to be made next day.



To resolve the problem of the image-plane support moving, I strengthened it with four pieces of flower arranging wire taped to the back, and pushed two drawing pins through the centre into the foamcore filler at the back. My expectation for the second test would be to find out whather the vignetting noticed in the first was due to movement of the paper or actual cut-off of the field of view.

Second test

For the second test I joined a couple of friends for a walk across the tidal causeway to Cramond Island, with an idea to make a pinhole exposure of the war-time gun emplacements and concrete huts. It was another bright day, this time with steady soft light from a light grey backlit sky.

Again, my Sekonic and iPhone agreed on the light, metering EV(100) of 11.8. To allow for yesterday’s perception of slight over-exposure I rated the paper at ISO 4 (1/3 Stop faster) and gave the metered 12 minute exposure.

Back in the darkroom again, the fix made to the image-plane support had done its job and I processed the paper as before. Two things were immediately obvious: Clear vignetting at either end of the image suggesting an effective field of view amounting to about 145º rather than the full 180º semi-circle I had hoped for; and rather disappointingly an inexplicably overexposed image!

The puzzle

The over exposure of the second image was quite unexpected. I rechecked all of my measurements and calculations and finding them all correct I proceeded to remove the pinhole to accurately check its diameter.

I mounted the pinhole alongside a steel milimeter rule on the bed of my scanner and scanned at maximum resolution. Viewed at full size on screen I was able to measure the pinhole and by reference to the magnification of the known milimeter rule, calculate the diameter as 0.612mm, exactly as intended and giving an aperture of f/269.

With all the variables checked and found correct, I was left with only one conclusion to explain the over exposure -human error – mine! On the first test the sky had been obscured by the trees while the second was under an open sky. I can only conclude that on the second test I have pointed my meters at the wrong part of the scene and failed to account for the brighter conditions.

More care needed next time methinks! And I do intend that there will be a next time as soon as possible. I want something worthy of a frame on my wall.


There is a follow up to this in my next blog post. In it I come to the correct conclusion and find a resolution!

Intrepid pinhole projections

Pinhole experimentation with the Intrepid Camera.

My Intrepid 5×4 Field Camera is one of the original Kickstarter models. It came with a lensboard fitted with an 0.5mm pinhole, the optimum diameter for a pinhole camera with the pinhole set 140mm from the image plane, giving an aperture of f/280. (I refuse to refer to this distance as the ‘focal’ distance, there being no lens to focus, and instead refer to it as the pinhole ‘projection distance’ or ‘PD’ for short.)

I have used the camera with its lensboard pinhole on a few occasions, always setting the front standard at 140mm or so. However the camera’s bellows adjustment gives the flexibility to alter the PD to cover a range from about 60mm all the way out to almost 300mm. With a little spare time on my hands I decided to investigate the field of view obtainable at different PDs and to see whether any image degradation occurred due to using the fixed 0.5mm diameter pinhole at ‘non-optimum’ PDs.

I set up The Intrepid on a tripod with a selection of my grandchildren’s old toys, an old rabbit hut and an even older garden shed as subject matter. My plan was to make exposures on Ilford MGIV RC Satin paper rated at ISO 6, setting the bellows for 60mm, 100mm, 140mm, 180mm, 220mm and 260mm PDs and using the Pinhole Assist iPhone App for calculation of exposure times. In the event, I ran out of sufficient daylight to complete the series and made do with four exposures.

Here they are:


The developed paper negatives have been scanned, inverted, flipped and been adjusted for black and white points in Affinity Photo.

Pinhole exposures will never be sharp due to diffraction but I am unable to detect any noticeable image degradation over this range of PDs although only the third image is exposed at the ‘optimum’ PD. This points to the accuracy and cleanliness of the pinhole supplied with the Intrepid. Exposure times are all satisfactorily consistent, given that changing light conditions during longer exposures have an uncontrollable effect on the outcome, so my long-standing faith in Pinhole Assist as a great tool for pinholers is well justified.

There have been times when pinholing that I’ve wished I could narrow the field of view. I think I’ve found a solution!

Edinburgh LoFi group August outing

Low tech camera fun on a photowalk with three very different cameras.

With our usual meeting place packed to the rafters during the Edinburgh Festival, the Edinburgh LoFi Photography group escape the city every August for a photowalk outing instead. This year we headed west along the River Forth to Blackness and a walk along the shoreline to Abercorn.

I took three cameras: my Vest Pocket Kodak model B loaded with ReraPan 100 127 film, my Harman TiTAN 4×5 pinhole camera loaded with Direct Positive paper and my kit 35mm TLR (plastic Recesky/Graffenflex clone) loaded with Kentmere 100 film.

The company was genial, the weather fine enough and our assorted cameras varied and quirky. I had a reason for each of the cameras I had taken. Here’s how I got on, camera by camera. The images are all straight unretouched scans of the negatives or paper.

Vest Pocket Kodak model B

A junk-shop find gift for Father’s Day from my younger daughter, this camera was in great condition when it arrived except for a small light leak in the bellows. I blogged about repairing the leak here a couple of months ago and this was the camera’s first outing with film to check that all was now well.

There are four aperture settings giving f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32. I reckon the shutter speed is about 1/30th sec on the ‘I’ (for Instantaneous) setting and there is also a ‘T’ setting which allows the shutter to be opened with one stroke of the lever and then closed with a second stroke. The bellows open to what is effectively a fixed focus setting for infinity. All eight frames were exposed at f/16. Frames three and four, taken inside Abercorn church were exposed for approximately eight seconds each with the camera tripod mounted.

I am really pleased with these. The light leak is definitely fixed and this ninety year old camera functions as it would have done in it’s hey-day. I could have made better use of the aperture settings for frames 5, 6 and 8 as these are a tad overexposed.

The ReraPan 100 film was developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+9 for six minutes at approximately 18ºC.

Harman TiTAN 4×5 Pinhole

I’ve had this several years now and with Direct Positive paper it is one of my favourite image making combos. Abercorn Churchyard was one of the first places I took it to try out. The results of that early outing were put down to being a learning experience, both for angle of view and exposure. This was an opportunity to prove that lessons have been learned! I was not disappointed.

Direct Positive paper is high contrast with a short range that is uncompromising in exposure and development. But get it right and it absolutely rocks with deliciously deep subt’ly detailed blacks and a luscious texture that really needs to be appreciated as an original print rather than as a scanned digital image.

The prints were developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade diluted 1+9 for three minutes at something like 16-17ºC.

Plastic kit 35mm TLR

A birthday gift from my older daughter, this twin lens reflex camera, a clone of the Recesky kit camera which itself is a clone of the original (?) Graffenflex camera, comes as a box of parts with a detailed instruction manual for assembly. I had great fun assembling it earlier this year but after putting a couple of films through it, consigned it to a shelf as an ornament having described it as being about as light tight as chicken wire!

However, I recently took it down from the shelf, disassembled parts of it and attempted to seal up the light leaks with electrical PVC tape and sticky-backed black felt, just as I would do on a homemade pinhole camera. This outing was a chance to find out if I had suceeded! The aperture is fixed at about f/11 and I reckon the shutter speed is about 1/60th sec. The plastic lens can be focussed after a fashion and comes complete with vignetting and a mix of sharp and unsharp ‘zones’. Winding on the film is hit or miss so framing overlap is not uncommon. All in all a truly fun camera with no promise of success! I managed 27 barely recognisable exposures from a length of bulk-loaded Kentmere 100 …

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There’s still some light leaking in but I had so much fun taking these snaps that I’m going to see if I can sort it. I just have to use this camera again!

The Kentmere 100 film was developed alongside the the ReraPan film in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+9 for six minutes at approximately 18ºC.


Filtering the colour from black & white

Assessing exposure factors and effect on black & white film for a cheap set of colour filters.

For a few years I’ve had amongst my camera gear, a set of coloured filters bought on eBay for a mere £7.50 delivered. From time to time I’ve used the yellow one but I’ve never actually assessed their effect on black & white film or measured the exposure adjustment each would require. With a bit of time to spare last weekend, I decided it was time to get experimenting.

The day looked set for good even light from a bright sky. My plan was to load six sheets of FP4+ in holders for my Intrepid camera to make exposures of the same subject set up under even lighting, each with a different filter: unfiltered, yellow, orange, red, green and blue. Before doing that however, I would assess the exposure adjustment that each filter would require. My Sekonic L-758 meter set up on a tripod would be used for that.

The L-758 can measure Exposure Values (EV) in tenths of a stop and can be set for spot metering, 3D incident metering with the lumisphere extended or directional incident metering with the lumisphere retracted. I used it with the lumisphere retracted and compared the difference in EV when uncovered against the EV when the filter was held in front of it. I took three readings for each filter, averaging the results for each.

Yellow … -0.7 EV
Orange … -2.1 EV
Red … -3.1 EV
Green … -2.1 EV
Blue … -1.7 EV

It took a little time to carry out and record my exposure measurements. By the time I had finished and then prepared a ‘set’ to make exposures with each filter, the sky had clouded over and lost any brightness. It meant longer exposures than I would have liked and less contrast in what light there was but having started I pressed on.

Set setup for filter testTo aid identification, I printed a ‘label’ for each filter. Unfortunately I forgot to use them for the yellow and red filters so edited the developed film sheets with marker pen! Also in the setup frame was a colour chart and the L-758. I would sit on a lime green camping chair wearing a bright blue polo shirt with bright yellow piping around the collar.

The lens I used allowed for thirds of a stop settings so I was able to apply my exposure adjustments with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Here are the results:

The results are better than I expected. The filters appear to work just as they should which makes them exceptionally good value at just £1.50 each and they came in a handy protective pouch too! And it’s good to have at last, what seem to be accurate exposure adjustment factors. The effect each colour filter has on subject colour is quite obvious for my shirt but can also be seen across the spectrum on the colour chart stuck to the wall of the shed (click on the images to see full size).

Split grade printing

Some months ago I won an online auction for a complete set of Ilford Multigrade below-lens filters in near pristine condition. Today, I had the opportunity to put them to use.

Some months ago I won an online auction for a complete set of Ilford Multigrade below-lens filters in near pristine condition. Today, I had the opportunity to put them to use.

About a month ago I posted a blog about a forty-something year old contact strip discovered at the back of an old photo album (The abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart). I’ve since scanned the contact strip and created a set of 35mm film sized digital negatives on Permajet acetate sheet to print from. This morning the rain rained and looked like it would be on all day so I set up my darkroom and disappeared within it for the rest of the day!

The digital negatives, created from an old and quite marked contact strip were already quite high contrast and with pinhole-like soft focus but the images have resonated strongly with people who know the house and its history. They have a story to tell and I’ve felt compelled to make what I can of them. Since discovering the images I’ve re-visited the house albeit briefly and been able to take a couple more photos of it as it is today.

I printed on 5×7 Ilford MG Art 300 paper. It’s a cotton rag base paper with a textured, egshell matt finish that not only feels ‘right’ for the vintage of the subject matter but also hides some of the imperfections inherent in the images. I expected the high contrast of the digital negatives to be troublesome to print so I’ve been reading up on split grade printing in the hope of smoothing the way.


The below-lens filters were a breeze to use. One test strip at grade 2½ gave me a base exposure for shadow detail. Halving this gave me exposure times for a split grade test strip/print, half at grade 5 for shadows and half at grade 0 for highlights and overall contrast. From this print I could determine any adjustment needed to the exposure given at grade 5, and to adjust the brightness and overall contrast of the print I could change the exposure at grade 0 and/or change the filter grade. (There’s a great set of video tutorials for this on the Ilford Photo website).

Some prints worked better than others but on the whole they are much as I had expected and hoped for. I’ve already posted a set of the contact strip images so it would be wasteful to post another set of the prints. However, here’s a then and now comparison of a split-grade print made via a digital negative from the original contact strip and a split-grade contact print of an FP4+ 5×4 negative exposed just a couple of weeks ago, both from much the same viewpoint.


Since my blog post last month and re-visiting the area I’ve discovered quite a lot about the house, its history and the family who lived and worked in it. I need to do more research and put together the photographs and the story for posterity, perhaps in a wee book.

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!


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.


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!

The abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart

Memories rekindled of exploration with a camera on discovering a 40+ year old contact strip at the back of an old photo album.

In a few weeks time my wife and I anticipate celebrating one of the big milestones in married life. We’ve been looking through old photo albums and as we opened one from our student days a contact strip of black and white images fell out the back.

During most of the 1970s I took photographs with a Zenit E, a solid Russian brick of a camera with a 58mm Helios lens. My media of choice was slide film although on rare occasions I would use colour negative. I hardly ever shot on black and white film. Yet here was a black and white contact strip that I immediately recognised.

The original negatives are long gone and I never had any prints made but for whatever reason I had kept the contact strip made by the lab when they had developed my film. As I looked over the tiny pictures I began to remember what they were and why I had taken them, no doubt the reason I had kept the strip as a record.


The pictures are of the abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart, the neighbour and cousin of who in due course would become my father-in-law.

Roddy had given up his croft some time before and now lived out his remaining years up the hill and nearer the road in a house overlooking his old croft and Badenscallie Bay beyond. On my first visit to Badenscallie in 1973 the house still had a roof. A year later the roof had partly blown in. Seeing the photographs reminded me of the strong sense I had at the time that the house’s deterioration should be recorded, that by the following year there would be less of it to see. Nature was taking it’s course.

And so I walked across the hill with just my camera and a solitary 24-exposure roll of black and white film for company. The photographs record the sequence of my exploratory footsteps around and through the ruin. Looking back I remember the erie silence, the sense of being in a place where life had been lived, struggling with the challenges of daily living against the elemental forces of nature. A sense of life lived at the pace of the seasons and with the rising and setting of the sun. A hard yet peaceful life. Viewed now, the images recorded then have a beauty and a sense of being about them, reminders of what once was, thas I couldn’t just return them to the back of the album.

Why I didn’t have prints made was probably because at the time prints just weren’t my ‘thing’. It is likely that I had the film in my bag just for something to try on a dull day: most slide film of the time was a mere 64 or 25 ASA and I’m quite sure this black and white film would have been a ‘fast’ 400 ASA. The contact strip was clean so I scanned it and then as it pulled me in I decided to scan each individual frame and look at the story they told in more detail.

Here are all 24 frames, in order, telling the story of my journey some forty years or so ago. Hopefully I’ll return again soon and find out what has become of this place.