Work in progress

The ongoing saga of my salt print experiments.

To date I’ve made a couple of attempts at salt printing: at a workshop back in April which I followed up last month with my first attempt at home. Feedback from a group of friends convinced me that I was on the right track and with a group exhibition planned for later this year, that I had a project worth pursuing.

My quest for exhibition quality salt prints took a step futher at the weekend with a marathon two-day darkroom session and a reworked process involving carefully selected art paper, gold toner and the usual large measure of luck.

Paper preparation and exposure

  • Image: Digital negatives prepared from Ilford FP4+ 4×5 sheet film.
  • Paper: Daler Rowney, The Langton Prestige 300gsm HP.
  • Salt solution: 2% sodium chloride applied by foam applicator.
  • Sensitiser solution: 1ml of 12% silver nitrate applied by pipette and hake brush.
  • Exposure: UV face tanner, time determined by test strip.

Print processing

  • Pre wash: tap water, 10 minutes with frequent agitation.
  • Salt bath: 1% sodium chloride, 30 seconds with agitation.
  • Wash: tap water, 10 minutes with frequent agitation.
  • Toning bath: Tetenal Goldtoner diluted 1:4, 5 minutes.
  • Wash: tap water, 5 minutes, frequent agitation
  • 2-bath Fix: 15% hypo with 0.25% sodium carbonate, 5 minutes each bath with agitation.
  • Wash: tap water, 5 minutes with agitation.
  • Hypo clear bath: 1% sodium sulphite, 5 minutes with agitation.
  • Final wash: tap water, 60 minutes.
  • Dry.

The above process was adapted from that detailed in the book The Salt Print Manual by Ellie Young. Limitations to space, resources and availability of materials necessitated some compromises:

  • For each wash I used single 40-litre plastic storage boxes rather than a two-tray set up with running water,
  • I used a ready made product, Tetenal Goldtoner, which I diluted to strength, rather than preparing toner with gold chloride solution which I simply couldn’t source in the UK,
  • My local craft supplies store does not stock any of the tested art papers recommended in the book but did stock The Langton Prestige 300gsm HP paper which met the specifications for being 100% cotton, acid free, gelatin sized and of sufficient weight to withstand all the washing.

I wanted to have a defined coated area which the negatives would overlap slightly, thus avoiding the sharp, straight edges of the negatives showing on the print. To achieve this I formed three masks from mountboard, one for the salt solution, one for the sensitiser and one to position the negative. By using separate masks I avoided contamination between the coatings. Once sensitised, the paper has to be exposed within two hours so I split my workflow into two batches, preparing four sheets at a time.

The first print was not much success, showing staining where the drops of silver nitrate from the pipette had fallen on the paper and then been poorly spread with very obvious brush marks. The second print was better and from the third print onwards results were very acceptable although by the final three, shadows were blocking up and the prints were becoming quite dark, a sign of too much silver.

I concluded that I had not sufficiently wetted the hake brush before starting and so for the first sheet it had absorbed rather than spread the silver nitrate sensitiser. As the session progressed the brush was carrying over a combination of salt and sensitiser from one sheet to the next leading to too great a concentration on the later sheets. I also noticed that the bristles on the hake brush became clumped together and because the brush strokes were constrained to the image area by the mask, this led to a grid-like pattern of sensitiser application, most noticeably around the edges and corners of the prints.

First negative printed: On left, sensitised with foam applicator. On right, sensitised with hake brush.

There was just enough silver nitrate solution left over to make a second print from the first negative. This time I spread it with a well wetted clean foam applicator. Unfortunately the paper was rather hurredly coated and each coat was not properly dried before exposing the paper which led to some dark banding in the finished print. However it did show me the difference that using slightly less sensitiser and a different applicator could make.

A couple of days later I had the opportunity to show the set of dried prints to my group of friends. It was interesting to observe their reactions and useful to hear their feedback. Perhaps I should not be surprised to find that prints I would have discarded are aesthetically pleasing to others!

I am greatly encouraged that my marathon darkroom session was not in vain. I’ll need to plan soon for the next one!


Kissing in the dark

My eyes were closed as I savoured the moment with the object of my desires, gently feeling my way around in the darkness, the rythmic sound of the darkroom clock in the background as the sweet aroma of fixer filled my nostrils, knowing that at the tip of my fingers things were developing …

My preferred method of developing sheet film is six at a time in a Paterson tank with a MOD54 adapter. However if I have only one or two sheets that I want to assess, I resort to tray developing.

Tray developing is done in the darkroom, in the dark: no comforting warm glow from a red safelight, knowing where everything is laid out, relying on touch to gently work from tray to tray, listening keenly to the tick of the darkroom clock, shutting out all distractions to count down the seconds. It’s an intense spellbound time alone with just a piece of film for company. Strangely I often find myself closing my eyes as if to shut out the dark in the darkness.

The experiment

I’ve been experimenting with a zoom pinhole technique in an attempt to create a ‘look’ for a wee project I’m thinking about. It’s quite a simple idea: To use the ratchet focussing mechanism of my Intrepid field camera to adjust the pinhole projection distance during a long exposure with a lensboard mounted pinhole.

So today with good, bright conditions forecast I exposed two sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper and then two sheets of Ilford FP4+. With a five stop ISO difference between the two media it would be interesting to see the different results each would produce.

Direct Positive Paper

For the Direct Positive paper, exposures given were about three minutes – I feel four would have been better but I got what I wanted from the prints. The zoom range was from 190mm to 100mm with a 0.5mm pinhole. It felt difficult to match the zoom action to the time available and the second exposure was much the better for the experience of the first!

The first ran out of zoom and was zoomed a second time before the exposure was completed. It was also a poor choice of subject with a big slab of shadow on the right (left in the print!) that’s pretty much underexposed. The second is a bit underexposed but is close to the effect I think I’m looking for and my favourite from the day.


The FP4+ exposures were over the same zoom range but with exposure times much reduced to around four seconds. I had expected that zooming over a shorter exposure time would be easier but actually found it rather rushed and very difficult to control.

The first is a bit jerky as I struggled to cover the zoom range within the exposure time. I was ready for it for the second exposure and though I like the result, the day was too bright to fully achieve the effect I wanted. The exposures were just too short – an unusual comment for a pinhole!

It’s been an enjoyable day: out and about with a camera, trying something different, taking food for thought from the results and of course, that sensual time in the darkroom!

Every first attempt has a silver lining

First attemps at making salt paper prints.

It is almost a month since I reported on my participation in a contemporary salt print workshop. Keen to put what I discovered into practice I’ve been gathering together the bits and pieces I would need that I don’t already have and also gathering images that I imagine would look good when printed on salted paper.

The weather over the past couple of weekends has been favourable so I’ve been out and about with my Intrepid field camera and have a good selection of 5×4 negatives to print from. The ‘contemporary’ process takes a scan of the original negative and with some editing in Photoshop produces what should be an optimised digital negative from which to make the final print. The digital element of the process has the added advantage of producing a digital negative of a size larger or smaller than the original and also means that the source image can be from a digital camera.

IMG_5456A few months ago I had been gifted a quarter-plate contact printing frame and saw my salt print experiments as an ideal opportunty to use it, so I would need to reduce my 5″x4″ negatives to 4¼”x3¼”. However, I don’t use Photoshop so first I had to rewrite the workshop instructions for what I do use, Serif Labs Affinity Photo – Basic digital negative preparation in Affinity Photo. The exposure time would be determined by a test strip to identify the exposure required to achieve maximum black. For maximum control of the highlights, in Photoshop / Affinity Photo and curve to create a denser negative together with a colour screen are applied. The instructions refer to a generic colour screen, which I used for this exercise, but in the workshop we created custom values by exposing a colour spectrum, processing the result, then finding the colour that equated to the brightest highlights.

I can’t say I fully understand the colour screen step and so I started off by picking an image from which I created four digital negatives, one as unscreened greyscale, and the other three screened with varying RGB values: 255:50:0, 50:255:0 and 25:50:0. These are shown below together with the print made (spot the schoolboy error – I overlaid captions on each negative but forgot to flip them!). The four were exposed and printed as one so the only variable affecting the print is the colour screen applied to each digital negative.

My darkroom space is rather limited (its primary function is a shower room) and has to be set up according to the needs of the process being undertaken. For salt printing, the preparatory function of cutting paper to size and coating it with a 2% sodium chloride solution could be performed elsewhere. However sensitizing the paper with 12% silver nitrate solution and processing the exposed paper have to be carried out under safelight conditions. Exposing the paper can be carried out either under the controlled conditions of a UV light source such as my adapted face tanning unit, or under sunlight ideally with a UV index of at least 4. Here in Scotland that amounts to a couple of hours either side of mid-day during the summer months … if we’re lucky! However it is to be exposed, the sensitized paper has to be kept in the dark until ready for exposure.

For my screening-test negatives I had my UV unit set up in the darkroom alongside my processing trays with just a small working area left to sensitize the salted paper with silver nitrate. This gave me a number of problems: the small working area, the wait in the darkroom for the sensitized paper to dry and once the UV unit was on I realised that the inevitable light leaks from it would potentially fog any other sensitized paper whether awaiting exposure or in the process of development. For the test, I was working with only one piece of paper but I would need to rethink my setup for making a series of prints.

I knew that to make any reasonable assessment of my test I would need to allow the print to dry down overnight so I stored my processing solutions (3% sodium chloride and 10% hypo fixer) in light- and air-tight bottles, restored the shower room and went off to sleep on a solution to the darkroom layout.

BFrom my test I decided to stick with RGB values of 255:50:0 and set about creating fifteen digital negatives. I laid them out five to a sheet of Permajet inkjet transfer film with the layout such that I could easily cut out the individual negatives.

I decided that this time I would set up my darkroom for safelight operations only and have the UV light box just outside in subdued light. I reckoned that a little exposure was inevitable but probably of negligible effect (and with hindsight I was right!). When I explored making dry glass plates about a year ago I had aquired a small shallow-drawer unit for drying the emulsion-coated plates and decided to use it as storage for the sensitised paper as I waited for it to dry. This way I could sensitize paper for the session then clear my work area of silver nitrate solution, pipette and brushes.

For the screening test I had run a test strip to determine an exposure time of 5½ minutes and decided to use that as a starting point. The only difference would be that the screen test was done in a 10″x8″ ‘modern’ contact printer while this session I would be using a vintage quarter-plate printing frame with much thinner glass that sat about 1cm further below the UV light tubes. I was also a little uncertain as to how my hypo solution would have fared from being stored overnight as it does not have much ‘shelf-life’.

Processing one image at a time (I have only one contact printing frame!) the first few prints came out of the UV light looking very dark and overexposed. That was to some extent to be expected and they would lighten up as they were processed through the salt bath and hypo fixer before rinsing. However they did not lighten up as much as I would have expected or wanted and so I reduced the exposure time as I worked through the negatives, down to five minutes, then four and a half and the final images just four minutes.

The colour of the prints changes as the process progresses and ultimately as the prints dry down they take on the typical sepia tone that I would expect. There’s a bit of bronzing to some of the prints which is likely due to the age of the fixer and inconsistencies in fully covering the paper when coating are apparent. I consider these all marks of individuality and a part of the image!

What I’m not too happy with is the loss of shadow detail in my prints. I suspect this is due to the curve I have applied when creating the digital negative rather than to the UV exposure given. When creating the digital negatives I adjusted the curve as I would for a ‘normal’ image whereas a negative for salt printing needs good shadow exposure and detail, does not need to be high contrast and needs sufficient density to allow silver chloride to change into metallic silver during exposure. If I have failed in creating the prints I had expected I suspect that this is the area in which I can make the most improvement. That said, for a first attempt under my own steam, the fifteen prints I made do have a ‘look’ and a ‘feel’ that I like.

The final fifteen, 24 hours on from UV light box exposure and processing.

I coated and sensitized three more pieces of paper than I used. These lay in the drawer shaded from light ready to be forgotten about. However as I type up my exploits a day later, the sun is shining and according to the BBC the UV index should be about 3. Surely worth a try to see what an exposure to sunlight might do. I selected three of my favourite images, made up some fresh salt bath and hypo and exposed them one at a time for fifteen minutes each. Here’s how they look now that they’ve dried down a bit.

Three ‘bonus’ prints, a couple of hours after exposure by sunlight and processing.


Hanging in the trees

Sunshine, Ilford FP4+ and trees. A perfect trio.

Since my Intrepid Camera arrived just a tad over eight months ago I’ve practiced with and shot regular photo paper, direct positive paper, glass plates and the cheapest Fomapan sheet film I could find. I reckon I’ve got the hang of it now so perhaps it’s time to splash out on the good stuff.

With the sun shining at the weekend I broke open for the first time, a fresh box of Ilford FP4+, set my meter for ISO 125 with a +1 exposure compensation for the Yellow Y(2K) filter I planned to use and headed to Gosford in East Lothian to photograph some trees.

I’m attracted to the form and shape of tree trunks and the texture of the bark in the sunlight. Perhaps there’s a series to be explored.

Here’s how I got on:


The Techy Stuff

The Intrepid Camera (Mk 1), Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm f/5.6 lens with Y(2K) filter, Ilford FP4+ 5×4 sheet film.

The sheets were developed with a MOD54 insert in a Paterson tank in Ilfosol 3 1+9 dilution at 20ºC for 4 min 15sec. Agitation by gentle rotation of the twirl stick, continuous for the first minute then 15 secs at 1 min 30 secs, 2 min 30 secs and 3 min 30 secs.

Scanning was with an Epson 4990, black and white points being set in the standard Epson Scan software.

Senior Moments

I took a Trip to Falkirk for an Intrepid photo-outing. But not all went to plan …

The idea was to take The Intrepid and a half a dozen sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper for a walk around The Falkirk Wheel, a unique boat lift between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal in central Scotland, and then on for a visit to the nearby site of the Antonine Wall and Rough Castle Roman Fort. For a few snapshots along the way I took my Olympus Trip loaded with Kentmere 100 film.

Two cameras, one to be set up on a tripod after careful consideration of the viewpoint then focused, loaded, light measured for calculation of shutter speed and aperture before the exposure could be made. The other in a pocket to be taken out, pointed at the subject and the shutter pressed to take the shot without delay.

Nobody takes a blind bit of notice to the Olympus Trip whereas The Intrepid attracts all manner of attention. People stop to look. They ask questions. They tell of their forebears using cameras like these. Their children have to see what’s going on below the dark cloth and their dogs are attracted to the legs of the tripod!

All of that attention when trying to concentrate on the process of taking a photograph with The Intrepid can lead to confusion for the old codger that I am! I made a complete mess of exposure meter readings and camera settings. Of my six sheets of paper only one came out as I had intended, one of two barges passing each other on the Union Canal above the Wheel.


The remaining five were all either very under- or very over- exposed. However, one of these, of the entrance to Rough Castle Tunnel, although about three stops overexposed has been growing on me so I count it amongst the ‘keepers’.



So there it is. Memories of a day out, exposures made, lessons learned and the sense of satisfaction from crafting the images back in the darkroom.

Taking a squint at George

Continuing the stereo pair experiment – could I make it work with a large format camera, using consecutive rather than simultaneous exposures?

Having made a reasonably successful attempt at stereo pair photography with a pinhole camera I felt encouraged to explore whether the 3-D effect could be achieved using the movements of a large format field camera.

My theory was that a stereo pair from a single camera could be achieved by making consecutive exposures using horizontal shift of the front standard to effectively view the subject from two adjacent points.

To test my theory I set up ‘George’, an almost life-size polystyrene head, at a metre or so from my Intrepid camera. Then I made two exposures, the first with the front standard set about 15mm left of centre and the second with it set about 15mm right of centre.

The total separation of 30mm ensured that the image circle of the offset lens would cover the film and also that at at such a subject distance, the whole of George’s head would be included in each image. The Intrepid camera allows for a maximum of about 65mm total horizontal shift so there is scope to increase the separation as long as the image circle projected by the lens allows it without vignetting. I would expect that to achieve a realistic stereo effect the ideal separation should match the average distance between the eyes which in an adult is about 64mm.

I scanned the negatives side-by-side to produce a stereo pair (as at the top of this post). I’ve since re-scanned the two images and created a print with each separated by 30mm just as they were taken. Take a squint at George to overlap the two images as a third virtual 3-D image in the centre:


So far, so good, although I’m not totally convinced of the stereo effect with George alone. The next step would be to test my theory ‘in the field’ with near, mid and far distant subject elements. Decent weather would help too!

After a series of depressingly dreich grey weekends, my travels in search of weekend light and suitable subject matter for the task took me to the Southern Uplands and the villages of Wanlockhead and Leadhills. There I found the remains of some old buildings in a quarry beside the old narrow guage railway that once served the lead mines here and now transports tourists, in season, between the two villages. The location served my purpose and being out of season, was free of tourists! I took two sets of three images: one with the front standard moved fuly to the left, a centred exposure (which I used to frame and focus the scene), and a third with the standard fully to the right. The total separation between left and right was 65mm but of course each individual image of the set was just 32.5mm.

Here are the sets of images, each followed by a print of left and right separated by 65mm which should be viewed by squinting at the pair to create an overlapping central virtual image:

(looking north-east)



(looking south-west)



Do they work? – I’m not sure. The second set are probably a better subject with the metal bars sticking out of the wall and the telegraph poles giving obvious ‘depth points’. If I concentrate my focus on the central part of the merged virtual image I can see the 3-D effect but overall it does appear confused. Choosing any combination of two adjoining photos, i.e. that have been taken with only 32.5mm separation seems to work better. So much for my theory  of matching lens and eye separation!

The sun was setting over the hills to the west and the light was beginning to change quite quickly. This may be adding to the confusion as the shadows cast by the sun have moved between exposures (as have the clouds). This would not have been a problem had I been making the exposures simultaneously.

I had intended a third set which I’d like to think would have been best of the lot but by this time the light was changing so fast I realised that because of the rapidly lengthening shadows, consecutive exposures would not work. I made do with just one image.


All of the photos here are straight, unaltered scans of the negatives. I’m quite sure they will all print better than reproduced here so whatever I might conclude about the success of the stereoscopic experiment, I still have printable, interesting negatives to play with in the future.

The stereoscopic experiment has been interesting. I have no doubt there is a relationship between lens separation, focal length and main subject distance. The mechanism for viewing is also important, my squinting to create a virtual third image being the most basic, and I imagine needs ideally to be matched to the geometry of the taking equipment. My best success was undoubtedly with my stereo pinhole camera, the size and geometry of which would match the Victorian stereographic viewers available on auction sites.


Making Contact

A weekend’s confinement due to mishap turned into a successfully useful photographic time.

As a result of an unintended upending on a flight of steps I’ve found myself confined to the house nursing torn calf ligaments. It’s been rather frustrating sitting around with my leg up (in more ways than one!) over a fine, bright weekend when I’d much rather have been out and about with a camera.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and I put my confinement to good use finalising the details of a talk I’ve been asked to give later this week, making a(nother) pinhole camera and doing a bit of contact printing on hand-coated paper. Put like that I’ve had quite a busy weekend!

The talk is for the Democratic Camera Club which meets on the first Thursday of each month at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. I had been asked some time ago to give a talk in November but just last month was asked if I could bring it forward to October so my preparation time has been at a premium. I’ll be talking about pinhole photography, showing examples of the work of several contemporary artists and photographers who use the characteristics inherent in pinhole photography to realise their vision in their images. I’ll be including my own Continuum project in the presentation.

The opening slide for my forthcoming talk.

My friend Oonagh Devoy had asked me a few days ago for some advice about converting an old suitcase into a pinhole camera. With our exchange still fresh in my mind and nothing better to do I set about making a model suitcase pincam from mountboard. Based on a fairly standard box within a box design, the construction was straightforward but did present a challenge for preventing light leakage around the opening lid of the ‘case’.

Having completed my construction I looked out the paper I’d coated with SE1 Emulsion a couple of months ago, loaded a sheet into the model suitcase pincam and hobbled outside to try it out. With an aperture of about f/128 and projection distance of 30mm I gave a one minute exposure in the good bright sunlight of the day.

Model Suitcase Pincam with first test image

With the paper exposed, one thing led to another and I just had to get my darkroom set up. I managed without too much difficulty and decided to make use of the setup to make a few contact prints from some of my glass plates on other sheets of the SE1 Emulsion coated paper.


So there it is. A weekend’s confinement due to mishap turned into a successfully useful and enjoyable photographic time. Can’t complain really. However, it might be a different matter hobbling about with a stick at work tomorrow!

Reflections on glass

Having exposed the last of my silver emulsion glass plates, it’s time to reflect on what’s been learned and what comes next …

On a visit to New Lanark World Heritage Village at the weekend, I exposed the last of the 5×4 SE1 emulsion dry glass plates I made a couple of months ago. The final plates of the batch have been stored in an opaque black plastic bag, separated with baking paper since the hand-poured emulsion was dried so I was interested to see how they would perform after the period of storage.

I think they performed rather well. While I accept it is subjective I rather like the marks left by the baking paper on the surface of the gelatin emulsion which appears to have ‘sweated’ a little during storage, although I would like to work out how to avoid them if I could!

New Lanark: Falls of Clyde
Falls of Clyde – 1
New Lanark: Falls of Clyde
Falls of Clyde – 2


New Lanark: Mill Number Three
Mill Number Three


New Lanark: Caithness Row
Caithness Row
New Lanark: Owen's House, New Buildings and The Bell Tower
Robert Owen’s House and The Bell Tower
New Lanark
New Lanark

So with my supply of plates now exhausted I have to make some decisions what to do next. Being involved in the process from preparation of the glass through pouring the emulsion to exposing and developing the plates has been insightful and enjoyable. I’ve exposed them quite successfully in The Intrepid large format field camera and in home made pinhole cameras.

There’s some room for improvement in the adhesion of the emulsion to the glass. Some of my plates show signs of frilling around the edges so for any future batch I’d want to pay particular attention to glass cleaning and the proportions of gelatin and hardener in the subbing solution.

So far, all that I have done with the plates has been to scan them as digital files, or to contact print them. As I have no other means at present to make larger darkroom prints I rather think that I would like to prepare for exposure in pinhole cameras, a batch of larger plates that could be contact printed.

There’s a whole range of alternative print processes that I could experiment with: Salt printing, cyanotypes, van dyke browns and so on. I feel that the unique character given by the inevitable imperfections of hand-poured plates would blend well with the serendipitous nature of pinhole images and plates up to about 10″x8″ would be good for contact printing. Maybe pinhole plates are the way forward, keeping The Intrepid for regular sheet film exposed through a lens.

I’ll have some time to think about that though as I have other things coming up that need my attention: A talk and presentation about pinhole characteristics to the Democratic Camera Club in October and prints to prepare for submission to an exhibition in December. More on these to follow!

A Brownie Outing

My first outing with the fifty plus year old Brownie 127 camera.

Following on from my nostalgic eBay win of a Brownie 127 Camera Outfit, as reported in my previous post A nostalgic find on eBay, the natural thing to do was load it with film and get out to take some photographs.

It so happened that the Edinburgh Lo-fi Photography Group, of which I am a member, had arranged a timely meetup for a wee jaunt along the Fife Coastal Path between Dysart and West Wemyss last weekend. What could be more lo-fi than a Brownie 127 camera? I took the Brownie with two rolls of Rera Pan 100-127 film and my Intrepid with six sheets of Fomapan 100 just for a bit of alternative interest.

The snaps taken with the Brownie came out rather well in my opinion, with just the one (accidental) double exposure!

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The Intrepid didn’t do too badly either but I messed up one sheet, due to forgetting to replace the dark slide after taking the shot. Oops! The ultra-cool Autoknips mechanical timer release that I also found on eBay got a wee outing too and performed magnificently for the group shots.

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 The Techy Stuff

On my return home I discovered that I had only just enough Ilfosol 3 developer to process the two 127 rolls and the six 5×4 sheets.

The Brownie is just a simple point and shoot camera with no settings to worry about as long as the light is good and bright. The day started bright and sunny but increased cloud cover as the day progressed reduced the light level considerably but I carried on taking pictures regardless, not knowing how the film would perform. The Rera Pan 100-127 is quite new on the market, produced by a Japanese manufacturer. There is little information available as a guide to developing times and none that I could find for Ilfosol 3, the only developer I had available! However by comparing the little information I could find for Rera Pan and comparing it with information available for other film/developer combinations, I eventually settled on 6 minutes at 20C in 1+9 dilution. The results are OK but I think I’d like to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them so I will probably make changes next time.

To give a wee contrast boost and to make the most of the clouds, I used a yellow filter on the Intrepid and consequently made a one-stop exposure correction on each shot. Developing the Fomapan was quite straightforward in Ilfosol 3, diluted 1+9 for 5 minutes 30 seconds at 20C using a MOD54 in a Paterson tank. The results are pretty much as I expected.

Chill out, catch up and throw away

A weekend in the East Neuk of Fife for photography, fun and friendship.

Something for the weekend

I took the opportunity of having a couple of days off work to book a weekend away in the East Neuk of Fife with my wife and a camera or two (not necessarily in that order!). The idea arose from an invitation to meet my friend Oonagh, who like me has been pursuing the idea of dry glass plate photography, that we might catch up and compare notes on our progress.

Oonagh and I had arranged to meet in Crail on Saturday morning. A day’s outing to Crail is well within reach for me but it’s a picturesque town that begs a longer stay and so it was that my wife and I booked in to The Hazelton Guest House in the centre of town for Friday and Saturday nights. The welcome was warm and friendly, the accommodation was clean and very comfortable and the Breakfast (yes, I did spell that with a capital ‘B’) was simply the Best Breakfast anyone could wish for. I make mention of it only because we so enjoyed our stay there and would wholeheatedly recommend it.

Friday: Getting there slowly.

We meandered up the coast on Friday, stopping off for a wander around St Monans and again a little later in Cellardyke where we had a large pot of tea between us and four ‘Jammie Dodgers’ to share. Of course, wherever we went I was really only interested in photography. Still learning the ways of The Intrepid, I had with me a full set of film holders loaded with Fomapan 100 Classic sheet film, a full set of plate holders loaded with my own glass plates hand coated with SE1 emulsion and a box of spare plates should I need to reload! Wanting to keep the plates for Saturday’s playtime I chose to expose the Fomapan film on Friday.

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This was the first time I’ve exposed film in The Intrepid and I must say I’m very pleased with the results. It takes time, perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes, just to set up the camera for each shot but it’s a process of becoming absorbed in the scene. Under the dark cloth the screen is bright and clear enabling careful composition and determination of focal point. Once set up it’s just a case of waiting for the light or whatever is to determine the moment when the shutter is released. My wife is very patient and usually carries a thick book with which to pass the time, usually from a distance!

Saturday: Crail

We met by the harbour as planned on Saturday morning and over coffee and cake the intricacies and effectiveness were discussed of detergent cleaning versus sandblasting or etching in the preparation of glass plates to take photographic emulsion. Oonagh and I are both at about the same stage on our glass plate experimentation but whereas I am pursuing this purely as a hobby interest, Oonagh plans to use the processes as a part of the work she is doing towards achieving her Masters in Fine Art and so what’s good enough for me might not be so for her. Nonetheless we have much to learn from one another and value each other’s input.

Discussion over we left my wife to her book and went off for some photographic playtime around the harbour. So often these days someone lifting a camera to their eye to take a photograph is seen in some way as threatening or intrusive behaviour. Not so it seems, when the camera is a large format field camera and the photographer disappears beneath a dark cloth from time to time to attend to focus and composition, popping out to measure the light and to make adustments to the settings on the lens! I suspect we were both as much the subject of others’ photographs as they may have been of ours and our cameras were often a talking point.

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When the time came for Oonagh to return home, my wife was nowhere to be found. I went in search of likely places: to the art exhibition in the town hall where in response to my explanation that I was looking for my wife some wag asked, “Would mine do?”, and to the museum where I got a more direct response in similar vein, “Would I do?”! Having turned down both offers I was relieved to find her pottering around at my next port of call, the pottery. Oonagh had departed leaving me with a bottle and we needed to discuss what to do with it. Crail is well endowed with many pleasant cafes and we retired to one of them for the discussion over a little sustenance and refreshment.

The bottle was one of several such, a part of Oonagh’s Masters project, and I had agreed to throw it away! Containing ten beachcombed objects and a hand-written letter it was all sealed up in preparation for a sea journey.  Hopefully in time it will be be found and opened, the letter read, some thought given to the objects within and contact made with Oonagh. We spent the afternoon searching the coast for a suitable place to launch it, eventually settling on the Kilminning Coast wildlife reserve a mile or so east of Crail and almost at the most easterly point of the Fife coast. From here we hoped the bottle would be carried out from the mouth of the Forth Estuary into the North Sea and wherever the currents might then take it. It was a bit of a clamber over the rocks but we made it while the tide was still ebbing, photographed the launch and watched while the bottle disappeared from view.

I’ve celebrated the launch of the bottle with a wee poem and a couple more photographs in a separate blog, The bottle and the deep, blue sea.

Sunday: A pinhole image then homeward

After our second morning’s Breakfast we emerged from The Hazelton into another bright, warm morning and rather than head straight home we again made for the harbour where I intended this time to take some pinhole photographs. I had not been too pleased with images from a few weeks ago taken with the camera I had originally made for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2014 and have since fitted it with a new pinhole.

The results this time were much more pleasing even though in one of the two I made, I hadn’t slid the shutter open quite far enough. One of the ‘joys’ of any non-digital based photography (except perhaps, Polaroid) is that the image is only revealed long after the moment has passed. Unfortunately I have only a part of what looks like one of those ‘might have been a good one’ images!

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The Techie Stuff

Most of the photographs shown in this blog have been taken as part of a learning curve and the technical detail may be of interest to some readers. So here it is all rolled up at the end so it can be easily ignored by those who have no interest in it!

The images of St Monans and Cellardyke harbours were made on Fomapan 100 Classic sheet film developed in fresh Ilfosol 3 at 1+9 dilution for 5 minutes at 20ºC. Stop was Ilfostop (1+19, used), fix was Ilford Rapid Fixer (1+4, used) then fresh water rinses and a final rinse with the addition of 5ml PhotoFlo. I used a Mod54 insert in a Paterson tank with agitation by rotation of the twirl stick continuously for 30 seconds then for 15 seconds per minute.

With one exception, the plate images were made on glass prepared for subbing with gelatin and chrome alum mixture, by washing in a strong detergent solution, rubbing with wire soap pads then cleaning with Isopropyl Alcohol. The prepared glass was coated by hand-pouring an emulsion comprising five parts Silverprint SE1 to one part PhotoFlo. The plates were developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade paper developer at 1+19 dilution and at a room temperature of about 16-17ºC. Development at this dilution and temperature took two to four minutes dependant on the thickness of the emulsion. Each plate was rinsed in Ilfostop before fixing in Ilford Rapid Fixer until clear. The thicker the emulsion, the longer it took to clear. No hardener was added to the fixer. Rinsing was initially in a tray with gently running water for about five minutes, transfered to a tray of fresh water for ten minutes, transfered to a tray of Ilford Wash Aid (1+4) for twenty minutes then finally to a second tray of fresh water for thirty minutes. The plates were left for a day or so to air dry. Once dry the back surface of each plate was cleaned of emulsion overspill with a craft-knife blade then rubbed with a dry paper towel.

The exception was the image titled Harbour wall jumping at Crail which was made on a plate prepared and coated by one of the attendees at the workshop I attended in Glasgow back in April. Preparation for subbing was by etching and the emulsion, which was brushed rather than poured, was either SE1 or Foma combined with a quantity of Ilfotol.