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!

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.

Pinholes in stereo

Pinhole images – why be satisfied with one when you can get cross-eyed over a pair?

A few weeks ago while spending a dull, wet weekend clearing up my photo stuff I came across a box of odd bits of Harman Direct Positive paper left over from a workshop I ran quite some time ago. I was pretty sure the paper hadn’t been handled in entirely light-safe conditions and would be fogged but rather than waste it I loaded it into a variety of cans and boxes all of which had been converted for pinhole use. When the weather improved I could have a play and see what transpired from the paper!

Anything that can be made light-tight is potentially a pinhole camera.

One of the converted boxes had been a Father’s Day gift containing whisky flavoured truffles. Once the contents had been dealt with the true purpose of the box was realised as a two-shot pinhole camera, allowing for two separate exposures to be made before having to return to the darkroom or fumble in the dark bag for a change of paper or film. Two chambers and a frame to hold media in place was formed from foamcore, the interior was given a spray of flat black paint, two holes were cut in the lid and pinholes taped over the holes.

Components of the camera

Coincidentally, I had been reading of my friend Oonagh’s endeavours in 3D imaging with an antique Wray Stereo Graphic 35mm camera. It occurred to me that my two-pinhole Whisky Truffle Pincam could be adapted to make a stereo pinhole camera.

To make images suitable for viewing as a stereo pair, they need to be taken of the same view but from viewpoints slightly apart. That is taken care of by the two adjacent pinhole apertures. The exposure given to each needs to be as near as possible the same – that will depend on how well I can make two equal pinholes!

Ideally to view the 3D effect requires a stereoscope which optically overlaps the images so that the viewer sees a virtual third 3D image. However at the cost of a little discomfort, By squinting at the two images they can be made to overlap in the same way. This would do me for now!

test stereo shot on old, fogged paper

The original pinhole apertures were just as they had been made. In true pinhole fashion there had been no attempt to match them. My first test stereo image confirmed that my Direct Positive paper was indeed fogged but as my purpose was to compare the differences in aperture, the expected fogging was not important. More significantly, the first pair of images show that the Right pinhole (the one on the left!) was wider than that on the Left (the one on the right!). This would need to be corrected if I was to make a successful stereo image pair.

result of enlarging the pinholes in an attempt to balance them

Having made my initial assessment, I decided to balance the apertures by attempting to enlarge the Left pinhole just a smidge. Of course having made the intended adjustment I felt the smidge was perhaps a tad too much and so adjusted the Right pinhole by the said tad, more or less. The result was not pleasant with both images now overexposed, too soft and neither a match for the other.

There was only one thing for it: re-make the pinholes from scratch, aiming for a matched pair. The optimum aperture diameter for a pincam with a projection distance (i.e. focal length) of 36mm is around 0.25mm so that’s what I was aiming for although size was less important than equivalence.

high resolution scan of pinholes and millimetre rule

By laying the pinholes alongside a millimetre rule on the bed of my scanner and scanning them at its highest resolution I was able to make reasonably accurate measurements of their respective diameters and an assessment of their regularity. The Left pinhole measures 0.33mm and is quite a clean, round hole while the Right pinhole is 0.30mm, more elliptical and a bit rough on one side. With a projection distance of 36mm the relative apertures were f/110 and f/128.

final attempt – not quite there but getting close

The difference between f/110 and f/128 would have been neither here nor there in a single exposure ‘regular’ pincam but I was surprised by the effect on the final pair of stereo images of such an apparently small difference in aperture. Ideally for a stereo pair, the exposure given to each image should be precisely the same. That said I’m satisfied with the closeness achieved.

(I had attempted in the final image to add an extra layer of depth in the form of a ghostly selfie in the gap between the foreground stump and the distant tree. Unfortunately I missed my positioning but look carefully and I can be seen directly in front of the tree!)

Ideas of Beauty

The Democratic Camera Club which meets monthly at Stills, Edinburgh and of which I am a member has organised a Winter Exhibition. I am thrilled to have had four of my pinhole images accepted and am honoured that they will be displayed alongside the exhibits of fellow club members and artists whose work I admire and take inspiration from.

My images were made with my Harman TiTAN pinhole camera on Direct Positive Paper and so each exhibit is an original, unique image. They were made in the area of Talla Water reservoir in the Scottish Borders.

I sought to find a balance between the rugged beauty of the natural landscape and those elements of that landscape which man has used to his own end: reservoir, walls and bridge. I find serenity in contemplating the purposeful recreation of these elements blending with the land from which they were formed. A new ‘natural’ landscape is created wherein the man-made draws the eye and the mind to the beauty of the natural shape and form of hill and valley.


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The originals have so much more depth than these scans can show. Come along to the exhibition, see it for yourself and enjoy all of the excellent photography on show.

A Leica pinhole camera?

I do Leica bit of fudge when making a pincam …

A wee pressie from my sister. She thought it was just a novelty tin of sweets but I knew what it really was … and I do Leica fudge or two when making a pincam!

Preparatory stage – hard work!
Repurposing commences.
Simple pinhole repurposing tool.
The pinhole (RUFLI 0.3mm) … see my last blog for an explanation of RUFLI.
Lightproofing materials, felt, paint and tape.
Felt strip applied to lid.
Flat black painted inner and baffle constructed from foamcore and tape.
Inserting the baffle.
The baffle also holds the photo paper in place.
In camera the image is inverted and reversed.
6-minute car journey exposure on Direct Positive paper.