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.

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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.

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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.

FP4+

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!

A Pinhole Day Wedding

When my daughter chose Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2017 as her wedding day I just had to make an appropriate photographic record of it.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day has been an event on my calendar for some years, usually meeting up with a group of friends to make cameras, take photographs and encourage non-pinholers to give it a go.

When my daughter announced the date for her wedding, something at the back of my mind rang an alarm bell. No, it wasn’t the thought of giving a Father-of-the-Bride speech, it was the date itself – Sunday 30th April 2017 – the last Sunday in April, the day ‘reserved’ each year to a celebration of pinholing.

There was nothing for it. No father could ask his daughter to change the date of her biggest day and I wasn’t going to be the first! My daughter is sympathetic to my photographic distractions and we agreed that I would take some pinhole wedding shots on the day.

I chose to rely on my Harman TiTAN 5×4 camera and to make my exposures on Ilford FP4+ film as that combination could be expected to be more reliable and require shorter exposure times than something homemade and exposing on paper.

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The TiTAN, six sheets of film, a small tripod and a basic lightmeter made up a lightweight and fairly compact kit. Somehow I managed to waste one sheet, but the other five have worked out much as I hoped. The day was bright and exposures were all around eight seconds.

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Breakfast setting for a new bride
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Flower girl
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Bridal flowers
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Two white dresses
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The happy couple

I have yet to decide which one image to submit to the WPPD2017 website. I rather like ‘Two white dresses’ but I’m leaning towards ‘The happy couple’  as I think it sums up the day more completely. So far I have only scanned the negative but I’d like to print them too, perhaps as salted paper enlarged prints.

The Father-of-the-Bride speech? – I winged it and I think I got away with it!

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:

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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.

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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’.

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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:

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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)

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(looking south-west)

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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.

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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.

 

Going for the dDoOuUbBlLeE. Part 2 … and a schoolboy error!

Developing a film that’s been through the camera twice is no different to developing any other film … or is it?

In Going for the DoUuBbLlEe. Part 1 I exposed a roll of 35mm film which was then rewound back into the cassette and put into a film swap with friends who had similarly exposed films. We would each then put the swapped film through our cameras for a second time to produce random double exposures.

For my roll of Kentmere 400 I got a roll of Ilford Delta 400 in return. I was told that it had been exposed by Dan who I know to be a considered, careful, precise photographer and that he had underexposed by one stop, a series of textured, patterned backgrounds. And he’d marked the leader to help line up the frames when I loaded the film in my camera. Out of respect for Dan, I wanted to be sure to make my exposures on the film with the same degree of care and attention that he had for his part.

I decided to set up a table-top style of studio where I could control lighting and background and to take close-up shots of photography related and a couple of other objects. The closest focussing lens that I have for a 35mm camera is a Vivitar ‘macro’ zoom. Although described as ‘macro’ it is in fact a 1:4 close-focus lens rather than a true 1:1 macro, but that would be good enough for my purpose.

All done and as long as Dan’s textures and patterns weren’t too strong and the frames were in register, my second exposures should show up as subtle highlights against Dan’s backgrounds. I proceeded to the darkroom where I carefully loaded the film onto a spiral reel, secured it in a developing tank and then set about preparing the chemistry to develop the film.

I prepared all the chemistry fresh: developer, stop and fixer each in clearly marked bottles. I brought the chemistry and bottles containing the water I would use for rinsing up to temperature and placed them all in a water bath to maintain temperature from start to finish. Whatever could go wrong?

With everything ready, I checked the clock and poured the developer into the tank. As I did so I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the bottle marked ‘Developer’ still sitting in the water bath – what I was pouring into the tank was the fixer! Panic stations. I immediately poured out the fixer and rinsed out the tank. It had only been briefly in contact with the film and I reckoned that if I rinsed it out well enough there was a chance that something could be retrieved.

With my composure regained and the attitude that what’s done is done, I set about making fresh fixer to replace that which had been poured unceremoniously down the sink, replenishing the used rinse water and setting up the water bath for another attempt, this time with a somewhat greater degree of concentration.

The film developed with images but the emulsion side has a thick greenish appearance, rather like a film that’s been inadequately fixed. I’m not sure how well the negatives will print but I scanned them and with quite substantial tweaking of levels the files produced images not too far from what I was hoping for.

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They say there’s a first time for everything. That’s the first, and I hope the last, time that I’ll drop my guard and pour the wrong solution into the tank. I’m just gutted that it happened with a film that someone else, my friend Dan, had put time, thought and effort into. I’ll find out soon enough if he’s OK with the results!

Doubbling up

An experiment in double exposure film photography.

I wasn’t content to just expose a film (Going for the DdOoUuBbLlEe. Part 1), wait a couple of weeks to hand it over to someone else and then wait another few weeks until they’d double exposed and processed it before I would see any results. I needed to have some idea of what the results might look like.

Having never intentionally made any double exposures before, never mind film-swapping to achieve the end result, I wanted to know that my part of the swap was going to work. I had the tail-end of a bulk roll of Kentmere 100 film spooled in a cassette so I decided to expose it twice through my camera to see what would happen.

Following the process I had decided on for the film-swap roll, I marked the position of the film when first loading it, wound on two frames and then exposed the film with the meter set for ISO 250 to give 1 1/3 stops underexposure. After the first pass I rewound the film, reloaded it trying to align the marks from the first pass, wound on two frames and re-exposed it with the meter again set to give the same underexposure. The end result would be a slightly underexposed strip of film, about ten to twelve frames long and hopefully with the frames from the first and second passes in register.

On the second pass through the camera I had the advantage of knowing what I’d exposed on the first and so I was able to put a little creative thought into the composition – some worked out, others perhaps didn’t! As it happened I got only two things ‘wrong’: When reloading the film for the second pass I misaligned my mark by one sprocket hole and so the frames overlapped, and I forgot the order in which I’d exposed the last few frames of the first pass when re-exposing them leading to unexpected results. I tried to squeeze as many exposures as I could out of what should really have been a ten exposure length of film, took twelve and came away with eleven!

Once developed (5 minutes in Ilfosol 3 mixed 1+9 at 20ºC) the difficulty I had was in deciding where to make the divide between each overlapping exposure. Here’s what I did, the whole lot, warts and all:

 

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branching out into the sea

 

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a sailor’s dream

 

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shelters

 

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lamb and May

Going for the DdOoUuBbLlEe. Part 1

Part one of a double exposure film swap. To be concluded next month.

One of the groups I get involved with is the Edinburgh Lo-fi Photography Group. Around the festive season each year we do some kind of a swap, usually a print swap. This year we’re going for a film swap.

We’ll each expose a film then we’ll swap the films around, re-load and double expose them. There’s quite some scope here for interesting results!

Now this double exposure lark is something I’ve never intentionally done before but I have seen some cracking examples of it where one photographer has double exposed the same roll of film and done so with an idea of what the end result of each shot would be. Swapping films with another photographer for each set of exposures puts the end result well and truly into the hands of the emulsion gods!

I think we are pretty much agreed on some basic ground rules: we’ll swap 35mm for 35mm, 120 for 120 etc. and not mix colour with black & white. The first set of exposures should be intended as background, the second set will be for detail/foreground.

My intention is to shoot 35mm black & white. I’ve spooled a thirty or so exposure length of Kentmere 400 from a bulk roll and loaded it into a Vivitar 3800N camera on which I can mount Pentax-K lenses. The aim will be to underexpose each shot by at least one stop on each pass through the camera to avoid overexposure of the final image so the meter is set for ISO 1000 rather than 400. Depending on texture and light I might vary the amount of underexposure I give. As an aid to reloading the film for the next photographer I’ve marked a starting position. Hopefully this will keep the shots more or less in register!

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Part 2 to follow. We’ll be swapping films over in early December so there should be an update in a month or so.