Darkroom daze

With my darkroom up and running it’s time to make some prints.

In my last blog post I described the conversion of a spare room into my new darkroom setup. Now’s the time to try out the layout and for the first time, find out how well the Intrepid Enlarger accessory kit works with the Intrepid 4×5 Camera.

Coincidentally, Harman Technology recently announced the introduction of Ilford MGRC paper and its rollout to replace MGIV RC paper which has been the staple of many photo printers for over twenty years. I’d had a box on order, Pearl finish, and it’s arrival was well timed to kick-start printing some of the many 5×4 negatives I made over the summer months. To see how this new paper performs it’s been an opportunity to run some tests, make comparisons with other papers I use and to revisit how I go about split-grade printing.

The first test I ran was to take a well exposed and developed negative with a full range of tones and make 5 second interval test strips through each of my multigrade filters. There are twelve filters in the box, ranging from grade 00 to grade 5. The exercise is useful to show the effect of each filter on highlights and shadows and also serves to indicate the typical exposure time required to achieve desired results from different areas of tonality. I also ran the same tests using an unexposed developed negative to determine the exposure time required to achieve maximum black with each filter.

  • It’s worth stating at this point the importance of using ‘a well exposed and developed negative with a full range of tones’. The results of these tests can be filed for reference and used as a starting point in future printing sessions, saving paper, chemicals and time.
  • The subject of the negative I chose for my tests had been metered using a 1º spot meter on the darkest shadow detail that I wanted to show in the eventual final print. Photographic light meters are calibrated to give a reading for ‘middle grey’ or Zone V in Zone System parlance and this needs to be adjusted to place the shadow detail on Zone III. This is simply done by increasing the meter reading by two stops, e.g. if the meter reads 1/15th sec at f/8, the exposure given would be 1/60th sec at f/8 or a suitable matching combination.
  • Development of the exposed negative should be consistent with the time and temperature required for a ‘normal’ process. A common fault is to start the timer once developer is in the tank and stop it before emptying the tank. In fact once in contact with the emulsion the developer remains active until it is stopped, hence the use of a stop bath. Failure to account for the time between emptying the tank of developer and refilling with stop bath often adds as much as 25% to the actual development time and results in over developed negatives that will never show the shadow detail that was intended to be seen!
  • Finally, a full range of tones in the subject from shadow to highlight is needed for proper assessment of the filter tests.

I am not showing the results of my tests here. They are specific to my workflow and my subjective reading of my negative. However I would suggest to anyone interested in following up on this blog that there is value in carrying out these tests for themselves with their own negatives and darkroom conditions. The investment in paper is not great (I had sufficient spread of tonal range in my test negative that I was able to use a 5×4 test print printer so only needed three sheets of 10×8, cut into 5×4 pieces, for the job), and requires only a few hours in the darkroom.

Armed with the results of my tests I set about making some prints. My plan was to use the split-grade method. (I say ‘the‘ split-grade method, but the more I look into it, the more I realise that there are many variations in use and not all that are to be found on the internet are reliable). My starting point was a tutorial by Dave Butcher that can be found on the Ilford website (https://www.ilfordphoto.com/split-grade-printing/). I’ve experimented with his process and realise that once fully understood it has great potential. If anyone is reading this in the hope of a quick fix, you won’t find it here. Do your own experimentation and make your own discoveries and you won’t regret it.

All that said, what follows is the process I followed in making one final (for now!) print from a negative made during the summer on a walk by a burn halfway up a hillside in north west Scotland. My exposure for this negative was based on a spot meter reading of the darkest shadow detail (some of the lichen on the top of the rock in the foreground) of 1 second at f/22. I adjusted this to 1/4 second at f/22 to place the shadow detail on Zone III. The combination of shutter speed and aperture was chosen to show texture in the motion of the water as it pushed through the rocks.

The negative.
1/4 sec @ f/22, Ilford FP4+, Rodenstock 150mm lens with yellow Y2K filter, Intrepid 4×5 Camera.

My first test strip was made with a Grade 00 filter at 4 second intervals. What I was looking for here was the first appearance of texture in the highlights. I’ve circled what I chose, an exposure of 20 seconds.

Grade 00 test strip

Now I had a choice to make: I could make a composite test strip by exposing the whole of the next test strip for 20 seconds at Grade 00 and then change the filter to Grade 5 and expose that at intervals over the Grade 00 exposure, or I could make a separate ‘intermediate’ test strip with just a Grade 5 filter exposed at 3 second intervals. (I determined what intervals to choose, based on my earlier filter tests and my reading of the negative). What I was looking for here was the exposure required to just produce almost black shadow detail. I think it has to be a matter of individual taste as to which method to choose. Personally I found it easier to find the detail I was looking for by making separate G00 and G5 test strips and it is a simple matter to make a third combined test strip that would confirm my choice.

G5 test strip
Combined test strip: G00 for 20 sec then G5 at 3 sec intervals

For my first work print, I decided to increase the Grade 00 exposure to 24 seconds and from my reading of the negative, to burn in the top and right edges at Grade 5 for and additional 5 seconds.

Work Print. G00 24sec + G5 9sec + G5 5sec burn along top and right edges

I was still unhappy with the top and right edges. There is a slight light leak (consequence of using ‘pre-loved’ film holders bought on eBay!) and I wanted a darker edge to frame in the scene. My solution was to crop slightly but to retain the burn around the edges.

Final Print. Top and right edges cropped. G00 24sec + G5 9sec + G5 5sec burn along top and right edges

It is never a good idea to rush through the preparatory stages and in hindsight I really should have re-done my Grade 00 test strip to show a range of times from 12 to 28 seconds. This would have placed my chosen 20 second exposure centrally and shown that better highlight texture would be achieved with a slightly longer exposure. As it was I realised my error prior to making my first work print and made a guesstimated adjustment to 24 seconds.

All in all I spent most of four days enjoying the red glow of the safelight and filling my nostrils with the aroma of fixer! I made several prints on the new Ilford MGRC and for what my opinion is worth I think it is a big improvement over MGIV RC. The blacks are deeper and the jump in contrast between grades 3 1/2 and 4 is much less pronounced.

Alongside my MGRC prints I also repeated my filter tests and made prints on Ilford MG ART 300 cotton rag paper, one of my favourites. The response is quite different and underlines what I said above about making your own tests of the papers and chemistry you use, with your own negatives and in your own darkroom.

Darkroom dreams

Overcoming inertia to repurpose the spare room as a darkroom in which to use the Intrepid Enlarger.

When I retired some fifteen or so months ago, one of my intended projects was to repurpose the spare room as a useable darkroom in place of the rather cramped facility that also had to function in its primary purpose, as shower room.

The spare room had last been used to accommodate my twin grand children while they, their parents and dog ‘lodged’ with us between house moves. They all moved out a few years ago leaving the room complete with Thomas the Tank Engine and Peppa Pig wallpaper and the two cots that they had outgrown. The room wasn’t sorted out straight away and inevitably it gradually filled with ‘stuff’ to became somewhat of a store room.

Meanwhile, large format negatives made with my Intrepid 4×5 camera were piling up. I could scan them but then they were just digital files to be adjusted on a computer, or I could contact print them using my 35mm enlarger. Neither was particularly satisfactory but I’d subscribed to The Intrepid Camera Company’s Kickstarter project to develop and produce an enlarger attachment. In June the kit arrived complete with film holder and electronic timer. Its arrival was the stimulus I needed to get on with the darkroom project.

Once the room was cleared of stuff the cots were taken apart and reused to make a workbench, a close-fitting blackout blind with blackout curtain for good measure ensured no light leaks, an LED strip provided a safelight and the installation of a hanging system facilitated the display of prints. There is no water to the room so I set up a print washer fed from a large plastic tub reservoir by a fish pond pump. I acquired a solid, square-topped table to support my enlarger and reckoned I was good to go.

To use the Intrepid camera as an enlarger is simply a matter of replacing the camera’s ground glass and film back with the custom fit Intrepid Enlarger attachment. The camera has to be mounted on a stand but although a regular tripod can be used, I found it a hassle to set up and the tripod restricted adjustment, rendering it frustrating to use. I set the enlarger aside until I could find an affordable good quality copy stand on which to mount the camera instead. I was in no hurry. After all it was summer and I was more interested in getting out with the camera and adding to the pile of negatives!

Just a few weeks ago I spotted a professional-quality Kaiser copy stand for sale, described as having ‘minor cosmetic damage’ and at well below half the going rate for a new one. I took a chance and was very pleasantly surprised to receive a badly bashed box and packaging containing a brand spanking new stand that I had to examine very carefully to find the cosmetic damage – a tiny ‘bruise’ on one corner of the baseboard. Bargain!

Intrepid Camera with Enlarger Attachment all mounted on a Kaiser RS1/RA1 Copy Stand

So with the exception of a few unnecessary but nice-to-have bits and pieces that I’d like to have in time, my darkroom was ready for use just as the winter days became shorter, colder, wetter and gloomier. What better way to escape the gloom but to shut the darkroom door behind me, turn on the warm, red glow of the safelight and get printing?

Ready for action

With a box of the newly announced Ilford MGRC Pearl paper to hand I had a lot of printing to look forward to. All of that’s to come in my next blog post.

Pinhole timescapes

I set out to discover, through a pinhole, images of the landscape left behind as I travel through it on my bicycle.

For some years I’ve been intrigued by the idea of moving a pinhole camera through the landscape to discover what images might be revealed. One of the first such images I made was in 2014 with my then new Harman TiTAN 4×5 pinhole camera. Taken through the front window of the top deck of a bus as it followed a cyclist along a busy Edinburgh street, the cyclist was rendered relatively recognisable in a streaked world of mystical shapes. It was an image that time and again has me taking a pinhole camera out for an adventure in time travel through the landscape.

Two years ago I blogged such an adventure with the pincam mounted behind the windscreen of my car (http://pinhole-time-travel). At other times I’ve carried a pincam as I walked or ran but the one thing that I could never quite work out was how to mount a pincam on my bicycle such that I could operate it while on the move.

The answer came to me a couple of months ago and gave me a new perspective for the image – I could mount a 35mm camera fitted with a bodycap pinhole to a board fixed to the pannier rack and operate it on the ‘B’ setting by a long cable release threaded through the frame and attached to the crossbar!

That the camera would face backwards to where I had been rather than forward to where I was going seemed appropriate to the idea of photographing what has been. The moment we think of as ‘now’ immediately becoming the past as it passes into memory (I sometimes wonder whether ‘now’ ever exists at all) and the long exposure of the pinhole image blurring the memory as so often happens in the mind.

My first attempt was with an old Zenit camera. It’s shutter has been dodgy for ages, slow and often sticking, but the ‘B’ setting worked – or at least it did! The vibration on the bike was too much for it. Although several successful frames were made, it was curtains for the shutter. My attempts at repair were to no avail but I had been prepared to make the sacrifice. With lessons learned I changed the Zenit for an Olympus OM1, this time with some cushioning and I’m pleased to say that the OM1 is going strong after a couple more outings.

The images may not be to everyone’s taste but they work for me! Getting the exposure ‘correct’ has been and continues to be a challenge. Scanning the Kentmere 400 negatives produced files that I found unworkable but I picked a few frames to print on Ilford MGIV FB glossy paper (all I have at the moment). Without further comment, these are what follow:

The challenge of Dollar Glen

Dollar Glen in the Ochil Hills is a steep climb at the head of which lies the ruins of Castle Campbell. Two burns run down deep gorges either side of the hill on which the castle stands, the Burn of Sorrows to the west and The Burn of Care to the east.

On a day-trip earlier in the week, my wife and I had visited the castle. We’d climbed the hill by the road on the way up but made our return by way of what was described as a footpath which followed the course of the Burn of Care. It was really just a very rough track with some steep descents made easier in places by steps built in to the hillside. What caught my attention was the ribbon-like waterfalls, the clarity of the water and the way it sparkled in the the sunlight as it lit up the gorge.

I was keen to return on my own with a camera and footwear better suited to the terrain. Low autumn sun like we’d had for our visit lights the gorge briefly for barely a couple of hours in the early afternoon. My opportunity came a few days later and I headed back with my Intrepid camera and a few holders loaded with sheets of FP4+ film.

Having spent some time finding a suitable viewpoint to frame this first shot, I had to decide on an exposure setting. I was faced with the challenge of the low light level in the gorge where it was not lit brightly by sunlight. Ideally for photographing flowing water on film I would aim for a shutter speed of 1/8th or 1/4 second with the expectation of rendering the water with a silky, soft, flowing texture. Taking into account of reciprocity failure, the exposure I required here for the shadows was 4 seconds at f/22. Shadow detail is good but the water has more of a rough texture than I would want. Had I been making a pinhole exposure on paper, the exposure time would have been minutes long and the water would have appeared with mercurial smoothness. I might have preferred that … so much for hindsight!

I was happier with this second shot, 1/2 sec at F/16 with some lens tilt. The challenge here was again the high contrast, this time between the sunlit ferns top left and the darkness of the gorge centre top.

Perhaps I should have removed the leaf on the left – it gives truth to the scale of this little cascade pouring down the hillside by the path! Less contrast to deal with here as all was in shade: 1 second at f/16.

At the foot of the tallest fall I liked the way the water spilled over the rock in this shaded part of the glen. The terrain here was very steep and muddy and restricted my choice of viewpoint. I’d like to have been able to frame it more tightly and to have controlled the plane of focus better. Again, 1 second at f/16.

By the time I got to setting up this last shot, intended to be of the main waterfall drop, the light was past its best with shafts of intense low sun lighting up ferns and foliage centrally, dominating the frame. Struggling to keep my balance on the precariously muddy incline made setting up difficult, even dangerous. My choice of viewpoint was seriously restricted and I would really have been as well saving the film for another day! 1/2 second at f/22 was a gross underexposure, made more out of desperation than calculation!

This location has proved to be a real challenge. I’d love to return again another day to discover more of it and for another go at mastering it.

Reekie Linn

Reek: smoke or mist
Linn: a dark or deep pool

Reekie Linn is one of Scotlands most spectacular and accessible waterfalls. It is to be found on the River Isla a little way to the south of the Cairngorms National Park and is easily reached from a small car park at Bridge of Craigisla on the B954 road, by a track along the north edge of the gorge through which it falls.

It is actually two waterfalls: one of 6 metres, followed by a second of 18 metres but when the river is in spate the two become one, falling the 24 metres into a pool that is another 36 metres deep. The spume, as the water hits the rock at the base of the falls, rises high above the gorge creating rainbows in morning and evening sunlight.

I arrived at the falls on a Saturday afternoon just as the rain which had been falling continuously in the area for almost twelve hours, stopped and late afternoon sunlight was appearing from behind the clouds. The river Isla was a wild, loud torrent tearing through below the bridge by the car park and promised exciting images to follow. The river runs west to east at this point and my intention was to park up overnight in my campervan to be on location to photograph the falls in the early morning, which was forecast to be dry and bright.

My first task was to locate the track and do a quick recce to identify possible viewpoints for the morning. It was easily found and in less than five minutes I had my first view of Reekie Linn where the rushing river was being forced through a narrow gap at the top of the falls. Ahead of me I could see the spume of water reaching high above the trees at the top of the gorge just a little way downstream. I headed further down the track and identified another two spots from which to set up my camera. All I had with me at this stage was my mobile phone and was using it to record some stills and video of the awesome sights before me. I realised that as the river level fell overnight the spectacle would diminish so I beat a hasty retreat to the van to return with my Intrepid to get what shots of the falls I could manage that evening.

The first image, taken in the evening and showing Reekie Linn Falls at their awesome best. One of my favourites from the trip.
The view downstream from the falls from above the gorge.
At the top of the falls. The noise such that couldn’t hear myself think!

I think I captured the power of the river in these evening images and was glad to have made the effort to set up the camera then, rather than wait until morning.

Dawn came about 6:15 and I was keen to find a path on the south bank of the river. I have seen photographs of Reekie Linn taken from the south river bank below the falls and reasoned that there must be a way of getting down the gorge on the south side. The woodland on the south side is dense but I did find a path. I followed it bbeyond the falls and came to what looked like a very narrow track zig-zagging down a slightly less than vertical face. With all the rain that had recently fallen, the track was soaking wet and soft. I’d been a couple of hours getting to this point but a quick personal risk assessment was enough to turn me back! I returned to the van for a coffee and then headed back along the north track to where I’d been the evening before.

The river level had dropped overnight by at least a metre and I was glad to have taken the decision to bag some shots yesterday. But now the sun was from the east and there was still plenty of power in the river, sending the spume above my head as I set up my camera on the track along the top of the gorge. Perhaps I was distracted by the spray and having to keep the lens dry, but somehow I lost concentration and exposed my first two shots on the same sheet of film! Schoolboy error but here’s the double exposure that resulted from it – I quite like it!:

East and west from the same spot. An accidental double exposure that kinda works!

Fortunately I realised my mistake right away as I went to jot down my exposure settings. I re-took both shots before moving on:

East … on it’s own
West … on it’s own!

Just two more shots were taken successfully before I called it a day. (Another schoolboy error, this time removing the darkslide before closing the iris leading to a much over exposed shot, was enough to tell me it was time to go: I’ve not included it in this collection.)

A slight change of position from the last image and a change of lens from 240mm to 150mm.
The ‘morning after’ view back upstream from Reekie Linn falls to Bridge of Craigisla.

All of the above images were made with the Intrepid Mk1 camera on Ilford FP4+ film using Rodenstock 150mm and Schneider 240mm lenses. The film was processed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+14 for 7.5minutes at 20ºC. The negatives were scanned with an Epson 4990 and edited for dust marks and black and white points in Affinity Photo.

Competing with wind, rain and midges

Wind and rain aren’t ideal conditions in which to set up a large-format camera but when they die down, how well could I cope with the scourge of the Highland Midge?

Family holidays gave my wife and I a three week long break from our grandparenting duties and our first opportunity for a proper roadtrip in the campervan we had treated ourselves to following my retirement. Of course, it was also an opportunity for me to explore new locations with a camera!

Our plan was to visit Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, travelling via the island of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula on our way there, and by the Cowall peninsula and the Isle of Bute on our return. Over the course of eleven days we would make eight ferry crossings and stay on four very different campsites.

In preparing for the trip I had subscribed to the Ordnance Survey’s online maps service and had studied the areas we planned to visit to identify possible photo locations. I packed my Intrepid 5×4 and a supply of Ilford FP4+ sheet film which I would use for ‘serious’ photography and also my recently purchased Polaroid OneStep+ camera with a supply of i-Type colour film intended for snap-shots of our adventures. Here are the snap-shots:

Though we seemed to dodge the worst of the weather being experienced elsewhere in Scotland, we experienced very strong winds over the first few days of our trip, and when the wind did die down, thundery rain showers took over. Neither condition was much good for photography with a large format camera and so my Intrepid mostly remained packed away. My only opportunity came on Islay where with the help of the OS Maps I found a lovely waterfall not too far from our campsite among the dunes at Kintra.

I was able to get these two shots at the top of the waterfall before the rain began again. Below here the water fell another 25 or so metres into the sea in an inlet below. I had hoped to get further down but would have had to make a crossing further upstream and then quite a scramble down the rocks to get the view I wanted. With deteriorating weather and an acknowledgement that with age comes less goat-like abilities, I called it a day.

These turned out to be the only waterfall shots I took on our Islay adventure, but having survived eleven days together in our small campervan, once home we decided to make the most of our break from the grandkids and took off again! This time we headed for Coigach in the north-west highlands, an area we know well as it’s where my wife is from and which I have explored widely with a camera in the past.

When we arrived there was no wind to speak of and it was dry. Perfect for setting up the Intrepid, but perfect also for midges. Even with liberal application of ‘Smidge’ midge repellant, even on parts of the body you would never expect a self-respecting midge to reach, the big question was “How long could I endure their inevitable desire to make a meal of me?” I react quite badly to bites from the wee beasties and have plenty evidence to show that they were successful in overcoming the repellant!

On our first full day, I managed these two images of Allt a’ Choire Reidh at the foot of the corrie below the ridge of Ben More Coigach before retreating to the van:

I have a lightweight balsa wood shade that I made to attach to the Intrepid to shield the focussing screen from light. It serves well to get the general framing and focus and cuts down the time spent under a dark cloth, which is still necessary to make final adjustments particularly when employing tilt and swing movements. Under the dark cloth is where the midges like to congregate so the less time I have to spend there, the better!

Day two was a better day. A little brighter and most importantly with a light breeze. The wee beasties can’t take to the air in wind speeds above 6 or 7 mph. The light breeze was enough to thwart them yet not enough to spoil photography. Heavy overnight rain (it’s the best time for it!) meant full, flowing burns so I headed back to the same location. This time I was able to explore the burn further up the corrie to make these images:

Our third and final day was like the second and I revisited the site of an abandoned croft house that I first photographed over 45 years ago.
It’s interesting to me to see the advance of nature as time passes. Click on the image to view larger:

All the black & white photographs shown were made with the Intrepid 4×5 camera on Ilford FP4+ film, developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+14 at 20ºC. Scans of the negatives have been adjusted for black and white points and for contrast.

Amongst the trees, in search of the woods

In search of inspiration, I took a camera to Fife for a walk around Blairadam Forest Trails.

Grey skies and flat light don’t make for interesting photography and were a frustration on a day that I’d had in mind to get out with a camera.

However the pull of being out with a camera was too great to resist. I packed a bag with my trusty Vivitar V3800n, 28m and 50mm Pentax-K lenses, a few cassettes of Kentmere 400 cut from a bulk roll and headed off to see where the road might take me.

In search of inspiration for photo projects, I’ve been browsing the rather useful website of Forestry and Land Scotland (formerly the Forestry Commission) where access, trails, facilities and points of interest are well laid out. The road took me to Fife and the forest trails of Blairadam Forest, to the west of Kelty.

With uninteresting light and no firm plan, this felt more of a reconnaissance trip in search of inspiration for a future visit, or perhaps I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees! I looked for compositions that pleased me but the negatives I came back with were as dull as the day. Some digital intervention to the exposures and levels was necessary. Here are a few of the better images made.

Playing safe, for a change

In my previous blog post I wrote about the difficulties of obtaining consistency across a construction of eight pinhole cameras in order to accomplish a single composite image. Following through on what I’d learned, I made adjustments to cameras and method and went out to give it another go.

A 360º composite image formed from eight separate coffee-can pinhole images.

The results this time were better than before. However, to make all eight exposures involved spending two hours or so hovering around my pincam construction in the woods on a fairly cold, breezy afternoon in fading, changing light with the sun dropping in an increasingly cloudy sky. In such conditions it’s not difficult to believe that surely the shutter’s been open long enough!

I failed to make sufficient allowance for the changing light during what were already long exposures in the two central images. Then the image showing the solarised path of the sun was too bright to match with the exposure required for the final image on the left.

I’m tempted to re-think my use of Harman Direct Positive paper with its low sensitivity and very high contrast but it is those very qualities that I love about it and I know they can be harnessed. I really just need better self-discipline. But perhaps too, I just need to take a break from it for a while.

With taking a break in mind I looked out my Harman TiTAN camera, loaded a couple of holders with Ilford FP4+ and went for another walk in the same woods. It’s a safe setup but I needed to make images that pleased me. Though made with a commercially produced pinhole camera and an easy-going emulsion, these retain the softness, vignetting and framing serendipity that to me make pinhole images special:

the pond
deer hill
spaceship woods
woodland way

Film: when ‘analogue’ becomes digital

A pinhole project in the making that prompts a question about digitising images made on film.

With a break over the festive season from the routine of work, I’ve had the chance to get stuck in to a photographic project or two (or three, or …).

Inspired by a photograph I saw some years ago in a book about pinhole photography and continuing from my last blog post, I made a body-cap pinhole to mount on a 35mm SLR, loaded the camera with a roll of Kentmere 400 film and took it for a walk through the woods. The pinhole was about 0.17mm diameter and mounted 50mm from the film plane, giving an aperture of about f/290. In the late afternoon winter light my exposure times for the 400ISO film ranged from about 20 seconds to over a minute.

My aim was to make images of the landscape as I passed through it, handholding the camera as steadily as I could in front of me with the shutter open on the ‘B’ setting, counting out the exposures in time with my footsteps. As with all things pinhole, this would be a serendipitous adventure into light, time and landscape.

With the first film exposed and developed (yes, I’ve been out again, repeating the exercise having learned lessons from the first) I had a choice to make. Would I scan the negatives, edit them and be done with viewing them on my computer screen, perhaps having prints made from the now digital files, or would I attempt to print them ‘old school’ in the darkroom? The negatives were all similar in being of limited tonal range with little discernible detail. It could be difficult to make anything of them either way.

I decided to do both! First, I scanned them then cleaned up dust marks and stretched the histogram in levels by setting black and white points. Images were obtained, albeit rather grainy and a bit harsh looking, that met my expectations and with which I was quite pleased.

Knowing that images were there to be seen, I picked a dozen or so frames, set up my darkroom and disappeared for a rather marathon printing session! My main challenge would be to get contrast into the prints from the very flat, mid-range negatives. Using split-grade printing I determined a base exposure with a grade 5 filter for the darks and grade 1 or 2 filters for the lights. The resulting prints were pleasing enough to be going on with, enough for me to see an ongoing project to develop as time allows.

What I found interesting was the comparison between scanned negatives, adjusted on-screen images from the scans, and darkroom prints made from the negatives. Here are three images all originating from the same frame:

unedited scan of the negative (inverted)
the negative edited with black and white points set in levels
unedited scan of a darkroom print made from the negative

There’s always a wee voice at the back of my mind when scanning negatives that questions why I didn’t just use a digital camera – after all, once scanned I’m working with a digital file! It takes longer to make a darkroom print but the soothing red glow of a safelight is so much kinder on the eyes than the glare of a backlit computer screen and the end product in this example is more in keeping with the gentler, mysterious image that I had in mind when I set out with the camera. The digital version seems harsher, more contrasty, perhaps better defined if that’s what the viewer wants or expects and is certainly more reproducible, but the darkroom print has the feel of something crafted and unique – and to my mind it looks so much better too!

I guess both routes to an image have their place and of course the final irony is that to share the darkroom print here, I have to scan it and upload a digital file!

Shoebox pincam update

The shoebox pincam comes of age. It’s a keeper!

Making images with the shoebox pincam is a slow process. Four sheeets of paper or film have to be taped together then loaded together into the camera in the darkroom. Once exposed, the camera has to be returned to the darkroom for unloading and developing of each sheet. Getting to and from a previously scouted location takes time, the camera has to be set up and of course a pinhole exposure, especially on paper, is never done in a fraction of a second! As a result, it is likely that only one exposure can be made on any one day!

It’s almost two months since I idly picked up an empty shoebox and had the thought that it would be cool to convert it into a pinhole camera. That thought has turned into quite a project with teething problems to challenge me, lessons to be learned and only now can I say that I’m beginning to get a feel for what it can do.

The camera records a panoramic image covering about 145º horizontally, undistorted due to the constant radius curved image plane. The vertical perspective is similar to that of a ‘standard’ focal length 35mm camera, so is not the typical wide-angle view of a typical pinhole camera. So far I’ve used it to record river scenes, mainly because I like the effect that long exposures give to the movement of the water.

Here are four ‘useable’ exposures made so far. As each image comprises four sheets I’ve mounted them on board to ensure they are flat and accurately butted together. Unfortunately the assembled images are too large for my scanner so I have had to photograph them instead which doesn’t reproduce them as well, particularly for shadow details.


This first ‘successful’ image was considered so for the reason that I had overcome the safelight fogging problem that had dogged my first few exposures. I was being overoptimistic for the Direct Positive paper’s ability to record such a high contrast scene with one river bank in direct bright sunlight and the other in deep shadow!


For my second image I tried to cut down on exposure time by using film. I used Ilford FP4+, each sheet being subsequently contact printed onto Ilford MG Art 300 paper. While I achieved the aim of reducing the exposure time, the reduction was only slight due to accounting for reciprocity failure. Using film created its own challenges. First I had to tape together four sheets of film and load them into the camera in total darkness, then I had to determine a print exposure to be applied to each sheet when contact printing. To ensure accurate registration of the joined together contact prints, each negative had to be 100% accurately aligned to the paper. It was a tricky task and I spent rather longer in the darkroom than I had anticipated! Once again contrast was an issue but I’m pleased with the result and would give more thought to the camera position and lighting in future.


This is probably about one stop underexposed and I knew it at the time I made the exposure. It was a fifty minute exposure started about two hours before sunset and to give another stop in fading light would have added well over an hour for very little benefit. As it is there is very subtle shadow detail that doesn’t show up here and I absolutely love the wispy shapes formed by the water in the darker regions of the print. I’m not at all disappointed with this one. It’ll probably go into a frame, at least temporarily!


Finally I have this. I’d say I got the exposure just about right at 25 minutes or so, with good shadow detail in the actual print as well as here. I could have framed the shot better to take in less shadow area on the left and a better ‘flow’ downstream. The setting sun is directly in the picture and it’s path can be traced in the sorarisation that causes a ‘black sun’ effect from which the diffraction flare is seen. I quite like that and from time to time will set up a pinhole shot just to get that effect although that wasn’t my primary purpose with this one.

So there it is. I’m getting the hang of this ‘chance’ pinhole camera. It has a quite different perspective to any other pincam I have and I need to find the right subject matter to make the most of it. But it’s a keeper for sure!