Shoebox pincam update

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

Edinburgh LoFi group August outing

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

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

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

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

Vest Pocket Kodak model B

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

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

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

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

Harman TiTAN 4×5 Pinhole

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

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

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

Plastic kit 35mm TLR

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

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

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

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

 

Filtering the colour from black & white

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Split grade printing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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then
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now

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

Fixing a wayward pinhole

As someone more used to creating pinholes I took a twisted delight in sealing up one in the bellows of a junk-shop find.

Just a few weeks ago my younger daughter gave to me for Father’s Day, a Vest Pocket Kodak Model B camera that she had spotted in a junk shop window. She sure knows the way to my heart!

The camera was clean and appeared to be in good condition. The shutter worked smoothly and the aperture stop control rotated with just the right detent at each stop. The bellows were clean looked to be in good order and the lens assembly pulled out and clicked into place as it should. All that was missing was the scribe for the Autographic function – by sliding open a door on the camera back information could be scratched though the film backing paper and exposed to light to write the information onto the film itself.

Junk shop find for Father’s Day.

It took a bit longer to work out how to open the film chamber. Researching on line for instructions and other information identified that the camera was an early model. Production began in 1925 and in 1928 the method of opening the film chamber was changed from two sprung buttons on the side of the film chamber to a lever worked from the front. My camera has the sprung buttons on the side so is pre-1928. I also came across the suggestion that that my example, made by the Canadian Kodak Co. of Toronto was not only an early model but one that may also be relatively rare. On the other hand it is very common for these cameras to be found minus their Autographic scribe!

One of four apertures is set by rotating a disc situated in front of the lens: They are numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4 but with a bit of careful measuring I calculated them to be f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32 respectively. The shutter has two settings, T for Timed and I for Instantaneous which sounds like something around 1/40 second. The final twist is that the shutter lever operates in both directions.

With all that information the camera took on quite an exciting prospect and I duly sourced a couple of rolls of ReraPan 100-127 black and white film with which to check it out. Fortunately there was an empty spool still in the camera so as soon as the new film arrived I was all set to load a roll and take some pictures.

The day the film arrived was cloudy and I only made two exposures, at the widest aperture setting. The remaining six exposures were made a couple of days later in bright sunlight with aperture settings 3 and 4. The film was developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+9 for 7 minutes at 18°C, scanned and the files adjusted for black and white points in levels.

The light leak was pretty obvious. Even on the exposures made in dull light the triangle of overexposed image was clear. On the sunny day images the same area was obliterated. My ninety year old camera has probably been lying at the back of a cupboard or in an attic for many decades, hence its excellent outward cosmetic appearance and well functioning mechanicals, but it will have been closed up with the bellows tightly folded together. Opening up the camera, and time, has perhaps been just too much for the folds in the leather. A repair would be necessary to restore the camera to working order but given the overall condition I reckoned it would be worthwhile.

It’s been a while since I made a pinhole camera so I decided to turn the idea on its head and make a pinhole image to locate the leak! I took some measurements of the internal dimensions of the bellows and made a template for an insert. In the darkroom, the insert was cut from a sheet of MGIV RC Satin paper and placed inside the bellows with the emulsion side outwards. With the camera back in place, the film counter window taped over and the shutter closed I placed the camera outside in daylight for five minutes or so then returned to the darkroom to develop the insert.

From the developed paper I could be sure the light leak was from a single source, the position of which was easily identified. I made an initial repair with a small piece of electrical PVC tape. It was much easier to do than I had anticipated as the size of the camera allowed easy access to work the leather with my fingers from both sides. I finally remade my repair by taping all the way along both top-edge creases as it looked neater. I tested the repair with by exposing couple of paper negative exposures on MGIV RC Satin paper cut to fit the film chamber.

Paper negatives confirming that the light leak has been fixed.

The electrical tape is light tight and sufficiently thin and flexible to fold up neatly with the original leather of the bellows. With that small repair, I reckon I can be confident to load the second of the two rolls of film I bought and expect good results in bright light. Roll on the sunshine!

The abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart

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

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

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

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

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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.