Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2019

Pinhole images through a vortoscope: Is it a first?

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) is celebrated annually on the last Sunday of April. For several years I’ve joined my friends in the Edinburgh Lo-Fi Photography Group for a pinhole photowalk and trying each year to do ‘something different’ with a light-tight space, some form of light-sensitive media and a very, very, small hole.

While the ultimate goal in celebrating the Day is to produce a single image that will be uploaded to the WPPD website, it is also a fun, social occasion with friends, a sharing of ideas, coffee, an interesting location, cake, pincam comparisons and inevitably food and drink in a pub or restaurant afterwards. To make the day interesting photographically I usually prepare several pincams and this year I carried three. My intention was to make one pre-planned image for WPPD19 and to simply have fun with the others to see how they turned out.

First was the ‘Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin’ pincam, then came the ‘All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole’ pincam and finally, the ‘Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole’ pincam. Each will be explained below in some detail. (This will be a long blog post)!

The Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin pincam

Choose one pinhole from three … the lower landscape pinhole is uncovered

I last used this 90mm deep biscuit tin which holds a sheet of 10″x8″ paper, a few months ago while experimenting with SE1 emulsion on tracing paper. The success of that experiment was iffy at best but it did confirm the accuracy of the f/360 pinhole apertures (it has three to choose from) and the angles of view achievable. It seemed a safe bet to put it to use for WPPD19 loaded with a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper which would subsequently be developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade.

Our walk passed a large concrete arrow set in the grass. Apparently the arrow had served some purpose to the RAF during the second world war. It seemed an ideal subject for pinhole imagery. I set up the pincam on a high tripod, aiming downward and used the lower landscape pinhole so as to raise the horizon and include the shadow of the pincam in the image.

Using the lower landscape pinhole together with the pincam aimed downwards ensures the inclusion of the pincam’s shadow.

The All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole pincam

The shutter is an old 5″x4″ darkslide fitted with high-density foam and magnets
Five pinholes concurrently uncovered to provide five overlapping image planes

Like the Belgian Biscuit tin, this pincam had been last used in my experiments with emulsion on tracing paper. It is much shallower at only 55mm and although very wide, the angle of view of each pinhole is insufficient to cover the 10″x8″ paper that fits inside the tin. By using multiple apertures light would be projected by the peripheral ones into the areas of the paper unexposed by the central one. This would also create the interesting idea of overlapping image planes.

The challenge would be to produce five near identical pinhole apertures. This would ensure evenly balanced exposures in the periphery while the central area would receive light from all five apertures. From experiments with three holes I reckoned I could meter the subject, divide by five and deduct that well-known pinhole unit of measure: the ‘bit’. I marked out and drilled holes in the tin lid. The f/160 pinhole apertures were created by pushing a dress-making pin part-way through squares of thin aluminium foil which were then measured for accuracy and consistency before attachement to the inside of the tin. Measurement was made by scanning each pinhole at 9600dpi, measuring onscreen at full size and comparing against the known measurement of a steel rule scanned and viewed at the same resolution and size.

steel rule vs pinhole. Scanned at 9600dpi and viewed on screen at full size, surprisingly accurate measurements can be made for consistency across several pinholes

The twist I wanted to put on the image made with this camera was based on the fact that the meeting point to start our walk was to be outside a theatre. Now the universal symbol for the theatrical arts is a mask and with the potential for the overlapping image produced by this pincam to ‘mask’ the subject, I thought I would take it a little further and make a mask for a member of our group to wear while posing for my WPPD19 image!

a simple papier-mache mask with a few splashes of acrylic paint

Unfortunately the person I had in mind (whose ‘big’ wild hair would have set off the mask very well) was unable to attend the meetup so I ended up wearing it myself and taking a selfie! I quite underestimated just how close the pincam to subject distance would need to be: this was taken at about 30cm – it really needed to be half that or even closer!

Not quite as intended – the jury’s out on whether this is worthy of WPPD19 submission.

The Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole pincam

It was while browsing my local craft store for mask materials that I spotted some 5cm square mirrors. Some years ago I had been introduced to vortographs, an interesting technique that once tried quickly found its way to the dark recesses of my memory. Something clicked and I decided it would be fun to make a vortoscope through which to make pinhole images. (A good starting point to learn about vortoscopism is

A vortoscope is a gadget that produces kaleidoscope-like images. It is made up of three (I guess it could be more) mirrors formed into a tube-like construction of triangular section which is placed over a lens (or in my case, over a pinhole aperture). The resulting image consists of a central direct section surrounded by peripheral reflections. The ‘diameter’ and length of the vortoscope affects the size and clarity of each of these sections and the abstraction of the image.

I made mine from a pack of 5cm square mirrors which I cut to size with a glass-cutter, a toilet roll core, copious amounts of hot-melt glue and some sticky-back foam. The bodycap has long been adapted for pinhole but to be sure I did re-make the pinhole aperture to the optimum 0.29mm for the 49mm projection distance when mounted on my old Olympus OM1n camera.

I was pretty pleased with the results. The camera was loaded with Kentmere 400 film from a bulk roll and subsequently developed in Ilfosol 3. I make no apology for showing all of the images here, warts and all, because I think they are quite cool! These have been scanned and slight adjustments made in Afinity Photo for exposure and levels. Most of the images were between half and one and a half stops underexposed which was probably down to my poor metering!

WPPD19: which image to submit?

At the time of writing, I have not yet decided which of all the pinhole images made on the day I should submit as my WPPD19 image. I’m open to suggestions.

Pinhole day this year was the first in a long time that I can remember having good, almost too good, weather for pinhole photography. It was unusual for me to come home with nothing I could call a failure!

The best thing about the day? Time spent with friends, sharing our enjoyment of simple image-making pleasures.

A final anecdote

We came across many bird watchers, apparently drawn to reports of two rare species of duck having been spotted along the coast where we were walking. Like us, each of them carried the tools of their hobby: while ours were tin cans and changing bags, theirs were tripods, spotting scopes and big digital cameras with huge long lenses surely capable of resolving the tail-feather detail of sparrows in flight at 1000 metres!

One of them was passing me when he spotted the Olympus round my neck: “Oh! What sort of lens is that? I’ve not seen one of these before.” he asked. Willing to be engaged in a spot of photographic gear talk I removed said ‘lens’ from the camera to show the pinhole end of the device. “It’s not a lens, it’s a vortoscopic bodycap pinhole.” I replied.

Oh dear! The clues were written all over his face. This conversation was going nowhere. It was quite clearly considered that I was some wacko with a screw loose! I need to invest time in the study of ornithology.

Down by the riverside

Last weekend I made the best of good winter light and time to spare for clambering up and down the rather slippery bank of the River Avon.

My cameras were almost ancillary to the restful experience that comes from the concentrated effort to find viewpoints and to set up for an exposure yet it is they and the images that ensue that give purpose to the solitary expedition. Here are a couple of memories from my day:

Shoebox pincam, Ilford MGIV RC Satin paper negative contact printed onto MGIV RC Satin

Intrepid 5×4, Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm lens, Harman Direct Positive Paper

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.


Seven days

Responding to a Facebook challenge to post seven photos over seven days.

From time to time I like a challenge, particularly when it involves photography, and it happened that the time was just right when I was nominated for such a challenge by a Facebook friend.

On the face of it, something quite simple: just post one photo each day for seven days and each day nominate a friend to join in. A chain-letter style bit of fun online. It was easy to jump straight in to accept the challenge, overlooking that the photograph should contain neither buildings nor faces. Given some thought, the true nature of the challenge was not in the frequency or regularity of posting but in the subject matter of the posts themselves!

It so happened that on the morning of the day I was nominated I had taken a camera with me on a fairly regular Saturday round of ferrying grandchildren, dog walking and weekly grocery shopping. The weather had turned wet but behind the purple-grey clouds was the promise of sunshine to follow and beautiful contrasty light sparkling on wet surfaces. I had my first post already in the camera!

Day 1: Raindrops

There’s no getting around the convenience of a digital camera to record images that are to be posted daily but I wanted to use emulsion-based media where time and opportunity permitted.

That opportunity came on Day 2. I chose to use The Countess, a sixteenth-plate camera gifted to me just one year ago, having loaded its plate holders with direct positive paper. Not being a working day I had time to make exposures, develop, dry, scan and choose an image to upload.

Day 2: Fallen blossom

With the working week under way, Day 3 was back to digital and what caught my eye was the bright colour of a group of flowers, or perhaps they were weeds (I confess to horticultural ignorance!), growing by the path while out on my lunchtime walk.

Day 3: Orangeness

Like many others I awoke on Day 4 to the news of a suicide bomber detonating himself amidst a crowd of young concert goers in Manchester. As the day progressed the grim news unfolded of twenty two innocent young lives lost and around sixty injuried, many seriously. My thoughts dominated my choice of photograph to upload. Indeed I wondered whether to pause the frivolity of posting an image at all. In the end I decided to post, along with a summary of my thoughts.

Day 4: The edge is not the end

Some days I pause a while when walking on the beach, to watch a ship as it approaches the edge of the world before falling over and disappearing from sight.

Reassuringly I find that ships appear from beyond the edge of the world and I watch them too, comforted to know that beyond the edge is not the end.

Today’s post is for Manchester, for those who have lost loved ones, for those who are suffering physically and mentally, for those who’s lives have been changed by what they have experienced, for those who have sought to help and to bring comfort. For the young people of our society that they might know there is hope.

Day 5 saw me return to the beach in search of some small details to photograph in the day’s bright sunshine, yet I found  my thoughts dominated by the idea of fragility.

Day 5: Featherweight


An incredibly early start to Day 6 gave me time to wander the shoreline enjoying the soft morning light sparkle on the gentle ripples of a peacefully calm sea.

Day 6: Specular sparkles


For all that this challenge started out as something fun and an opportunity to take a break from emulsion-based photography if only for the expediency of daily uploading, the bombing in Manchester on Tuesday weighed on my mind. I found myself looking not so much for subject matter to fit the parameters of the challenge but for images to express my emotions and reflections on that dreadful event and it’s aftermath.

What the final image of this series should be has been growing on me over the past couple of days. People from all corners of society have come together, helping, supporting and sharing. I’d like to think that this image is a reflection of the good in our society and of the hope that we have for the future as a result.


Day 7: Society

Hanging in the trees

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I got on:


The Techy Stuff

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

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

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

Senior Moments

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

A Brownie Outing

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

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

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

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

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

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 The Techy Stuff

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

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

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

Not so mellow yellow

A tale of photographic disappointment, discovery and unexpected pleasure!

My weekend was one of discovery. That’s my word for the disappointment of something not working as expected but for which the reason is found and a lesson for the future is learned.

The meetup

I’d met up with a group of friends who were on a quest to make cyanotype photograms on the beach, developing the prints in the salt water of the sea. Much as I was interested in their endeavours, I am still focussed on mastering my new Intrepid camera and exposing my glass dry plates. So while they did their thing, I did mine.

The day was bright enough with the light dissipated by high grey cloud in which there was shape and texture to be captured. The low contrast light was fine for SE1 emulsion which doesn’t have the exposure range of film emulsions, so I was looking forward to making a few images without intrusive harsh contrast.

I have two lenses for the Intrepid: a 150mm and a 240mm and a yellow filter which fits the filter thread on the 150mm. It occured to me that the filter might be useful to bring out the shape and texture of the clouds. That’s what I would do if making photographs on regular film and so I mounted the filter on the 150mm lens.

As it happens I made six exposures, three with each lens. The less than ideal light for cyanotypes meant that my chums were taking a while to make their photograms and so I was unhurried as I picked my subjects, able to carefully choose my viewpoints and take my time to ensure the exposures were accurately made. What could go wrong?

And so to the darkroom

It had been a good day and I was excited to get the plates developed so I set up the darkroom as soon as I got home. Developing the plates doesn’t take long but they need to be very well rinsed and then left for some days to dry completely.

There were two mistakes made that day. The first had already been made although I had yet to find out what it was. The second was the dilution I used for the Ilford Multigrade in which to develop the plates. Regular dilution is 10% (1+9) and only a week ago I had discovered that SE1 emulsion develops far too quickly in this. Better to use a 5% (1+19) dilution which gives time to watch the image as it appears in the tray of developer. For some daft reason I made up a 10% regular dilution. Not a huge mistake but it would mean I was unable to develop by inspection.

Incidentally, the reason for SE1 emulsion developing so much faster than regular manufactured photo paper is that the emulsion in manufactured paper is further coated to provide protection but that coating also slows the uptake of developer. SE1 is primarily a print emulsion but with no ‘supercoat’ and usually being more thickly and less uniformly coated, it rapidly absorbs developer with a response to match!

Plates 1, 2 and 4 had been exposed with the 150mm lens fitted with the Y(K2) yellow filter, and plates 3, 5 and 6 with the 240mm lens. I developed the plates one at a time, finishing the process of develop, stop and fix for one before beginning the next. Fixing takes quite some time and varies with the thickness of the emulsion.

Plate 1:

The world’s smallest operating lighthouse on the pier at North Queensferry, carefully composed and given an exposure of 1s @ f/32.

I slid the plate into the developer and waited. And waited. Nothing happened. I left it in the tray for eight minutes. Nothing happened. Stop bath then into the fixer where it cleared to just a light fog – probably due to the length of time I’d left it in the developer. There was no image. Nothing.

Undaunted, but a little puzzled as to what had gone wrong, I moved on to Plate 2.

Plate 2:

An old wooden raft, rotten and anchored by old railway bogeys lying alonside the pier, framed with the pierside derrick and the piers of the Forth Road Bridge in the background. An exposure of 10s @ f/32 and some use of front tilt to deepen the plane of focus.

Just as with the first plate, I slid the plate into the tray of developer and waited and watched for something to appear. But once again, nothing happened! I began to feel a sense of panic. My mind raced through the memory of setting up, focussing, setting aperture and shutter, cocking the shutter, removing the darkslide and making the exposure. I was sure, absolutely certain I had followed through every step in the proper sequence.

At this point I realised my mistake with the developer, but that would have sped up, not slowed down development. The developer was fresh so nothing likely to be wrong with it. I was totally stumped. Never mind. The next plate was exposed with the 240mm lens. If it developed OK I could look to the 150mm lens and it’s shutter, or the plate holder in which Plates 1 and 2 were loaded for an answer.

Plate 3:

A close up of a photogram being exposed on the beach. Paper coated with cyanotype solution, found objects from the beach laid on top and all held down under a sheet of glass. Exposed for 4s @ f/22

cyanotype on the beach by SE1 on glass
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, G-Claron 240/9 lens in Compur 1 shutter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 4 sec @ f/22

I knew now that the strong developer dilution would render an image very quickly, if one was there at all, and this time I was not disappointed. It was all I could do to drain it of developer and place it in the stop bath before it went near totally black! But I didn’t care, this was now a problem solving task and I had an image from the 240mm lens.

Plate 4:

This would confirm whether the problem lay with the 150mm lens. Plates 1 and 2 were in the same holder so perhaps the holder was the problem. If this plate has no image on it I could reasonably narrow down the fault to the 150mm lens assembly.

North Queensferry harbour, low tide, boats grounded in the foreground with leading lines to the backdrop of the magnificent Forth Bridge. I really, really wanted this image to have been recorded. In my mind it is the exposure of the day but sadly that is where it remains.

Nothing happened. No image.

By this stage I was past caring. I knew I had a problem with the 150mm lens and although the last two plates were exposed with the 240mm lens, they were going to develop uncontrollably fast in the over-strong developer. I went ahead anyway, if only to prove to myself that the 240mm lens was performing OK.

Plate 5:

The mud-covered ribs and backbone of an old boat uncovered at low tide. The tonal range of the scene was barely three stops. With the low contrast light I had little expectation of an interesting image but I’d liked the shapes and made the exposure of 8s @ f/16 anyway.

The image turned out much as expected but with the addition of these weird light leaks that I actually really like!

old ribs
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, G-Claron 240/9 lens in Compur 1 shutter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 8 sec @ f/16

Plate 6:

From the same plate holder as Plate 5. This was another image I really looked forward to seeing and again what I envisaged is spoilt by light leak and fogging, yet when I look at it with these imperfections they add something serendipitous that I quite like! 40s @ f\45 but I really need to take a close look at the state of this plate holder.

bracing structures
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, G-Claron 240/9 lens in Compur 1 shutter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 40 sec @ f/45

 Agony and Analysis

With the darkroom restored to its original sanitary function, I left the plates rinsing and went off to check out the 150mm lens.

I sat down with the lens and checked every aperture setting and every shutter speed, with and without cable release attached and couldn’t find any fault. There have been no problems with the lens at any other time. I had just one more thing to check out – that Hoya Y(K2) Yellow filter.

The reason was already hanging around in the dark recesses of my brain and it was now apparent that I needed to take two photographs, one with and one without the filter to prove it.

Regular film is panchromatic, i.e. it is sensitive to all wavelengths of the visible spectrum which is why it can only be handled in total darkness. SE1 is a print emulsion and orthochromatic, i.e. it only responds to wavelengths towards the blue end of the visible spectrum which is the reason it can be handled under a red or orange safelight. Was it possible that the yellow filter was actually acting as a safelight? Time for the Shed Test.

The Shed Test

The following evening on my return home from work I set up the camera in the garden and made the two-exposure Shed Test. The light was a bit different, blue skies replaced the grey clouds of yesterday and it was later in the day.

First, with no filter and 15s @ f/22, then the second with the yellow filter and the exposure compensated by one stop to 30s @ f/22. Then back to the darkroom to find out if my theory was correct.

I developed the unfiltered plate first and was very relieved to see an image appear. The second plate, filtered, was almost blank. Indeed the very faint image that appeared is likely due to there being more blue light today than when the failed exposures were made yesterday.

The filtered plate on the left and the unfiltered on the right and the yellow filter that made the difference!



The Shed Test - yellow filter
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, Sironar-N 150/5.6 lens in Copal 0 shutter with Yellow Y(K2) filter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 30 sec @ f/22

The Shed Test - no filter
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, Sironar-N 150/5.6 lens in Copal 0 shutter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 15 sec @ f/22


I’m still a bit surprised that a yellow filter which has only a mild contrast enhancing effect on panchromatic material should have such a dramatic effect on orthochromatic material, but there it is. Lesson learned!

I now have some plates that I actually quite like just for their serendipitous imperfections. An unexpected pleasure and a pleasant surprise!

I also have several plates that I’d like to recycle if possible. With no hardener added to either the developer or the fixer my thinking is that it should be possible to wash the plates in hot water and scrape off the emulsion. Once cleaned up it should be possible to re-coat the glass with fresh emulsion.

Let’s just call it a win-win!

Chill out, catch up and throw away

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

Something for the weekend

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

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

Friday: Getting there slowly.

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

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

Saturday: Crail

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: A pinhole image then homeward

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

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

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The Techie Stuff

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

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

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

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

Pinhole on a plate

It wasn’t the best of days for photography of any sort, far less for attempting pinholes on dry glass plates.

It wasn’t the best of days for photography of any sort, far less for attempting pinholes on dry glass plates. A foreboding dark sky promised poor light and heavy rain showers. Rain was delivered as promised for most of the morning and into the early afternoon.

I was in East Lothian, meeting with a group of friends for a photowalk around Gosford Estate and then on to the shoreline at Longniddry Bents. Packed in my camera bag was the pincam I had made from foamcore for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2014, a box of 5″ x 3 1/2″ dry glass plates that I had poured a couple of weeks ago and a changing bag. For a DIY pincam it is quite sophisticated, being fitted with a sliding shutter and a tripod bush so I also carried a tripod.

Within Gosford Estate we were well sheltered by the trees from the rain but also from what little light there was. Pinhole exposures would have been measured in hours never mind minutes or even seconds! There was just the one opportunity for a photograph, out of the trees and in front of the house. I gave it an exposure of 2 minutes and 20 seconds, metering with the Pinhole Assist iPhone App set for an ISO of 2.5 and assuming an aperture of f/180.

By early afternoon we could see the skies beginning to clear and as the rain eased off we headed to Longniddry Bents. I made only two more exposures, each of 1 minute and 20 seconds and made that do for the day. The plates in the pincam have to be changed between each exposure, a fiddly job involving placing the camera, the box of unexposed plates and a box in which to put the exposed plates all together in the changing bag. To further complicate matters the unexposed plates are separated by baking paper and enclosed in a  black plastic bag within their box. The exposed plates need to be packed similarly in the second box (which I identify by a thick card ‘X’ stuck to it’s lid). And it all has to be done by feel within the changing bag. It’s a time consuming business!

On my return home I set about developing the plates. I decided to use freshly prepared Ilford Multigrade at a dilution of 1+9. I wanted to make a comparison with the development of the 1/16th plates from The Countess that I had developed a few weeks ago in 4-week old, used developer. These had taken around  4 minutes to complete. What a difference fresh developer made. Development was very quick – too quick, with full density coming within 30 seconds and impossible to control.

It was also immediately apparent that the plates were overexposed. I suspect the aperture is actually wider than I had assumed, borne out by the images being softer than I would expect, and I recall fiddling with it some time after the pincam was last used. I’ve likely knackered it!

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The plates were well rinsed in baths of clean water and in Ilford Wash Aid and then left to dry. It took two days for the emulsion to dry fully. The emulsion was coated quite thickly and on each of the three plates it had obviously begun to gel as the excess was being drained off. This has resulted in a thicker coating of emulsion at the bottom of each plate (as I held it when pouring – it is seen as an opaque patch towards the left edge of each developed plate as viewed) that appears to have been too thick for the developer to penetrate. Perhaps with a weaker dilution to allow for longer development time, these areas would have yielded more image.

All in all I’m pleased with the results. Before I expose more of these plates I need to replace the pinhole in the pincam with a more accurately measured aperture. Next development I will use a more dilute developer: Old, used developer can work but consistent results cannot be counted on but if I can determine a satisfactory dilution of fresh developer, I can reproduce that each time.

The one remaining observation to note from this exercise was that the baking paper I had used to separate the coated plates had both absorbed moisture from the gelatin of the emulsion and left faint contact marks across its surface. I may have packed the plates too soon, before they were properly dry. I have unpacked the remaining plates and laid them out (in the dark) to allow them to dry more and will allow more drying time for future plates.