Kissing in the dark

My eyes were closed as I savoured the moment with the object of my desires, gently feeling my way around in the darkness, the rythmic sound of the darkroom clock in the background as the sweet aroma of fixer filled my nostrils, knowing that at the tip of my fingers things were developing …

My preferred method of developing sheet film is six at a time in a Paterson tank with a MOD54 adapter. However if I have only one or two sheets that I want to assess, I resort to tray developing.

Tray developing is done in the darkroom, in the dark: no comforting warm glow from a red safelight, knowing where everything is laid out, relying on touch to gently work from tray to tray, listening keenly to the tick of the darkroom clock, shutting out all distractions to count down the seconds. It’s an intense spellbound time alone with just a piece of film for company. Strangely I often find myself closing my eyes as if to shut out the dark in the darkness.

The experiment

I’ve been experimenting with a zoom pinhole technique in an attempt to create a ‘look’ for a wee project I’m thinking about. It’s quite a simple idea: To use the ratchet focussing mechanism of my Intrepid field camera to adjust the pinhole projection distance during a long exposure with a lensboard mounted pinhole.

So today with good, bright conditions forecast I exposed two sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper and then two sheets of Ilford FP4+. With a five stop ISO difference between the two media it would be interesting to see the different results each would produce.

Direct Positive Paper

For the Direct Positive paper, exposures given were about three minutes – I feel four would have been better but I got what I wanted from the prints. The zoom range was from 190mm to 100mm with a 0.5mm pinhole. It felt difficult to match the zoom action to the time available and the second exposure was much the better for the experience of the first!

The first ran out of zoom and was zoomed a second time before the exposure was completed. It was also a poor choice of subject with a big slab of shadow on the right (left in the print!) that’s pretty much underexposed. The second is a bit underexposed but is close to the effect I think I’m looking for and my favourite from the day.


The FP4+ exposures were over the same zoom range but with exposure times much reduced to around four seconds. I had expected that zooming over a shorter exposure time would be easier but actually found it rather rushed and very difficult to control.

The first is a bit jerky as I struggled to cover the zoom range within the exposure time. I was ready for it for the second exposure and though I like the result, the day was too bright to fully achieve the effect I wanted. The exposures were just too short – an unusual comment for a pinhole!

It’s been an enjoyable day: out and about with a camera, trying something different, taking food for thought from the results and of course, that sensual time in the darkroom!

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.


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.

Breakfast setting for a new bride
Flower girl
Bridal flowers
Two white dresses
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!

Pinholes in stereo

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

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

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

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

Components of the camera

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

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

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

test stereo shot on old, fogged paper

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

result of enlarging the pinholes in an attempt to balance them

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

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

high resolution scan of pinholes and millimetre rule

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

final attempt – not quite there but getting close

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

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

Silver emulsion on glass rediscovered

A forgotten stash of glass plates leads to some pinhole and vintage playtime.

When I prepared a batch of SE1 Emulsion coated dry glass plates back in June/July last year I also had a small supply of microscope slide glass that I coated with the left-over emulsion.

Without a definite plan for how I would expose the coated slides I wrapped them up and put them in the back of a drawer. Meantime I spent the summer exposing the batch of 4×5 and 3×5 plates, experimenting with exposures and development regimes as I went. Some of the results have been the subject of earlier blogs.

Thinking that all I had left of that batch of plates was the bundle of microscope slides and with thoughts to expose them in a regular 35mm camera, I went to the drawer and was surprised to find I still had a couple of 3×5 plates and four 1/16th plates cut from larger microscope slides all wrapped up too.

I decided to put the microscope slides in a 35mm camera to one side for another blog and another time. Instead I would expose the 3×5 plates in the home-made pinhole they were prepared for and the 1/16th plates in The Countess that they were cut for.

First, the pinhole plates:

Monday. Quayside. Low tide. Calm.


Friday. Harbour wall. High tide. Stormy.

Then at the weekend Murphy the dog and I took The Countess up the hill for a walk in the snow for some handheld shots:

Looking south.
The top in sight.
Setting sun.
South again.

There’s a fair mix of imperfections from the presure marks left by the baking paper used to separate the plates when they were packed away (perhaps I could have dried them more thoroughly to avoid this), to frilling due to poor adhesion of the emulsion to the glass and uneven development due to varying coating thicknesses. There are also dark spot-like marks which I suspect are due to deterioration of the gelatin and possibly to poor original cleaning of the glass. But from the outset of my dry glass plate journey I have always maintained that imperfections are to be enjoyed and celebrated as a part of the imag. My view on that has not changed.

Of the images here I think ‘Setting sun’ is my favourite … at least for now.

So I have just nine or ten glass slides left to expose. They are 25mm wide and the guide rails to transport film through a 35mm camera are 24mm apart. I have an idea to create a holder that will fit into the back of the camera to hold one slide securely and aid loading and unloading in a dark bag. More on that and how I get on with them, in another blog!

Recycling the Christmas packaging

When the turkey’s done, the pud’s been eaten, the bottles emptied and all are sick of sweets and chocs, there’s one more thing to do before trashing the wrapping.

With the Christmas festivities over, there’s nothing I like better than rummaging through the discarded tins, boxes and packaging in search of a potential pinhole camera.

Top of this year’s list was a neat cylindrical box that had housed some deliciously more-ish dark chocolate mint thins. Here’s how I elevated it to its true purpose! (click on the images to view full size.)

For the pinhole I use Art Emboss matt black aluminium foil – a roll cut into 2 cm squares makes a lifetime of pinholes, but the simplest pinholes are made by making a hole in a piece cut from an aluminium drinks can. To make the pinhole I use a punch/drill made from a cut-down eraser pencil with a pin pushed into the eraser (cut off the head of the pin and push it in with pliers). Lightsealing is achieved by the judicious use of sticky-backed felt cut from inexpensive sheets.

At this time of year the A&E department of the local hospital is likely to be busy so I took particular care using the craft knife when cutting the hole in the box over which the pinhole was to be placed. I use black PVC electrical tape, which is light tight, to stick the pinhole in place.

It took only an hour or so to convert my Mint Thins Chocolate Box into a Pincam, photographing the process as I went. I loaded the camera with a piece of Ilford MGIV RC Satin paper and gave an exposure of about fifteen minutes under the same lighting and of the camera I used to record the conversion. The camera lens was about 80mm from the pincam. Here’s how the paper negative and the scanned, inverted final image look:

Now, with Hogmanay coming up I’m sure I spotted a big tin box of shortbread and at least one Laphroaig cylinder box …

Ideas of Beauty

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

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

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


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

Coffee Can Pinhole Fun

Just a few more images made in the simplest of cameras.

On my last outing with a coffee can pincam, the images looked a bit fogged so I’ve been lining the insides of the cans with black paper to eliminate internal reflections bouncing light around.


So with my two coffee cans (and a drinking chocolate can) duly lined I’ve been taking them with me, one at a time, over the past week. Loaded with Ilford MGIV RC Satin photo paper, the paper negatives have been scanned, inverted and flipped.

Here are the results.

Hallowe’en Sunrise
The New-ish Old Pier
Winter Sun on the Harbour
Autumn in the Woods

RUFLI – the pinhole unit of measure

Pinhole photography is an excercise in the art of approximation and imprecision, a venture into the realms of serendipity.

Everything to do with pinhole photography is measured in RUFLIs: The diameter of the hole made by the pin can be fairly accurately measured but in reality a regular pin, for instance, makes a hole that is RUFLI 0.5 mm across, the distance from the pinhole to the image plane might be RUFLI 75 mm making the aperture RUFLI f/150. On a sunny day with regular photo paper the required exposure would be somewhere in the region of (i.e. RUFLI) ten seconds or so.

RUFLI should be pronounced ‘roughly’.

My mobility of late has been hampered by a torn calf muscle and photography has had to take a back seat. However, today I hobbled out with a tin can punctured by a pin, the hole sealed by a piece of electrical tape, and the screw-on lid sealed from light leaks by a strip of sticky-backed felt. Inside the can was a sheet of 5″x7″ Ilford MGIV RC Silk photo paper. My mission was to make a shoreline exposure of the paper in the can. Mission completed, here’s how it went.

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The observant may notice a few things in these photographs of the coffee-tin pincam:

  • The pinhole is positioned about three-quarters of the way up the can, not dead-centre as might be expected. This is not a mistake! When the pinhole is centred, so will be the horizon. By positioning the pinhole as I have I can raise or lower the horizon giving greater emphasis to sky or foreground depending on whether the can is upright or upside-down.
  • I’ve labelled the pincam with what look like accurate measurements of P.D., diameter and aperture, ignoring the RUFLI unit of pinhole measurement. This is merely an illusion created by the number of decimal places used. Had space on the label permitted, each parameter would have been prefixed ‘approx.’.
  • I refer to P.D. – Projection Distance. All too often the distance between the pinhole and the image plane is erroniously referred to as the focal length. However, ‘focal length’ correctly refers to the distance from the nodal point of a lens to the plane of focus of the lens. In a pinhole camera there is no lens and therefore there can be no focal length. Light projects through the aperture of the pinhole and continues to the image plane. ‘Projection Distance’ is simply the use of accurate terminology and is RUFLI correct.

For my image of the shoreline I wanted more foreground than sky so I turned the can upside-down.

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I developed the paper negative in Ilford Multigrade diluted RUFLI 1+9 at RUFLI 17ºC until it looked OK-ish in the darkroom safe-light. I only took RUFLI 35 seconds or so.

Once dry I scanned the paper negative and inverted it to a positive in software. After a bit of tweaking of levels, these are the scanned negative and positive images.

shoreline negative
shoreline positive

There. I’ve hobbled happily with a pincam and my leg is so much better now an image has been made.

I’m thinking the paper is a bit fogged and could do with a tad more contrast. That might be due to light bouncing around the exposed shiny interior of the can. A quick spray of the inside with flat black paint should solve that for next time. Or it might be that the bedsheet I used to create a dark space in which to load the paper into the pincam was only RUFLI effective …


Making Contact

A weekend’s confinement due to mishap turned into a successfully useful photographic time.

As a result of an unintended upending on a flight of steps I’ve found myself confined to the house nursing torn calf ligaments. It’s been rather frustrating sitting around with my leg up (in more ways than one!) over a fine, bright weekend when I’d much rather have been out and about with a camera.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and I put my confinement to good use finalising the details of a talk I’ve been asked to give later this week, making a(nother) pinhole camera and doing a bit of contact printing on hand-coated paper. Put like that I’ve had quite a busy weekend!

The talk is for the Democratic Camera Club which meets on the first Thursday of each month at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. I had been asked some time ago to give a talk in November but just last month was asked if I could bring it forward to October so my preparation time has been at a premium. I’ll be talking about pinhole photography, showing examples of the work of several contemporary artists and photographers who use the characteristics inherent in pinhole photography to realise their vision in their images. I’ll be including my own Continuum project in the presentation.

The opening slide for my forthcoming talk.

My friend Oonagh Devoy had asked me a few days ago for some advice about converting an old suitcase into a pinhole camera. With our exchange still fresh in my mind and nothing better to do I set about making a model suitcase pincam from mountboard. Based on a fairly standard box within a box design, the construction was straightforward but did present a challenge for preventing light leakage around the opening lid of the ‘case’.

Having completed my construction I looked out the paper I’d coated with SE1 Emulsion a couple of months ago, loaded a sheet into the model suitcase pincam and hobbled outside to try it out. With an aperture of about f/128 and projection distance of 30mm I gave a one minute exposure in the good bright sunlight of the day.

Model Suitcase Pincam with first test image

With the paper exposed, one thing led to another and I just had to get my darkroom set up. I managed without too much difficulty and decided to make use of the setup to make a few contact prints from some of my glass plates on other sheets of the SE1 Emulsion coated paper.


So there it is. A weekend’s confinement due to mishap turned into a successfully useful and enjoyable photographic time. Can’t complain really. However, it might be a different matter hobbling about with a stick at work tomorrow!

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.