How safe is my safelight?

Testing the sensitivity of Direct Positive Paper to my darkroom safelight.

In my previous post, The Bin-cam pincam, https://donaldtainsh.wordpress.com/2019/10/09/the-bin-cam-pincam/ I created a pinhole camera from a redundant food-waste caddy and exposed a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper (DPP). The resulting image was fogged and I subsequently set out to discover the source of the problem.

The paper had been loaded in my darkroom under the glow of my red safelight. It is an AP ‘Dark Red’ light, basically a mains powered 15W lamp with an appropriately coloured plastic cover. I have previously found that DPP can be fogged by over exposure to the safelight but have never attempted to quantify the ‘problem’.

Furthermore, the plastic of which the food-waste caddy is constructed is well weathered and I wanted to assess if and by how much the opacity of the plastic had been affected by the weathering.

I started with a 10″x8″ sheet of DPP from the same pack as had been used for the original image. In total darkness I cut it into approximate 5″x4″ sheets, two to be used for testing, one as a control and one as a spare.

My first test was to expose one sheet in the darkroom as a test sheet at five-minute intervals. The safelight was positioned 2 metres away, just above the level of the test strip gadget. When developed, I was surprised at how sensitive to the red light DPP was:

It may not show too clearly here but just five minutes was enough to visibly fog the paper!

In complete darkness I placed a second sheet inside the Bin-cam pincam and put the camera outside in bright autumnal daylight for three hours. The lid and shutter remained closed for the duration of the test. This sheet was developed and compared against the above test strip and the third sheet which was developed completely unexposed.

Again, it may not show clearly here, but there is visible fogging of the ‘exposed’ sheet compared to the unexposed control sheet, comparable with the 5-minute test strip.

The paper of the original Bin-cam image was exposed to the safelight for two to three minutes while being loaded and the exposure was made in bright sunlight. From my tests, the paper would have been fogged to some extent both by the safelight and the less than perfect opacity of the camera.

With the knowledge I now have, I can take steps to minimise fogging in future, primarily in loading the paper but perhaps also making some alteration to the camera with paint or lining paper.

… Or I can live with it and find pleasure in serendipitous imperfection!

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Langdon_Coburn)

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.

Playing safe, for a change

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

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

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

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

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

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

the pond
deer hill
spaceship woods
woodland way

Pinhole (in)consistency

The trials and tribulations of using multiple DIY pinhole cameras to produce consistent exposures across a single project.

My ‘best’ pinhole images, in terms of how I perceive the way others appreciate them, have usually been made with my commercially produced Harman TiTAN Pinhole Camera. For myself, however, the images I find most satisfying to create are those made with DIY pincams created from boxes, cans and bits of card or foamcore with a true pin hole punched in foil or sometimes directly into the material of the camera.

Amongst the seemingly endless proliferation of commercially made pincams all with accurate, etched or laser-cut pinhole apertures the aesthetic of what I think of as true pinhole images is becoming lost in the quest for detailed resolution and sharpness. What I seek from a pinhole camera is a serendipitous softness in which light and time create something unseen by the naked eye.

However when multiple cameras are being used to create several discrete images which will ultimately be presented as one, the serendipitous nature of the DIY pincam has to be somewhat controlled in order to achieve a degree of consistency.

The 8xIllyCoffeePincam

For the past few months I’ve been working on the idea of using eight coffee cans to create what I imagine to be a circular, overlapping 360º presentation of the images made in each pincam. The assembled 8xIllyCoffeePincam is shown above.

Each can is fixed to a circle of plywood which has a tripod quick-release plate bolted through its centre. The interior of each can has been sprayed with flat black paint and the lids have been lined with a strip of black felt. The cans are made of steel and two holes have been punched directly through the side of each with a regular dress-making pin. Exposure time is controlled by a strip of black electrical tape. One aperture is positioned centrally on the vertical and the second is one third up from the bottom. This second aperture enables a raising of the horizon line (or lowering if the camera is positioned upside-down!) recorded on the image, i.e. the same effect as lowering or raising the front standard on a large format view camera. Because the media (paper or film) in the can is curved, using the lower aperture will also cause the horizon in the image to bow depending on the width and curvature of the media.

My idea is to select a position to locate and level the camera and then to evaluate and record individual images, one at a time, with each of the eight pincams. I’ve experimented with the camera before, each time resulting in a few tweaks and a refining of my technique as a result. Now I need to know if these refinements are enough for success.

For this outing I had the camera positioned fairly centrally in Aberdour Harbour at low tide on a bright afternoon. Each pincam was loaded with a 5×4 sheet of Harman Direct Positive paper mounted vertically and the lower aperture was used to raise the horizon and include more foreground than sky. I used the Pinhole Assist iPhone app to determine each exposure, assuming that the aperture in each can was around f/150 and by holding my iPhone directly above and perpendicular to the central view of each pincam.

Here are the eight images that I recorded. Although each exposure was measured in a consistent manner, it is plainly obvious that my assessment of the size of each aperture was far from consistent. Only one or two (E and SE) were anywhere near accurate and even so they are underexposed by at least a stop.

To resolve the problem, I need to do two things:

  • Reassess and adjust each aperture to get all of them as near as possible the same.
  • Review how I measure each exposure.

Starting with the pincam used for the ‘E’ image, I took a standard dressmaking pin and marked it with some tape at the furthest point it penetrated the pin hole. I then went round each pincam to make comparison and was actually quite surprised at the range and amount of adjustment needed on each pin hole! The aperture on the pincam used for image ‘N’ was by far the smallest, confirming the almost non-existant image produced.

Having made the necessary adjustments I then had to establish the actual diameter I now have in each can. For this I took a piece of aluminium drinks can and with the same pin punched a hole up to the marker. I scanned this alongside a metal rule at 9600dpi and made relative measurements of the full size image on screen. On screen, the pin hole measured 25mm in diameter and a 5mm section of the rule measured 217mm. Simple arithmetic then determined my actual pinhole diameter to be 0.576mm. Measurement of the paper in the can showed the projection distance to the centre as 80mm. This produces an effective aperture of f/138 centrally.

For future outings with the 8xIllyCoffeePincam I will assess exposure using a spot meter to measure the deepest shadow in which I want to record detail and reduce the exposure given for that by two stops thus placing the shadows on zone III with mid greys falling on zone V. (NB: This is a very much simplified implementation of the Zone System and should not be followed without greater understanding of the system’s complexity). For convenience I will base the exposure on f/128 with a bit added for the sake of serendipity!

Now, confident that this time I’ve got it right, all I need is another fine day to go try it all out, again.

All change, Catch up, Carry on

A catch-up on the year’s photographic endeavours, somewhat disrupted by retirement.

My last blog was posted in March! Here’s what’s been going on: (Warning – It’s a long one!)

All change

The opportunity to retire came my way at the beginning of the year and having decided to accept it, the rest of the year has been taken up with preparation, the deed itself and now readjusting to the life of a retiree.

For the past twenty one years my sister and I have run a small optical practice in a quiet seaside town. The subject of our inevitable retirement and how we might bow out had been discussed off and on and we had a range of possible outcomes in mind. These ranged from one day having to shut the door and walk away, through the more likely scenario of being made a derisory offer with strings attached by one of the big groups, to the dream of someone walking in the door with an offer to buy and to pay the price we asked.

As it happens, dreams do come true! Somebody wanting to expand their existing single practice got to hear of our thoughts and in January I took a phone call that set the rest of the year in motion! A date for transfer of the business was set – 31st August. At first it seemed that we had plenty time to prepare but even by April it was already clear that time was running short! Indeed looking back, from then until the moment we handed over the keys was an uphill race against time, lawyers, surveyors and accountants. We were racing up a hill like lemmings and the cliff edge was 31st August when we would throw ourselves into the abyss of retirement.

Retirement too has been unexpected, at least so far. I can only describe it as a very weird time: After a couple of weeks I was ready to go back to work, as one would after a holiday, but I wasn’t on holiday. Six weeks into retirement I was still waking up at 5am to start my working day. By November I was feeling adjusted to some semblance of a new Monday to Friday routine but somehow I lost track of weekends. It was as if Saturday and Sunday didn’t exist! Even now at the end of December I can’t say I’ve yet settled fully into this new lifestyle.

The process has played havoc with the pursuit of my hobby but there have been occasions when I’ve been able to grab a camera for a brief fix of image making. Unfortunately I’ve had no time to indulge myself in the process of immersion in any one train of creative thought. Experiments haven’t been followed through, prints haven’t been made and consistency has gone out the window.

Catch up

So here’s what I’ve been up to when not preparing for or adjusting to retirement.

April

I managed a couple of outings on my bike with the Intrepid and of course I couldn’t miss Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day!

May

My other hobby is cycling. Somehow I found cycling an easier way to escape than photography. However, I’d acquired an e-bike with the intention of setting it up to do the donkey work of lugging my camera gear around!

June

Another cycle ride, this time to Queensferry to find images of the bridges across the Forth.

July

The present incumbent of the Office of President of the United States of America made a visit to the UK and spent a couple of days playing golf at one of his golf courses in Scotland. Donald Trump wasn’t particularly welcomed here. The media focussed on attempts by protestors to disrupt his golf but made little of several city-centre stopping demonstrations. I took my Vivitar v3800n SLR out, loaded with Kentmere 400 to record the mega-demo through the centre of Edinburgh, thoroughly enjoying a type of documentary photography I haven’t done for years!

August

My artist friend Oonagh has been mentioned in previous posts. We’d intended for months to meet up for Coffee, Cake and Cameras and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity we had to do so in Anstruther at the beginning of August. I truly value any time spent in the company of creative people and Oonagh is no exception. We had a wonderful day each exploring in our own way, she with an underwater camera and a stereo pincam, and me with a Brownie 127 and Vest Pocket Kodak both loaded with cross process colour film and an experimental multi-coffee tin pincam.

Sadly my multi-coffee tin pincam experiment was a failure or perhaps it just worked differently from what I expected, so nothing to show from it. However, Oonagh brought me a present: A set of three 35mm film canister pincams, each with a magnet set in the lid to aid secure mounting on a metallic surface (I later found a tin lid that could be held in the QR mount of my tripod – perfect!)

contact printed paper negs – Oonagh’s filmcan pincams – views from Seafield Law

September

I met up with a group of friends to visit the SS Explorer at Leith Docks. Built as a research ship, it is one of the last surviving steam powered side trawlers still afloat and is being restored by a group of dedicated volunteers. We were privileged to have the opportunity to go on board and take photographs. I took Oonagh’s filmcan pincams loaded for paper negatives and my Vivitar v3800n loaded with Kentmere 400.


October

Just one photo outing this month, to capture some autumn colour with the Intrepid 4×5 on FP4+ black and white film 😉

November

Just one image this month, taken while out on an early morning cycle with one of Oonagh’s filmcan pincams.

scanned paper neg – Oonagh’s filmcan pincam – Murieston Trail

December

I’m beginning to put some thoughts together for photographic projects but my output so far kind of emphasises their experimental nature! I have but two paper negatives to show for my efforts so far but I’m working on it. This image was made in a biscuit tin pincam on 90gsm acid-free tracing paper coated with SE1 Emulsion. There’s a lot of perfecting to be done regarding my coating method and estimating exposures but my goal is to obtain a contact printable paper negative. That should be worth a few future blog posts!

scanned SE1 Emulsion on tracing paper negative – Biscuit tin pincam – Eliburn Reservoir

Carry on

My new life as a retiree is beginning to take shape and there is light ahead even if the tunnel is longer than I had expected.

I’ve taken up the noble retirement pursuit of Volunteering, in my case at the West Lothian Bike Library where I’m getting proper training as a bike mechanic and also as a led-ride leader. WLBL aims to make cycling available to all and has a wide range of adaptive bikes and trikes that are available to those with support needs. It also accepts donations of old bikes which are assessed and refurbished either for sale or for donation in response to requests from Social Services. A couple of days a week gives some structure, routine and purpose to my time in worthwhile activity.

There has been a gradual realisation that I can take an actual holiday. Or for that matter, as many or as much holidays as I can fit in! I can go day trips any day of the week. On my bike I’m restricted to a fairly limited area unless I take the bike somewhere on a train and as my wife doesn’t cycle, too many bike trips tends to selfishness. Of course, retirement gives us the time to spend together that was denied us when I was working. We had a chat, or two, or three about it and took a liking to the idea of a campervan …

… So after much internet browsing, asking about and looking around we’ve put down a deposit. Sometime soon we should be hitting the road in search of places of interest and potential campsites. The prospect beckons of being on location for sunrises and sunsets that I wouldn’t otherwise get to, cameras, bike, coffee and cake all ready to hand in the back of the van.

And so the blog, like life, will go on.