Monday, 6th October 2014
Ever since I overexposed an Ambrotype I’ve wondered how well it would perform as a negative, mounted in the DeVere 54. So I finally got round to knocking up a holder from cardboard to fit in the plate holder. Turning on the enlarger light I was impressed by the projected image. It was really bright so I stopped the lens down to f/22 and started with a grade 4 filter. It turned out that a grade 2 filter was sufficient for 25 seconds and I dodged the side for 12s and bottom for 10s. From a bad ambrotype I got a pretty interesting silver gelatin print!
The resulting silver gelatin print:
The original Ambrotype:
Friday, 29th August 2014
Since starting wet plate collodion at home I have made a total of 13 plates (including the failures / test exposures). Here are all of my scanned plates below. It’s vital to get the exposure spot on to get a good result. I’ve only managed this a couple of times so far. It’s all about experience and I feel I’ve learnt a lot fairly quickly, especially with the last four plates of my dad.
Here was my first attempt, the day after preparing all the chemicals and after leaving a plate in the silver bath overnight. These were made on aluminium black trophy plate (traditionally known as tintypes). I found developing the plate a challenge – I think these are all overdeveloped; I was looking to see an image on the plate whilst developing but I couldn’t – this resulted in me developing for much longer than I should have. I also overexposed the plates significantly as I tried to find my way!
Here’s the very first plate – exposed for a whopping 10 seconds at f/4.5 In my defense it was 5pm in Scotland on a cloudy day in May.
The area at the bottom right is interesting as the exposure/development looks quite good. I’m not sure what was missing there, perhaps it was developed for less time?
Having seen it was overexposed I attempted 8 seconds at f/4.5
Starting to look better, but I really need to cut the exposure a lot more. I halved the exposure to 4 seconds:
Looking much better, but I realised at that point that I was really exposing for far too long. So I tried one last attempt at 1 second:
Not bad for my first attempt and I learned a lot about exposure (overexposure). I was surprised at how short the exposure time had to be, especially considering the last plate was made at 18:30 and was still overexposed.
Two months later and I finally found some time to try again. This time I wanted to attempt ambrotypes. I sourced some glass from a local Scottish Borders artist and framer – I found out that 5×4 glass is easily sourced from a framer’s scrap glass bin – perfect!
I set up some of my old Star Wars toys to attempt a still life picture (I didn’t have any willing subjects at the time). My first exposure was 4 seconds at f/8
Pretty good result first time! Far from perfect, I’m still practicing all the pouring (collodion and developer) and I started to get a strange marking on one edge of the plate. I also messed up the composition; I forgot to lock the tripod and moved it when inserting the plate holder. Oops!
Finally a willing subject – Abi – but this time I foolishly asked her to sit on the swing. I have no idea why I thought that would be a good idea, especially on a windy day. The exposure was 2 seconds and f/5.6 and inevitably the swing moved during the exposure. But I actually quite like how it looks.
A week later and I found some more time to try again. I had two willing subjects this time – a nice, still (nearly) 5 year old and a fidgety, no chance of staying still (nearly) 3 year old. I found how strong UV is during direct sun light – 2 seconds at f/5.6 was way too much. Had I not learnt anything about exposure!?
In an attempt to redeem myself I tried a picture of Jodie at f/7.1 and 1 second. STILL OVEREXPOSED! LOL
Was I capable of underexposing? Let’s try a self portrait… it was much later in the day. This is f/8 at 1 second.
Finally I had underexposed a plate!
My Dad came to visit us and I asked him to sit for me so I could try another ambrotype. I asked him to sit in a shaded area and it took a few attempts to find the right exposure.
Clearly way underexposed at f/8 and 1s – the sun hitting the hill in the background looks reasonable though!!
I moved my dad and changed the camera position to eliminate the bright background as that would be a distraction once the exposure was correct.
This time I opened the lens by a stop 1s @ f/5.6 – trousers are looking good(!) – I love how the skin is so dark; he has no head and only parts of his hands show up!
I moved the camera closer to eliminate the bright trousers
This was f/8 and 4s – definitely some progress but skin tones are way too dark. The glasses appear to be absorbing UV light too and so are really dark. We took them off for the final plate…
f/5.6 and 4 seconds – perfect!! Dad did a great job holding still for 4s, it’s perfectly sharp, and that’s without any head support at all. Removing the glasses was definitely necessary and the eye contact is really enhanced too. I’m really pleased with it.
My next big learning curve – varnishing! I tried varnishing my first plate (one of the duff ones) with sandarac a couple of days ago and the result wasn’t good at all; a really matte finish – it’s like the glass is frosted. Lots of experimenting required to find the best result. I need to try combinations of hotter plate, cooler plate, hotter varnish and cooler varnish… I wonder what the effect of how quickly I heat the plate after applying the varnish makes too. I definitely want to nail the varnishing process before ruining one of the good plates!
Monday, 3rd March 2014
Back in July of last year I attended a brilliant afternoon Wet Plate Collodion introduction workshop by Alastair Cook. I had been keen to explore wet plate collodion photography, especially after seeing the results in the flesh at Alastair’s exhibition. When I heard he was doing a workshop where we would learn how to do it and have a try too I jumped at the chance!
Alastair talked briefly on some of the types of wet plate photography; daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and ‘tintypes’ showing us some original examples and explaining the differences in the processes and the results.
Some discussion about the equipment used for wet plate.
Examples of where plates have gone ‘wrong’ and where they have gone ‘right’.
Alastair talked us through the process and then performed a demonstration.
Then we did our own, taking pictures of each other. I took one of Alastair first – we tried a 4s exposure. The light was fading and the result was quite dark but I absolutely love it! It’s a lot more interesting in the flesh, especially when held up close to a light; the picture fades in and out in an almost holographic way! Here is the scan:
My second picture was of Katherine and it was exposed for around 5.5s as the light was fading even more. The result was good!
Pouring the collodion was much easier than I expected it to be. There is a lot involved in mastering the techniques of holding, pouring, spreading evenly, etc. Holding the plate in the best hand, working safely without spilling and wasting. Handling the plate so as you don’t damage the plate or ruin the application of the collodion and silver nitrate. It is an extremely hands on process and subsequently really rewarding when you see a great result.
Here is a brief list of tasks required to make a ‘tintype':
Coat the plate with collodion
Place the plate into the silver nitrate bath (lights off)
Silver nitrate for 3 minutes
Set up camera and subject – compose and focus
Back to the plate, remove from silver nitrate bath and then dry back of plate
Place into plate holder and insert dark slide
Hold vertically and remember which side has the plate in it!
Check focus of camera
Insert into camera
Hold lens cap in front of lens, remove dark slide, make sure subject is ready
Remove lens cap and count the seconds
Replace lens cap and dark slide
Take plate holder back into the darkroom
Remove the plate from the holder
Pour a small amount of developer onto the plate and allow it to cover the plate
Shake the plate to move the developer around
Develop for 10s then rinse with water to stop
Place into the fixer (Ilford Rapid Fixer) and then turn on the lights
Watch the image appear – it’s like magic!!
One of the best photographic experiences I’ve had. Half a year later and I have nearly everything I need to start doing wet plate myself. More on that soon!!
Thursday, 16th January 2014
My wonderful wife Lynsey, a brilliant Family Life Photographer, documented me making my first ever paper negatives with a camera I borrowed from my friend Alastair Cook. There were so many unknowns (like the lens aperture) and challenges I was amazed the first negative worked so well. It was a great experience; both making the negatives and being photographed and I LOVE the results – you can certainly see the genuine excitement and wonder on my face. Thank you so much Lynsey! xx
Hello, film enthusiasts! I’m James’ wife, Lynsey! One evening in the Christmas holidays, James was keen to try out a wooden field camera from the late 1800s that he had borrowed from a friend. Usually James’ evenings are spent alone in his darkroom, rushing to get something finished before I start hassling him to come in and watch an episode of Homeland before it’s past our bedtime. That evening, I decided to follow him around with my trusty DSLR whilst he did a couple of test shots of me, and developed them in his darkroom. It was fun! I’m a photographer too, and I love to capture people just as they are. This is James:
Monday, 16th December 2013
I’ve taken the next logical step after really enjoying getting back into film photography and exploring it in ways I’ve never done in the past; shooting larger than 35mm, developing my own film, and basically doing so much more than just shooting a roll with a point and shoot and taking it to Boots to produce mediocre prints. I have built a darkroom! In the freezing cold and damp garage… but after a lot of work I’ve created a light (and dripping water) tight room that is actually capable of being quite cozy once the oil heater has been on for a short while.
It all began in January 2013 – operation clear the garage of ‘stuff’. This first picture was actually taken after lots of clearing out had been completed, believe it or not!
I acquired an old kitchen from some friends:
I bought an old Kodak Beehive safelight and rewired it:
A 35mm enlarger given to me by a friend was in a messy state thanks to the deteriorating foam packaging.
After assembling it and giving it a try I was a bit concerned that the light spill was a bit excessive:
I checked with my fellow #BelieveInFilm folks on Twitter who confirmed that it was indeed fairly excessive! I discovered a missing part and after realising where it went the light leaks were resolved!
I read that it’s a good idea to have the safelights turn off when the enlarger is ON to make it easier to see a stopped down image for dodging and burning. So I built a relay box that uses the timer output to turn the safelights OFF when the enlarger is lit:
Things were starting to come together, I just needed to build the partition walls to help keep the heat in and the light out.
Before going much further I did a little test printing, which didn’t go so well. More about that here:
But the next print, a few days later, was more successful:
A very useful addition to the darkroom equipment list – a paper safe – so much easier and quicker than opening and closing boxes:
Following some enjoyable and successful printing the rest of the darkroom build was in order. A top priority was to sort out the ventilation. I bought a bathroom ventilation kit from eBay. The first step was to make a hole in the garage wall:
Whilst knocking through the wall with my favourite chisel (everyone has a favourite chisel don’t they!?) I lost down the hollow wall space!!! :-O
With the help of some strong magnets and some new-found fishing skills I was able to retrieve it!!
Then I had to wire in some new sockets from the garage consumer unit and a fused spur for the fan:
I had an email alert set up on Gumtree to notify me of darkroom enlargers being listed locally. One morning I woke up to a MEGA deal! Not only did it include some amazing darkroom gear including:
DeVere 54 5×4 enlarger
Paterson 35mm & medium format colour enlarger
Schneider 50mm Componon-S Enlarger Lens
Schneider 80mm 5.6 Enlarger Lens
Schneider 150mm 5.6 Enlarger Lens
Rodenstock – Ysaron 150mm 4.5 Enlarger Lens
All the adapter rings I’d ever need
Negative holders for 35mm up to 5×4
Massive 20×16″ high quality easel and a 15×12″ easel
Baeuerle Electronic Timer Bs782 that can time down to 0.1 seconds
Another Kodak Beehive safe light (I was looking to buy another one!)
120 and 135 contact printers
A few boxes of paper
A million other darkroom related goodies
In addition to the amazing darkroom haul, the deal also included:
Mamiya M645 with 80mm f2.8 lens
Minolta X-700 35mm camera and a bunch of lenses
A selection of Cokin filters
A bunch of expired film & more!
All for the amazing price of just £170. So many of the individual items are worth that much alone!
Here is the haul in the back of the car
And just some of the boxes filled with goodies
Here’s the massive 20×16 easel compared to my 10×8 easel
The Paterson enlarger:
I sparked up the DeVere 54 lamp and all was good:
The timer worked well too
The DeVere 54 was a bit seized but after some careful lubrication and gentle persuasion the head started moving up and down again!
I inserted a 5×4 negative and the 150mm lens and checked that all was working – 5×4 negatives look amazing when projected!
Now back to the darkroom build – I reconfigured things a little bit. I wasn’t planning to plumb the sink in so it was a bit redundant and a waste of space. I removed it and covered the hole. I placed out the 14×11 trays and the much larger 20×16 trays to ensure there was enough space.
It looked like there is enough space for printing up to 20×16 so I was able to cut the work top to size, creating a bit of segregation between the wet and dry sides.
Next step – building the partition! Time for LOTS of wood from Wickes to create the stud wall. I acquired plenty of used 120x80cm plywood to use as walls for free!
The beginnings of the stud wall construction:
Next I had to build a door from scratch. I considered building a sliding ‘pocket door’ but I decided to go for the simpler hinged door.
Painting with black matte paint around the door frame and a little on the floor helps prevent light from creeping in and does the job fine.
I made sure to have some extra height for the rather tall DeVere 54 enlarger:
I got the ventilation hooked up and working:
Another important addition to the darkroom – an old HiFi system!
I managed to acquire another DeVere 54 for cheap. It is in much better condition, it’s newer and it means I have a bunch of spares including the (probably difficult to source) light tube. Neither enlarger included a baseboard so I went about building one and figuring out a way to attach it.
Using the screw-in knob part at the back and some metal to hold the back of the baseboard…
A little countersinking for the screws at the front of the frame…
Here is the completed dry side:
And a panoramic view of the entire darkroom in action:
It’s very early days and I’ve only managed around 10 prints but I’ve already seen some results I’m really happy with, like this one:
More darkroom posts to come soon I’m sure!
Great Twitter hashtag: #believeinfilm
Friday, 26th April 2013
Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2013 takes place on the last Sunday of April each year and I plan to take part for the first time on Sunday. I’ve never made a pinhole photograph before and I’ve left it a bit late to dabble in any impressive DIY pinhole construction attempts. But it suddenly dawned on me that we have a paper pinhole camera kit that has yet to be built and that I could use the pinhole on the Speed Graphic by simply taping it to a lens board.
Before committing myself I turned to the brilliant MyPinhole.com calculator to figure out the variables. But first, following Iain Kendall‘s advice, I scanned the pinhole to determine the diameter of the hole. I left the settings from a previous B&W negative scan (6400dpi) and got the following… this is a 100% crop of the scan:
Using the measuring tool in Photoshop, I measured the diameter of the hole – it was 100 pixels:
To work out the size of the hole in millimetres required some simple maths:
6400 pixels per inch = 251.968 pixels per mm
100 / 251.968 = 0.3968mm The size of the pinhole!
Now to use the MrPinhole.com calculator to figure out the other variables. The Speed Graphic takes 5×4 sheet film. In order for the pinhole to provide a sufficient image circle I had to measure the diagonal of a sheet – it turned out to be approximately 150mm.
Measuring the distance between the film plane and various positions of the front standard I found that a 90mm focal length was almost exactly in line with the front opening of the camera – nice and easy to set in the field without a ruler and it has an optimal diameter of 0.4mm. Perfect! The resulting image diameter is 173mm, enough to cover 5×4 film. The angle of view will be 79.7 degrees, which I believe is like 25mm (on a 35mm camera) so pretty wide angle. Lastly the F Stop is f/227. Everything looked good on paper – the next step was to mount the pinhole and test it out before Sunday!
Mounting the pinhole onto a lens board – I just used some electrical tape and some cardboard behind to add support and fill the gaps.
After mounting the pinhole I pointed the camera at a halogen desk lamp and looked at the ground glass – it worked!
The following day I decided to test the pinhole out on some Fomapan 100 5×4 sheet film. I walked a few metres from our front door and set up the tripod and camera pointing towards the crags in front of our house. Being such a wide angle it wasn’t the most suitable scene really, so I made sure to include a wall for some foreground interest. It would also be interesting to demonstrate the DOF recorded by a pinhole photograph. Below are some pictures showing the camera set up:
I used the viewfinder to get a rough idea of the composition. The field of view turned out to be quite similar.
I took a reading with my Sekonic light meter – the wall and grass were showing an reflective reading of f/8, 1/60s @ ISO100. I used a fantastic iPhone app called Pinhole Assist that helps with all aspects of photographing with a pinhole. Plugging in the values from my light meter showed the EV of 12 and the exposure time for f/226 aperture is 13 seconds
Compensating for reciprocity failure of Fomapan 100 meant I had to multiply the exposure time by 8 giving 104 seconds. I rounded this down to 1 minute 40 seconds exposure time.
After developing the sheet in my
Here is the scanned result!
Monday, 1st April 2013
I was keen to get my feet wet (hopefully not literally) in a darkroom to validate my desire to pursue silver gelatin printing, especially before going to too much effort building the partitioned area in our garage. Fortunately during the dark evenings our garage is pitch black – after waiting 10 minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness I was able to punch myself in the face and not see it coming!!
Here’s how the darkroom looks so far – kind like the corner of a messy garage at the moment!
So I finally found the courage to open the lovely sealed box of 100 sheets of Ilford Mutigrade IV RC 10×8 (Pearl) without the fear of ruining the whole box.
I decanted some into my newly acquired paper safe. I’ve read plenty about paper safes but I was never really aware of how they are useful. Using one certainly gives me the confidence that I can print away without the risk of ruining a whole box by a freak accident. I have also realised the other benefit, which is the ease of access to the paper – especially important when feeling around with just a safelight glowing over your shoulder. They seem hard to come by on the used market so I was glad when this one appeared.
I think I overdo my mantra “it’s all in the preparation”, which leads me to obsessively potter around moving things, adjusting things, testing, practising, etc before actually just getting on with it. I actually had two evenings when I intended to start some printing, but instead I got prepared for the actual event. Washing the trays, mixing the chemicals, practising with the enlarger (not enough practice with the easel as it turned out!)
Finally I ran out of excuses to not take the plunge and just get on with it. The only thing fighting against me was the weather – just above zero degrees C outside and around 7 degrees C in the garage! And that’s after running a heater for an hour! The partitioned area and insulated roof can’t be built quickly enough.
I cut a sheet of 10×8 into three strips. Cutting straight is really hard at first under safe light but I think I’ll get the hang of it. I think I’ll be cutting the sheet into more thinner strips in future but I wanted to make sure I had quite a large area to start with for my first test strip. I followed the Ilford guide on “Making Your First B&W Print”, which recommended exposing the paper for 2, 2, 4 and 8s. The first 2s you expose the whole sheet and then you cover the sheet by 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 for the subsequent exposures. This results in test patches with 16, 8, 4 and 2s exposures. But despite my “preparation” mantra I managed to pay little attention to this method and I started by exposing the whole sheet for 2s and then covering 3/4, 1/2 and 1/4 of the sheet resulting in test patches with 16, 14, 10 and 2s exposures. I developed the test strip – success, it looked pretty good!
The biggest mistake was me not realising that I hadn’t followed the procedure correctly. I read the 2nd brightest test area as 4s instead of what was actually 10s. I went ahead with the my first whole sheet print exposed for 4s. I checked the temperature of the developer and it had rapidly dropped from >20 degrees to around 13 degrees C! I couldn’t believe it – damn you cold weather. I was too tired to warm it up again so I just went ahead and developed the sheet in cold developer, I reckoned I could just leave it in there for a bit longer. The image took quite a while to appear, much longer than the test strip, but it appeared. It didn’t look right, it looked very bright. Usually under safe light a properly exposed print will look too dark if anything. I left it in for much longer than the recommended 60s but it was having no effect. It was late so I stopped for the night.
Here is a scan of the very underexposed print:
I was sure it was due to the cold developer. I looked everywhere for a good but cheap solution to keep the trays warm. The proper tool for the job – a ‘dishwarmer’ – is silly expensive and there was no way I could justify one. I found a good sized heat mat used to keep reptile enclosures warm and a plugin thermostat with remote probe that would let me control the temperature to 20 degrees by dipping it into a tray, but I wasn’t convinced I was doing the right thing in buying it.
A few days later and it was feeling a bit more mild, so I decided to give it another shot; quickly before the chemicals dropped in temperature. I hesitated right before exposing the first test strip – “should I be covering or uncovering the strip!?” I did it the same way as before and developed the strip. The change between what I thought was 2s and 4s was so dramatic, I suddenly realised I was doing something wrong.
I read the Ilford guide again and saw that I was indeed uncovering the sheet instead of covering it. I scribbled out the exposures that my test strip actually received and saw the error of my ways – “ah ha, maybe THIS is why the first print was a failure!” I created a new test strip and made sure to gradually cover it rather than uncover it. The target exposure time looked to be around 10s at f/8.
I checked the developer temperature and it had dropped to 13 degrees so I warmed it up to around 18 degrees and developed the print – success!! It’s far from perfect but it worked. I was so pleased. I can already tell that darkroom printing is amazing and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to learn and practise more and more as I slowly try to master it. I’m looking forward to trying some dodging and burning too!
Thursday, 28th March 2013
When scanning large format negatives I discovered that I was often clipping highlights and shadows without realising it. It wasn’t until I opened the massive files in Photoshop that I discovered the clipped highlights and/or shadows. After waiting a long time for a high resolution scan to complete it’s a bit frustrating to have to start again after a tweak to the histogram in Epson Scan. Even worse if the tweak isn’t enough and it’s still clipped after the second scan!
My solution is to be more careful to analyse and set the white & black points before scanning the whole frame. I do this by reducing the size of the scan frame to a small box and then move it around the image, checking and adjusting histogram.
Move the box over a small highlight area, then modify the histogram white point to make sure nothing is clipped. Then do the same for a shadow area with the black point.
Here’s an example of how I originally set the points, which resulted in clipped highlights. When the whole frame is selected, the small area of highlights does not show up on the histogram resulting in me choosing a white point of 134:
But after selecting a much smaller area of the frame where there are strong highlights, the histogram updates to show just what’s within the selection. This shows that the white point should really be set to 204 – a huge difference!
The resulting scan:
Saturday, 16th March 2013
I was keen to start darkroom printing, but without a darkroom (or even the space for a darkened room) this would be difficult. The darkroom project in the garage was quite a long way off but I was keen to try some sort of printing first. The obvious answer was to try Harman Direct Positive paper! It was a case of loading the paper into the film holders in the dark tent and then exposing it in the Graflex Speed Graphic. I had the extra
pressure motivation to produce some new work for the Alt Photo Festival as so much of my personal work is family orientated. So the learning curve was to be steep and quick! I planned to shoot Hume Castle and a couple of nearby trees early in the morning. The result from this paper is known to be extremely contrasty if you don’t pre-flash it under an enlarger first. I didn’t have time to experiment with this so I decided to ensure the scene was lit by fairly non-directional and flat light. Fortunately we have that in abundance during a Scottish winter!
Developing the paper is a simple case of loading it into the MOD 54 and replacing film developer with paper developer (I chose Ilford Multigrade). Being a fibre paper the wash time is extremely long (around 1 hour) and it tends to dry very curly. There are various methods for drying this paper to reduce the curl. I tried it face up on some stretched material but the curl was still very pronounced. I placed the prints underneath some heavy books, sandwiched between some clean pieces of paper. After a few days the prints were flat enough to scan.
I have tried ironing some subsequent prints on the lowest iron setting and without steam. I again sandwiched the print between some clean paper and placed a cotton napkin on top. It work very well and is the flattest print I have. I’ll iron the rest some time too.
Here are the results; I’m really happy with them. The contrast is high as expected considering I didn’t pre-flash, but I think it makes the prints really very dramatic. I’m looking forward to shooting more!
Exposure: f/32, 40s, ISO 3
Exposure: f/11, 200s, ISO 3
This one was taken during sunrise and demonstrated the limited dynamic range of paper:
Exposure: f/16, 12s, ISO 3
So that I had a comparison, I took the same scenes on 5×4 sheet film (Foma 100) too!
Exposure: roughly f/40, 5s, ISO 100
Exposure: f/16, 27s, ISO 100
Clearly film is successfully able to record a scene with a wide dynamic range much better than photographic paper:
Exposure: f/16, 0.5s, ISO 100
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