World pinhole day 2022

On world pinhole day this year, I took out a couple of pinhole cameras for a hike. The main one was my Ondu 6×9, which I got at Christmas and am fairly comfortable using. But I’ve also been intrigued by folks who use film canisters as home-made pinholes. The superwide angle gives some really interesting effects.

I got some advice from Margaret – justgypsy on Twitter, and Karin Lizana, and made my camera.

I made it myself
Home made pinhole camera

It’s a simple design – you drill a hole in the cannister and attach a pinhole to the inside. For the pinhole I cut out a square from an aluminium can and made a small hole using a a sewing needle. I sanded it off to make the edges neater, this improves sharpness (or rather unsharpness). To put it in place I cut a diamond from the centre of a piece of black tape and positioned the pinhole in the centre of the drilled hole.

For the pinhole cover, I thought about using some black duct tape, but thought it would be vulnerable inside my rucksack. So I opted to cut up a spare cannister to make a sliding shutter.

I loaded some photographic paper (7mm long) and used a phone holder mounted on my tripod. It was small and light enough to be portable. There are other methods using magnets and brackets but this worked for me.

It was windy out on the moors so I attached the podcam to my tripod and weighted it down to prevent camera shake. It appeared to work better than the Ondu which was more vulnerable due to its shape and size. All good so far.

However, when I got it home and developed it, the paper was black. I guess the shutter had slipped off at some point before or after the exposure. I’d had in mind dreamy distorted rock on a windswept moor but it wasn’t to be. I didn’t want to admit defeat on world pinhole day so I put in in another slip of photographic paper and got the image below, with the pod sitting on a table in the conservatory.

World pinhole day
It worked!

While I was at it, I took the opportunity to test out my Stenoflex which was an Emulsive Secret Santa gift.

Stenoflex
Stenoflex — cardboard pinhole camera kit that includes paper and chemicals.

Given that it’s just a cardboard box with a hole in it, I was impressed with the results.

The extreme vignetting gives an interesting effect and makes it feel more negative than positive.

And the hiking shot? My favourite pinhole from the trip, is this one, taken on my Ondu 6×9:

Turned to stone
Barrow Stones, Bleaklow
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Frosting

In amongst working on my long pairs project (update on progress will follow soon) I have been working on my committent to myself. I won’t call it a New Year’s Resolution for fear of jinxing it but I have resolved to do more in the darkroom.

Frosting

I’m particularly proud of myself for coming home from work on Tuesday and not settling down on the sofa, but dashing up to the attic to put the heating on in the darkroom. Once I’d made that committent (that word again) the rest followed.

I’ve been guilty in the past of measuring my success by the number of images I have printed the measured output. This time I decided in advance only to concentrate on one thing – printing one image would be enough.

It’s from a walk one frosty day, fairly recently. I’d tried to get out early to capture something of the frost but didn’t manage until lunchtime, when it was clinging on in a few shady spots. I’d almost given up when, towards the end of the walk, I found these oak leaves, one of them still frozen. There were trees blocking out the sunlight, which was good for the frost, but the low light levels combined with the temperamental nature of my old camera make it a minor miracle it came out at all.

New Project – Long pairs

Some time towards the end of last year I wrote in an interview for Ilford Photo “I might not be between projects, maybe the new project is already happening but I just haven’t realised what it is yet.”

Well I was wrong – the project hadn’t started but since then it has definitely come to life almost of its own accord.

I was given a beautiful Ondu pinhole for my birthday. It came from Slovenia and the customs declaration said it was a “wooden box” – which is exactly what it is. A beautifully tactile wooden box that shoots at 6×9 and is held together by carpentry and strong magnets. It is a joy to use.

So that’s the new bit – here’s the already happening bit.

For the past few months I’ve enjoyed interacting with the film photography community on Twitter. There are some brilliant photographers and they’re a friendly, helpful bunch. And seeing their work got me thinking about small prints. Some of it may be Twitter format itself, especially when viewed on a phone – it’s undeniably small. But other people are printing small, postcard size or smaller. Deborah Parkin’s exquisite cyanotypes are a great example of this. I’d always assumed bigger is better but it made me think again.

So I developed my first roll from the Ondu and began thinking about printing. I don’t have an enlarger that takes 6×9 and getting one just for this camera didn’t seem worth while.

But then I took another look at at the negatives and they are big. Not huge, but big enough, so I thought why not make some contact prints?

The first roll seemed to fall naturally into pairs, so I quickly made myself a mask so I could print two photos on the same sheet of paper. The edges of the mask are rough by design – the edges of the negatives are rough, so it seemed in keeping.

My first attempt wasn’t without difficulties – some of it was my maths in calculating the borders, and then there was the difficulty of using black card as a mask, which makes it almost impossible to see where the negative is within the mask. The prints have turned out are wonky in the fames and the spacing isn’t right but as a proof of concept, they work.

So this is how the project is developing. I’d originally considered doing something regular, like a 52 weeks project, or a self-portrait project (or even a combination of both) but I decided that’s not where I want to take it.

It’s long pairs because I want to explore long exposures (so not necessarily pinholes) and I want to pair them.

This week I’ve got as fair as making contact sheets for the 3 rolls I’ve shot so far. And extra set of each so I can cut them up and shuffle them around and see which ones work best together.

Next step is to make a decent mask so I can get a consistent print. I’ve already bought an album to display them it but it’s going to be a while before I get to any final prints.

Any clever tips on how to make a double 6×9 mask are welcome.

Split grade printing

White Peak

I tried it some years back and after some initial good results subsequent attempts just left me confused and unsatisfied. Recently, I’ve been following this approach by Sroyon Mukherjee which has really helped me understand and get a half decent print. I do love his notebook and handwriting, btw. Mine is much more messy.

My messy notebook

I’m not really a methodical person – I tend to rush at things, and printing is no different to anything else. So while I should sit and write neat notes and put the test or print number on the back of the paper before it goes in the developing tray, I often forget.

Keeping notes is essential, though, so you can take a good look when you’re done and the prints are dry.

What I’ve learned so far — and it’s stating the bleedin’ obvious but I’m going to state it anyway — is that you get more control over the tones if the negative has more tonal range in the first place. It’s good for bringing out contrast in skies with boisterous clouds, which are my favourite kind of skies.

The image was captured in the Peak District earlier this year. There were a pair of metal detectorists in the field – one of them can be spotted if you look closely.

Camera: Hasselblad 500 C/M, Ilford Delta 100, multigrade paper.

Little prints

Last week I had a project in mind – I wanted to print out a snowy scene to use as a Christmas card for a Secret Santa.

So I set up my enlarger for 35mm film and got to work on printing slightly-bigger-than-postcard sized prints.

The darkroom session wasn’t entirely satisfying. After a long hard week I had probably set my expectations too high. None of the prints entirely worked. Too light, or too dark, to soft or too much contrast. Even repeating the same exposure timings seemed to give different results in different print areas. I ended up knowing the session was over without really finishing anything.

A few days later I went back to the contact sheet I’d made at the start of the session. Some of the little prints I’d been working on looked nothing like the contacts. The one I was happiest with was most like the contact.

I guess that’s one reason I’m such a fan of contact sheets – they give you something to go at, you have 36 test prints that you can examine and decide what you like about it and what you don’t.

The little print I’m happiest with – this one of an angel in the graveyard at Alsop-en-le-Dale – isn’t perfect by any means. But it’s kinda sorta what I was imagining when I took it.

Angelic

The others I printed on are still a work in progress, to be continued, possibly, at a later date.

First steps with caffenol

Nine standards trig
Nine Standards Rig trig point

It seems impossible that such everyday ingredients: coffee, washing soda and vitamin C can be used to develop film but it’s as true as it is apparently unbelievable.

I’d heard about caffenol years ago, and a while back I bought the ingredients, but never got around to giving it a go. I don’t know why exactly, but probably deep down I just didn’t believe it would work and  when it came down to it I didn’t have the courage to sacrifice a roll of film. So I put the “chemicals” away until a conversation on twitter recently reminded me that I really needed to give it a try.

So why caffenol?

There are a few good reasons.:

  • It’s fun to go back to first principles and create your own developer from the kitchen cupboard.
  • It’s better for the environment. I’m concerned about the chemicals that I put down the drain at the end of a developing session, and using ordinary household ingredients must be better? (note to self – it’s worth checking out if this really is the case)
  • Initial results are promising. It doesn’t just work, but it seems to work great.
  • With increasing costs of film and chemicals, it’s a way to cut costs without sacrificing on quality.

I’ve scratched my head about the instructions for caffenol developing but it’s actually pretty straightforward  when you understand the language. At least I think I understand it.  There is caffenol  C-M (low to medium film speeds) C-H (high speed film) and C-L (stand development).

The main thing to watch in the ingredients seems to be in the washing soda. There are three types, anhydrous, monohydrate and decahydrate. So if you have mono you use 1.2 times as much and for deca it’s 2.7 times as much as the original recipe. I found some decahydrate in my local supermarket – helpfully labelled as such so there was no complicated testing needed to work out which I had.

According to the cookbook, you only need salt (or bromide) for stand development, to reduce fog, but I included it and it worked fine.

I had just finished a roll of Delta 100, including some shots I took on a trip. You might want to shoot a test roll, but I was feeling impatient.

Henry Moore

I weighed everything out carefully, and got the water to 20 deg C before I started. I didn’t check the temperature after I mixed the ingredients – I didn’t realise that the temperature can change quite a lot depending on what soda you use.

I mixed in the washing soda first and stirred until it dissolved – it was still cloudy but seemed to be well-mixed.

The vitamin C went in next, and after a good stir, I added the salt. Then the coffee.

I left the developer to stand while I loaded the film, and then went for it..

The negatives looked really good when I hung them up to dry.

They’ve scanned pretty well, though there are some spots and mottled areas that probably mean I should have stirred the developer longer.*

Overall, I’m really pleased with the results.

Tegg's Nose
This one shows more clearly the spots on the negatives.

There are some useful reference sources online, including the Caffenol cookbook. But suspect that like most aspects of photography, it’s practice that makes perfect.

*[Edit] There was a problem with the film, kindly confirmed by Ilford since this post was published, not an issue with mixing.

Fog

How do photographers deal with photographers block, if such a thing exists?

For some people I know it happens every year as we approach the darker months of autumn and winter. It can be hard to motivate yourself, especially if shooting means getting outside.

I’ve always preferred winter light, low-angled, sometimes soft and misty, sometimes harsh, throwing long shadows on crisp winter days.

But as the nights are growing longer, I’ll admit I’m struggling to keep my motivation.

It does feel a bit like fog, disorientating, disconcerting.

I hope it will pass in the way that autumn fog burns off eventually, as the sun breaks through.

My experiment with Washi W film

Washi W – A film made from paper that imbues a papery, textured look to the finished images. Made by the smallest photographic film company in the world – Film Washi.

Though I tend to stick to a few films, my favourite is Ilford Delta 100, I like trying unusual films or techniques that promise a totally different effect. Film Washi W certainly delivers on that.

Scanned negative

I ignored the fact that was likely to be tricky to work with. It has a very low ISO that changes according the the lighting conditions. And it’s made from paper – so developing was going to be ‘interesting’. And there’s not much info aside from the manufacturer’s website – though that is really useful and includes a link to a YouTube video demonstrating how to manage developing it without using a spiral reel and tank.

Shooting it

I loaded the film into my Hasselblad 500C/M intending to shoot in one go as I didn’t know how fragile the film was if I tried to insert a dark slide. That turned out to be ok – I put the dark slide in very gently and was able to take the film back off with no apparent ill-effects.

The film is not supposed to be good for landscapes (which is what I mainly take) so I started off with some indoor self-portraits. I took reflected meter readings and tried to be careful about the exposure, I didn’t get anything much out of them. They were long exposures so I wonder if reciprocity failure was an issue.

So after a gap of a few months I took it out to shoot the rest. It was a sunny winter afternoon – the light was fairly contrasty but much less harsh than other times of year.

I took a reflected reading and that seemed to work really well. I started shooting this this building, a pump house at Roystone Grange, with the sun behind it, throwing the end wall into shadow.

Then from the other end, (results below) with the light behind me, and finally from the side, trying to capture some of the light spilling in through arched window frames. It all seemed to work out equally well, though the sidelit windows were the least successful.

Developing

Back home, I followed the YouTube Video on how to develop it.

I love that Gaetan has a glass of wine with him (so French!) though I absolutely wouldn’t recommend it for all sorts of reasons.

I followed this method and it worked pretty well. It is pretty curly to start with but once you get it wet enough it becomes much easier to handle. And it is a delight to watch the negatives emerging in the tray under a safelight.

I could have done more fixing – you basically have to get rid of any trace of emulsion and I didn’t quite manage that at either end of the roll.

I hung the roll up to dry weighted at the bottom. I was worried that the paper might rip while it was wet but it took the weights. But it curled and wrinkled unremittingly as it dried, so I found the bigges,t heaviest books I could and pressed the sleeved negatives for a couple of days. The negs were tricky to get in the sleeve, because they were so curled and twisted. I managed one row at a time, sliding a weight on top as soon as they were in.

Darkroom prints – are you crazy?

And if that wasn’t hard enough, I set myself the challenge of printing them in the darkroom.

As you can see – the first 4 indoor shots didn’t really work, and the other results are varied. I chose a few to print – no 6 (Tynemouth Priory, shot on a dull winter day) was little more than a silhouette, so I abandoned that after one try. There was simply no detail in it at all. But the ones of Roystone Grange have got something more about them:

Darkroom print
Scanned negative

The print was incredibly contrasty even though I used the colour head on my enlarger, which gives a less contrasty result than the b&w head.

I’m still not entirely sure which one I prefer. The scanned negative does show up more of the paper texture but I like the burnt out highlights in the print – even though it took several goes to get the roof of the building to show up at all.

Darkroom print
Scanned negative

The negatives are slightly easier to handle in the darkroom, they still tend to curl and I found it impossible to lie anything near flat in the scanner – though the scanned results seem fine.

Rock Pools

Rock pools

On a long distance hike the choice of camera is an issue. Though the scenery may be amazing, and you’ll want to take your best and possibly heaviest camera for those, it’s just not practical.

Weight is an issue. And then there’s the weather.

In 2016 when I hiked the Pennine Way in the worst rain of the entire year, the choice of camera was academic – I barely got the damn camera out of my pack. I didn’t dare risk taking my elderly Hasselblad 500C/M because of the weight – something around 2 kilos.

I have an extensive collection of cameras, including a beautiful but maddening Pentax *ist – the lightest film SLR ever. But it’s fragile and I’m clumsy. So I bought something older for long distance hikes, something more robust but a camera that still felt light compared to Vlad.

Still, I didn’t get my camera out often enough. Somehow when I get in the hiking zone I’m not in the photography zone.

Sometimes it works. On the last day of the St Cuthbert’s Way, on the Northumberland coast where I was entranced by the rock pools, I spent a while exploring rock pools and trying to capture some of those textures and shapes.

Rule Britainnia

Britannia Inn

These days I don’t often take Vlad to the pub. Maybe the pubs I visit are too crowded to set up a good shot. Maybe I feel my friends and family have spent too long with me saying “hang on a minute, don’t drink that yet. I need to line up my shot.”

There have been sighs when I ask them to wait, and I totally understand. Especially when it comes to pubs like this. They’re not hip and cool micro-craft-brew pubs (though I’m partial to a proper craft ale.) These are old school black country boozers, where people sit and chat over a pint or two. Or stand and chat. The ale is the thing, as it’s always been. There are no frills, often no music, just real ale and a real atmosphere.

Bathams

I could be wrong (it was long time ago) but I don’t think that pint was mine. And I may have asked to hang-on-a-minute-don’t-take-a-sip-yet but it looks like I took quite a while to set up the shot.

black&white, photography

High Dale

High Dale

Sometimes while out on a hike, you cross fields and pasture, descend through trees and are confronted with this.

Just a short way from a trail packed with hikers, racers, strollers, cyclist, you can experience limestone dales without a soul in sight. You can take your time, examining the crumbling dry stone walls, the skeleton hawthorn trees not yet awakened with a froth of blossom.

You can have places like this all to yourself.

Familiarity

I’ve recently been reading about how habit is good. I used to think it was restricting, born out of the laziness of not having to think.

But it seems I was wrong all along.

Freed from the burden of yet-another-decision about what to wear when you get up for work, what to eat each morning for breakfast, space is made for the important decisions, and gives you space to think, and be creative.

So it is with walking. If you walk a regular route, there’s no need to consult the map at every turn, you already know the way. You can concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

Familarity

I’ve walked this way many times before, putting one foot in front of the other. It’s always different – sometimes it feels like an uphill stroll – at others it’s hard going, battling the wind or rain. Sometimes the wind cuts right through, chilling through layers of winter clothes. Or it’s humid and midges and horseflies are ready to pounce on any inch of bare skin.

I’ve stood here and watched the winter light pick out the distant hills, or seen the land smothered in snow. It’s been wet and muddy or dry and dusty under foot. I’ve seen it in all weathers at all times of the day.

That fence

I used to rebel against habit – but lately I’ve found that rather than breeding contempt it gives space and time to get better acquainted, to learn to love something I used to take for granted.

light