For The Craft

July 10, 2016  •  3 Comments

This blog is written for those that feel something is missing from their photography and are curious about developing their own negatives at home. I have only just started on this venture, and wanted to go through some of my own thought processes, difficulties and purchases in order to do this, in the hope it might inspire others to have a go or at least question why they make photographs.

Lengthy Preamble

I think the obvious starting point is to decide why you take photographs in the first place. It strikes me that actually there are quite a few reasons and it does have a direct relationship on the time, care and effort one might put in to creating something. Personally speaking, I went through a fairly obvious transition in how I took photographs, and I suspect others have similar experiences:

  1. You want to show others what you have seen
  2. You want to show others what you think they might not have seen (felt)
  3. You want to sell your work for financial return (can be all of the above and below, but different to shooting for your self only)
  4. You gain pleasure from the crafting of a photograph and experiencing the environment (financial return not a priority)

I have moved from 1 to 4 over time. When I first used an Olympus OM30 23 years ago, I just plain enjoyed firing the shutter and seeing the results later. It didn't really matter too much what it was, as I enjoyed saying "look what I found". This was still true when I first got a digital camera, only it was easier! As I became more proficient and with a Fine Art painting background, I started to consider my photographs more. I took multiple versions so I could pick my best one. I questioned the subject, the lighting, the angle and began to make images that stood a bit of scrutiny. I honed my technical ability and others started to like what I produced. My confidence grew and I began upgrading my digital equipment to get "better and better" image quality. I could justify the expense as it was "essential" I got the best equipment I could as I was putting lots of time and effort into my work. I enjoyed the fact I was learning. I was learning where to go, and when the light was best. I understood about focal lengths and the differences each lens had on the final photograph. I learned how to edit and process the digital files, how to save them correctly. I enjoyed using social media to share my results and gain feedback.

 

Seascape'Rush'

'Rush' - Gunwalloe, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mkii.

 

I started running my own workshops and updated my website. I became an exclusive istock contributor (admittedly only a few images) but a small trickle of money was coming in to help buy some better kit. I even considered the idea of quitting my teaching job and going pro? But then something happened. I grew a bit tired of chasing. I was chasing feedback on social media. I was chasing "good light". I was chasing technical advances. But really, I had reached a kind of personal plateau. I had all the kit I really needed. I had learned pretty much all of the technical stuff. I found I was just repeating a formulaic approach to the landscape and my response to it. All my pictures kinda looked like everyone elses! Something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I never had enough time to shoot photographs at length, but then I had never had that luxury. I finally had all this kit and knowledge, but wasn't as satisfied. I loved the workshops and continue to, but my personal work had come to something of a cross roads. I simply didn't want to go down the same route as everyone else I saw on social media. There was a weird desire to go "Super wide angle Epic" all the time. Unless Mordor was being struck by lightning under a molten lava sky then it just wasn't good enough. There was a kind of peer pressure within the community. The stupidity! I needed to forge my own path.

Then it dawned on me. I missed having to think, having to learn. I missed appreciating the landscape for what it was, and not what I wanted it to be. The whole drive of digital cameras is that it makes life easier. Super intelligent auto focus and metering means you don't have to worry. Such large sensor that you can crop it in half and still print it larger than your own house. Colour? Why worry about that, the camera can shoot RAW files so you can just let software do it for you later. Warmer or colder, just slide left or right, looks good, sweet. Live view for exact focus and composition, easy. Iso, don't even start! Now there is NOTHING wrong with this! I still really enjoy taking digital pictures. But I don't feel as though I completely 'own' the finished picture. Microwaves are quicker and easier, but does the food taste as good and is it as enjoyable to cook? Auto drive cars will no doubt be safer and easier but will they be as much fun? Fast food is easy but not as satisfying as cooking a meal. Emails are convenient but receiving a hand written letter is nicer. Satisfaction ultimately requires more effort. Constraints prompt creativity.

 

OceanPentreath Beach 'Pentreath Sunset' - Lizard peninsula, Cornwall. Canon 5D mkii.

 

Bring back the Craft

If we assume you are somewhere around the same sort of bewildered state I was in, hovering at number 4 on my simplistic photographic drive chart, then you might well have considered going 'back' to a film camera or considering one for the first time. This is because you miss the craft of making a photograph. It has all got just a bit too easy, and it leaves you feeling ever so slightly hollow with a hard drive literally bursting with digital files. One could slow down and be more thoughtful with a digital camera and improve ones work that way, but a film camera forces you too, and if you are anything like me you are a bit lazy. I needed that imposition that a film camera brings. The first move was to search ebay for a suitably 'crafty' film camera just to see how it turned out. I had thought about going large format and 4x5, and indeed I almost did, but the sheer expense of the film and developing and my lack of shooting time put me off ( I would definitely go there when my kids are older and I have less hair, more money and a bigger beard!)

mamiya Rz67 ProiiMamiya RZ67 Proii

The Mamiya RZ67 proii, a right beast!

 

In a compromise of image quality, ease of use and running expenses in mind, I ended up buying a mint condition Mamiya RZ67 Proii medium format film camera with 140mm Macro lens, angle viewfinder and film. It cost less for all this than half of a decent Canon lens. In fact I got the subsequent Pentax spot meter and two more lenses (65mm L-A and 90mm) for less in total than my 24mm TS-e lens. I really enjoyed learning new stuff. The camera itself was enormous, heavy and bulky, but somehow very satisfying. I wasn't going to use it to hike up mountains but shoot locally, grabbing it from the car to wander down to the beach. Nothing too 'backpacky'. It turns out the thing is still pretty full on to carry even short distances when having 4 lenses too. I needed a decent scanner now, and actually the cost started to mount up. Particularly as I wasn't selling other gear to finance this. I picked up a second hand Epson V750 to scan my negatives. I appreciate that many would go down the darkroom route if truly after a crafted photograph, but I just don't have the room at home. A small two bedroom place with two young kids and no storage space; it just wasn't viable. I needed a small work space that could be tucked away in a corner. I began shooting some film and after all the expense and effort was really refreshing but initially results were quite frustrating!

 

Kynance SeascapeKynance Seascape

'Atlantic Sunset' - Kynance, Cornwall. Kodak Ektar 100 film.

 

I had the gear but was at the bottom of the knowledge ladder. I was so used to using a digital camera that fiddling around with so many extra considerations was tricky to get used to and is COST if I got it wrong. I bought the film from ebay for about £5 per roll. I sent my negatives off to Peak Imaging and they cost about another £5 each to have processed and sent back. The Mamiya, being 6X7 means you only get 10 shots to a roll. So yes, my rudimentary maths worked out that is £1 per shot, mistakes and all. I would set up a composition for a shot, spend ages focusing through the angled viewfinder and adjusting the bellows, only to think "do I really want a shot of this" and then emphatically realise I didn't, and put the lens cap back on. This was a good thing, as I started to really consider why I was shooting. What did I have to say? It is the fundamental requirement for any photographer I think. The trouble is, as I knew so little, I would find something to say, set up my shot, but not have the skills to carry it off and exposures would be white or black, bleached or out of focus. I semi panicked and began wishing I was shooting on my 5D iii so I knew I would be getting something usable. If conditions were nice I would default back to digital in case I messed up. With limited time I just wasn't using the film camera enough. Results were patchy at best for quite some time. Hmmm.......

 

Mamiya Film CameraBurrator, Dartmoor

'Clinging On' - Burrator Reservoir, Dartmoor National Park, Devon. Portra 400 film.

 

It was actually having a weekend of "film Only" cameras with a friend on Dartmoor that really made me see I could do it. It forced me to get to grips with what I was doing. It was slightly painful but necessary if I was going to shake off the familiarity and ease of digital. I found I was going through a much more deliberate and considered approach to each shot. Although initially frustrating not being able to see my images, there was an undeniable excitement when they arrived back from being developed. It really felt like Christmas morning each time. What had I shot? Did that one in the nice light come out? Totally different to importing 10 mins after shooting it. There is also value in waiting to see what you have in a more objective light. I would then unpack the scanner from 'storage' to scan my negatives. Scanned at 3200 dpi, and resized to 360dpi, I would end up with a picture that was 60cm long at that resolution. 8500 pixels long, this was Sony A7R/ Canon 5Ds territory on a camera from the mid 90's but on a budget. Over time my negatives improved, they were better exposed, I learned more about getting the files looking more natural in photoshop, but it all takes TIME. I finally felt confident that what I was shooting would come out more or less as intended. I began to enjoy the crafting of a photograph from start to finish so much more. It was just plain satisfying in a way that digital wasn't/ isn't.

 

'Larch' - Dartmoor National Park, Devon. Portra 800.

 

Trees,Beech Line

'Receding Beech Trees' - Dartmoor National Park, Devon. Ilford Delta 400 film.

 

kynance CliffKynance Cliffs

'Pentreath Cliffs' - Kynance, Cornwall. Kodak Extar 100 film.

 

After trying out various films over time, I started having some favourites. Portra 400 had a lovely colour and tonal range. It was fast enough if the wind was blowing a bit to keep some detail in the shot. Delta 100 had a great tonal transition and Acros could cope with longer exposures without needing to calculate for reciprocity failure. I was purely taking pictures to enjoy the experience and to learn. I was crafting something from start to finish for my own benefit and enjoyment. The only thing now was that I had to keep sending my negatives off to be developed and I had no control over it, and it was another expense. As I learned about the ability to push and pull film, it seemed like the next obvious step was to process them myself at home. I knew absolutely nothing about this. How much stuff did I need, how much would it cost and did I have the space for it? I set about answering these questions to see if I could get myself in the position where I could be independent in taking, developing, scanning and printing my own pictures. It was at this time I asked for a Zero 2000 Pinhole camera for my 40th Birthday. I loved the dreamy feel these camera offered, and the fact there were more about expression than technicality. I also hoped I could process the results at home from the Mamiya too.

 

Pinhole'Tom'

'Hanging Out', Tom in the garden, Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film.

 

Home Developing

After asking a few questions online, the good film shooters out there provided some much needed advise. I set about ordering these items to suit my needs. It might help those that want to have a go to get a similar set up, but everyone will have slightly different requirements. My decisions were based on

  • Limited time and space
  • A small budget totaling no more than about £200
  • A need to be able to pack and store materials away after use
  • An ability to use chemicals safely with two small children running wild
  • Black and White film development only (colour was a step too far at this stage)
  • A purely personal output

These were the things I bought and how much they cost....(most from FirstCallPhotographic.co.uk)

  1. 1 x Calumet changing tent - £50 new from Calumet! A bargain.
  2. 1 x 1ltr Kodak HC-110 Developer - £17.99 (ebay)
  3. 1 x 500ml Ilford Stop - £6.09
  4. 1 x 1 ltr Ilford Fix - £11.99
  5. 3 x 1 ltr Plastic Collapsible chemical storage jars - £15.00
  6. 1 x Jobo 1520 universal developing tank (takes two reels of 120 film) - £37.89
  7. 3 x 500ml Plastic measuring jugs - £8.00
  8. 2 x Film Clips - £11.99
  9. 1 x Film drying squeegee - £12 inc postage
  10. 1 x 10ml measuring syringe - £2
  11. 1 x Small plastic funnel - £1.50

Total cost = £174.45

All materials stored in a pretty small cardboard box taking up very little room.

I already had been given a thermometer and a stainless steel tank for one film only.

So where to start? The first thing to do was to shoot two rolls of film so I can fill the Jobo tank. Questioning my ability to get this right first time I messed around with a roll of Delta 100 B&W film in the garden with my kids. If they came out it would be a bonus, if not then I already have 10,000 shots of them anyway! This was actually great fun, and my oldest was very good at suggesting and directing. He managed to hold still for 45 second exposures, well, nearly still. The first thing you notice when shooting with a pinhole camera is just how much it relies on 'feel'. No viewfinder, no screen, no....nothing! Just point it roughly where you want, guess the 25 degree angle and you are away. The other thing is, at F/138.0, you can get REALLY close to your foreground. You have about 1 inch to infinity in focus. and that opens up all sorts of possibilities. My Zero 2000 has no way of adding filters, and so one has to be a bit careful about very bright skies, but to be honest, it isn't too big a deal, and versions are available with front screw threads.

I use a Pentax spot meter, with a 'Zone System' chart taped to the top. Measure the shadows, and set to around Zone 3. Measure the highlights and see if they are going to be around Zone 7 or 8.

https://cdn.tutsplus.com/photo/uploads/legacy/514_anseladams/2.jpg

Remember to dial in the adjustments for F/138.0! This then tells you what shutter speed to set. There is a nice little brass dial for this on the back of the Zero 2000. It is a very simple and pretty accurate way of doing things, and extremely quick to get the hang of. In bright light you will be getting shutter speeds of around a 15th sec. Normal cloudy conditions more like 2 to 3 seconds. Twilight and you are likely to be well over 30 seconds. On the Pentax spot meter is an iso setting. I rated my Delta 100 film to 50, which adds 1 stop more light than normal to each shot. Otherwise it tends to come out a little under exposed. In fact, B&W film can be 'boosted' or pushed more than colour film I find. There is a good dose of adding or taking away some exposure time as you like, particularly when you get up to 30 seconds or more. I managed to guess a tenth of a second shooting into the sun at the beach and they came out pretty well!

 

Pinhole,Into the Sun

'Full Sun' - Gunwalloe Test shot, Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film.

 

Pinhole Space hopperSpace Hopper 'Space Hopper - Home in Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film.

 

Developing

So after experimenting with children and space hoppers, I moved my attention to the coast. I thick sea fog provided me with an opportunity for uncluttered imagery down at the fishing village of Coverack quite near to where I live on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. I got the tripod as low as I could to the ground. I wanted to bring out the sand patterns and shapes of the rock against the white sea and fog. Three second exposures were all that were needed as the sun was trying to burn through and it was early afternoon. Once I had taken another roll of film, I sacrificed an old and out of date roll of Velvia 100 to try feeding the 120 film onto the plastic reel of the Jobo in the changing tent. This is really worth doing, as it just isn't the same with your eyes open! There are plenty of youtube clips showing you how to do this. Finally, I went for it and loaded the two rolls of film into the tank in the little tent. I was recommended a tent instead of a bag as your hands can quite easily get a bit sweaty in a bag, and the tent is perhaps a bit more roomy and easier to maneuver. A few issues with the tape at the end of the roll getting in the way and I was set. Again, lots of youtube clips can talk you through the developing process. Once loaded, you are then able to remove the films in the tank as it is light tight. This is fantastic as your "dark Room" is just a few centimeters across and can collapse afterwards and fold flat. Chemicals can then be added later in the bathroom or sink.

 

I opted to use Kodak HC-110 as my developer. There are a number of different developers out there and it can be tricky to choose. I actually bought some Ilford DDX as well, but plan to open that after I am used to the HC-110. I was recommended it as a great all rounder (thanks Stoo!) and knew that you only use a very small quantity each time (just 10ml!) and that it would last for years. This was ideal, as I wasn't going to be developing much film, just a few rolls from time to time.  Having chosen my developer, I then mixed each quantity (500ml in total of each Developer, Stop and Fix for the Jobo 1520 tank I was using) and got them to 20 deg C by putting the diluted chemicals into their measuring jugs in a bath of water. An accurate thermometer is a must here. It is also important to mention, that repeating your process EXACTLY is essential if you are going to make progress. I used a nifty free App for my iphone called 'Develop!' to set all the appropriate timings. These are available on the massive development chart online. A truly useful website for all types of film and developer.

 Film  (Taken from the Massive Development Chart Website for this combination)

   Developer  Dilution  ASA/ISO   35mm   120   Sheet   Temp   Notes 
 Delta 100 Pro   HC-110   E   50   5.5   5.5   5.5   20C   [hcE] 
 Note [hcE] Dilution E is 1+47 from concentrate.

I was recommended using a 1:49 dilution of HC-110 with water, developing for 5 1/2 minutes. Agitating gently for the first 30 seconds, and then every minute thereafter. As soon as this is completed, you remove the developer and pour in your pre heated or cooled Stop. This prevents the developer from doing any more work. Try to get your timing as accurate as possible. Once this is done, only a minute, then out it comes to be stored for next time in your collapsible storage bottle. In goes your Fixative, which attaches the film emulsion onto the plastic film body. I was recommended to Fix Delta 100 for 7 minutes. This is a bit longer than literature will quote, but hey, I have relied a lot on good old recommendations based on years of experience. This can also be stored for next time. Finally, the negatives need washing. I put three refills through the tank of clean soft water (if you have hard water then buy some distilled water)

Having agitated these three tanks full of water for a minute each, I then opened up the whole tank and ran the tap over it in the sink for about 10 minutes. A bit of a waste of water, but for a worthy cause! Any developer you have flushed will now be diluted down the sink or bathtub so as not to be of any danger to you or others. A good wipe up is needed though. You could save your developer if you wanted to, and adjust your timings accordingly for your weaker solution next time, but to be honest, the cost is negligible at this dilution, and I like the idea of a fresh shot of developer each time. Another reason to choose the HC-110. At last the negs are visible, and can be hung up with your film clips, I would recommend the shower as it is normally the least dusty spot in the house. A film squeegee can be used to dry them off after using some form of wetting agent. I simply added two drops of fairy liquid to the tank on the last wash. This helps it to dry streak free.

After an hour your negatives will be dry and ready for trimming and adding to a negative storage sheet. This is really helpful for labeling and safe storage, although can be a right pain to load easily! The negs can now be scanned, and that is something for a different blog! I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process, from start to finish. It is loads easier than it sounds here, and is all about personal accomplishment, control and satisfaction. Here are some of the shots I took at Coverack in the sea fog.

 

Pinhole camera coverackCoverack Fog

'Coverack Beach in Fog' - Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film, home developed negatives.

 

Pinhole photograph CoverackScattered rocks, Coverack

'Coverack Beach in Fog' - Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film, home developed negatives.

 

Coverack Fishing Village, CornwallCoverack Fishing Village, Cornwall

'Coverack Beach in Fog' - Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film, home developed negatives.

 

Low Tide, Coverack, CornwallLow Tide, Coverack, Cornwall

'Coverack Beach in Fog' - Cornwall. Zero 2000 Pinhole, Delta 100 film, home developed negatives.

 

Overall, I have been really pleased with my initial results. The tonal transitions were very smooth, and there was no blown highlight or loss of shadow detail. I have given these examples a small boost of contrast as it was a very 'flat' light that day and they looked a bit lifeless. I am now very excited to see what results I can get with the Mamiya as well as continuing to use the Pinhole camera. I am now able to reduce my overall cost of developing the film, and find the process far more rewarding as well. So if you reached a personal plateau and don't know what to do to get motivated again, I can only suggest you try it if you haven't already! We are in an age of technical advancement, and it is rammed down our throats wherever we look. Ultimately, it may make life easier, but it doesn't necessarily make it more enjoyable and rewarding and it costs a fair bit too! Shooting from the heart and crafting your own work from start to finish is extremely rewarding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

3.Stephen Hartsfield(non-registered)
Just found your site from your facebook post from which Charlie Cramer "liked". I too, shoot digital and film. I started shooting before you were born! For film, I use Hasselblad and Linholf Master Technika (120 and 5x4). Presently I use Tmax 100 and 400 film and am experimenting with Acros. I use HC110 for non-Tgrain films (Ansel Adams loved the developer). I use Tmax RS at dilutions of 1:7 or 1:9 for the Tmax and Acros. Acros, I am still working on development in Tmax RS, but have heard Xtol is probably the best (expensive though and comes in large quantities). I shoot the Nikon D800E digitally, and use Lightroom exclusively (I am learning PS). In 2016 I discovered Scotland and Ireland and absolutely love the landscapes, i have traveled from the US twice to each country now. I love the moody weather. Glad I discovered you and found that we share our photographic thoughts and experiences. I am looking forward to a blog from you on scanning since I have not delved into that yet. Cheers and looking forward to seeing more of your work.;
2.Joe Rainbow(non-registered)
Thanks Jenny, I am glad you enjoyed it.
1.Jenny MacLennan(non-registered)
Great blog Joe! You've expressed just why I find using film so much more enjoyable than digital. It can be frustrating missing shots that you would have captured on digital, but when it all comes together is is very rewarding. Keep enjoying the journey!
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