Saturday, 30 April 2016

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2016

Harman Direct Positive Paper
Last weekend, for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, I shot exclusively large format film and paper. Using a pinhole lensboard with my MPP Micro-Technical camera provided more flexibility than the cardboard cameras I'd made two years ago to shoot glass plates, four cameras constructed in two different sizes. In order to shoot more than just four pinhole photographs, I had taken boxes of plates and a changing bag with me to reload the cameras; the limit to using large format was how many 4x5 film holders I had. I made a pinhole using a piece of metal from a drinks can and rotating a needle to pierce it, fitting it behind a home-made lensboard. Measuring the hole by scanning it at maximum resolution gave a measurement of 0.2mm, although as I could only measure this down to one decimal place, it provided a margin of error to all other calculations. At a focal length of 150mm, this provides an aperture of f750. I shot some test photographs with this pinhole to find the resulting images less sharp than anticipated, realising afterwards this was due to the diffraction effect provided by small apertures.

MPP Micro-Technical Mk VI with pinhole lensboard
The website Mr Pinhole has a useful table to help calculate an optimum pinhole size for a given focal length. At 150mm this was given as 0.5mm. Carefully enlarging the pinhole and measuring it a few steps at a time, produced a pinhole of 0.6mm. At 150mm, this would be f250; extending the bellows to 180mm would mean f300, both convenient round numbers. The lensboard could be placed anywhere on the triple extension of the MPP, but short focal lengths would mean a loss of detail due to too wide an f-stop (as well as showing the folding bed in the frame), and long focal lengths a loss of resolution due to diffraction again, as well as increasingly long exposure times. Ideally, one could make a number of pinholes with optimum sizes for a number of focal lengths, but I used one, mostly at a focal length of 150mm, with only a couple of shots at 180mm; it was easier to conceptualise each picture at a 'standard' angle of view as the ground glass couldn't be used.

Ilford FP4 with handwritten date '11/4/78', shot with 180mm focal length
Initially, I had considered only using Harman Direct Positive Paper, but after testing the paper the day before with rather mixed results, I decided to shoot film as well, using the FP4 and Plus-X from the 1970s that I'd shot on the recent Expired Film Day (I did also shoot a handful of glass plates but found these harder than the Direct Positive Paper to get a decent image with the pinhole I had made). The Direct Positive Paper I shot was over five years old, and the developer I used, PQ Universal, was probably as old, if not older, an unopened bottle having been given to me some years ago. I developed the paper in a tank like film rather than in trays, so I wasn't able to inspect the process, but even with developing times around ten minutes, the darkest tones never quite got dark enough. In addition, getting the exposure right with Direct Positive Paper is difficult enough given its high contrast, compounded by rapidly changing lighting conditions in the morning, with broken clouds moving quickly across the sky, as seen in this shot on FP4 with an eight second exposure.

Harman Direct Positive Paper
With relatively long exposures at an aperture around f250 and shooting the paper with an exposure index of 3, a number of shots were complicated by the light changing during the exposure itself: with exposure times in full sun calculated at around 90 seconds, I had a more than one shot when part-way through an exposure, the sun would disappear behind a cloud, and I had to try to re-calculate how much to extend the exposure with the light levels dropping three or four stops, as in the image above, and mostly erred on overexposure, with which the paper very quickly loses all highlight detail.

Harman Direct Positive Paper
Later in the day, conditions became overcast, which made using the Direct Positive Paper easier, not only with more consistent lighting, but also being inherently lower contrast. The images above, and at the top of this post, were taken in such lighting. The Direct Positive Paper does give a reversed image, which might mean avoiding shots with lettering being prominent; I shot the exterior of Doomed Gallery as I had an exhibit in the London Alternative Photography Collective exhibition over the weekend as part of the London Pinhole Festival - glass plate positives of the negatives shot on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day two years ago. I also made another exposure on FP4 film as a comparison. As well as exposures in seconds rather than minutes, using film, even out of date film rated 64 and 25 for the FP4 and Plus-X respectively, both film's latitude and reciprocity failure helped achieve more consistent results.

Ilford FP4 with handwritten date on the box '11/4/78'
Kodak Plus-X, develop date before July 1972
See the whole set of pinhole photographs here.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Other glass plates

Ilford R.40 Rapid Process Panchromatic glass plate
As well as the Selochrome stereo plates written about in my last post, I have also shot a number of different plates for night photography in recent months. I've used the last of the large format Selochrome plates written about in 2014 with some good results. Also mentioned in that blogpost were the Wratten & Wainwright Metallographic plates which were heavily fogged around the edges, so much so that I had all but written off using the plates. However, as I'd had a couple sitting in a plateholder for months, I decided to expose one on the same night as exposing this image on one of the Selochrome plates, and giving a moderately long exposure provided an image far less obscured by the fogging around the edges than I'd previously experienced.

Kodak Wratten & Wainwright Metallographic plate
As the Wratten & Wainwright box was sealed when I got it, I don't have a good theory as to why the plates shot recently should be less fogged than the others, except perhaps the fact that these plates would be from the central portion of the box, with a number of plates stacked on top (and below) the two illustrated here - although the edges of the plates themselves remain in the same relation to the edges of the box as those at the top or bottom of the stack.

Wratten & Wainwright glass plate
Incidentally both plates shown here exhibit true solarisation - the brightest highlights in the streetlamps have turned black. The term solarisation (when not describing a digital filter) is usually applied to what is more properly known as the Sabatier effect: the exposure in these highlight areas is such that the negative begins to lose density beyond the shoulder section of the characteristic curve (this phenomenon gets a brief mention in Ansel Adams' The Negative when describing his photograph The "Black Sun", Owens Valley, California). There's still a fair amount of fogging, and exposing for longer to combat this has resulted in what appears to be grain seen in the highlight areas, but this is scanner noise caused by the high density.

Late last year, I found two boxes of 4x5 inch plates, both Ilford R.40 Rapid Process Panchromatic - one box had been previously opened, but then resealed with black tape, and no plates had been used from it. I opened the other box for the information leaflet inside, which provided a date - August 1959.

Ilford R.40 Rapid Process Panchromatic glass plates
As described in the Ilford Manual of Photography (1946), Rapid Process Panchromatic plates were "For copying coloured originals. A plate of high contrast. The standard plate for colour separation screen negatives for photo-lithography." These were fifth highest in the list of plates by contrast in the Manual, and, as a process plate, it isn't given a speed: these plates were not intended for pictorial photography. The word Rapid in the name refers I think more to the speed of development rather than sensitivity - the information leaflet with the plates gives a development time of 2 1/2 minutes in ID13. The plates were introduced in 1918, and, according to Silver By The Ton, were rated 8 ASA in the post-1960 standard: other plates with the term Rapid in the name around the same time were rated 20 ASA.

Ilford R.40 Rapid Process Panchromatic test plate
For a test exposure, I rated one plate with an exposure index of 10 as a reasonable starting point, and with three successive exposures by progressively withdrawing the dark slide, gave the plate effective exposure indices of 10, 5, and 2.5 from right to left in the shot above. This was stand developed in RO9 One Shot, diluted 1+150 (to reduce contrast) for one hour. The results were very encouraging. The central section, with an effective rating of 5, looked best from the test plate. However, when shooting them at night, the first set of plates did appear to be overexposed, not helped by using a developer dilution of 1+100, rather than 1+150. The highlights in these negatives are very dense, and this again added noise when scanning in these areas, much like the Wratten & Wainwright plates: the image at the top of this post is one of the plates shot and developed in this fashion. I reduced my exposure times for the next shots by around one stop, and developed these plates at 1+150, as below.

Ilford R.40 Rapid Process Panchromatic plate
The Rapid Process Panchromatic plates are amongst the best I've used, in terms of the emulsion showing very little age-related deterioration; when coupled with getting the exposure right and developing to reduce the inherent contrast, the plates produce excellent results.

Ilford R.40 Rapid Process Panchromatic plate
Special Rapid Panchromatic plates
I've also recently used some quarter-plate size Special Rapid Panchromatic plates. First produced in 1919 at 32 ASA, these are "Fine grain. Fairly high contrast. General purpose plate. Widely used in scientific; and in the photo-mechanical trade for block making, offset work and photogravure." These are just above the middle of the contrast range of Ilford plates at the time. A leaflet inside the box was dated to 1946.

Special Rapid Panchromatic plate test
Rather than shooting these plates for the ongoing night photography project, I used most of the plates from the box on the LAPC photo walk last month; these were just fast enough to use handheld, rated around 10. The test plate above was also rated 10: with three successive exposures, the middle section at an exposure index of 5 provides a fuller negative. The plate below was one that I did shoot at night with a twenty-minute exposure which captured people queuing at a bar better than expected, if still very faint.

Special Rapid Panchromatic plate
Some time around 1950 Ilford's plate names gained prefixes with a letter and numerals: the Special Rapid Panchromatic above were later given the prefix R.20 as seen on this leaflet. I've wondered for some time about how these were constructed, what was the logic to them. The Hypersensitive Panchromatic and Fine Grain Panchromatic emulsions, being new just before the second world war, were not abbreviated in same way as other emulsions later: these were already abbreviated to HP and FP while the films went through their numerical iterations. Most other plates were given the alphabetical prefixes R, G and N (although not all - Selochrome didn't gain a prefix, but this was more of a brand name than a descriptor). Looking at the spectral sensitivity of the plates, as all panchromatic plates are given an R, it would appear that the letter are R denotes red sensitive; G plates are 'highly orthochromatic' with sensitivity extended into the yellow part of the spectrum that perhaps G is for green sensitive; and N for 'ordinary' plates would possibly mean not colour sensitive. I haven't found a logic to the numbers. One wonders if photographers stopped calling Soft Gradation Panchromatic plates that, and started referring to them simply as R.10 plates?

The Negative, Ansel Adams, 1981
Silver By The Ton, RJ Hercock and GA Jones,1979
The Ilford Manual of Photography, James Mitchell (ed.), 1946

Friday, 15 April 2016

Ilford Selochrome stereo plates

Ilford Selochrome Plates
Although my ongoing project of shooting old, previously unexposed photographic glass plates at night had become more sporadic in recent months (and I had been shooting plates in other situations such as the LAPC Photo Walk), a period of unseasonably warm nights last Autumn into December encouraged me to shoot more. Of the plates shot recently, a box of previously unopened Selochrome 6x13cm plates provided some interesting results due in part to the unusual format: the 6x13cm plate size is a stereo format; the box is the same size as the HP3 plates written about in the post 'Some odd sized glass plates', but those plates had been cut down by hand to a quarterplate length. The outer wrapping of the plates was torn and tatty, and the outer label itself isn't designed for the box: it's the same size as those used on 4x5 inch boxes, such that the label wraps around the box. The inner label under the wrapping is dated to February 1948.

As the plates are just a few millimetres too long to fit into 4x5 inch plates holders (5 inches being 127mm, although actual plate sizes vary a small amount), I converted two MPP holders which needed reconditioning. I made a cut in the bottom edge of the holders, which, being made from wood, was fairly easy to do, and removed enough material to sit the glass plates flush once loaded. These alterations were then painted matt black.

Detail of cut in bottom of holder
Interestingly, when removing the metal covers on the plateholders to access the felt light traps, I discovered that they had a similar slot already cut into the top edge of the holder, normally invisible. This was almost exactly the right size for the stereo plates.

Detail of slot in top of holder
I also found that some printed matter had been used to shim the metal covers to the right clearance for the darkslides, intriguing evidence of the hand-made nature of these wooden plateholders. To make sure the stereo plates sat securely in place, I also made card inserts in the manner detailed in my post on 'Glass plate adaptors'; I sacrificed one of the plates from the box as a template to ensure a good fit with both the alterations to the holders and the adaptors I'd made.

Completed conversion with plate loaded
Having used some 4x5 Selochrome plates before, of a similar age, I was hopeful that the box would contain usable plates; I shot a test plate with a starting exposure index of 50, and with three successive exposures on the plate, giving effective exposure indices of 50, 25, 12 from left to right,

Ilford Selochrome stereo plate test
The plates do show a number of features of age-related deterioration (aside from a broken corner) to the emulsion, although this was not consistent across the plates: some have a large amount of pinholing, while a couple have what appears to be 'star-burst' shapes of the emulsion lifting around a central point of stress. Most of the plates have strips along the edges where there's been a reaction to the cardboard runners holding the plates in pairs, although this is within the width of the rebate from the plateholders.

Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 16.5cm Tessar
Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 150mm Xenar
Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 150mm Xenar
Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 90mm Angulon
Given that the stereo plate dimensions appear somewhat panoramic, I shot some of the plates with a 90mm Angulon lens - a lens I've hardly ever used for large format - which seemed more appropriate with the format (some stereo plate cameras, such as the Jumelle Stéreo-panoramique were designed to shoot both stereo pairs or single, panoramic images). I also used these plates to shoot three photographs of the rebuilding of a local station which has been disused for over thirty years.

Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 16.5cm Tessar
Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 90mm Angulon
Ilford Selochrome plate shot with 90mm Angulon

Friday, 8 April 2016

Found Glass Plates (2)

In a box of Ilford Bromide Postcards, previously opened but subsequently taped shut, I discovered a stack of fifteen glass plate negatives. I had noticed that the box was unusually heavy, and what was inside was loose and sliding around; opening the box in a black bag, it was clear the box contained plates. Although the Ilford Bromide Postcards box came as part of the same lot as the plates illustrating my post, 'Found Glass Plates', these plates show different people and the houses are different, with clothing styles possibly later than those in the current post. There's some writing in pencil on the box above the label it appears to say "Glossy 1/-" and a squiggle; to the side of the label it has either "Mr Cousins" or possibly "My Cousins". There's also some writing in white chalk almost entirely rubbed away. All the glass negatives are in quarterplate size (10.8x8.2cm).

Ilford Bromide Postcards Box
A loose chronology of the order in which the plates were shot isn't that difficult to establish. The photographs concern a house and an extended family - there appear to be family resemblances between many of the people portrayed, although some may be friends. Beginning with a newly built house (the disturbed ground around the house and the pile of sand suggest this) in what appears to be late Winter or early Spring, the sequence of plates appears to go through different seasons in the course of a year, although it's possible the plates may be from a few years close together.

Stylistically, the house looks as though it dates to around 1930. The sign at right state "No vehicles to pass this point". In the background is a large henhouse, some chickens, and some smaller coops. There's a second plate which shows the house again, but this is some time later, a different time of year, and with a semi-circular step covered in broken tiles built below the existing brick steps in the first plate. Before the second plate of the house come a number of shots of people on the brick steps.

Apart from the woman at the back on the right, none of the other people reappear in the rest of the plates. However, there are four shots of people standing on the steps, three of which include her. These may have been taken on the same day, although the grass just visible in front of the steps appears shorter, and the woman is wearing different clothes, it's also later in the day, judging by the shadows - the group shot above looks like it was taken around midday. Of the standing plates, one has a man and a dog (the dog reappears in other plates), then two plates with the same man and the woman from the plate above, followed by one with the woman again and a different man.

The man in the last shot in the plus-fours must be the photographer for the preceding three plates (of which I've only shown two), and presumably the man in the previous three plates shot the last one, moving closer in, and not changing the focus on the camera from before. The woman appears again in another shot in midday sunlight (with a different dress) on a bench with an older man and another woman. In the background to this shot are a number of wooden outbuildings which are to the right of the house in the first plate, just out of view - but may have been built after the house.

The nearest outbuilding is a garage. Two plates show a man, not appearing in other plates, inflating a tyre for the car inside. Another sunny day, this is later in the day than the plate above, and the long shadow in the second of these plates is from the chimney of the house.

In the second plate, the registration plate of the car house can clearly be seen: RU-2361 (another house can also be seen in the background; otherwise, shots of the house itself make it look isolated). According to a search on, the number plate would have been issued some time between November 1924 and July 1929 from Bournemouth C.B.C. The car then appears in another group shot, where the woman from a number of the plates above reappears with the dog and some children. The tree behind the car is the same as that in the first shot of the man inflating the tyre, locating this as being outside the house again. The sign on the post is taller than that in the first plate, and facing in the other direction and the path can be seen to be edged with bricks.

The house itself reappears in a sequence of three shots apparently taken on the same day. A plate of the house taken from the bottom of the drive shows the grass grown high around the house with flowers planted alongside it. The garage and tree can now be seen at the right.

There's a man in a white shirt and braces with shears in front of the house, and a woman just visible beside the house. The next plate shows the man at work cutting the grass with the shears between two garden forks or spades planted upright (a second pair of shears is propped up on one of these, so the man may not be working alone). In the background can also be seen a third house in the distance.

The last in the sequence of three plates shows the man in the same clothes but without his hat eating strawberries with the woman who appears in most of the photographs. They are sitting on the semi-circular step covered in broken tiles which doesn't appear in previous photographs of the front of the house.

Finally, there are two plates shot from the dormer window of the house itself, looking down the drive in flood. There's a line of mainly bare trees which appear to mark the course of a stream or river, the cause of the flooding. The flowering shrubs alongside the drive can be seen and perhaps the area of shorter grass from the shearing in the above plates. A bench is on either side of the drive, that on the left just visible being the one use for the photograph of the three people earlier. At the very top of the drive is the brick edging seen in the photograph of the car, and an odd rock garden which looks new. In the second plate, the woman and dog appear on the drive.