When I retired four years ago I decided to get back into more serious photography as a means of having an interest that I could pursue.
I joined the local photography club and started entering competitions. This was using a modern digital camera. However, I started seeing some good old film 35mm cameras on ebay which piqued my interest in maybe getting back and doing some retro film photography.
So, two years ago I started using old cameras and developing my own black and white films. The negatives would then be scanned to digital copies for use on social media etc.
That then, of course, led me to thinking that wouldn’t it be nice to get back to some old retro printing in the darkroom using traditional silver gelatin printing methods.
I had semi converted our loft in our house to a craft room 10 years ago. I had redirected the electrical wiring and extended lighting and power circuitry. Flooring was the next thing to go down followed by rooflights and insulating between the rafters. We are fortunate that our house has quite a high ridge line so the loft has a high area in the centre without having to disturb the main load bearing structure.
I was also able to create workbench areas constructed off the load bearing trusses down each side of the roof. I was aware that I couldn’t put a lot of load on the roof structure so the way I had done it meant that it could never be used as a proper room and heavy things such as furniture couldn’t be put up there. It was though adequate to allow use for crafts as nothing I was using was heavy.
The room as it was converted was great as a craft room but we never really used it as such as we realized that as we are still capable of going out we would rather be out and about than stuck up in the loft doing crafts. For me the plan was to do model making and for Liz it was bead and card making.
So, we were quite happy to let things go and spend our time going out and the craft room didn’t really get used. Then, along came Covid 19 and we had a lot of spare time on our hands.
So, jump to 9 months ago and my current interest in doing some photographic printing. The first thing I had to do was to make some blackout curtains for the Velux windows. The windows which were a big advantage for craft work were something I could do without in a darkroom where you have to work only with a red safelight.
So, some material purchased from ebay along with self-adhesive velcro and I’d made the blackout blinds for the windows.
Next thing was the equipment required to produce prints from negatives. I used to do photographic printing as a teenager and had kept all the equipment, the enlarger, developing trays, safelight etc but here’s the cruck, when I was going to convert the loft I had decided I wasn’t going to use that anymore in the digital age so had chucked it in the council tip. I had tried giving it away but no one wanted it. At that point everyone thought that film photography had died.
Fortunately for me, 10 years later a fellow member of my photography club was clearing out his garage and wanted to just get rid of all the kit to do printing. It was actually better kit than I had before as that was purchased when I was a penniless teenager rather than a penniless pensioner.
So, next stage was to get all the kit up and running. It hadn’t been used for a while and some of the electronic things didn’t seem to work any more. So things like the enlarger timer were taken out of line and replaced with an ordinary in-line torpedo switch and the timing done with a mechanical timer.
In an ideal world a darkroom should have a wet area but for my room I had to make do with using a couple of the large plastic darkroom trays that I had acquired to wash the prints. All used chemicals and dirty water goes into a bucket and is carried down to the bathroom for disposal.
All set up and ready to go and an order sent off to Ilford Photo for some paper developing chemicals and Kentmere VC Select 10” x 8” silver gelatin paper. I setup an oil filled radiator in the loft. Although the heat from the house would rise up through the open loft door I did need to make sure that the temperature in the room was maintained at around 20 deg C. so additional heating was required.
I had been running out of subjects to photograph but fortunately the Henry Moore Gardens in Perry Green had decided to stay open in December so thought that would make a good subject for some film photography.
Whilst I have been using Ilford black and white films by preference I’d also been trying out using some unusual film. One such was Rollei Retro 400s which is actually a film originally produced in Belgium for aerial surveillance (more on that subject in another post). It is what is termed as super panchromatic and is sensitive to more of the red spectrum. I thought it would suit the subject of Henry Moore sculptures very well with it’s increased contrast.
My first trials were to actually test the effectiveness of my blackout arrangements. I set everything up and placed a coin on some photographic paper with all lights including the red safelight off for 20 minutes. Developing this showed no witness of the coin on the paper so that proved the blackout arrangements were OK.
Next test was with the previous arrangement but this time with the red safelight on. This proved that the safelight itself was effective in not fogging the paper.
I was using multigrade paper so set the colour head settings on the enlarger to give a grade 2 mid range contrast and my first set of prints were just to do a couple of test strips. First set 5 seconds apart to get the ball park figure then another set 2 seconds apart. I also established that the photos of the Henry Moore sculptures looked better with a bit more contrast so reset the colour head settings to give a grade 3 paper.
I did some 8” x 10” prints and were very pleased with the results. Unlike when trying to print using an inkjet printer the black were actually a warm tone black rather than a blue hue as produced by the inkjet.
I have also recently processed the higher contrast Rollei Retro 400s film and produced some prints from those which I’ve been very pleased with.
Next stage in my lockdown crafts is to mount and frame some of the photos. I think a set of three framed Henry Moore prints would look good on the wall.
My latest project whilst in lockdown is to increase the contrast of my black and white film photos. I’ve been reading about various new 35mm films that have come on the market that were designed for uses such as aerial surveillance or use in ATM machines. Even some that emulate the old black and white film stock produced for the movies in Germany. Many of these films are 2 to 3 times the price of my regular black and white films such as Ilford HP5+ or Fomapan 400.
This got me to thinking though that maybe I could emulate some of these films by using my regular film stock and altering exposure and development to increase contrast.
For a given film and developer the variables are duration of development, Temperature of developer and agitation. Activity (whether the solution is used more than once) can also be a variable but for these tests I’ve used one shot methods. Increasing development time increases both the density and the contrast of the negative image but also increases the speed of the film and the granularity of the image.
My test is carried out using a pair of my Olympus OM40s loaded with Ilford HP5+. I also used another roll in my Ricoh KR10 Super which I intended to shoot at box speed but then alter the agitation of the tank from 10 seconds each minute to 30 seconds each minute to see how that effects the final outcome.
The Olympus camera exposure meters are set to the normal ‘off film’ setting for centre biased exposure. One camera will be shot using an E.V. of minus 2 to enhance depth of the shadow areas. This gives an effective film speed of 1600 ISO. This film will then be developed in Ilford ID11 diluted 1+1 for the regular time plus 20% to enhance the contrast. This will give me a development time of 15.5 minutes. The second camera is set to an E.V. of zero and the development time in ID11 diluted at 1+1 will be the regular 13 minutes.
The Ricoh was set to 400 ISO and the dilution was 1+3 to improve sharpness and also agitated 30 seconds every minute. This in contrast to 10 seconds every minute which is my normal method.
Maybe semi-stand development might be the answer, but that’s another test for another day.
My first test day was carried out during a walk through Marks Hall Arboretum. I thought trees would make a reasonable subject during these times when my ability to get into London for some architecture is limited. The day was a bit overcast so I thought this might show up better any increased contrast.
The test using the Ricoh was conducted on a bright and sunny day taking photographs of a church and a local wood.
In part Two I’ll be looking at the results and comparing the photographs!
An interesting trip out a while ago with my favourite retro camera of the moment, the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic SPII. We drove up into Suffolk to the end of the promontory where Felixstowe Docks are located. There is an old Fort called Landguard Fort built in the 1500s originally but the present construction dates much later. Being an overcast day and the Fort a very grey concrete construction I thought it would make an ideal subject for black and white film. So, I loaded up with a 36 exp roll of Ilford HP5+ and put a spare in my bag. I took my 55mm f1.8 and my 105mm f2.8 Takumar lenses fitted with a yellow filter for an added bit of contrast.
I love this old camera. It seems to fit my hand so well and I like the weight of it which has a feel of quality. The shutter sound too sounds really great and makes you feel you have an instrument of quality in your hands. The Takumar lenses are brilliant as is the Zeiss 29mm one.
It was a rather grey and overcast day so it was a little difficult in places accommodating the low light levels but all in all I was very pleased with the results.
Whilst we have had restricted travel I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the Henry Moore Gardens and Studios. It’s just a few minutes drive from where I live and just a few weeks ago I took the opportunity of a stroll around the grounds with a film camera loaded with a 36 exposure roll of Ilford HP5+ loaded into my Olympus OM2n.
I’m very pleased with the quality of the photos and I think the HP5+ film is certainly ideal for capturing the sculptures on a very dull day. The tonal range of the images is very good and I haven’t noticed too much grain. The film was developed in Ilford ID11 diluted 1+3 for 22 minutes. I would normally develop for 20 minutes but this was the second use of the developer so I added 10% to the time.
Geometric shapes can be defined as figure or area closed by a boundary which is created by combining the specific amount of curves, points, and lines.
A group of friends who are members of the local photography club and also keen on old cameras decided last week that it was time to go out on a photo shoot. Keeping to the current Government guidelines we were limited to a total of 6 and we decided to have a visit to a local town called Harlow in Essex.
The town plans were drawn up in 1947 by Sir Frederick Gibberd and was designated a New Town built to provide housing to replace the loss of housing in London during the war.
We wanted to catch the setting sun going down and throwing some light shafts through the contemporary architecture in the town. A New Town is an ideal location for this style of photography due to the proliferation of contemporary architecture with it’s associated square blocks and straight lines.
I used my Olympus OM2n 35mm SLR with a 50mm f1.4 lens. I had a red filter fitted to the lens for all these shots to darken the blue of the sky and give contrast between the sky and the buildings. Film used was Ilford HP5+ rated at 400 asa. The film was processed in Ilford ID11 @20 deg c for 20 minutes.
Film: Fomapan 400. Rated at 400asa. Developed in Ilford ID11 dilution 1+3 for 23 minutes @20 degC.
Film scanned using Plustek OpticFilm 8100 through Silverfast 8 software.
Why I chose this camera?
Having an interest in analogue photography I like to follow a YouTube channel called Analogue Insights (link at the end of this post). Recently, Max, who is the host of the site has done a review of the Afa Optima 1035. It seemed to be the ideal camera for some Street Photography and as a coincidence there was one on Ebay in mint condition which I purchased for £56.
The camera and it’s features.
The camera is built of metal and is very compact and takes 35mm film. It has zone focusing but if turned upside down it has the distance scale on the underside of the lens. Zone focusing is something I often use for Street Photography so that is fine. The viewfinder is very large and bright for such a small camera and it is equipped with a nice f2.8 40mm lens. The zone focusing settings are shown in the viewfinder which is handy. The exposure is fully automatic but there is an aperture setting on the lens. This though is only operational when using flash.
The camera was one of a series of cameras produced by Agfa through to the late 1970s and the simplistic design philosophy has as it’s roots in that of post war German industrial design. The design is a reflection of the design principles by such great designers as Dieter Rams who was instrumental in the design of the sleek and understated household goods for Braun in that era. “Good design is as little design as possible.” These few words encapsulate the philosophy of Rams. The British-American designer Jony Ive, Chief designer for Apple until 2019 once said of Rams that his work is “beyond improvement.”
This camera was designed by another German design studio. In 1967 Norbert Schlagheck and Herbert Schultes formed the design partnership Schlagheck Schultes Design GmbH and took on work of designing products for AGFA Gevaert AG. The design partnership was located in Munich and they were Influenced by Dieter Rams and his 10 Principles of Good Design. They were responsible for delivering designs for several classic cameras, along with other products. The design for AGFA provided a new and more modern direction for the camera-maker with the large red sensor shutter release being instrumental in the catch phrase for the product of ‘The other red dot camera’. This being a reference to the logo on Leica cameras. Not quite up to the standard of manufacture of Leica of course.
The results of my first trip out with the camera.
I recently was able to visit the National Trust property of Anglesey Abbey. Having just received the camera through the post I thought I’d load up with a roll of Fomapan 400 black and white film and try it out. It was an overcast day so not too much contrast but the white statuary in the grounds set against a dark background of foliage proved to be ideal for a test and I’m quite pleased with the results. The camera was a joy to use and handled very well. Manual focusing was very easy with the 400 ASA film providing small enough apertures to get some depth of field.
My next test of the camera will be to take it out on a trip doing some Street Photography.
8th May 2020 – My target for today was to go for my daily walk in the morning, expose a roll of black and white film on the walk. Get home and process the film, scan the negs and write this blog post.
I first met a problem with the scanning and had to do it again. I think it may have been a problem with using the dust and scratch removal on the Plustek scanner. They came out a bit blotchy so had to re-scan them all. Second thing I hadn’t factored in was that yesterday was a celebration in remembrance of V.E. day so had to go out for a social distancing street party later in the day and consume vast quantities of beer. All not conducive to finishing the post.
Anyway, continued today. Negs scanned and all OK. Edited in a format to post and ready to go.
The walk; A stroll of about 2.5 miles in the Hertforshire countryside near the village of Perry Green.
Olympus OM2n 35mm film camera.
Olympus 35-105 f3.5 Zuiko lens.
Olympus 200mm f4.0 Zuiko lens.
Fomapan 200 film developed in Ilford ID11 1+3 dilution @20degC. for 13 minutes.
Negs scanned using a Plustek Opticfilm 8100 film scanner with Silverfast 8 plus software.
Minimal post processing. Nik Silver Efex to add 35% sepia toning and black border.
The walk takes you from the church in Perry Green and past and round the Henry Moore Foundation grounds.
We do a right just after the entrance to Henry Moore Gardens and follow a footpath which takes us round the other edge of the gardens.
Doing another right at the end of the gardens takes us along the end of the gardens and through the fields past more Moore sculptures.
Another right turn takes us back along the field behind the Henry Moore Gardens and views of some more sculptures.
Each year on my birthday month I tend to go somewhere for a short city break. This year I chose Istanbul in Turkey. It seemed like too good an offer to pass over with 6 nights including flights and transfers from the airport for a little over £400.
The journey from Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, 30 miles South-East of Istanbul, to our hotel in Istanbul took around 1 1/2 hours including our driver getting into a scrap at a busy junction with a yellow cab driver. The timely arrival of a policeman on a motorbike broke up the two characters rolling around on a bonnet of the yellow cab throwing punches at each other. Fortunately the policeman didn’t arrest the cabbies and cart them off so we could continue our journey.
With all it’s mix of cultures and the changes throughout the ages to it’s architecture I thought it would be an interesting place to visit, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Istanbul wasn’t at that time showing any cases of the virus but we were scanned at the airport when we arrived by a thermal camera which should show anyone with a temperature.
Formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople and with over 15 million inhabitants, the city stands in a position between Europe and Asia. The city is split by the Bosphorous Strait which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. As the only sea route between the oil-rich Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus is one of the busiest waterways in the world.
We had a small but very comfortable hotel, The Hotel Perula, just a few minutes walk up a street from the Hipodrome and ideally located for all the tourist attractions.
We spent the rest of the first day on a short walk around the Hippodrome and the surroundings to get our bearings.
Day 2 – March 6th.
we decided to visit firstly the underground water reservoir called the Basilica Cistern followed by the two local mosques. The Basilica Cistern dates from the reign of Justinian in the 6th century. It consists of a vast underground cavern used to store the water which runs down from the nearby mountains in the vast underground where the roof is held up by 336 columns, each over 8 metres tall.
Following our visit to the Cistern we firstly visited the Haghia Sophia mosque, then Suleymaniye, commonly known as the Blue Mosque.
After wandering round the Hippodrome we vsited the Haghia Sophia mosque. The security here at the entrance is very stringent and I had my mini tripod taken from me. I should have had it in my bag rather than attached to the camera.
The interior of Haghia Sophia was a little disappointing as they are obviously doing some serious refurbishment and there is a lot of scaffolding up but then at over 1,400 years old I guess it’s not surprising.
Our second visit was to Suleymaniye mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque.
Built between 1609 and 1616 the blue mosque is known as such because of it’s blue iznik tiling on the interior. As the Haghia Sophia, this mosque is a little disappointing as it has quite a lot of restoration going on. I think I still managed to get some good shots using my fisheye lens.
Born in the 1930s Saul Leiter began by training as a Rabbi. He then followed this with a career as a Painter to be followed by a career as a Photographer.
His main body of work was in black and white which was the norm in those days. He was a very humble character who never sought fame but carried out his career in fashion and journalism whilst later on, in the early sixties, doing a personal body of work in colour.
He experimented with using out-of-date film and even film that had been damaged by being stored at too high temperature. The idea being to see how it would alter the colour balance of the results. He never sought fame and it is only in recent years that his early colour work has been recognised for what it is.
My own experience in following the Street Photography genre has been to follow the early photographers like Henri cartier Bresson and Brassai and their ilke and using black and white.
Having seen Leiter’s work with colour though it’s got me to appreciate how the extra dimension of colour can be used to enhance the results. I particulary like Leiter’s photographs where he uses windows, often dripping with condensation, to frame his photos and enhance with reflections and colour to give a layered effect.
I’ve recently been doing a series called ‘Through a window’ trying emulate the style of Saul Leiter. Not always easy to get the condensation effect without being somewhere where it is very cold. However the layered effect can still be achieved with the glass of the window to give the reflections of inside/outside.
Most of my attempts at emulating this style have been using the digital camera which is handy when photographing late afternoon with the dying light. I did though try to get really retro and use colour film. Very difficult to do with only 200 asa film in dying light. It certainly makes you appreciate the skill Leiter used.
One of the problems is that I live in a small town so subject matter is a bit scarce. I’ll have to get myself into London late afternoon for a wander round.
Look out for part II as I’m going to persevere with this. I’ve even got some 400 asa film on the way and will try that with my SLR with its f1.4 prime lens.