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!
A few experiments in printing black and white photographs.
These days we are all so used to instant gratification and seeing photographs almost instantly on social media. There is nothing to beat holding and viewing an actual printed photograph though.
I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of darkroom printing of my black and white photos onto silver gelatin paper. The experience of seeing the quality of the tonal range of a printed photo is quite something. This led me to thinking about doing a comparison between the same photo negatives scanned digitally and printed on an inkjet printer and those produced by the traditional darkroom process.
I should, at this stage, point out that I’ve had problems in the past producing black and white prints at home using my inkjet printer. They look acceptable until you put them against a good quality black and white reproduction. The inkjets always seem to have a slight blue tinge.
The first example is a scan of an image printed using an Epson SX200 inkjet printer. This is a 4 cartridge printer with only one black cartridge.
Both of these prints appear to be not too bad but you can only really see the difference when put side by side as in the next image scan. As you can see, the image on the left lacks punch and has a distinct blue tinge. The image on the right was printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 1500W inkjet printer. This printer has six cartridges but still has only the one black cartridge. It appears though that it can achieve a much improved tonal range with richer blacks.
That’s until you compare the image from the 1500W to those produced by other methods. My next comparison was to compare the image above and on the right to those printed from my Smugmug site and have them delivered mail order and .
Not bad and the one on the left has a slight blue tinge. The one on the right commercially printed is definitely better but as they are reasonably priced and are delivered to me in 2 days it’s not really worthwhile printing from home.
As for quality, I know one can print better on an inkjet printer if you are prepared to pay a £1000 for the printer and up to £50 per cartridge for replacement cartridges. These printers usually have 9 cartridges because they include 3 shades of grey so that can mean and ongoing layout of £450 which is outside most people’s budget.
Before we leave this subject I should point out that the photographs used as examples were all taken on 35mm Ilford HP5+ film around the Barbican, London. So, I should say that there is one alternative to the above methods and that is going back to traditional methods of producing the print in the darkroom by printing from an enlarger onto silver gelatin paper. In my opinion this gives the best result in terms of the blacks really being black and the range of tones are fantastic. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to use a darkroom but an interesting comparison all the same.
All photographs printed on lustre finish premium quality paper.
I’ve recently completed converting my loft into a darkroom. It seemed like a natural progression from having got more into my film photography recently..
An ideal time to spend in the darkroom what with this awful weather and being in lockdown.
Did a few trial prints the other day of some photos taken in the Barbican using a 35mm Olympus OM2n.The film was rated at ISO 400 and developed in Ilford ID11 developer.
These are all scans of the actual prints made in the darkroom and printed on Kentmere VC Select Luster multigrade paper.
The first print (above) I made using the settings on the colour head for the equivalent of a grade 2 paper which is a mid way grade. The range of tones at the lower level under the overhanging construction are pretty good, although the upper level balconies are a bit over exposed and losing some detail.
For the second example (above) I reset the yellow and magenta settings on the enlarger colour head to give me an equivalent to grade 3 paper which is more contrasty. The image has more punch and has darker blacks to the shadow area, although the lower part does look a bit under exposed (it does look darker on the scanned image than on the actual print though). It does also have good detail to the upper balcony areas. I may have to redo this and using a bit of cardboard just hold back the lower part by 5 seconds on the exposure in the enlarger.
It is good fun and is an interesting project to be doing in these restricted times.
I’ve also included a few of the other scanned prints of the Barbican from the last session.