Developing Film the Lazy Way

Developing film is usually an involved, but not very creative process. Yes, you can do weird things (like developing your film in coffee), but most people mix a developer (in my case Rodinal) to a specific dilution, put the film and developer in a tank, and agitate it every minute or so until you reach the time that the Massive Dev Chart tells you.

The only problem with this is that it requires your attention for anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour, and, in my opinion, it’s not a very interesting process. That’s one of the reasons I decided to try semi-stand development.

Semi-stand is a process whereby, rather than agitating regularly for the development time, you instead leave the tank to stand for the whole time, with only a small agitation at the halfway mark. Of course, you could avoid this agitation altogether (this is called stand development), but you risk uneven development. I’ve used this process on two rolls of HP5+ so far, and both times have been happy with the results. While I have noticed some changes in the quality of the resulting images, I’m unsure whether this is down to the stand development, or merely imagined. After all, it’s very hard to distinguish differences due to development process in two different images. Having said that, I do think I’ve observed a much nicer quality to the grain in these photographs.

Lone Tree in Fog
Lone Tree in Fog

The best thing to me about this process, however, is the fact that it frees me up to do other things while developing! Once I started developing a lot of film, I found that, although I love the results, I didn’t enjoy standing for half an hour, watching a development tank. With this process, I can go away and read a book for an hour while my film develops!

Heslington Church, 06
Heslington Church, #6

I’m unsure whether I’ll keep using semi-stand development as my ‘standard’ process, as I have noticed some inconsistencies in the results, but it’s definitely a useful process to know, and a handy one for the lazy (or busy) photographer!

Pinhole Imperfection

A while ago I bought myself a Holga with the intention of converting it to a pinhole camera. A few months and two lost test rolls later and I’ve tweaked it to the point where I’m happy with my results!

The Quiet Place, Pinhole, 01 (Flickr).jpg
The Quiet Place, Pinhole Study #1

The soft focus brings to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s series ‘Architecture’, with its barely-defined structures and almost timeless glow. Here, the sculpture’s hard lines are worn down by the imprecision of the pinhole camera, but its deliberate form is striking nonetheless. The boundary between the land (both the sculpture and the hedges behind it) and the sky is also blurred, the whole scene having a haze that is the hallmark of the pinhole camera.

I enjoy the simplicity of this form of photography. There is no aperture manipulation, no focusing, and shutter speeds are counted in minutes, not fractions of a second. With the camera set up I simply meter, open the shutter, time the exposure, and close it again. It is far from the high-tech world of photography today. When shooting like this I am forced to slow down, giving me time to contemplate my surroundings and really experience the environment I’m in.

Heslington Church, Pinhole, 02 (Flickr).jpg
Heslington Church, Pinhole Study #2.

Another effect of the pinhole camera’s slow shutter speed is that all moving things blur into nothingness. In this photograph, the tree and the snowdrops, moving in the wind, are ghostly and shapeless. Even the church and gravestones, static and unmoving, are blurred, giving this scene a slightly otherworldly look. Some might hate this imperfection, but I love it. It’s a scene the human eye is incapable of seeing.

Pinhole photography has brought me a new way of seeing the world, not sharp and well-defined, as we take for granted, but hazy and uncertain. A world in which things do not seem quite right, both static and restless. Most people see photography as the art of capturing a moment, but this is capturing the passage of time itself.

York Minster – A Study

I find myself revisiting certain places a lot. I like to do this because I enjoy the challenge of finding new compositions and images in these subjects. At first I might take some images using the most ‘obvious’ compositions, but once I have exhausted this, I find that I have to get up close and personal with the subject, to try and tease out some more interesting shots.

I’ve been doing this with York Minster a lot recently. Starting back at university has meant that I haven’t had as much time to travel, so my photography has been limited mainly to the city of York, and areas that are within walking distance of my house. It’s interesting to take such a prominent and well-known landmark like York Minster, and try to find something a bit more intimate in this Gothic colossus.

York Minster, 03 (Flickr).jpg
York Minster, #3 (Lubitel 166B, Ilford FP4+)

This image, of the west face of the Minster, was taken on my Lubitel 166B, with Ilford FP4+. I was particularly attracted to the shadows cast on the stonework by a tree in front of the Minster, causing ripples of golden evening light to fall on the face of the building, and these ornate wooden doors. The benefit of a medium format 6×6 negative is seen here. The exquisite detail of the Minster’s stonework makes me want to study this image up close.

York Minster, 08 (Flickr).jpg
York Minster, #8 (Lubitel 166B, Ilford HP5+)

This is the west face again, this time from a different angle. This was taken on a completely different day, with Ilford HP5+ (still with the Lubitel, a wonderful twin-lens reflex camera). Here the slight vignetting draws the eye up to the detail at the top of this ornate wooden door, the dark colour contrasting with the detailed stonework around it. The image is very soft-focus, with the sharpest part of the frame being the detail at the top of the door. I think this gives off a slightly pictorialist look, although I wasn’t intending that when I took the image.

York Minster, 04 (Flickr).jpg
York Minster, #4 (Lubitel 166B, Ilford HP5+)

Now we’ve moved away from the west face. Here the light from inside the Minster contrasts with the night outside (this was taken at about 7am). This illuminates the beautiful stained-glass window and makes it stand out against the darkness surrounding it. The only thing I don’t love about this image is the slight flare from the lights inside the Minster. If I were to take this shot again, it would be from a slightly lower angle, to avoid the direct light.

York Minster, 07 (Flickr).jpg
York Minster, #7 (Lubitel 166B, Ilford HP5+)

Finally, we come to the door on the south side of the Minster. Recessed beneath this beautiful archway, and surrounded by ornate pillars and the decorative arch, the wooden door fades into black at the top, leaving an area of mystery near the top of the entrance-way, accentuated by the shadow provided by the overhang. As with the images of the western doors, this is once again shot with a soft focus (I don’t think the Lubitel 166B’s lens is very sharp at f/5.6 or f/4.5) which adds an unintentional glow to the scene.

I’ve enjoyed critiquing these images, and I’m glad they turned out as well as they did. I believe there are some more images of York Minster, hiding away in undeveloped rolls of 120 film somewhere on my shelf, so it will be interesting to see what they hold. I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I enjoy writing these critiques, so it would be great to hear your thoughts as to whether or not you’d like to see more in-depth posts like this in the future.

Forgotten Film

A very long time ago, I bought a Lubitel 166B. I wanted to experiment with both TLRs and medium-format photography, and I already had a (small) collection of Soviet and Eastern Bloc cameras. It’s not got the style or sophistication of a Rolleiflex, but it’s still a beautiful object and is a joy to use.

lubitel.jpg

The first time I ever shot on this camera was the first time I went to Cambridgeshire to see Katie’s parents. I was mostly just playing around for fun, but here and there I tried to do some ‘serious’ photography. I had the film lying around for a while, because uni and work had caught up with me and I had never managed to get it into the darkroom, but recently I re-discovered it and sent it to a lab to be developed and scanned.

Peterhouse College, 02
Peterhouse College, #02

Whether the light-leaks are due to the camera or the fact that the film had been lying around for so long, I don’t know, but most of the images have at least one splotch of white on them, and some even more than that. This one, of the ceiling in the entrance-way to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, is missing a lot of detail, but that doesn’t stop the pattern from being striking, and I think gives the image character.

Some others have come out a little bit better. This is Peterhouse again, this time from the outside. The image has some fading but I think this works in its favour. The beautiful contrast between the intricate pattern on the roof and the texture of the columns, accentuated by the grain of Ilford FP4+, gives the image an almost painterly quality.

Peterhouse College, 01
Peterhouse College, #01

The same goes for this image of a church door in Huntingdon. You can see the beautiful grain on the door, contrasted with the decoration and the stonework above. These images have been edited in Lightroom, of course, but not much.

Church Door
Church Door Study

I’m quite pleased with these images, although I probably shouldn’t leave it a year before getting them developed next time. If I had the time and money I think I’d work more with film. I enjoy the feeling of working with a mechanical camera, especially something like the Lubitel, and I do love the quality and character that you get from film that you really can’t achieve with digital. However, like many, I am limited by material reality, so for now, I’ll have to say goodbye to my archaic Soviet TLR.

Analogue Prints

This isn’t the first image I ever printed in the darkroom using an enlarger – but it is the first I’ve felt comfortable sharing. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about film development and printing over the last few weeks, and while I have plenty more to learn, it’s time to start sharing images with you.

Unnamed Canopy 01 (Flickr).jpg
Unnamed Canopy #01, University of York

I like the idea of posting these images as scanned prints, rather than as scanned and edited negatives. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it allows me to do my post-processing in the darkroom, the old-fashioned way. I never did edit my images too much in Lightroom, but this restricts me even more, and forces me to take the time to hand-craft each print. I’m still learning about analogue printing, but I have tried my hand at dodging and burning prints, which is far more difficult under an enlarger than in Lightroom. Each print, even if it’s from the same frame, and I edit it in the same way, will be unique, and I find that thought beautiful.

The second is that it allows me to see images not as abstract concepts or files on a hard drive, but as physical objects that I can hold in my hands. Negatives, of course, are also physical, but as soon as you scan and edit them I feel like that fades. There is nothing wrong with that, and I would never tell anyone how to create their art, but this is my preference. To me photographs should be physical, like paintings or sculptures. Even with my digital work I try to print as often as I can, but getting professionally-made prints at a lab is expensive, and it makes me feel more abstracted from the process. When I print in the darkroom, I’m seeing my images through to the very end, like photographic children.

Thoughts from the Darkroom

Over the last week I’ve been spending a bit of time in the university photography society’s darkroom, which is fully equipped for B&W development and printing, as well as C41 development. I already knew a bit about development, but had never actually done it until a couple of weeks ago. The satisfaction I felt at opening up the developing tank to a roll of negatives was an incredible feeling. I’ve shot a few rolls since, and went back to develop them as soon as I’d finished all my exams.

IMG_6883.JPG

This contact sheet shows the images from my second roll of film – a roll of Ilford Delta 100, shot on a Praktica MTL3. This post isn’t really about the images on this contact sheet – those I’ll talk about another time. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on the darkroom process itself.

I’m so used to sitting in front of a computer screen, keyboard and mouse in hand, and editing my images in Lightroom with music piped into my ears. I work really well in that environment, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of pace, and the darkroom offered that. Development took about an hour in total, and for that entire time I was alone, in silence, with no other distractions. It was therapeutic. The end result is not a folder on a computer full of digital files, mere abstractions from the images they represent. Once you’re done with development you have a binder sheet of negatives you can hold up to the light – something which is still a novelty to me!

It’s such a tactile process, something sorely missing from the Lightroom experience I’m used to. The entire experience makes me almost want to switch over to B&W film photography entirely, and I can completely understand why many people love it so much. The jury is still out for me, but I am certain of one thing – I will be in the darkroom again.