35mm · Film photography · Photography

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

So here’re two photos of an apple from my debut home-developed roll of HP5+.

A few weeks ago, and before the current lock-down was thought of, I bought a small home-studio setup from Amazon. It’s a fairly basic thing: essentially a collapsable plastic cube with one side open. It has a couple of strips of adjustable-brightness LEDs (powered by USB) and a set of different coloured foam inserts that can be hooked to the inside back of the cube to provide neutral backdrops. The whole thing collapses down into a neat package that can be easily stored.

It’s big enough to hold small items (such as an apple!), but not much use for anything larger. Despite that, it’s a useful thing for small still-life shots or macro – something that is of definite value now that our outdoor movements are restricted.

Both today’s images (plus the shots of the onions I featured in yesterday’s post about home developing) were shot with this setup. I used my Minolta SRT 101b and 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor lens. Even at closest focus some of the walls of the cube were in frame, so these shots have been cropped to remove those areas.

I’d hoped to have a second attempt at home developing this weekend, but the film I’ve shot is 120 format and the negative sleeves I’ve ordered haven’t arrived yet. Unless I manage to finish another roll of 35mm B&W before the weekend is out (something that, pre-lock-down would have posed no problem whatsoever) then I might have to defer those plans until next weekend instead. I do have a partially shot roll of Delta 400 in my Sure Shot Telemax though, so if I take that out with me if I get a chance for a walk, then maybe I’ll get enough shots to finish it off. I don’t want to just take pictures for the sake of it though.

Apple #1

Apple #2

Minolta SRT 101b, MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+. Ilfotec DD-X, 9 minutes at 20° .

Taken on 30 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Nerves, mistakes and perseverance – Developing black and white film at home for the first time

Since I got back into shooting film a few years ago, the thought of developing my own photos at home has crossed my mind on more than one occasion. I’ve usually pushed these thoughts to one side though, partly because I’m happy with the service and results I get from my local lab, and partly because of concerns that I would ruin rolls of otherwise nice photographs with my oaf-like clumsiness.

However, things have now changed. My local lab is currently closed due to the coronavirus lock-down (although the lab I use for colour stuff is still open for mail-order processing) which means I would either need to sit on any rolls of black and white film I manage to shoot during the pandemic (likely to be reduced from normal due to the limits on where I can roam) until they re-open or, to take the plunge and try to self-develop my film at home.

A bridge to trip-trap across

Because I don’t know how long the lockdown is likely to last (at least 8 weeks is my current estimate though), and because I like to try and keep a flow of fresh images coming for this blog, I decided to give home developing a go.

While it should prove cost effective in the longer term, because I’ve had to buy most of the chems and equipment to get me started, it’s been a significant investment – I could have had a dozen or more rolls lab processed at least for the outlay – so I’m keen to make it work.

Branching out

I decided to go for Ilford chemicals for my first foray: stop-bath; fixer; wetting agent; and developer – I chose Ilfotec DD-X. The DD-X was quite low-cost for the bottle and I was keen to keep my initial outlad down as much as possible. DD-X is supposed to be a very good developer, but it’s probably not the most economical to use – while the 1l bottle was much cheaper than something like Kodak HC-110, it will also develop far fewer rolls.

Once I’d acquired all the equipment and chemicals, it was then just a case of finishing off a roll of film. As my movements are much restricted due to the UK lockdown, most of the photos on the roll are from around the house, or pictures I’ve been able to take while out for a walk to get to exercise and fresh air.

No petting or feeding the chairs

I decided that it would be a good idea to practice things as much as possible before having a go with my “live” roll of film, so I used a roll of Agfa Vista Plus that I use to test cameras sometimes. The roll has been exposed to light when a camera back was opened at some point, so it could be safely sacrificed.

My first tests were in daylight, extracting the film onto the spiral from the canister itself (without removing the cap and taking the film out altogether). After understanding the process, I then attempted it again inside the changing bag. This was trickier and a few attempts failed, but after a while I was successful. Then, given that the roll of film I would be developing for real had had it’s leader completely retracted into the cannister (I tried to retrieve it, but without success), I had a further attempt inside the changing bag, this time opening the cannister with a can opener and loading it onto the spirals while loose. This was trickier as my efforts again failed on the first two attempts, by which time the film had become a twisty un-spooled mess inside the bag. I forced myself to perservere though as, when it came to my proper roll of film, removing my arms from the changing bag wouldn’t be an option. After a while I loaded it ok. Practising in this way was valuable experience and I’m really glad I did it.

I'm afraid I can't do that

The next day, it was time to do it for real. I double and triple-checked that I had everything I needed and then carefully placed everything into the changing bag: The developing tank, lid and spiral; the film; a pair of scissors to cut off the leader and chamfer the corners; and a small bottle opener to crack open the film cannister.

I soon ran into a problem when I found that the bottle opener was failing to open the cannister. In my test I’d used a larger bottle-opener (a corkscrew), but had though the smaller one would be easier to handle in the changing bag. Now I was in a situation where the cannister was still sealed, but might be in a condition that made it no longer light tight. In order to prevent any light-leaks, I placed the still closed cannister in the bottom of the developing tank and fitted the light-tight funnel. This allowed me to safely remove my arms and go and get the corkscrew. Because the corkscrew has a pointy end that might conceivably piece the changing bag if I wasn’t careful, I taped the sharp bit up with some masking tape before putting it in the changing bag. Once that was done I was able to take the film cannister back out of the tank and this time remove the cap successfully.

Rivets

The next job was to cut off the leader and chamfer the edges to allow easier attachment to the spiral. Making a neat cut across the film and then taking off small triangles from each corner is tricky when you can’t see what you’re doing and I was a little concerned about taking a piece of my finger-tip off in the process! Thankfully this didn’t happen though and I was now ready to attach the film to the spiral.

Attaching the film was straightforward and I began winding it on. And winding. And winding. And wind… Something had gone amiss. I now had to take the spiral apart in the bag, take off the section of film already wound on, and start again. As with my ealier practice runs, the film was now forming into a big coiled heap in the bag, making this more difficult than before.

The hidden bridge

The same thing happened again on the second attempt, winding on for a while but then stopping, requiring the spiral to be opened and the film removed once more. Thankfully, the third attempt worked ok, which was a big relief. The only issue was right at the end of the roll where the film popped out of the tracks, but I was able to gently re-afix with my thumbs it and, after cutting off the reel, winding it the rest of the way onto the spiral. I then inserted the centre column onto the reel and placed everything into the tank and fitted the lid, making everything light-tight. I was certainly glad that this part was done!

Now the film was safely in the tank I decided to take a break before starting the actual developing process. Plus I wanted to give everyone a chance to use the bathroom before I barred them from entry when it was time to dry the negatives when they were ready.

02A

I got everything that I needed for the developing out on the work-surface in the utility room, neatly arranged in a logical order. I filled two clean 2 litre milk bottles with water at the correct temperature, thinking it would be easier to keep it at 20 degrees in easily accessible bottles rather than mixing it from the hot and cold taps. I used this water to mix up my developer, stop-bath, and fixer and arranged their jugs in a left-to-right order. Also to hand was a clean cloth to mop up any spillages and my phone with the Massive Dev Chart app open and ready. I decided to go with the timings recommended by the app (although these are different to those given on the Ilford HP5+ data sheet – MDC states a full minute of agitation, followed by 10 seconds at the start of each minute thereafter, whereas Ilford states 10 seconds at the start of each minute). Everything in place, it was now time to begin…

I poured in the stop-bath first!

Yep, that’s right. I fell at the first hurdle. I put this down to nerves. Kick myself! Doh! Massive facepalm!!! etc.

Cursing my stupidity I quickly poured the stop-bath back out. While my experience is limited, I was fairly confident that stop-bath wouldn’t have too detrimental an effect on undeveloped film. Thankfully I had loads of water in the two bottles I’d filled earlier, so I rinsed the film in the tank several times until I was confident that I’d washed away the stop-bath. Then, after making a fresh batch of stop-bath, I started again.

Flood debris

This time I poured in the developer first! Clicking start on the MDC app, I began the agitation cycle. I’d decided to wear a pair of plastic gloves during the whole process to avoid getting chems on my skin and, while I’m not sure if it was water or something else on the sides of the tank after the previous mishap, it was quite wet so I was glad to be wearing them. I think I might have been a little too vigourous on the first few inversions, sloshing the tank about a little too much before catching myself and adopting more of a tumbling method throughout the rest of the sequence. After nine minutes I poured out the developer and added the stop-bath (again!), then the fixer for the final stage.

I used Ilford’s method for washing the negatives: 5 inversions, then empty the tank; 10 inversions, then empty, 20 inversions, then empty (although I also added 15 and 25 inversions stages for good measure). After this I opened the tank, added some fresh water and a few drops of wetting agent before carrying the tank back to the bathroom to hang the film to dry. At this stage I stil didn’t know if things had worked (or if my stop-bath mishap might have ruined things somehow), so now came the moment of truth as I took out the spiral and saw the results for the first time.

Under current

I had negatives!

And they looked to be ok! Being slightly paranoid about getting dust stuck all over the wet negatives, I quickly hung them up inside the shower cubicle, closed the door, and left them to dry for a few hours (although I did crack the door ajar to show off the product of my endeavours to my somewhat uninterested wife and kids). 🙂

When I came to take them down later I was able to get my first proper look at the results. The negatives looked perhaps slightly dense, but nothing over-the-top and had, to my slight dismay, a water mark on many of the frames where it looked like a drip of water had flowed down them during drying. My mistake here was that I didn’t shake off any excess water when I hung them up. Something to remember next time. The negatives had a slight curl, though nothing extreme, and this actually aided me when cutting them into strips for filing. The curl meant they lay on their edge on the desk, so I could cut them without scratching the surface (or attracting any stray dust).

Onion #1

Onion #2

Onion #3

The next step was to scan some frames on my Plustek and see how they looked. I was worried that the drying marks might show on the scans, but was relieved to find that it was only really visible on a single frame – one with a large area of otherwise blank sky – and even that would be easy to remove in Photoshop should I want to. While I didn’t want the drying marks, and will take steps to try and avoid them in future, on this occasion they didn’t really cause any issues.

The resulting scans look pretty nice. I’ve had to tweak them a little to get them how I like them – the roll has come out a little bright, something I think is probably down to my agitation technique during development rather than the metering, but nothing too severe and easily fixed during the scanning and post-processing stage. The grain on the negatives is pretty subdued too, possibly moreso than those I get back from my local lab (which are processed in Xtol), which is nice – I really don’t mind grain, but some of these photos are especially sharp-looking as a result (though some of that is down to the Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 lens, which I’ve found to be an excellent performer).

On the whole, while it would be hard to say I enjoyed the slightly stressful experience of developing film for the first time, I was very pleased with the results. I think the stress levels will be much lower next time I do this though and am looking forward to my next attempt.

If you’ve not developed your own film before and are thinking of giving it a try, then go for it. If I can manage it (and recover from mistakes to boot) then anyone can!

The photos in this post are all from the roll I developed (the ones I’ve uploaded to Flickr so far, at least). As I’ve been limited in where I can go due to the current lock-down caused by the coronavirus pandemic, these were all grabbed while out for a walk to take some exercise or in my home, so maybe don’t go looking for any prize-winners. 🙂

Minolta SRT 101b, MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+. Ilfotec DD-X, 9 minutes at 20° .

All photos taken in late March / Early April 2020

 

35mm · Film photography · Photography

An empty dress

This translucent mesh dress is an exhibit in The Hepworth gallery. As with yesterday’s photo, I didn’t take note of the artist of the name of the piece unfortunately.

It did make me think that there are going to be an awful lot of unfilled dresses in clothing stores around the world right now. I’m not sure of the lock-down restrictions in other countries but, here in the UK, non-essential shops are now closed, including clothing stores. The only places selling clothes at present (online excepted) are supermarkets that happen to have clothing sections.

Given the fast-moving pace of fashion, by the time the lock-down is lifted most of the clothes currently sat unpurchased in stores due to the coronavirus will be either out of fashion, or out of season, likely prompting huge sales when the shops re-open as they attempt to clear stock for new autumn lines (assuming the lock-down is at least partially lifted by then) and to try to recoup some of their investment.

Also, while most shops are cleaned frequently, I wonder just how much dust will have settled by the time they need to prepare to open to the pubic again. A situation like this gives rise to so many things that I never really gave thought to before – even things as everyday and mundane as vacuuming a store each night.

Empty

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+ (@800).

Taken on 14 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Some sort of thingumajig

It’ll be another short(er) post today I’m afraid. I had a long day at work and then decided to scan some more of my home-devved negatives. Now I’m tired and don’t want to type anything too lengthy. I did make a start on my home-developing blog-post this lunchtime though, so that will be posted sometime this week and (in terms of length, at least) will more than make up for this short post!

The UK COVID-19 daily death toll fell again for the third day in a row today. That’s obviously good news, but I’m somewhat wary of the figures. I think I’ll be much more relieved when it’s continued to fall for at least a week. While I’m hoping for the best, the things I’ve read from trustworthy sources all seem to indicate that we’re not yet at the peak of things and that it will be some time before the lock-down has a noticable impact on the figures. As I say though, I hope these sources are wrong.

Today’s phot is of a small sculpture in The Hepworth gallery. I neglected to make a note of the name of the piece of the artist who created it. For that I apologise.

Apple of my eye

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+ (@800).

Taken on 14 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Tiring developments

Today’s post will be shorter than those from the last week or so, mostly because I’ve had a busy day and want to kick back and put my feet up for a bit. When I say busy, it’s not that I’ve been doing any heavy lifting or anything, but today was my first attempt at developing lack and white film at home, and it’s been kinda mentally tiring as I’ve tried to get everything right and not mess the whole thing up.

The good news is that I have some negatives that (from first glance) look ok. They’re currently hung in the shower drying (there’s an irony in that statement, surely…) so the proof will be when I come to scan them.

I’ll post the results and an account of my experience in a forthcoming post, but suffice to say that not everything went to plan…

Until next time, here’s someone admiring a nude in The Hepworth.

FILM - In front of a nude

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+ (@800).

Taken on 14 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Distraction

Despite the lock-down, today has been quite a full day so far.

After breakfast, I decided to take a walk – as I’m not at work today I decided on a longer outing so I could get a bit more of a workout (insomuch as brisk walking counts as “working out”). I chose a route that took me through the industrial estate before cutting back across to the Trans-Pennine Trail and then back home. As usual, I took a camera in case I saw any shots I could get while out. One of the things I photographed was a notice affixed to one of the businesses stating that visitors should ring the bell and wait to be admitted due to the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve been taking photographs of coronavirus related sights that I see when out and might post about them when I have a few developed, but want to capture them for a record of the times whatever the case.

Taking the photo today led to a car pulling up beside me and the two men inside asking what I was doing. They’d seen me taking the photo and I think they were suspicious that I might have been casing the building for nefarious purposes or something. When I explained why I’d taken the shot they seemed satisfied and drove off. The 1975 35mm film SLR I was using to take the photo was probably not an efficient tool for mischief even if I had been inclined that way. 🙂

When I got to the Trans-Pennine Trail it was busier with people jogging, cycling and walking dogs. Certainly not crowded in any sense of the term, and it was easy to keep a wide berth from others, but I think I’ll avoid it in future at weekends (unless I go out especially early). I took a few photos while walking and finished the roll in the camera, so tomorrow might be the day I have my first attempt at home developing. Eek!

Once back home, the rest of the morning was taken up by washing the cars and then giving the garden a once-over. The grass is now cut (and so begins another summer of regular mowing duties…), the weeds pulled, and some general tidying-up. There’s quite a lot of garden waste left over and, given the normal outlets for disposal are closed, I will probably have to burn it later in the garden incinerator.

The result of this is that I’ve mostly been distracted from whatever today’s news is regarding the pandemic. I’m happy to keep it that way if I’m honest. Plenty of time to catch up on that stuff later.

Today’s photo is of someone else apparently distracted…

Distraction

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+ (@800).

Taken on 14 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

People and shadows in a gallery

It’s now been a week-and-a-half since the COVID-19 lock-down measures were put into place here in the UK. So far, things are ok – as a full-time home-based worker, I’m used to not leaving the house to commute to work, and social-distancing from my colleagues is the normal state of things anyway apart from when we have face-to-face meetings (which are all stopped now in any case). As a result, the lock-down measures are not inducing any sort of cabin-fever at this stage.

I must confess however, that I’m missing being able to go out where I want. I’m taking walks most days to get some exercise and fresh air, but even places that would be just a short drive away are starting to feel like slightly exotic destinations. The thoughts of driving out into the countryside (or even just into the city centre) are tantalizing given the “so near, yet so far” forced remoteness of even relatively mundane destinations. I’m estimating that the current lock-down will last through to the end of May at the earliest, so a good eight more weeks of this yet.

Still, things could be worse – returning home from my walk this lunchtime one of our neigbours, who has two young children, was out on his drive cleaning the paving. I said “Hi” (from a safe distance) and enquired as to how they were all doing. “I’m sick to death of watching Frozen” was one of his responses…

Another photo from The Hepworth today. I didn’t have high hopes when I took this picture as it was very dimly lit in this part of the gallery (to protect the prints and other artwork on display), so I had to shoot it wide open at f/1.7 at 1/30sec. I was expecting camera shake, but it’s nice and sharp, even if the shallow depth-of-field has rendered the man slightly out of focus.

Gallery shadows

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+ (@800).

Taken on 14 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Back to black (and white)

After a week or two of posting colour images, today marks a return to black and white. I still have a number of colour images from the two recently shot rolls that I haven’t posted here though, so maybe they’ll get an airing if I feel a splash of colour is required.

Today’s image is of the stairwell in The Hepworth gallery in Wakefield. I visited the gallery back in the middle of the month before social distancing rules were introduced, and then enforced by the nationwide lock-down. The gallery, along with other such venues around the country, has now closed until further notice, so I was lucky to get to attend when I did.

The reason for my visit was an exhibition about the relationship between the photographer Bill Brandt, and the artist and sculptor Henry Moore, who had met during the second world war when they were both documenting the plight of people sheltering from air-raids in London’s Underground stations. Their relationship continued with an interest in a number of shared themes throughout their careers, including the human body, the landscape, industry and others.

While I was predominantly interested in Brandt’s photography over Moore’s artworks, the latter’s sculptures are wonderful to see in person and made for a number of interesting photographic opportunities, some of which I’ll be posting over the coming days.

For now though, here’s a more mundane subject, but one which I think has made for a nicely satisfying picture – namely the mid-level landing in the gallery’s stairwell. I liked the shapes, textures, tones and symmetry (although it’s not really symmetrical).

Hepworth stairwell

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+ (@800).

Taken on 14 March 2020

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Street corner

Just a street corner, I guess, but that never stopped Stephen Shore!

It’s yet another shot that is blessed by beautiful oblique sunlight. I’m not sure the image would have worked without the side-light – the brickwork has acquired wonderful texture due to the relief cast upon it. I like the little details in the photograph too: the hydrant; the wall-mounted sign and it’s perfect shadow, the creamy tones of the whites.

Sometimes I see things that shout to me “this is a photograph”. I’m not sure everyone (or anyone) else would agree, but I’m very happy with this one.

Street corner

Minolta SRT 101b, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 & Ilford HP5+.

Taken on 27 February 2020