Category: Gear Reviews

Stand Developing Film

stand developing

If you follow me on Twitter (@dougchinnery) or Flickr you will know that in addition to shooting on film for my personal creative work, I have also started developing my own black and white film myself.

It costs about £3.50 to have a mono film processed and supplied in negative strips ready to scan into the computer by a commercial firm. Processing the film myself reduces this to just a few pence per roll.

It was recommended to me to start with a simple process called “Stand Developing”. This is a basic process which is ideal for beginners before you move on to more standard techniques. 

Usually in processing film the chemicals are kept at a instant temperature throughout and the film is ‘agitated’ in the liquid to ensure fresh developer comes in contact with the surface of the film throughout. Then, after a set period (of just a few minutes) the developing fluid is removed and another chemical is added to stop the development, otherwise the film can be damaged. Finally, the film is washed and dried, ready to scan.

Stand development takes a different approach. The developing chemical is mixed with water at a very dilute concentration, I have been using 1:100. The film is then left to stand in this fluid for an hour. As the developer is so dilute it first brings out the highlights in the images and as its effectiveness reduces it slowly brings out shadow detail. By the time an hour has passed it is almost expired and so no stop chemical is required, just water to wash it off the il before the fixing chemical is applied for a few minutes followed by a final rinse.

The developer I use is about the oldest available and is called Rodinol (R09). It has been in use for over 100 years and is readily available. For the fixing and rinsing I use Ilford chemicals. All are safe to be disposed of own the sink after use (although the fix chemical can be stored and reused many times).

People have asked me if you need a dark room to process film and the answer is “no”. The only part of the process which needs darkness is lading the exposed rolls of film into the developing tanks and this is done in a dark changing bag. These have two arm holes so you can out all you need in the bag, seal it, and then load the film in darkness with your hands in the bag. This is a bit tricky for the first couple of times but you soon get used to it. The developing drum will, in my case, take two rolls of 120 film at a time and is cleverly designed to allow you to add and pour out liquids without letting any light into the drum.

So here is the recipe I have been using. Please note this is ONLY for black and white film. Please also note, contrary to developing film by other methods, you can mix film types in the same developing drum with this method. Normally, if you are going to develop several rolls of film together (I have a drum that allows me to do three films at one, for example, to save time) you have to keep the film types the same. So three rolls of Ilford HP5 for example or 3 rolls of Tri-X. 

First, load your film onto a reel in the processing drum inside a changing bag. Then carefully measure out 5ml of Rodinal. I use R09. To measure it accurately I use a small medical syringe with a ml scale on the side. Mix with this 500ml of tap water. (if you are using a drum with more than one roll, use 500ml per roll) There is no need to use warm water for this as you do with most developing processes as the water is standing for so long, warm would go cold anyway. In winter I would add some warm water to the very cold tap water just as a precaution. Pour this into the drum and agitate the drum  for 30 seconds. By ‘agitate’ I mean invert and twist the drum in your hands repeatedly. Don’t just shake the drum but really move the liquid around so it has plenty of contact with the film. At the end of this period of agitation, tap the drum a couple of times on a firm surface to dislodge any air bubbles from the surface of the film and let the drum stand for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes just agitate the drum again 3 times only and then let it stand for another 30 minutes.

Once the last period of standing is up, pour the liquid down the sink but DO NOT open the drum yet. Fill it with cool tap water, agitate 5 times and pour away. Repeat but agitate 10 times and pour away. Finally repeat and agitate 20 times then pour the water away.

Now pour in 500ml (per roll of film) into your fixing solution. I use Ilford Rapid Fixer. This comes concentrated and so I mixed it with water at a ratio of one part fixer to three parts water in a clean storage bottle. Start a stopwatch (I use the one on my iPhone) and agitate for 30 seconds. Tap it and let it stand for 30 seconds. Then agitate it three times, tap it and let it stand for a minute. Repeat the three agitations on each minute until a total of 6 minutes has expired then pour the fixer back into its storage bottle as it can be reused many times.

Then fill the drum with water from the tap, agitate 5 times and pour away, repeat but agitate 10 times and then do it once more but agitate 20 times.

Finally, I fill the drum with a mix of water and a wetting agent. I use a tiny squirt of the Ilford wetting agent (some people just use washing up liquid). The amount you need in 500ml of water is tiny, just a couple of ml. Agitate the drum 40 times and then pour the mix away.

Open the drum and remove the spool with your film on. Do not wash the suds off of the drum under the tap as this will ruin the effect of using a wetting agent (which is to stop the tap water leaving smears on the film due to water hardness). Simply place a finger on each flat surface of the film and run them down its length to remove most of the water and wetting agent suds. Then I use a piece of clean chamois leather and run this down the film to dry it some more. What is vital when you do this is that there is no grit on your fingers or the chamois as this will scratch your film. Hang the film to dry slowly from a line. I use a bulldog clip to clip it to a wire I have put up in my bathroom. As dust free a place as possible is best for this (so not by the dogs bed!)

Once the film is dry you can cut it into frame lengths to suit your scanner. My scanner (an Epson V700) has holders which take two strips of three frames of 120 film so I cut a roll into four strips of three frames per strip. Now you can scan the images in and see what you have.

On reading this it may sound really complicated and long winded. It did to me when I was researching the process. However, once you have developed two or three films you will know the process by heart and be doing it without thinking. It is great to see your images emerge from the drum and to be part of the whole process from capture to final image. It also means I can go out and shoot and within an hour and a half of getting home I have my images in Lightroom – not quite the instant feedback of a digital camera but as close as you can get with film.

This process is about the simplest way to develop black and white film. The process tends to bring out the grain in the film. It also produces high contrast negatives. The blacks are often rich and dark while the highlights bright and punchy. You need to be bear this in mind if you want low contrast negatives which are more ‘subtle’. For these, Stand Development may not be the best choice.

I buy my chemicals from AG Photographic http://www.ag-photographic.co.uk/ They are a small UK firm who give good service and are very helpful on the phone if you have any questions.

If you are just getting in to analogue photography or are interested in trying stand developing as a new tool in your film processing arsenal, I hope you have found this post to be helpful. (the image below was Stand developed)

What filters should I buy?

Landscape photographers fall into two camps. Those who like to get things ‘right’ in camera and, so, use filters to balance exposures, and those who prefer to make two or more exposures on location and then blend them together back in the digital darkroom.

 

Some will insist one way is ‘correct’ or better than the other but in reality, it’s just a personal choice. I use both methods. When the contrast in brightness between the sky and foreground is really high then I will use the blending option. If the contrast is more manageable, then I prefer to use filters.

 

I often get asked which filters to buy to get started in using them so I thought a post on what I would suggest might be useful. Filter systems are not cheap so it’s important to make an informed choice and not to buy items you probably won’t need.

 

The first choice is which system to invest in. This is down to money and is also influenced by how much of your photography is landscape based. If you are only an occasional landscaper (especially if funds are tight) then investing in the best system might not be worthwhile. Even if you do a lot of landscape work, if funds don’t allow, you might not be  able to buy the best but you may still be able to afford a mid priced system which will give you acceptable results.

 

The system I would strongly recommend avoiding is Cokin. They a very competitively priced and this makes them a tempting option. Please resist unless you absolutley can’t afford/bear to wait and save up for a better system. The filter holders are poorly designed, but, worse still, the filters will create horrible colour casts on your images which you won’t be able to correct in software. Most photographers who do buy into Cokin usually end up ruining so many precious images they sell up and get something better.

 

The next system which is an improvement over Cokin and is thus a possible option for the occasional landscaper or those on a budget, are High Tech. This newish brand is readily available on EBay and elsewhere, and is priced well. The filters fit the Lee system holders although they have their own holder available too. The downside? Some of the filters still give colour casts, but nothing as bad as Cokin. Optically they are not as pure as the Lee system. It’s always good to realise that our lenses are only as good as the cheapest piece of glass in the system. So if we have invested in some nice Canon or Zeiss lenses, putting cheap filters in front of them makes them much poorer. We might as well have bought cheaper lenses.

 

This is the reason I don’t have UV filters ‘protecting’ my lenses. Even if you buy the ‘pro’ range filters the glass is unlikely to be as good as the glass used on lenses such as those in the Canon L range. To protect my lenses I use a lens cap. Then I am getting the top performance from my glass. An additional benefit in not fitting UV filters is the reduced chance of vignetting with wide angle lenses when adding your filter system on the front of the lens.

 

The filter system I use and always recommend (even if it means going without them for a while, while you save up for them) is Lee. They are the best filters available. Lee have very tight quality control and each filter is individually hand made and checked. The process is very labor intensive, they even pour the resin themselves. Lee neutral density filters are truly neutral. No colour casts at all with Lee.

 

This explains the cost. Getting set up with the Lee system is going to cost you around £300 to £500, depending on what you buy. However, they will last you for many years (or life if you take great care of them) and will fit any future cameras of lenses you buy.

 

So, what do you need. I will describe the most basic system first. This can be expanded piece by piece as you find what will be of most use to you. Just about everything is available as an individual item so you can build on your starter kit gradually.

 

The first essential is the adaptor rings. These are bought to fit the diameter of your lens or lenses. If you have a 77mm diameter lens, you have to have a 77mm adaptor ring. These aren’t cheap at £30 to £40 each. Lee used to make two types, standard for non-wide lenses and wide angle (for wide angle lenses, funnily enough). I believe they have now decided to rationalise to just wide angle adapters, which fit all lens types and will help eliminate vignetting. I have one permanently fitted to each of my lenses that I use my filters on, so that I don’t have to keep fitting and removing them. I then use the white lens caps Lee make (a pack of three caps is about £7) and these fit onto the adapter ring, protecting the lens. I then write the type of lens on the front of the lens cap so I can see at a glance which lens is which when I open my camera bag.

 

The next essential item is the filter holder which clips on to the adapter ring and holds the filters in position, allowing you to slide the filters up and down to position graduations correctly. You can buy these individually but if you are just starting out it is more economical to buy Lees “Digital Starter Kit“. This will give you a filter holder with two slots in, a two stop hard graduated neutral density filter and a two stop Pro-Glass full neutral density filter as well as a lens cloth. All of these items are essentials and the kit gives you a cost saving over buying each item individually.

 

A good alternative to this is to buy the starter kit Lee produce exclusively for David Noton. It contains the adaptor ring as part of the kit (you select the kit with the adaptor ring you need for your main lens. The only issue has been availability and at the time of writing (19.10.12) they don’t have kits in stock. If it is available it might be a good option for you.

 

You now have enough to make a start in using filters but you will soon find the limitations of the starter kit. Your next addition will be a three stop neutral density graduated filters for higher contrast scenes. These can also be ‘stacked’ with your two stop grad to give you five stops, but this is rarely needed and if you do need this much filtration I would strongly considering making multiple exposures and blending them in Photoshop rather than using too many ND grads stacked up.

 

The question I am always asked is ‘should I go for hard or soft grads?” you will notice Lee give you a hard grad in the starter kit. This is because, in reality, the hard grads have quite a soft enough graduation when using digital SLR’s due to the sensor size. The filters were originally designed for medium format cameras and so the soft grads are very softly graduated on a DSLR. So if you are going for one type, go for hard.

 

Having said that, I carry both. I use hards mostly these days but if I have a scene with lots of things intruding into the sky (like trees, hills etc), it is sometimes best to use softs to really blur the change from the neutral density effect to the clear part of the filter. I would avoid using soft grads at the coast or anywhere you have a level distinct horizon as the graduated area will make the foreground a bit too dark. (a tip when positioning your grads is to hold in the depth of field preview button as you slide it into position. This will make sure the positioning is spot on as you will be seeing the shot as the lens will capture it

Do you need one stop graduated filters? If you want to perfectly balance some exposures, yes. But this is my least used filter and if you need to save cash you can do without it. Some times you may need to use the graduated filter tool in Lightroom later to adjust the exposure of the sky if the two stop filter was a it too strong but this is easily done.

 

The next filters I would add are the three and ten stop full neutral density filters. The three stop is very useful, as is the two stop you got in the digital starter kit. For extending exposures. They will enable you to make light trail images, to blur waterfalls, create blur effects in breezy woodlands and a host of other great effects.

 

The ten stop filter, named by Lee the “Big Stopper“, is a tool I use a lot. They will enable you to extend exposures to several minutes to produce the minimal, ethereal shots which have become so popular in recent years (although they are becoming. bit of a photographic cliche). They enable me to make striking images outside of the golden hours when I wouldn’t have been shooting in times past due to the quality of the light.

 

You need to be aware that although they are thought of as ten stop filters it is impossible for Lee to control the manufacturing process that accurately. So your filter could be anything from about 9.25 to 11 stops in strength. This explains why your exposure times in identical conditions to a friend working beside you with a Big Stopper using identical settings can be quite different. A stop difference in filter strength can mean a two minute exposure for one person and the other needs four minutes to get the same exposure result. Please also note that Big Stoppers are very fragile, made of glass. I am on my fourth! Not a cheap thing to break at around £110 each.

 

The final filter to add to your arsenal is a polariser. In the Lee system this means buying another adaptor ring which screws on the front of your filter holder. This allows the polariser to be fitted on the outermost position of your stack which is important as it needs to be rotated to get the polarising effect. The adapter ring is another £30 to £40 but his pales into insignificance when you realise the filter is over £200. It is 110mm in diameter which reduces vignetting. It also means you can use one polariser with every lens you have to which you can fit your Lee system. The quality of the filter is very good.too, but nonetheless it’s an expensive item – but one I feel is essential (and I write as someone who has lost one on a mountainside and had to bite the bullet and buy a replacement.) the effect of the polariser is something that no software can replicate and will transform the quality of many images.

 

A slightly cheaper alternative is to buy a B&W 110mm LINEAR polariser. For digital cameras we should use a CIRCULAR polariser. This doesn’t describe the shape, it describes the way the glass is treated. Linear polarisers are of a older design and can affect the auto focusing of lenses. The lens may not be able to auto focus. I always focus manually so I was able to buy one of these and save myself about £50. Don’t buy one if you might need to auto focus with the filter fitted. The B&W filter fits the Lee holder ring.

 

The Lee filter holder comes with two slots so you can stack two filters. A useful and low cost improvement of the holder is to buy an extension kit which enables you to dissemble the holder and add one or two more slots. This allows more options for stacking filters. I have three slots in mine which is generally enough.

 

I also use the Lee filter cloths, they are very good quality and wash beautifully. I keep my filters in the three slot soft filter wraps from Lee and then have a three section Lee pouch. One slot has my hard grad filter wrap, the second my soft grad wrap and the final slot holds my wrap with my two, three and Big Stopper ND filters. I write on the wraps what each wrap holds so I can grab the right one quickly.

 

Lee do sell filter cleaning fluid which is fine. I, however, buy my cleaning fluid for my filters and lenses from Specsavers. They sell a 250ml bottle for about £3 (compare that with around £5 to £7 or more for the ‘proper’ cleaning fluid sold by lens and filter manufacturers) and I can’t tell any difference from the ‘proper’ fluids. They also sell a pump bottle with about 50ml which I refill from the big bottle and carry with me in my bag for lens and filter cleaning in the field. It works beautifully. I am sure some optical engineer will email me about particulate size or some technical reason I should use the over priced fluid from manufacturers but I would take some persuading to change.

 

That pretty much covers what you need to get set up with Lee filters. The cost is high, but the results justify this. I hope this helps you get set up. All you need now is one of my workshops to show you how to get the best from them 🙂

 

If you buy items using the links in this post I will receive a small referral fee but you will not pay more. This helps me in my business and is much appreciated.

Adventures in Polaroid

Polaroid

Avast, Me Hearties!

 

As many of you will know, I do like quirky photographs! Among the styles I love is the Polaroid. My dad had one when I was young. Being keen on holding on to his cash, he resented having to pay Boots or Bonusprint to develop his films and so thought Polaroid was the answer. He soon realised the costs were similar, you, in effect, paid up front for the instant development of Polaroids in higher film costs and so once the novelty had worn off the camera rarely came out to play.

Ever since, I have loved the washed out images the Polaroid film produces. There are digital tweaks you can make to imitate the look, but nothing really compares to true Polaroid for that sixties/seventies feel. Like many, I was so disappointed when, in 2008, Polaroid announced they would no longer be making the film – again economics took priority over art. However, a small group of dedicated European Polaroid lovers put their faith in the medium and with great foresight bought the old Polaroid film making machinery that was being sold off. They had no idea how to make the film. No idea of the chemicals involved. Oh, and they had no money.

Kippers by Post

Thus started the ‘Impossible Project”. The name came from the fact that whet they were trying to achieve was deemed ‘impossible’ by everyone they asked but this just seemed to make them all the more determined to succeed. To raise money they started a website along the crowd-funding principle. They asked Polaroid lovers world-wide to commit to buy a certain amount of film if they could make it. Once they had enough pledges they called the money in, bought a load of chemicals and put on the rubber gloves. I am sure it would make a great movie, because, against all the odds they succeeded in making  batch of film. (you can read the full story here). From there, the team have gone from strength to strength and employ 25 people, many of whom originally worked for Polaroid.

Fishing Boat - Whitby Harbour

A few words about the film itself. They make a colour and a mono film. Both are, shall we say, very unpredictable. VERY unpredictable. But it is this unpredictability which makes them so good in my eyes. The film has to be shielded from light in the first few seconds after shooting and can take half an hour to develop (best done in one of the film boxes). In fact, it can continue to develop for the next 24 hours. Sometimes the chemicals don’t mix correctly. The exposure can be all over the place. Flare and other aberrations abound. I am currently using some of the early close to prototype film which they sell at a reduced price and so am experiencing extreme quirkiness. The new generation films they have released this year apparently show greater consistency.

I bought an old Polaroid camera from eBay and adore it. The film packs are expensive (think, about £1.50 an image once postage is factored in) but the packs are well made, quite complex and contain a battery to power the camera and flash, so there is a lot going on. You get eight shots per pack and it is best kept in the fridge (DO NOT freeze the film). The camera is totally retro and I feel like a seventies Dad walking about with it. I used it in Whitby earlier this week sand people were stopping and staring 🙂 It got a great reaction. The Impossible Project have plans on the drawing board to make a new Polaroid camera, so exciting times lie ahead. The project has been such a success that they are opening Polaroid shops in capitals around the world to service customers. I got my film, from Germany, via UPS in a couple of days.

Camera meets Camera

Today I put a pack of the Silver Shade mono film in the camera and am blown away by the results. The tones are beautiful. I can’t wait to use the new generation of mono film they have released. I have one pack but am going to use up the old batch film first. new products in the pipeline will please large format film users as they are working on 10 x 8 and 4 x 5 versions of the film which was used by many large format camera users to test exposures and for quick client approval shots. The possibilities are endless.

On My Desk

 

I am keen to get out with the camera as soon as possible to continue experimenting. Ideas I have in mind are a trip on a train with just the Polaroid to see what it brings. Also, I would like to try some urban decay as well as ‘seaside’ photography. If you decide to give it a go, be warned, it is addictive and could be expensive but the results can be wonderful. Even the ‘spoiled’ frames can become happy accidents that in their own way are works of art. I enjoy the lack of precision and unpredictability of the Polaroid. I love the retro feel of the images and the tactile nature of holding a Polaroid in your hand to admire it. I already have some which I will frame for my walls. No doubt you will be seeing more of them from me in the near future.

If you fancy dabbling in film photography to see if it is for you, why not consider joining Jonathan Stead and myself on a film based workshop in September. We provide the camera (if you need one), a roll of film and show you how to develop the film cheaply and easily at home (without any need for a darkroom). You can get full details here — Go on, come and try some ‘real’ photography and enjoy the pleasures of analogue.

Me, myself and I

Review of Epson R2880 & ColourMunki Calibration System

I am often asked what printer I use. Until a few months ago the answer was, ‘I don’t use a printer’. ( I do have a HP desk top printer but it is only suitable for document printing ). I have always shied away from the complex matter of profiles, calibrating, papers and inks. It just seemed too much hassle. So much easier to upload the files to Loxley Colour in Glasgow and receive the prints a few days later.

I then did a workshop with Scott Kelby and he covered printing, calibrating, colour managed workflow etc in some detail. Scott mentioned that he used the R2880 and R3880 Epson printers and the ColorMunki calibrator. So all fired up, and feeling for the first time that I knew what I should be doing, I took the plunge and invested in the R2880 and ColorMunki.

The set up for both was quick and painless. The ColorMunki set up involves loading the drivers and software and then running the simple calibration program. While it is one of the more expensive calibrators it is superb. it allows you to calibrate your monitor and if you wish to create your own paper profiles. You simply print a test chart and then swipe each strip of colours on the paper with the calibrator and this builds a bespoke profile for your printer, ink and that particular paper combination. So far I have only used it to calibrate the monitor (and the first time you do it, it makes a huge difference) and the software prompts you to recalibrate regularly (I have it set to prompt me to recalibrate every two weeks, although this is probably overkill – it only takes a couple of minutes so it is no burden).

The drivers for the R2880 load quickly and the printer runs a set up routine when you install the ink cartridges for the first time. One cartridge has to be swapped out depending if you are printing on gloss or matte paper. I don’t understand why both can’t be fitted permanently – something for the Epson engineers to sort out.

It has quite a large footprint so you need some desk space to cope with it. But the output tray and the top paper input support fold away into the printer and seal it up to protect against dust. This also means they don’t intrude into your desk space while you are not using it.

It comes with a roll feed mechanism, so you can buy your favourite papers on the roll and print panoramas. It takes all sizes from small envelopes up to Super A3 which is bigger than A3 and is better suited to the 3:2 aspect ratio of full frame DSLR sensors. Super A3 paper is about 13 x 19 inches in size and the printer prints close to the edge. Prints at this size look stunning and are perfect for framing to hang in most homes. I bought some Hanemhule A4 paper but have hardly used any, when you have seen your prints at Super A3 you won’t want to print A4 or 10 x 8!!!

I have been trialing Epsons Archival Matte paper for my colour prints (and next want to try Hannemhule (or however you spell it) 305gm PhotoRag paper. For my mono prints I have been using the stunning Ilford Gold Silk paper.

It was with trepidation that I set about printing my first image. I sharpened it with Nik softwares excellent output sharpened plugin for Lightroom. The monitor was calibrated with the ColorMunki. I had downloaded my paper profiles from the manufacturers for the R2880. I had set up Lightroom and Photoshop correctly for a colour managed workflow. It was time to press the print button.

Breath held, I waited for the paper to emerge. Grinning, I held the print up by my studio window because I could already see the reproduction of what I had on my screen was close to perfect. I had never seen prints of such quality outside of a high end gallery. Colours were faithful, prints were not too dark as they so often are when getting them back from a lab and mono prints are quite frankly, astounding. The R2880 has three black/grey cartridges and they deliver deep rich black and mono tones, especially on the Ilford paper.

I now have loads of my prints on the walls of my home and studio, gradually replacing the substandard prints from various labs that have been up for a while. I have also been printing for customers, their own images, as it is virtually impossible to get labs to print on anything but standard papers.

The K3 inks are as good as everyone says. They are expensive, although my local supplier delivers for free next day and charges around £7.80 per colour. With nine colours, it is not cheap, but the results are worth it. The printer monitors levels and warns you when a cartridge needs replacing, which is just a one minute job. I have always sent my empty HP cartridges off to charities for recycling but they won’t accept the Epson cartridges, although a student on one of my workshops tells me you can order envelopes from Epson themselves to send empty cartridges back to them for recycling (but no charities benefit from this which is unacceptable in my mind).

At £449.99 from Amazon (which is the best price I could find from a reputable supplier and I get free next day delivery) it is not cheap, but it is well engineered and produces results worth the cost. I am already lusting after the R3880. So I am now able to wholeheartedly recommend the R2880 and the ColourMunki.