Friday, 20 December 2013

Branching Out With Slavich Unibrom

  I have made no secret on this blog and on various groups and forums of the struggles I have had with Slavich Unibrom.  I have had no end of trouble trying to get even development and retain highlight detail and I have pretty much given up on it until I can try out an alternative developer to Fotospeed’s LD20, which is all i have in my stock at the moment.

  Having a few hours free (a rare gift from Jess) to print I made a lith print using some old Agfa Brovira (see previous post).  I had to mix up some fresh standard developer for the test strip so instead of letting that go to waste I decided to try some straight up printing on Unibrom (sacrilege?) using a negative from about a year ago when I went on holiday to Scotland.  The image is of a very small plant that I discovered growing out of a bed of moss on the edge of a forest.  It has good contrast and was well exposed so I thought it would be ideal for seeing what Unibrom can deliver when it comes to straight up printing. 

  I made a test strip, chose an exposure and did a flat print.  It looked good, strong cool blacks and good highlights.  

Ignore the dust etc, my scanner is currently filthy!

   It would need some dodging and burning to get the most out of it though, and i was considering what needed to be done i found my thoughts turning to the lith developer I had just used.  It still had some life left in it so why not try some second pass lith?  I have seen some fine examples of this paper using the second pass method and now seemed like a good opportunity to try it out.  I got out my potassium ferricyanide/bromide bleach, bleached the print all the way back, rinsed it and then put it in the lith developer.  The colours were superb!  The shadows started to build up from a dark coppery red through to a vivid orange before finally cooling off into grey. 

Sorry about the orientation - blogger wont let me rotate the images!

  Unfortunately I pulled the print too late and lost the lovely copper tones in the foreground foliage so I re-bleached it and tried again.  Alas the print solarised (I’m no fan of solarisation) so I made a fresh print and tried again.  Unfortunately it failed this time too.  It is going to take a bit of work to make sure I keep the colour in the foreground at the same time the highlight detail comes in.  That’s something for me to work on in my next darkroom session – maybe only partial bleaching…

Here's the solarised version
   The only drawback I discovered is that once the print goes into the fixer the lovely copper tones disappear and turn into a pale golden yellow – still very pleasing but something of a disappointment after the copper tones.  It's something to keep in mind for future prints though.

The print after the fixing bath.  I need to try and get this lovely colour into the foreground more.  This print is going to take some work i think.
  But still, at least I have found a new use for my supply of Unibrom – it’s a lovely paper and it’s a shame that I can’t seem to get it to work for me with straight lith.  As I mentioned before, perhaps a different developer would serve me better.  Until I can try that out second pass seems to be the order of the day.  I’m looking forward to trying it out with some other negatives, hopefully this weekend.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Lithing Glen Coe

  As I STILL haven’t replaced my broken Bronica SQ-A body I am stuck without a camera.  That being the case I have hardly been in the darkroom at all lately.  I managed to get an evening a few nights ago though and decided to dig through my negative file and see if there was something I missed.  I ended up looking at some rolls I had shot on holiday in Scotland earlier this year.  I had printed most of the good frames from it but there was one frame in particular I just couldn’t get a print I liked from.  It was of some mountains in Glen Coe close to dusk and the shadows were all blocked up.  I was in a rush at the time of exposure so it’s not really the best negative I could have got from the scene, and what’s more there are spots, marks and scratches all over it (bad processing on my part)!  

  I decided that maybe it was time to give it another try.  I went through a few sheets of paper but couldn’t really get anything close to what I liked, and those spots and marks were an annoyance.  I decided to try and lith it and settled on Agfa Brovira as my paper of choice.  With Brovira I can get a good range of tones and it still retains great highlight detail so was ideal for this situation.  Plus with lith marks and spots annoy me much less for some reason, maybe it's because of the gritty nature of hte final print.  

 I mixed up the developer, exposed the paper and slid it into the tray.  It took about 25 minutes to get to an appropriate snatch point, but unlike most of my other prints I pulled it just before the shadows became too dark.  There is shadow detail in this negative that would be lost if I let the blacks fully develop – a road and the texture of the mountainside – and I wanted them to still be discernible in the final print.   

  I’m pleased with the final print, there are patches of a golden yellowy tone that appeared upon drying.  I’m not sure if that’s to do with the lith process or just down to the age of the paper, I like it anyway.  I’m starting to run low on Brovira so I need to start saving it for the most important negatives, or find someone with a huge stash for sale!

  It just goes to show how important it is to keep going back to old negatives as well as printing new ones as your printing skills improve with time and you may be able to get more from your negative than you could when you first tried.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Feeding The Monkey

  After not shooting a roll in months to say my trigger finger is itchy is an understatement.  To satisfy my urges last weekend I dug out some old 35mm film and loaded up my Yashica FR-1 and took some randomly selected shots around the house and out and about.  Mostly of Jess eating her tea (much to her disdain).  I do not like Ilford Delta in Rodinal so I opened a pack of ID11 I got with my darkroom and gave that a try.  The negative seems to have come out with good contrast and hopefully I will be able to do some printing this weekend.

  Now, on to the main point of this post.  Due to the complete lack of recent shooting I decided to dig through my old negatives.  I decided to try and print an image I had tried and failed before.  It’s from a trip Jess and I took to Bowland back in summer of an animal shelter in the hills with a nice puff of cloud above it.  The problem is I just can’t seem to get it right using straight printing.  The image is extremely low contrast due to the fact I used too heavy a grad on the sky.  I should probably dedicate more time to it I suppose (and learn to master my metering and filtration better).  But for this short session I decided to try and lith it.  I have been suing Agfa Brovira a lot lately but didn’t think it would suit this image and I didn't want to use my few remaining pieces of Fotospeed Lith.  I wanted something gritty and super-high contrast.  I decided to once again try Slavich Unibrom.  Here I learn't an important lesson.  When trying to “feed the darkroom monkey”, don’t use a paper you haven’t mastered yet.  As usual I got grossly uneven development.  I tried a few sheets changing my method slightly; a pre-soak, more diluted developer, but didn’t get anything near the image I had in my head.  I gave up after a few hours and went inside.

  The next day I was looking through a few of the prints and found one I actually rather liked.  Although the development wasn’t as even as I had hoped the image was still quite pleasing.  And at this point we learn lesson number two – don’t immediately dismiss a print.  Sleep on it (not literally) and come back to it the next day.  Don’t rush towards the final image because you may discover something different that you prefer.  It’s advice I have read in books many times but far too often I get carried away trying to get something finished, but maybe it’s just me that does that.

  So lessons learned – I need to slow down and I need to work harder at finding my own way of taming Slavich Unibrom.  For now I leave you with the image I made and the promise of further updates soon:

Monday, 28 October 2013

Improving the Shed Darkrom

  If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that my darkroom is in a converted shed.  If you want to convert your own shed you can see how i did it here.  My current door situation has been really annoying me however.  I have strips of velcro all round the inside of the door frame to which i attach some thick blackout plastic.  The problem i have been having is that on hot days the heat is melting the glue from the sticky back of the velcro strips and so the blackout sheet is falling down.  It's just been a real pain to have to keep detaching and reattaching it every time i go in and out of the darkroom.

  When i first created my shed darkroom i had some spare chipboard sheets left over from paneling out the inside, and i had told Jess i was going to use them to create inner doors for the shed.  Well, that was months ago and ever since Jess had been dropping not-so-subtle hints that she wanted that wood out of the dining room.  As Jess was away at a wedding all day Saturday i decided to pull my finger out and gets these doors built.

  The first thing to do was measure the inner door frame, which for my shed was 1.00 x 1.65 metres.  Alas my leftover sheets of board weren't the right size, i would have to make 4 pieces and hinge them together, but that's ok - better than buying new wood.  So, i trimmed the bottom half of the doors into two sections, and the top half also.

  After making sure all 4 sections fit together roughly it was time to lightproof the seams.  I picked some weather insulation strips up from Lidl a few weeks ago for this purpose and so set about sealing up the relevant parts of the doors.

  After applying the seal to the bottom left section of the door i screwed it into the frame (i only want the right side of the door to be openable).  I did the same for the top left section, making sure i put some seal between the two so that the seam between them would be light-proof.
  Next i started to fit the bottom right section.  If you do end up doing this then make sure you raise the bottom section up a little, otherwise the base of the door will scrape along the floor.  Once i had made sure the section fitted i screwed the hinges onto the left section, attached the right section (making sure it was raised slightly) and attached the other side of the hinge.  Make sure you put some sealant between the two pieces, running down the hinges.

  Then i did the same with the top section, making sure to push the sealant strips into all the nooks and crannies of the wood.
  After going inside and shutting the door i noticed a few small light leaks on some of the seams, particularly around where the door shut.  I bought some wider foam strips from Lidl and put these around the edges where the leaks were.
  I folded some thick rubble sacks that i bought from B&Q ages ago and stapled these over the centre seam to block all remaining light.
  To hold the door shut tight against the light seal i bought some clips from the hardware shop and placed three down the length of the door.
(google images picture - not mine!)
  I just noticed this morning that some of the thicker foam has started peeling away as the adhesive on the back isn't very strong.  I may have to superglue it down.

  So, that's the door sorted, but i still have a little wood left.  I decided to turn my attention to the electrical outlet port, aka the hole in my shed through which i feed my extension cable.  Up until now i had been using a sheet of wood which i roughly shoved over the hole and then from the inside i stuffed some clothes to seal up the hole.  Not the best.  I had a hinge left over from the doors so i cut a small rectangle of wood and attached the hinge.  I smashed off the raised exterior of the vent hole so it was flush with the shed wall.  Then i attached the hinged wood to the shed.

  I cut a square out of the flap so that i could feed the cable through and the flap would lay flush to the shed side.  I also put a foam seal around the back of the flap and attached another clip to hold the flap shut.

  I should probably staple some plastic over the flap as when chipboard gets wet it tends to disintegrate.

  And that's it - a lightproof shed for a few hours work.  The doors should also help with insulation, especially with winter so close.  Hopefully this has given you some hints, tips and ideas for starting or improving your own darkroom.

Substitute Graduates

  I'm sure (or i hope) that many of us have been in the situation where we've ordered new chemicals, they've arrived and then we've realised we forgot to order more graduates and bottles etc.  If, like me, you live nowhere near a darkroom supplies shop and you need to mail order everything this causes a problem because let's face it - noone wants to pay postage costs.

  Well fear not for Tesco has come to the rescue!  In some of the larger Tesco's they stock beer fermenting supplies.  Included in this are 100ml graduates such as this one:

  It only cost around £3 but saved me from having to pay postage and wait for my order to arrive.  I may even go back and buy a few more - you know, just in case...

Thursday, 24 October 2013

For I Am Man!

  Being a man i am possessed with a regular need to build and fix things.  This mood tends to come in cycles where, after months of laziness, i suddenly decide to make some shelves for a cupboard, hang some mirrors on a wall or (in this case) convert a shed into a darkroom.

  As regular readers will know i recently moved house, downsizing from a 4 bed to a 2 bed house.  Naturally the spare bedroom would have the computer in and all my guitars, instruments, amplifiers and pedals; and my large collection of cd's and dvd's.  This left a minor problem - no darkroom.  Originally the plan was to use the little breakfast bar area at the end of the kitchen but Jess didn't seem to happy with this.  Being the devious, scheming lady that she is she suggested i get a shed - a suggestion i immediately dismissed as foolish.  However, as days went by i began warming to the idea.  Could a shed make an effective darkroom?  I began to investigate online and saw that it could indeed be done - but at great cost.  I found a few articles where people had converted a shed into a darkroom but they had gone the whole hog - electric supply, running water, insulation panels, kitchen units etc.  I needed to do mine at as small a cost as possible but still make it useable.

  First things first - find a shed.  I went to B&Q because i needed to get some gear for decorating the new house.  Special offer on a 4x6 shed - £120.  I considered it for a while but then came to the conclusion that it was too small.  I hit EBay and found a few but they were all too far away for me to collect.  I tried Preloved and Freecycle but to no avail.  Then i found one on Gumtree a mere 10 miles away.  It was an 8x6 and it was listed at £175 or nearest offer.  I offered £150 and got it!  The next problem was how to get it home.  Enter my good friend Steve who has a nice big estate car with roof racks.  We went to the house, dismantled the shed, loaded it onto the roof racks and took it home.  As a side note let me just say that if you ever need to dismantle a shed make sure you have an electric screwdriver.  And make sure the guy you buy it off doesn't keep letting the shed walls drop onto you - it hurts!

  So, after an hour or so the floor was down, the walls were up, the roof was on and the doors were attached:
  The next job was to get it insulated in some way as the weather here in England is very changeable, especially this year.  We've had snow follow by blazing sun followed by snow again followed by rain, it's mental!  If i'm putting electronic gear inside i want to make sure the temperature is as stable as possible or damp will get inside and destroy everything.  And fluctuating between hot and cold is definitely not good for photographic paper!  So, what were my options?  Well i could get loft insulation or polystyrene panels, or i could just use foil or bubble wrap.  In the end i went kind of in the middle.  The local B&Q sells this stuff - B&Q insulation which is basically bubble wrap coated in reflective aluminium on each side.  It's about £12 a roll which isn't too bad compared to other types of insulation, and each roll covers about 4.5m2.  There is a cheaper option available but only one side is coated in foil.  I decided that although more costly, the double sided stuff would be best.  So, i bought a few rolls and began stapling it to the inside of the shed.  The idea is that the foil would keep heat inside and reflect the heat coming in form the outside, thus keeping the temperature in the shed a bit more stable.  Make sure you buy a decent staple gun - i got a £5 one from B&Q and it died the next day.  An extra £5 would have got me a good sturdy metal one.  So, once the insulation was stapled in i had what looked like a set from Dr Who:
  Note the hole on the bottom left.  I left that open to use as a vent and to run an extension cable through from the kitchen.  There was no way i was going to be able to get a water and electric supply to the shed as i'm living in a rented house so couldn't do anything permanent.  This hole would be ideal for putting a cable and, potentially, a hosepipe through.  You can't see i
t in this photo but i also stapled insulation to the inside of the doors as there will be a lot of heat loss through there.  I had about half a roll spare so i put an extra strip over each side of the roof as this is where the majority of heat loss will be.

  Next job is to board up the walls.  I considered just using card but thought if i'm going to all this effort to make a darkroom i may as well fork out and do it properly.  So, i scoped around for prices for sheets of chipboard.  When it comes to sheets of timber it's best not to use B&Q or Homebase etc as you can get it cheaper from a local timber merchant.  In this case i was quoted £7 a sheet from Preston Plywood which was a great price.  If you can get oriented strand board (OSB) instead of chipboard that would be better as when chipboard gets wet it just crumbles whereas OSB is a lot more solid.  But i thought i would be ok with chipboard so went ahead and placed my order.  For a small extra fee they could cut the wood to size and deliver it to my house so i gave them the sizes i needed and my address.  When you're measuring out your sizes remember to deduct the thickness of the board from the adjacent piece e.g. the board at the back would need to be 24mm (2x12mm) narrower than the width of the shed so that the board for the two side walls could fit alongside it.  Once the wood arrived i started boarding up the walls:
  Next i had to board the roof.  Now, at such an angle 12mm chipboard was going to be a pain.  I just needed something to go over the insulation to add that little bit extra.  Preston Plywood came through again with some 3mm MDF/Hardwood.  I got two sheets delivered and cut them down to size myself.  It was easier not to saw them, i just used a sharp blade and scored down the sheet so i could just bend the wood and snap it in the right place.  I commandeered Jess to help me hold the sheets while i screwed them to the roof.  It was awkward but we got it done eventually.

  So, that was the whole inside of the shed boarded out now.  Although it was only cheap and thin insulation you could feel the difference in temperature compared to how it was with nothing on.  obviously, more expensive and thicker insulation would have a greater effect.  Insulation has a thermal resistance rating - the higher the rating the more insulation you get.  This stuff only has a rating of 1.5 but it is certainly enough to make a difference, especially with board covering it.

  At this point i turned my attention away from the shed and began to think about workbenches.  I'd need somewhere to put my enlarger and a surface to put my developing trays etc.  I thought about using computer desks, kitchen units and even considered buying a workbench.  it's shocking how much workbenches cost!  So, i decided to build my own.  For about £35 i got the materials required to build my own 2 shelf workbench that would measure 1.2 x 0.80 x 0.60m.  It was a squeeze to fit it all in the car but i managed it.  I spent the afternoon sawing, screwing and assembling all the pieces until i had my bench.  Solid as a rock and the perfect size.  I was so impressed with it that i went ahead and built another one but made it slightly shorter so that my enlarger would fit on it.

   I put them in the shed and then put in the shelving units i had from my previous house.  Then i started shifting in all my gear.  A few hours later and it was all done...
...well, almost.  I still need to figure out how to lightproof the vent but still pass an extension cable through it. and i still need to lightproof the doors.  Ill probably velcro some lightproof plastic over the inside when i'm in and hang a curtain there too to keep out some of the cold when the shed is locked up.

  So there you have it - a darkroom shed on a budget.  Hopefully this weekend ill be able to get in and start making some prints.  If there are any improvements i need to make i can do it as i go along.  It's nice and roomy though and i think i'll be happy printing in there.  The main thing is that, should we ever move house (which i have no plans to do), i can dismantle it and take it with me.  I really have to thank Jess for coming up with the suggestion and managing to cook me a delicious tea everyday despite the kitchen being full of darkroom gear!

  I don't know what my next bit of DIY will be (probably making some shelves for our towel cupboard), and i'm sure the mood won't strike again for many a month; but i know that when it does i'll be unstoppable - for i am man!

Activity (or lack thereof)

  I’m sorry!  I know it’s been aaaaaaaaaages since my last post, but to be honest I haven’t picked up my camera since it ditched into the seas a few week ago.  I’ve been extremely busy (I have no idea what I’ve been doing) and to be honest I’ve hit a bit of a creative slump.  The only thing I have been working on lately is a lith print from an old negative.  It’s super-flat contrast so I am trying to print it onto Slavich Unibrom – and regular reader’s will know all the trouble’s I have had with that paper!  Jess is away at a wedding on Saturday so I’m hoping to get a few hours in the darkroom to try and get at least one acceptable print.

  As regards my creative rut I guess I’m just tired of popping out and snapping a few pics of random stuff.  Although I do enjoy doing that I’m starting to feel more like I should be doing projects – giving a group of prints a theme and planning the shoots etc.  With that in mind I have started planning 3 projects.  How long it will take to complete I don’t know but I’m pretty excited about shooting them.  It’s giving me purpose in my photography and providing me with something to focus my mind on.  I just need to work on getting the materials together before I can start setting up the shoots, but I’m really excited about working on the final prints.

  That’s about all I’ve got to say at the minute – I just thought I had better explain why I have been silent for so long.  Hopefully I will make a decent print at the weekend and have a post about it early next week.  Until then!