Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another Cyano

If you scroll down to the Large Format Fun entry, you will see a photo of combination padlocks along a chain link fence. I like that image so much that I decided to make a cyanotype print of it. I made a couple of attempts. The first one was totally blank. The emulsion completely washed off of the paper because it was under-exposed. That was a 6 minute exposure. So I tried a 15 minute exposure. That one came out very light, but there was an image there. So I dried it and scanned it and threw it into Photoshop (yes, I still embrace digital technology). I cropped it, desaturated it and bumped the contrast and I ended up with a 'digital' image that I really like. This is an instance of technology stepping in and saving an image, but it isn't really a print that I would take out and show to anyone. But I'll put it here where digital is the only option.

Cyanotype locks

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Prints

One of the reasons I got a large format camera was so that I could use the negatives for contact printing with 'alternative' printing techniques. Alt techniques aren't really 'alt' at all. They are just out-dated. They are the techniques used by the early photographers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These are wet plate collodion, daguerreotype, salted paper, ambrotype, kallitype, albumen, gum bichromate, etc. These techniques are definitely still in use and there is an entire photographic sub-culture that enjoys getting their hands dirty with paper and chemistry in order to create images that capture the imagination. I personally love the simplicity of the cyanotype. As you might infer from the name (cyano) this is a blueprint, only instead of printing architectural plans, I print photographs.
It is a very straightforward procedure. Two chemicals (potassium ferricyanide and ammonium citrate) are mixed separately and in this form they are quite stable and can be kept for a long time. Once mixed in a 1:1 ratio, they become (mildly) photo-sensitive. The solution is applied to a surface into which it will soak and/or stick. Generally people use watercolor paper, but cloth, wood or other substrates can be used. I use a brush and just paint it on, but many people use a glass or plastic rod to push the solution across the paper to achieve a very even coating. The paper is allowed to dry (I am impatient, so I take a hair dryer to it in a dark bathroom). Then a negative is laid (emulsion side down) on the coated paper and a piece of glass is placed on top of that to keep everything in contact and flat. I use a contact printing frame that is designed especially for doing just this. The cyanotype emulsion (and also many others) is sensitive to UV light, so either buy an expensive printing light, or if you live in a sunny climate, just use sunlight. I take my printing frame out into the sun and let it sit for anywhere between 5 and 30min depending on the density of the negative. Once the exposure is done, you have to 'develop' the print. Fortunately, the only chemical needed for development is good ol' water. I usually rinse the print under gently running water for a minute or so and then let it soak face down in the sink for another 10-20min. I end up with something like this.


You can see some specks and other artifacts indicating that I didn't blow the dust off of the paper and/or the negative before I made the print. It all adds to the imperfection and uniqueness so don't sweat it.

While I was waiting for some other cyanotypes to dry, I decided to get the Speed Graphic out and load up a couple of sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper. This is photographic paper that creates a regular photograph, sort of like a Polaroid except that you have to develop it in the darkroom. One of the photos I took was of my work area I was using to do the cyanotypes. This paper is very 'contrasty' and you can lose shadow details very quickly. The solution is to 'pre-flash' the paper. That just means to expose it to a little bit of light before you put it in the camera. That way the darkest parts of the image are brightened a little, thereby reducing the overall contrast. This is another fun way to make photos and what you end up with is 'one of a kind' since you are not going to make any more prints because you don't have a negative. Obviously, I scanned the photo, so it isn't really as unique as if I put it in a frame and it could only be viewed by coming to my house, but you get the point. (note: the daisy cyanotype is in this photo and you can see the brush marks where I applied the chemicals to the paper)

Cyanotype work area

So there you go. Browse over to Photographer's Formulary and pick up a cyanotype kit. It is tons of fun!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Large Format Fun

I had to walk over (and through) a neighborhood high school campus in order to pick up my youngest son from lacrosse practice. Generally, I would just walk through the buildings and yards without really thinking much about the 'scenery', but that day, the sun was nearing twilight and things were getting 'golden' and shadows were lengthening. So I decided to bring along my Speed Graphic with a couple of sheets of Tri-X 400. I am still just sort of exploring this camera and how to capture on film the images that I see in my head. After walking around a while, I decided on this chain link fence with some padlocks on it.


I had my Graflex Optar f/4.5 lens on the camera, but it was still a little bright out for that wide aperture on 400 speed film. I stopped down to f/8 which gave me a reasonable shutter speed (using the rear focal plane shutter) and I thought it would still be a nice depth of field for this receding subject. I find that I still tend to think in 35mm terms when it comes to DOF and focal lengths. It is hard to wipe out those habitual patterns that have been ingrained for so long. What I found was that the DOF was much less than I was expecting. This is because of the wonderful physics of optics. Without getting into Circle of Confusion and other technical details that you can read elsewhere, I will just make this comparison:

For a 35mm negative, using a 50mm (normal) lens at f/8, the Depth of Field is about 8 inches.
For a 4x5" negative, using a 135mm (normal) lens at f/8, the Depth of Field is about 4.5 inches.

Spend some time reading up on COC and DOF and get a good understanding of what your lens is doing. It will increase your enjoyment of photography and will get the images on the film looking more like what is in your head.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Worldwide Pinhole Day


April 28th was Worldwide Pinhole day. It is a day when photographers set aside their glass and make images without the benefit of a lens. A pinhole camera is simply a dark box that can hold a piece of photo-sensitive material opposite a very small hole through which light can enter. They can be very simple like those made from oatmeal boxes or 35mm film canisters, or they can be more complicated, incorporating bellows and mechanisms for winding roll film. Even a highly sophisticated DSLR can be converted to a pinhole by removing the lens and putting a small hole in the body cap. I chose to make my own pinhole camera that would shoot medium format images (6x12 cm). I used black foam core from the craft shop, glue and black gaffer's tape. I bought a laser cut pinhole from a guy over on, but you can pretty easily make your own. The image above is my WWPD submission (see I just took a vase of sunflowers out onto my patio and set the camera on a chair. The exposure was about 90min. The highlights are totally blown and the composition is not very good. Admittedly, I didn't give it much thought. The point was just to make an image on that day. It was fun though. I took the picture using Ilford Harman Direct Positive Paper, so there is no negative, you just get the image out (after developing), sort of like a Polaroid in slow-mo. So a couple of days later, I decided to make another image with my pinhole camera.

Wateridge Plaza

There is an office complex nearby where I work that is called Wateridge Plaza. There are a lot of water features around the grounds, but the most noteworthy is the large waterfall in the central courtyard. I set the camera on a little precipice that hangs out over the water and exposed for 47sec. There were people walking around up above the waterfalls, but as long as they keep moving, they do not appear in the final image. I like this photo much better. The stillness of the scene contrasts well with the movement of the water. The highlights of the sunlight filtering through the buildings and the trees gives a nice feel to the image. The contrast is high, but I like the shadowy feel of the dark parts of the scene. Let me know what you think of this image. I value any critique.

You have an entire year to plan how to celebrate WWPD 2014. So go make a camera and have fun being creative. That's what photography is all about!