It is that time of year again. Ann and I are open again from 8 June – 23 June. This time we are operating from the new studio so I shall be able to run a continuous demonstration of alternative techniques mainly VDBs and cyanotypes although I might also show salt printing too. BOS is a great and growing event with over 300 entries this year including a huge variety of talented artists and makers. Well worth making some time to visit some.
To make it easier to find your way through the directory, there are a number of coordinated art trails. We are part of the Amersham Art Trail
and there are several others on the Bucks Open Studios website
I’ve been working on VDBs again recently and really enjoying it having been concentrating on cyanotypes for a little while now. Fortunately the digital negatives I use for the Mike Ware cyanotypes are equally suitable for VDBs which is a saving in time and money. This is the latest print I have done. It is made up from two negatives that I took with my old Robot Royal. Very little processing was needed and I just blended them in a three x three grid. I had originally intended to do this at the print stage but I found it difficult to get the effect I wanted so I decided to do everything at the negative stage. I’ve also mad a cyanotype print of the same image and I am about to do another and tea tone it to make a set of three. This print is gold toned which I find deepens the browns and gives a bit more contrast. Gold toner is now £65 per litre which last about 6 – 10 prints of this size.
I have spent most of my time since opening my new studio refining my methodology for cyanotype prints – a long and frustrating road. I have at last got some solutions to that and am prodcuing prints that I am pleased with which have deep blues so dark they are almost black. I have now moved back to VDB prints – it is just such a fabulous process. As an aide memoire for me, I have written some notes on my procedure from making the solution, creating the negative and processing the print. I’ve put the notes into a separate page. Any feedback welcome. I will, when I get the time, put some images alongside the notes to make the steps clearer. In fact you can download a pdf version which does have screen shots of the printer settings and a curve adjustment included from here:
Van Dyke Prints
Just returned from a week trip to Malta. The only camera I used was the Robot Royal. Mixed results as might be expected with my limited experience with the camera. I used semi-stand development for the three Fuji Acros 100 films and D76 stock solution for the TMax400. I have to say that I am less convinced now about stand development as a general tool. I did get some streaking but more than that the tonal range is so compressed that it bordering on the unnatural apart from some very contrasty night scenes. The TMax 400 in D76 on the other hand is excellent and definitely sharper but less grainy than the Acros. The stand development has done the Acros no favours. ‘Our Man in Valletta’ is on the TMax is very contrasty lighting – the cathedral is in full sunlight.
When I returned to film last year I was determined not to get to involved in technical issues. My aim was to use developers straight as directed on the packet and film speeds as rated by the manufacturer. I want to take pictures not become a research scientist. On the whole I have been very pleased with the results. Not surprisingly perhaps the film and developer manufacturers have got a reasonable idea of how to produce the best results from their products. Nevertheless I have wanted to try out some different films and also a technique called stand development which in theory means that you have far more latitude in speed and aperture settings – you should be able to get the exposure wrong by a few stops and still get passable results. I went to Brighton a couple of days ago in a vain search for the sun but at least took a roll of film with the Robot Royal mainly of long exposures. I used this as a test for stand development. To my surprise it actually works! I used 500 ml of water at approximately 22 degrees C and added 5 ml Rodinal to make a 100+1 solution of developer – very dilute. I placed the film in the tank and then added all of this solution (my tank is just about big enough for this), inverted the tank vigorously for about a minute, banged it on the bench to get rid of air bubbles and then left it. After half an hour I inverted it gently three times and then left it for another half hour – this apparently means that it is semi-stand development. Finally I washed , fixed and dried as normal. I was amazed to see all 50 odd images looked more or less identical in exposure. On closer inspection some were slightly more dense than others but only marginally so. All of the negs are usable (I can’t say the same about the content). Brilliant! No worries about time or temperature. It just seemed to work. There is plenty of information on the web as to why it should work.
The more I look at these images the more pleased I am. There is a fair bit of grain but it is very controllable especially for high key subjects. The grain begins to show where heavy curves are applied to make eg a dark sky so that is probably best avoided or just put up with the grain.
So will I try stand development again? Probably but I would like to try a finer grained film like Acros 100 or TMax100 to give it a fairer chance. This image of the old Brighton pier is one from this film. It is more or less untouched except for a slight darkening of the sky plus duotone colouring.
I have just completed a Photobox book of my first images with the Robot Royal. I am really pleased with the quality of the camera and how refreshing the square format is in a 35 mm camera. Difficult to understand why more cameras weren’t built with that format. You get more high quality images per roll, the image circle of the lens more naturally fits a square image, a round lens hood actually works and in any case the square format lends itself to more artistic feeling images.
You can see the book online here to see what this gem of a camera can do (ignore the hefty price! I do books for my own satisfaction not for sale. I find PhotoBox reasonably priced if you wait for their special offers and good quality generally. They happily reprinted one book that I was disappointed with). Bear in mind these images were all taken from the first three films I put through the camera so I am sure I will improve when I get more familiar with it.
I’ve decided to try to put together a book every couple of months or so of recent images for my own use just for motivation. Next up is a trip to Malta so we will see what the Robot can do there.
Most of the images in the book were on TriX which I have never used before. Grainy it is but very flexible and suited to the very dull conditions we were experiencing at the time. I’ll use it again although I have to say I prefer TMax400 (TMY) for 35mm.
I’ve written some notes about the Robot Royal on a separate page and will update this as I gain more experience with it.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to improve my scanning technique. I’m fortunate to have both an Epson flatbed V700 scanner and a Nikon 9000 ED medium format film scanner. The Epson produces acceptable scans for everyday use and it is much faster than the Nikon. It has fixed focus and the scans are never really sharp. Don’t use a flatbed to judge the quality of your camera! The Nikon is in a different league. It focuses on the grain of each negative. The only thing that could make it sharper is even flatter film. To get the best from it I use a glass carrier with AN glass on the top. It comes with masks for MF film but not 35mm film. Nikon to their shame stopped supporting the Nikon Scan software some time ago. It doesn’t work with 64 bit Vista or later Windows. A search on the web finds a good fix which is easy to implement and then it works just fine with MF film. The 35mm glassless carrier is OK with flat film but not so good with curvy film like Ilford HP5. I use the glass carrier for scanning 35mm film but the Nikon Scan software doesn’t work for this so I use Vuescan. Vuescan is a good but quirky programme which works with just about any scanner and any version of Windows. It took me ages to work out how to use it but now it is fine.
Epson Scan works well and is good for scanning a whole film quickly. 35mm is pretty much automatic. Odd sizes like my square Robot pictures or XPan panoramas are easy to do. I load up four negative strips into the holder and preview the lot. Then quickly draw boxes around each frame. It is important to get the crop box within the negative otherwise the auto exposure doesn’t work properly. With practice this takes less than five minutes. Then I scan the lot – no more than 2400 dpi and even 1200 dpi is as good as you are likely to get. It can then be left scanning by itself whilst I do something else. Afterwards I load up the last two strips and repeat. All done and the quality is just fine for the web, FlickR and review.
Then over to the Nikon. For the very best scans I load the negs into the glass holder. I have cut accurate masks for 24×36 and for my Robot 24×24 negs. If I do any of my XPans again I will cut a mask for those too. I use Ann’s CraftRobo cutter to cut the masks. This makes a neat and precise mask and makes it very easy to use with VueScan. Masks are an unfortunate imperative. Sure you can do the scan without one but more often than not there will be irritating lines at the edges and the whole scan has a slightly uneven appearance. This is especially noticeable for light snow scenes where an unmasked scan is simply unusable in my experience.
If you have trouble cutting a mask then I’m happy to do masks for any size negs for a nominal sum to cover costs and postage say £10 per mask. You lose a tiny bit of negative at the edges but the improvement in scan quality is amazing. TMax or Acros 100 reveal detail right up to the full 4000 dpi available with the Nikon. I’ll give more details another time about how I use VueScan with the Nikon to scan my Robot Royal square negs. I’ll post photos of the masks in use.
Some essential points I have found to scan a good monochrome negative with the Nikon 9000. First is to remember that most changes in the scan are done afterwards in the software. Essential to get a good focus – choose the point carefully. Mask the negative – this can’t be managed afterwards. Just about everything else can. Before you save the scan, make sure it is scanning as a colour slide/positive. For some reason this will give a better tonal range without losing shadows or highlights. Believe me its worth the extra step afterwards. Adjust the histogram in the scanning software to just match the full tonal range and no more. Crop the scan before you do any of this to just smaller than the mask (remember that when you take the picture!). Then save (in greyscale to reduce image size). You then need to invert the image in the image processing software such as PS or lightroom.
The latest camera added to my collection is this fabulous Robot Royal from around 1953. It takes very high quality square images on 35mm film so around 54 images per roll. It has a Schneider f1.9 lens and an accurate coupled rangefinder so focusing is not a problem. The film winds on with a clockwork motor drive at up to 5 frames per second. You just need to set the aperture and speed. This is simple enough especially with mono film. It is rapidly becoming my camera of choice. Small, easy to use and no battery. It weighs a ton because it is made of stainless steel but it has weathered the last sixty odd years better than me I feel! I’ve posted my first shots in difficult conditions – it was dull and snowing – on my FlickR site. Since then I have taken a roll of Acros 100 to really put it through its paces and I am stunned by the resolution especially when scanned on the Nikon film scanner. More images to follow.
See my Robot Royal camera page.
My new photographic studio and darkroom is now fully functional with all facilities working. It is great to have everything in one place. It has bags of space and lots of sink area. I have spent the last week or so ensuring that I have confidence in my creation of negatives for cyanotypes and VDBs. I hope to start some preliminary tutorials in the new year. Do get in touch if you are interested in learning how to make prints using traditional processes. I am in the process of testing the new Revere Platine paper for these processes. So far it is encouraging especially for Van Dyke Brown prints for which it works really well. It supports the cyanotype chemistry too which is good but so far I have yet to get the rich blues I have with some other papers. It is early days and I will try some more. Bergger COT-320 is becoming a favourite for the very picky Mike Ware new cyanotype formula and Arches Platine is still as good as any. It has a nice smooth surface, a good weight and not too badly priced from SilverPrint for a fine quality paper.
I have grabbed some time after a hectic fortnight of exhibitions to create a new gallery exclusively for alternative process prints – at the moment a few cyanotypes and Van Dyke Brown prints but I am aiming to grow this section over the next few months. The existing gallery is reserved for my older images mainly from a variety of digital cameras but including some film images too. You can link to the new gallery in the menu.