Category Archives: darkroom

Analogue photography is far from dead

I was at the camera swap in Vancouver today. I was surprised at just how busy it was at just after 10am on a Sunday morning. What was even more surprising though was the sheer volume of film cameras for sale. I didn’t see much digital stuff at all, other than some Canon and Nikon lenses. What I saw at table after table was film cameras. Lots of lots of 35mm rangefinders in particular, but also quite a few medium format cameras and large format ones also. It was fantastic to see hundreds of film cameras for sale and people actually buying. Shooting film is far from an obsolete process and I think it will only continue to pick up pace for the near future.

Things are so rosy at the moment, we even have three brand new silver gelatin papers brought out by major players in the last year. Ilford has a POP (printing out)/direct positive paper new on the market as well as a great pinhole camera to use it in. They’ve also brought out a fine art textured paper, their first new one in 13 years. Freestyle just brought out their own fine art paper and I think it will do well. And to top it all off, Jobo is bringing out a new film/paper processor, 2 years after they stopped production of the last model. All of this definitely puts paid to the regular bleating about the death of film.

Also posted in black and white photography, supplies | 1 Comment

Back in the dark

It’s been quite a long time since I last made a post and a lot has changed since then.

 

I’ve ended my 365 project several months into it as it no longer fulfilled my primary goal, which was to get me out shooting daily. I found too many times I ended up looking for an image last minute, rather than getting out shooting. The way I structure my days just doesn’t work for getting me out shooting daily and while I may want to make some changes to that, it’s not a priority at this time.

 

As for what I am working on, my b&w film work has taken precedence and I am not shooting much digitally at all. I have several ongoing projects that I am getting back to. Some, such as my trees project, can only be shot once the trees are bare so I’ve had to wait for that, and it’s almost time to start shooting again.The last of the autumn leaves are still lingering, even though it is December.

 

And the project that took up a lot of my time as summer ended, was getting my darkroom ready. It’s now done and I’ve started printing as of mid November. I managed to find a decommissioned darkroom that I could set back up and with all the bits I’ve accumulated over the last two years, it’s well stocked. I’ve a nice, bright, warm place to work that is fantastic to have. I’m even open to sharing it if someone is looking for a darkroom rental in Vancouver. As printing progresses, I’ll post here some of the images as I go.

 

And finally, here’s some images of my new darkroom.

 

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Also posted in black and white photography, printing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Laziness is the mother of efficiency

In my last post, I briefly mentioned I don’t do much in the way of test strips. I don’t like doing them as it takes time, and more importantly, wastes paper, and quite frankly, the less effort I have to make the better. And at a buck a pop for a sheet of 8×10, (yes, Foma is expensive, but gorgeous), I hate wasting paper.

Instead, I make work prints, one sheet per negative, without bothering with a test strip at all. How do I do that? Well, I’m no darkroom guru, reading my negative and knowing just what exposure it will print at. You need to spend a few years slaving away in a commercial lab, day in and day out, making prints, to get to that stage. For us amateurs, there is an easier way, an enlarging meter.

I have this nifty gadget from Darkroom Automation, which allows me to do wonderful things like profile my paper versus my negatives and stuff, works as an enlarging meter and a densitometer, but I’m lazy. I use it to simply give me a base exposure which allows me to pop out a work print in one go. I measure the darkest tone, which gives a value in stops. I compare that to my base negative (one I’ve printed with a full range of tones and a known exposure time and value for my paper) and calculate the difference in exposure. Using that, I can pop out a work print, usually with a reasonable exposure (at least as a starting point to fine tune from) with just one print. If I want to also factor in contrast control and dial in the right amount of magenta, I can also measure the lightest tone, and with the difference between the two, (compared to my base neg/print which I measure all against) I can dial in the contrast too.

It does involve using a calculator as I might need .67 of a stop less exposure, but I’d rather use a little time than waste paper, and do things only once. Thus, other than determining that first exposure for my baseline negative, which I do test strip, to get a baseline exposure, I don’t bother with test strips at all. Unless of course, some bastard at the darkroom changes the enlarger bulb on me. At which point, I usually have to do it again. Now, bear in mind, I am using the same enlarger all the time, and if you use more than one, you would need to do a test with each one to get your baseline exposure for each.

I’m all for making your life simpler with handy gadgets that actually work.

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Music in the dark(room)

I love music. I’ve played various instruments over the years and have a nicely eclectic collection of cd’s, heavy on world music. I wanted to share with you some of my favourite bands and artists. I can’t live without my music while I’m in the darkroom. Sitting for 15 minutes doing a lith print, in the dark, listening to myself breath would drive me nuts.

Now in no particular order…..

Bellowhead: An awesome band from England playing English folk music as you’ve never heard it before. 11 piece band with a brass section. How cool is that? Greensleeves would never sound the same. Not that they play that one, they choose much more interesting songs than that.

And for a little taste….

They were even more amazing live.


Pink Martini: Another fantastic ensemble, this time from closer to home in Portland. They perform in over 8 languages, songs from all over the world. Mix in Bossa Nova, French cafe music, Cha Cha and lounge music and you get as they put it themselves a “rollicking around-the-world musical adventure”.

An intro….Also incredible live.




Stan Rogers: And being Canadian, I can’t forget our own wonderful talent. One of the greatest Canadian folk singers was Stan Rogers. Incredible voice and great songwriter. If you really want to get an idea of Canadian music this is it.



Audio only I’m afraid.




The Arrogant Worms: And for something rather different, The Arrogant Worms. A wonderful example of the great Canadian sense of humour. It’s their 20th year together, so be sure to try and catch a concert if you can.





Now, does anyone have any suggestions for more great music?



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Second group show opening Saturday in Vancouver

Awesomeness. I have managed to get two images accepted to a second juried group show here in Vancouver. This is pretty exciting for me, as these shows are my first attempts. The show opens this Saturday, Feb. 5th at the Vancouver Darkroom Co-op Gallery. You can pop over to 652 Kingsway (at Fraser St.) for the 7pm opening if you are in town.

If you can’t make it, here’s a preview.

If you’re wondering what this is, its the remnants of a shipwreck, the Peter Iredale, on the Oregon coast. These are lith prints on Foma Chamois fibre paper, beautiful creamy coloured paper that for Foma, gave me some wonderful, subtle colours with the lith process.

Are you also wondering what the heck lith is? Well, its a black and white printing process where the paper developer is based on lithographic film developer and the combination of papers and developer chosen can give you a wide range of colours. The basis of the look, besides colour, is great detail in the highlights and gritty blacks. The fun of it comes from substantially overexposing the print under the enlarger, (this controls the highlights) and leaving it in the developer until the blacks reach just the right point and immediately tossing it in the stop bath without waiting for the print to drain. You do this as the blacks develop through a process called infectious development where they start off slowly and the development speeds up exponentially as you go. If you were to leave the paper in the developer til completion, the image would go completely black because you have overexposed it an average of 2-4 stops. So you have a minute time frame to choose just how you want the print to look and your never quite sure at the start how it will go. 


This is just one of the wonderful things I love about darkroom work in general. Creative, fun processes that always have a lovely element of surprise waiting to be discovered.

See you on Saturday.

Also posted in alternative processes, black and white photography, exhibition, lith | 2 Comments

Sources for film and darkroom supplies

If you love printing in the darkroom as much as I do, finding a reliable source for supplies including film, paper and chemicals is pretty important. Here in Canada, its pretty limited. If you are lucky, you may have a local store in a large metro such as Vancouver, that carries some stuff. If not, mail order it is, and depending on what you want, may be hard to come by.

For local stuff, I use Beau Photo now and then. A lot of the paper and chemicals I use they don’t carry. Now, they tell me they can special order it in, but it’ll take a month. If I need it in a week or so, that won’t really do. But they are the best source locally for the widest variety of things overall. Another option in Vancouver that still carries some stuff is Lens and Shutter on Broadway. You won’t find it on their website, but they still have some stuff in store.


Canadian mail order is not something I’ve done much. Here are some options you can try though.
The Camera Store in Calgary
Darkroom Central in Winnipeg
The Frugal Photographer in Calgary
Henry’s in Toronto


Now for myself, I live within a short hop of the border and my preferred order spot is Freestyle Photographic, down in California. Fast service and the largest selection, as well of course, good prices. A pretty good source for the more esoteric stuff too.


Other options in the US include
Photographer’s Formulary in Montana – large selection of bulk chemicals too
Digital Truth in Texas – also manufactures EcoPro environmentally friendly chemistry
Calumet Photo in Illinois


Have fun printing!

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Why darkrooms matter

I was out wandering about my neighbourhood with a camera this weeked, as I often do. I really appreciated the fact that it was overcast as my old tlr only has a maximum 1/500th shutter speed, so for my shallow depth of field work, this is an ideal condition. And as well, just after the rain, there were lots of things covered in masses of rain drops, always a guarantee of something to photograph.

It had been a little while since I shot with film. While I use both digital and film cameras, I really love shooting film and working in the darkroom the best. Many people I know, who still shoot some film, don’t do any darkroom work at all. I think this is really a shame.

I know there are many people out there who feel a darkroom is a thing of the past and has no relevance anymore. Others feel they are free, no longer having to spend time in one. Others have only ever and will only ever shoot digital. I think the point these people are missing is that learning to print in a darkroom does still matter.

When I speak with people about photography, they often ask about a place to take courses or their cameras and what they would like to do with their photography. I always suggest that they consider giving a film and darkroom course a try. Luckily we have an excellent school here, Langara College, that has a fantastic darkroom and still runs basic photography courses with film. I really believe that this is valuable, even if you only ever shoot digitally afterwards.

Shooting film has so many benefits, especially for someone who is just learning. Learning to shoot manually, where you can’t see what you did right away teaches you to master your camera fully, because if you don’t, you won’t have successful results. It slows things down, and since you only have a limited number of shots, you learn to make them count. You tend to become more selective of what you shoot, and I think end up paying more attention to what is in front of the camera.

And then there is the darkroom. No matter how many times I watch it, it is still a magical thing, seeing that image form from nothing in front of my eyes. But beyond that, unlike sitting in front of a computer screen, being in the darkroom really makes you part of the creative process, in the physical sense of things. There’s a satisfaction that I don’t find is there when sitting in front of a computer, of having made something with your own hands, where you are physically creating this image, not just pressing a mouse and watching the computer do everything.

I think there’s a disconnect, when it comes to technology, that disappears when you physically create and process an image. There is also the ability to experiment hands on, see what happens when you do ……..It is a chance to play, to become part of the process. And there is nothing like the satisfaction of being able to say I made this.

That’s why I always suggest to people to take a chance and get their hands on an old film camera, which is cheap these days, and go take a film photography/darkroom course. You may decide this isn’t for you in the long run, but you have had the experience to fully make that decision from an educated position and you might even have had fun anyways.

But don’t just take my word for it. Freestyle Photographic Supplies is not only an excellent place to purchase supplies, but is committed to traditional black and white photography. They have published on their site opinions from many photographic educators that they work with on why darkrooms do still matter.
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