I love the low sun and long shadows that are a feature of winter days. Shadows have been a fascination of mine for many years and will continue to be I expect. Every sunny winter morning the light shines directly into our kitchen and on this occasion I placed a piece of driftwood on the table to explore the distorted and extended shadows.
Using the Walker Titan pinhole 5×4.
I have been using the Walker pinhole camera for a few months now, though not exclusively because I’ve been busy with a lot of paper negative stuff. Having shot with it in a few different locations, I have really grown to love it.
When I’ve shot pinhole stuff before, I’ve always enjoyed making the cameras, -and for me this has been an important part of the satisfaction at the end result. I thought at first that using an ‘off the shelf’ camera would be less likely to satisfy and wouldn’t have the quirks of a home made one. I have been surprised to find that this simple plastic box is actually one of my favourite pinhole cameras of all time, -and I’ve been making them since 1978!
Angle of view. I prefer wide and super wide pinhole cameras over ones that mimic a standard lens, mainly because I enjoy the distortions that occur when objects are placed close to the camera. The Walker has an equivalent angle of view to a 70mm lens on a 5×4 camera and considering that 90mm is a pretty wide lens on this format, it would seem that this was in the realm of super wide. It is roughly equivalent to an 18mm lens on a 35mm camera, so that gives you some idea. Previous to using this, I had been using a home made 10×8 pinhole camera which had an angle of view equivalent to an 11mm lens on 35mm. This really did distort and had quite dark vignetting in the corners. Mike seems to have got the angle of view exactly right with this camera, as there is sufficient distortion (yes, I know it’s rectilinear, -no pedantry please), but virtually no vignetting.
Using it is simplicity itself. A standard 5×4 dark slide fits in with a pleasing click and you are ready to expose by removing the tethered plastic cap. With home made pinholes, especially if made from tins or cardboard boxes, there is always the problem of positioning and stability. Unless you go to the trouble of gluing a threaded nut to the base of your tin (no point doing it with cardboard), you are limited to shooting from the ground or any place you can rest it, -this severely limits your compositional options. With a properly made camera you are provided with a tripod bush -two in fact on the Walker Titan, so shooting from a tripod becomes the normal method and opens up all sorts of image making possibilities.
All of the shots I have shown here, were done on Ilford Ortho film. It is great for this kind of thing because long exposures give nicer results (Ortho is 25 ISO -or less, if you want more tonality out of it). I like long exposures for pinhole, because things happen during the exposure which you hadn’t planned for, and provide unexpected and interesting results.
All exposures were all 90 seconds, and during that time people have stood in the scene for a while and then wandered off, leaving a ghost (beach scene) and the boats sitting in the corner of the harbour were bobbing about violently, as the sea was quite rough and have become very indistinct on the pinhole shot.
I have been using large format cameras alongside other smaller formats for many years. Large format cameras have traditionally been associated with the master photographers, or with high end commercial work, so when I began, I worried about getting ‘perfect’ negatives like the experts. It took me many years to understand that they could be used in a much more relaxed way too.
I have 5×4, 5×7, and 10×8 cameras which all produce very detailed negatives. I can get high quality images from any of them if I need to, but sometimes I really enjoy using them purely for the fun of working in a different way. I often put unusual materials in the camera, such as X-Ray film, graphic Arts film, or Photographic Paper. These materials do not produce technically high quality negatives, but they do produce exciting and interesting images.
All of the light sensitive materials mentioned above are rather slow, that is to say, they need much more light to produce an image. This is actually an advantage, as it means that I can do without a shutter to control the light. I simply expose by uncovering the lens for a period of time. This can be as little as a second, or much longer, -sometimes minutes.
Choosing lenses without the need for a shutter opens up all sorts of possibilities. A high quality lens without a shutter is known as a Process Lens. These can be found on Ebay much more cheaply than the type with shutters built in.
I have used process lenses, enlarger lenses, photocopier lenses and also simple optics such as a magnifying glass. All produce something unique and I find this really exciting.
If you are shooting on slow, or unusual materials and not too concerned about having a really sharp, well corrected lens, then you have an enormous range to choose from.
For the uninitiated, a general description of a process lens is; A lens without a shutter which gives a flat field of focus. These lenses have been made for copying and reproduction and are made for a particular application. Using them in a way that they were not designed for gives interesting results.
They were designed to be flat field and were optimised for 1-1 reproduction (which makes them great for close up work). These lenses were used in the graphic arts industry for making printing plates and many of these lenses will give excellent quality if stopped down. Some are fixed at one aperture, so are only any use in low light or with very slow emulsions.
Similar to a process lens, in that they are flat field, but with the advantage of having a variable aperture.
Basically, they are process lenses mounted in reverse. Any enlarger lens can be used on a 5×4 camera, but most will give only a small image on the film unless they are over 150mm focal length (5×4 camera). Some interesting results can be obtained using a lens which is too small, the most obvious being a totally circular image in the centre of the film.
Again, these are process lenses, but they do not have a controllable aperture. They must be used wide open, this limits the situations in which they can be used.
These are amongst my favourites, they are usually very bright lenses and give really lovely out of focus areas. In the picture above you can see an 89mm f1.9 Rosslyte projector lens attached to an Olympus OM10.
An uncorrected (very soft focus), very fast lens with no aperture. The amount of light coming into the camera is often too much even for these slow emulsions. A makeshift aperture could be fashioned out of black card which would reduce the light and also give a clearer, sharper image, though this would still be soft in comparison with proper optics.
Using Process, enlarging and simple lenses on a camera will give your images a different look from those taken using conventional optics. I am grouping these all together because I use all of them at various times to produce some of the work I am interested in. Each type has different characteristics, methods of use and drawbacks. Sometimes those characteristics and drawbacks cause problems out in the field, but they also are capable of beautiful results and that’s why I still think they are worth the effort.
Obtaining these types of lenses is easy. Process lenses appear on Ebay regularly and do not generally cost much, -certainly nowhere near the original cost that they would have been when in proper use. Enlarging lenses usually go for less than £25.00. Camera fairs and antique / junk fairs occasionally have something of interest, -I found a 240mm f4.5 photocopier lens a few months ago which will cover 10×8. It only cost me £4.00.
Anything you can get hold of is going to give you something different than the ‘normal’ optics that are supposed to be used on these cameras. Try it, see what sort of shot suits your unusual lens. Some things will be unsatisfactory, but other shots will be magical.
Posted 16/10/2012 at 12:37 pm
I agree that these lenses are great to play with, especially on 4×5 and 10×8. Glad I found these pages and I wish you the best.
I don’t quite agree with your definition of “process lens” however. Process lenses are usually optimised for 1:1 (as you say) but are optimised for low distortions, not flat field. Obviously low distortion is what you want when copying a map, for example. Most are not flat field but get very close to flat field when stopped down. The Apo Ronar, for example, is an excellent process lens that is often used pictorially (I have a couple), but is not adequately flat until stopped to about f/22. Enlarger lenses are however (at least supposed to be) flat field and are often better in terms of contrast, though perhaps not as sharp.
Posted 16/10/2012 at 9:09 pm
Dear Richard, thank you for your clarification. i didn’t want to get into a big discussion about the finer details of what is and and what is not flat field, or process, I just wanted to inspire a few photographers who might not have considered these lenses for large format use.
First posted 4 February 2011
Just before Christmas, I wrote and self published a book on the paper negative process. This technique is something I’ve worked with since the late seventies and one which I am particularly fond of. For those of you unfamiliar with it, in it’s simplest form it is just using photographic paper in the camera instead of film. The reduced ISO, paper texture and Orthochromatic response give a look totally unlike film and not easily faked digitally. In fact, there would be no point trying to fake it, as most of the pleasure comes from the slight unpredictability of the process.
Occasionally this is frustrating, but the flipside is when beautiful surprises occur and provide you with amazing images.
The book was self published on Blurb.com using the Booksmart software. Previous books done this way had all been purely images. This time I had to marry up text with image and attempt page layouts.
That in itself is not too difficult, the Booksmart software gives templates for drag and drop simplicity. However, I hadn’t bargained for how totally bloody frustrating the software could be!
It allowed me to drop sections of text in, but as soon as I tried to change a word or add a new bit, the font size would jump from 8 to 16 and the line below would drop down two spaces. Each time I tried to rectify the problem things just got worse! Whole pages of text would jump across to the previous page and lay themselves over a full page image! Aaaarrrggh!
I battled on and just got the book out in time for a few Christmas sales, only to find that there were one or two typing mistakes and the colour cast of some scanned prints had given a very green look to a few images. Also, the font size was a little too large when seen in hard copy, something that is difficult to judge on screen.
I set about producing a second edition immediately and came up against all the previous problems. Hopefully, this version is a little tidier.
The second edition of the book is now available and I apologise to anyone who bought and was disappointed by the style of the first. The information is still sound, take consolation in the fact that you have a very rare book -only six copies sold I believe.
The new book can be seen here;
First posted 28 September 2010
I have just written a technical review of the new Harman Direct positive Paper for Black and White Magazine here in the UK. The piece will probably be in the January issue, but I thought I’d like to share my enthusiasm for it here.
The paper comes in RC and FB versions and is pretty high contrast if used straight out of the box, though a pre flash will bring the contrast down dramatically, as seen in this test shot;
For my test I loaded a 5×4 darkslide with a sheet of the FB paper and pulled the darkslide half way out. I preflashed the paper in camera by exposing through a sheet of white paper (this needs to be metered correctly, -see upcoming magazine article), then I pulled the darkslide out all the way and did the main exposure. As you can see from this example, the pre flash makes a huge difference to the tonal range.
Because of the short latitude of this paper, a good, reliable hand meter is recommended. An incident reading will give you the quickest accurate reading, though a spotmeter could give more information once the range of the paper has been established using your own developer.
Always use fresh developer, Only develop under red safelight and don’t turn on the lights until the print is fixed.
The paper is really great for photograms too, as you can see from this image of a jar.
When used in camera, it produces images which are reversed left to right and for portraiture this is often flattering to the sitter as they always see themselves that way in the mirror, so they view these images as being more accurate.
I intend to do a lot more with this paper, I think it has a lot of potential. I hope they consider producing a lower contrast version in the future if this is at all possible.
First posted 19 October 2009
Different photographers have different expectations from a film. They may buy a particular brand because they have seen that someone they admire has used it, or because it is a new type. Some buy films looking for good latitude, others for speed, acutance or fine grain. Others may be expecting contrasty, gritty results.
Buying a film and exposing/developing at the manufacturers recommended settings will usually produce negatives that are a compromise between all of these expectations. Producing the results you really want depends on an understanding of what happens when film is treated differently.
One of the first ways that new photographers try to get different results is by uprating. They read somewhere that a 400 ISO film can be exposed at a higher speed such as 1600, and then stewed in the dev to bring up the image.
This does indeed work, but occasionally at the expense of quality (not always a concern for some). Uprating can produce quite acceptable results with dilute/static processing (see the section at the end of this article) and I have rated Ilford HP5 at 1600 ISO and got results almost as good as when rated at 400.
But if the developer is one which is vigourous, the grain can be exaggerated and contrast can increase to a point where printing becomes difficult and burning in highlights is impossible. This is not always a bad thing, if you look at the work of Bill Brandt you see what can be done creatively with a film which is mistreated in this way.
Going the opposite way, if a film is downrated a couple of stops and the development time is reduced, a finer grain and a longer tonal range is produced. This can look absolutely stunning with larger negatives, especially when photographing subjects with a lot of subtle highlights such as sunlit clouds, or snow scenes at night.
The importance of agitation.
When I did lots of different ratings and development times in the early years of my career, I also found that agitation could alter the look of a negative.
Normal agitation is usually taken to be three inversions of a tank every minute and increasing the number of inversions/agitations will increase contrast. BUT, taken to an extreme, with continuous agitation, contrast actually drops!
I think it is because the developer is not allowed to sit on the surface and work properly when constantly in motion, -but I’m not a scientist, I’m a photographer, so I may be wide of the mark there.
Whatever the reason, there is a marked drop in contrast with continuous agitation as I have just mentioned, and when coupled with downrating produces a negative which has amazing latitude for highlights or overexposure. This means that a reading can be taken from the shadows to ensure detail, and the highlights will never be blown out.
Here is a composite image of four frames of the same film, The film was Ilford HP5 and the developer was Ilford ID11 stock solution at 20C with continuous agitation for four minutes.
These frames are; top left 100, top right 50, lower left 25 and lower right 12 ISO. As you can see, any of these frames could be printed. From this you can understand how the technique could produce a ‘flexible negative’ (to quote my late friend Barry Thornton), and therefore how well they could compress a high contrast scene.
Dilute/static development (also known as stand development, though there are many different methods of this).
Mix up a 1 – 3 solution of Ilford ID11. That is, one part of stock solution (normal strength) mixed with three parts of water.
Get the temperature to 20C
Pour into the tank and agitate ten times.
Start the clock.
Give three inversions every 30 seconds up to ten minutes.
When ten minutes have passed, put the tank down and do not move it at all for 50 minutes. Try to keep the temperature fairly constant.
When that time has elapsed, agitate the tank three times and repeat this agitation each minute.
After ten minutes pour the developer away and use a normal stop bath (Not too strong, weaker is better).
Fix as normal, wash and dry.
With this development method, Ilford HP5 can be rated at 1600 ISO and can produce very good results.
Here is a scan from a 10×8 print made on a Grade 2 paper from one such negative. On the print you can see detail in the dark corners and the sunlit highlights.
First posted 26 July 2009
For many, many years I have played around with putting odd lenses on cameras and making my own cameras out of whatever has been available. An interesting lens which I have used for many years is the Kodak Aero Ektar 178 mm f2.5 (7 inch).
I first acquired this lens back in 1981 when I bought an old wooden reflex camera locally. The lens was really beautiful for portraits and the camera took quarter plate glass in the dark slides, so some jiggering around had to be done to load them with film. Often the dark slides would scratch the film and ruin a shot, so I removed the back and built a crude 5×4 holder.
From that point onwards, I was able to get a more consistent result and shot many portraits on Polaroid type 55 (See the portrait section of my website at; http://www.andrewsanderson.com ), until the shutter finally gave up about ten years later. The camera laid unused on a shelf for many years and I thought about looking for another wooden reflex camera, but instead I had a bit of a brainwave;
I removed the mirror, screen and shutter mechanism from the broken camera and cut the back of the camera down. I then attached a Pentax 6×7 body. See picture;
I could now shoot hand held on roll film and get the same result, although the angle of view was reduced dramatically.
Here is a shot from the first film I took on it;
The small image here doesn’t do the lens justice, it is really sharp on the eyelash of the horse and falls away quite quickly into softness. The ‘bokeh’ (a word I hate) is better with this lens than any other I have ever used.
I put this camera together in June of 2008 and used it for a few months until the 10×8 Walker Titan I had commissioned was delivered. Once I had that, sharp images took precedence, so the ‘Thornton Pentax’ was left unused.
Having said that, the camera got another outing this weekend after the paper negative images I mentioned at first. I went out to do some landscapes using this camera loaded with Ilford SFX. and an orange filter.