The Silvermax excursion

I’ve been absent from the blog of late due to increased work load. I am a schools and teams photographer in the independent sector and this is our busy time with end of year photos and Summer teams. This is all digital these days for speed of producing prints to sell via our website, printing being entrusted to a lab with 40 years in the business. I can transfer digital files across the country and get prints back in the post in a day or 2. We have our own framing workshop and mount the photos in-house. All this takes time with around 650 frames sold each year and keeps me from the analogue side of photography this time each year….but I am back now and you will see more posts over the coming weeks as the day work slows to a manageable pace.

I don’t very often deviate from Ilford film but every now and then its good to look at what is out there and try something different. Recently I purchased a couple of rolls of Adox Silvermax and the accompanying developer by the same company so with a roll loaded into the Nikon FM3a I set out to shoot this film in some relatively high contrast conditions ie late spring sunshine.

Shooting at the box speed of 100 iso I took the Nikon with me to the RPS analogue group meeting at the Victoria & Albert museum in London on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of spring.

Arriving early morning I had opportunity to get some photos whilst walking from Victoria coach station in the bright early morning sunshine then after a cup of coffee an hour of shooting in Hyde Park where I came across a group of Veteran Serpentine swimmers. Now there’s a brave bunch, although already quite warm the water must have been very cold at 8 o’clock in the morning and it did lead a good few photos.

As this was my first use of this film and dev so I didn’t want to deviate too far from the recommended dev times and dilution so this is the procedure for the first roll.

The dev was Adox Silvermax at 1:29 with water at 20°c in a  Paterson 4 dev tank.

I use my own stop bath, citric acid, from concentrate stock diluted 1:9.

Fix is Ilford rapid at 1:4 followed by Hypo Clearing Agent which is again a home mix at 1:9….see The Darkroom Cook Book by Steve Anchell.

Finally a wash in water followed by use of a wetting agent, again Ilford used at 1:200.

Development was 11 minutes with 30 secs initial agitation followed by a slap on the tank to remove any air bubbles which might adhere to the film. Subsequent agitation was 1 inversion every 30 secs.

Stop bath was 1 min with agitation followed by fixing taking place over 5 mins with agitation for 30 secs then  5 secs every  30 secs.

Hypo clear was 2 mins of continuous agitation then washing for 10 mins and finally a wetting agent use for 30 secs with agitation.

On this occasion I did not pre wet the film prior to development, something I always do with 120 film, but I may well do next time.


This is an iphone shot of the negs on my light box and clearly not great for detail but gives some idea of the contrast. Most of these shots were taken in full sun with some shot contre-jour deliberately so I will expect much adjustment in printing but the idea was to see how this film would cope in the situations.

The resulting negs seem well-defined but I will reserve judgement until I have printed a few. They certainly seem of higher contrast but how well they print we will see in my next post.



Pinhole day photos

Today I found time to print a couple of contacts from the pinhole day negatives taken last Sunday…World Pinhole Day. We are extremely busy with schools and teams photos this time of the year which although is digital these days it still demands a lot of time in editing, printing, creating mounts with names then framing.

The first of the photos of the wicker man (willow man) which can be seen just after J23 M5 when traveling south into Somerset. This old fella is seeking crowd funding to secure restoration as the birds have pecked him to the point of near collapse. I thought it a worthy subject for a pinhole.


The second Pinhole photo was taken the other side of Bridgwater off J24 M5 at Moorland. this village was the subject of severe flooding a few years back where much of it was under water for weeks. The pinhole photo here was taken on the river Parrett defense wall constructed to contain the river when flood water drains off the levels at spring tide highs.


Both contact prints were developed in Ilford mg developer at 1:9 with exposures of 22s for the man and 8.6 seconds for the River on my LPL 7452 enlarger using Kentmere RC paper. Later I will be making a couple of prints using these pinhole negs on some warmtone FB paper.

World Pinhole day

For todays ‘world pinhole day event’ I set up one of my homemade pinhole cameras at the wicker man site just down the road from me.
This camera equates to a 133mm focal length with an aperture of f256. With todays overcast weather I gave a time of 1 1/2 minutes and 2minutes of exposure time to 2 5×4 sheets of Ilford fp4+ film.
I Developed the 5×4 negatives this afternoon in Ilfosol3 1:9 for 4mins 30 secs. No time to print today …later this week if I get the time.

I then moved on to another local location on the river Parrett for another 2 pinhole shots, again fp4+ 5×4 developed the same.

I have two brass pins one in the top the other on the side of the camera which I use as sights in order two line up the camera with the subject but to get a better idea I use the iPhone held flat against the back of the camera then take a phone shot. I then make final adjustments to the tripod to frame the pinhole shot.

James Ravilious

I have for some years now, been interested in the work by James Ravilious following the suggestion of a friend who thought his work would be of interest to me having remarked a couple of my photos were similar in feel.

James spent 17 years photographing the daily lives of his immediate community in Devon on behalf of the Beaford Archive amassing some 75,000 negatives which have become a social document on the disappearing ways of life for the small communities of North Devon between during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  The work captured the landscape and the people of the area at a time of great change. The many characters he encountered appear time and again throughout the years, due to the way in which he worked by engaging with his subjects whilst they were at work or play and never set up a shot. James worked tirelessly to capture a way of life in all its reality portraying the humour and sometimes sadness in the hard life the people of those communities had to endure.

I will not post any of his images here for copyright reasons but I urge anyone with a similar interest to seek out his work via the books he wrote during the time, those released since his death and in particular the latest two both released 2017 “The recent past” and his wife’s book of his life “James Ravilious A Life”.

The Beaford Archive Here

Finally, Peter Hamilton of ‘The Independent’ sums up his work in this quote, ‘one of the great artistic and documentary achievements of photography in the twentieth century’.

Fine Grain​?

I have used Tetenal Paranol S film developer for Ilford fp4+ quite often over the last few years. This high acutance developer is a compensating developer producing fine grain with a good latitude of exposure.

For 35mm film, following a pre-wash, I use this in Paterson tanks usually 2 films at a time at 1:25 with agitation 10secs in every 60s for a total of 11mins @20°c. This has produced fine grain in the past whilst breaking from the recommended agitation method which is actually more agitation then I use.

The print here is from a shot taken in the Lake District at the end of last summer where it can be seen there is significant grain in the clouded areas. The cattle shed and the paddock gate was the main accent of attention for the photograph which I wanted to portray the rugged feel of the area particularly the huge post stone to which the gate is hinged.

Ref44A 14002

I admit the day was quite typical of the Lakes in that it was overcast and showery which is not conducive to a good contrasty print but I was not happy with the highlight grain which is more evident in the print than can be seen here.

By using a compensating developer with less agitation than was recommended I had thought that the grain would not be so apparent. I have come to the conclusion that this grain could be connected to a slight underexposure at the time of taking but could also be attributed to too much agitation, although i cant really see that in this case, and even too long a development time, again no more than the recommended.

Over the coming weeks, I will be looking further into this issue and maybe changing my developer for similar exposure photos. Ilford ID11 is one such possibility following using the Paranol S with a change in agitation or time in the first instance.

I will post further investigation.


Abstract or not?

I have switched from printing 120 to 35mm negatives this week as, having realised I have a quite a few cassettes rattling around in the fridge door from last years shooting with the F6, I should be printing some.

This particular printing session found me sorting through negatives from  the lake district where I captured the scenery as probably thousands of others do every year whilst always on the look out for something a little different. With that in mind I came across a couple of shots taken at the Claife viewing platform on Lake Conniston.  It was a very bright sunny day and not one conducive with photography so whilst approaching the ascent to the platform I made a mental note of the strong shadows being cast on the level immediately below the platform with a thought to exploring these shadows on my descent.

After taking in the views I grabbed the camera and dived under the platform. My first thoughts were to capture the shadows cast by people walking overhead but I soon realised those shadows didn’t really form well on the stone walls and formed a misshapen blob rather than the people shapes I had in mind.

I walked around the room to gain another perspective waiting for the moment the inspiration would come and I would see the shot. On standing looking down the wall my imagination was saying “caged”. I felt as though I was now standing in a cage where further along the wall the shape of a door in deep shadow was looking like a means to escape from this imaginary cage.

Moving parallel to the wall, a flatter position and one I would not usually consider, this deep shadowed area now looked as though some one had blown a hole in the wall and escaped the cage, almost a cartoon drawing of a prison breakout.

I came away knowing that I had seen the shot and had captured it thus turning an otherwise high contrast day which would not reveal a good photo opportunity, or so I thought, into a successful day for me.

Do you see what I saw that day?? Of course it could just be that after years of peering through a view finder I have finally lost the plot.

Cyanotype 2

Continuing on with cyanotypes I have been adjusting the negative over the last few days. Incidentally, this photo was taken on a Bronica ETRSI using Ilford fp4+ film developed in Paranol S and printed on Ilford classic fibre based paper.

To produce the negative for cyanotype the print was scanned into the mac via my Epson V600 300DPI, rescaled and saved as a Tiff. General adjustments to levels and brightness were then made in Photoshop CC  followed by bringing in both ends of the contrast levels before it was flipped and inverted via an adjustment layer to reveal the negative. A new fill layer followed adjusted to make a UV blocker of amber colour. A new curves layer was then added increasing the contrast for this particular image until I felt it was correct. This part needs to be done for each image individually. the negative was then printed on my Epson R3000 onto Agfa copyjet film sheet at A4 size.


As can be seen here the highlights are not correct so a further negative was made with adjustments. The darkness to the right lower corner is more to do with shadow over the photo taken on my iphone than the image itself as the print was still drying on my racks at the time it was taken.


This second cyanotype was a 170-second exposure and was toned in green tea for 25minutes after a wash, bleach, wash cycle. This seems to be nearer in terms of highlights, especially where water is involved and the toning is a quite pleasing colour.

The settings used here in the curves layer has been saved and will be used as the bases for adjustments in future cyano prints involving water. I have also saved info on the various papers I have used during these prints so I now have an exposure chart for the papers.


Cyanotype revisited

This week I have been taking another look at cyanotypes as I haven’t made a cyano for a while, and having a few shots that I thought would make a nice print followed by some toning, I set about making a print or two.


Above is one I made some years back and although I was reasonably happy I still thought the highlights lacked a little in tonality.

The method I have used in the past is to use a darkroom print which is scanned into the computer adjusted to greyscale and saved as a PSD. Next, adjust the levels at both ends bringing them both in towards the centre around 10% and reducing the contrast in the mid tones until the whole photo is balanced. This is followed by reducing the contrast again down to zero once or twice, to combat the extreme contrast of the cyanotype. The image is then flipped and inverted to a negative.

To produce the negative I use an Epson R3000 which has extra blacks ( good for digital Monochrome prints) and using a printer profile of Epson glossy, photo black ink not matt, I print out the neg on Agfa copyjet acetate which is available from “Positivity ltd” (they are on the net), “Permajet” also do transparency which they call digital transfer film.


In order to increase the tonality of the highlights, I am now working with using a negative which uses an orange fill layer designed to reduce the UV and hopefully bring some tonality into the highlights. This will require some experimentation using curves so more posts on this in a few days time, but for now here is the first using the orange layer which I will be printing.



Another way to keep vauable information built up over years is to keep a sketchbook.

I use a ringbound artists sketchbook by Seawhite. The paper is good quality and a good thickness to which I regularly add photos, drawings, comments and full detail of sessions. Studio session notes with lighting or flash diagrams are of great use to record and look back over before setting up for a future session. like wise for darkroom sessions where you can keep notes of settings for different enlarger heights when moving from one paper size to the next with the exposure compensation record. A narrative of work for a project is another good use of the sketchbook.

Over time many famous and not so famous photographers have kept sketchbooks, infact there is a book on the subject… Photographers’ Sketchbooks by S. McLaren & B. Formhals, 2014 Thames & Hudson.