Recently in the darkroom – sepia toning

I really enjoy working in the darkroom, but my activities have been intermittent, for no good reason, with long stretches without a trip into the darkroom. I’m hoping to fit in more regular printing sessions in future and thought that I might add some pressure by committing to regular blog posts featuring the results.

So I thought of having a series of posts called “this week in the darkroom” … but that sounds a bit ambitious. “This month in the darkroom” … maybe but not sure. “Recently in the darkroom” …. now that sounds fairly safe. Recently could mean anything couldn’t it ?

Anyway my “recent” activity has been to try sepia toning for the first time. I like the aged feeling that sepia toning gives and sometimes use it on scanned negatives by applying toning in Lightroom. Sepia toning in the darkroom gives a much more organic and unpredictable result which can be, at the same time, both satisfying and frustrating.

Print Scan, Woodland Shelter, RZ67, TMax100,FD10, Ilford MGIV FB, Sepia, 700px

Thornley woods, Mamiya RZ67, Kodak TMax 100

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Thoughts on tripod height

Advance warning – this might turn into a rant …

I was out walking on the Simonside Hills today. As the focus was more on walking than on photography, I just took a 35mm camera, loaded with Fuji Sensia slide film, plus 50mm and 24mm lenses, together with the lightest of my three tripods. I took about twenty shots in the forest, and on the tops, of rock outcrops looming out the mists. During the course of the day, the tripod height was varied from the lowest possible, to get really close to the ground, to the highest possible – whatever each image needed to get the most interesting (in my opinion) composition.

Fast forward a few hours and I find myself reading reviews of tripods on internet forums. I’m thinking of buying another tripod for use my with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format kit. At the moment I use an Manfrotto 075 with 029 head, a combination which is incredibly strong and stable (and heavy) but which doesn’t go down as low to the ground as I would like.

Anyway, here’s the ranty bit .. I came across a lot of discussions where people were searching for tripods that were the “right” height for them; by which they meant that when the tripod legs were fully extended they should present the camera at eye level. These photographers thought it was too much trouble to have to adjust the tripod legs to anything other than the maximum height !

I see two problems with this point of view.

First, the right height for the tripod is the height which is appropriate for each individual image. As I said above, I will vary the tripod from low to high during the course of a photoshoot, to meet the needs of each image. As a photographer, primarily, of landscapes, I use low viewpoints quite a lot. This means that I have to get low down, often on my knees and occasionally lie on the ground, to see through the viewfinder. Admittedly this is why I prefer waist-level viewfinders, which the Canon EOS300 I was using today doesn’t have. It’s also why I will often wear waterproof overtrousers on a landscape photography shoot.

Secondly, for maximum stability, extending the tripod to maximum height should be seen as a last resort. The lower sections of the legs are always the thinnest and weakest, and the more the legs are extended, the more surface area there is to be caught by the wind, possibly leading to camera shake.

Of course, these are only my opinions and everyone’s opinion is valid. Others may have specific photographic needs which mean that eye level is best for them. The needs of a sports or portrait photographer may differ from those of a landscape photographer.

On a final point, the maximum height of my Manfrotto 075 tripod is over seven feet, I think, rather higher than my eye level. But I have made use of that height when standing on the edge of a rock ledge with the tripod legs on lower ground below, or standing on a rock in a river with the tripod legs in two feet of water. That’s what I did for the image below. If you select a tripod which extends only to your face level, you may not have the extra reach needed for such a situation.

The River Allen, Northumberland - Mamiya RZ67, Kodak TMax 100, Manfrotto 075 tripod

Like most photographers, I’m still searching for the “ideal” tripod – featherweight, incredibly strong, easy to carry, and can change from ground level to seven feet height with a flick of a switch. Of, and free would be nice too !


Location:Tanfield Railway

I was surprised to realise that I’d never properly blogged about Tanfield Railway, apart from a passing mention in my review of the Olympus 35RECR camera, despite the fact that it’s one of my most frequent photo locations. So, time to put that right with a small selection of images from two visits in December 2013.

Tanfield Railway, located between Stanley in County Durham and Gateshead,  is apparently the oldest working railway in the world, having been constructed in 1725. Of course there were trains then but there was a waggonway with horses pulling coal-wagons and the railway is still operating with vintage steam and diesel locomotives.

Tanfield offers a variety of photographic opportunities. There are of course, vintage engines and carriages, in regular use, and potential people shots, of the volunteers who run the railways or the paying passengers. My own preference is to seek out the quieter corners in and near Marley Hill engine shed. The engine shed looks like a museum – not unlike the nearby Beamish museum – but here there are no ropes beyond which you cannot step. As long as you don’t disturb the work going on, you can get close to the engines, tools, and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

Outside the engine shed there’s a large area with about 30 engines, carriages, cranes, etc, in various states – some working, some being actively restored, and others close to ruin. So you can expect lots of rust, flaking paint, spare parts, and industrial heritage partly covered by grass.

Since my trip to Glen Affric in November 2013, I didn’t do much photography for a while – partly because the weather was very grey and wet, and partly because I had lots of developing and scanning to attend to. But I did make two short visits to Tanfield in December; it’s only about 15 minutes drive.

The first trip was with a Canon FTb 35mm SLR which I’d had for a while but used very little. I had a roll of Kodak TMax 100 loaded which I wanted to finish off; it took another trip to Durham the following March before the film was finished so it was in the camera at least 4 months – which isn’t uncommon because I’m fairly sparing in how many times I press the shutter and usually have a few different cameras loaded with film and vying for my attention.

The following images were all taken with either 28mm/f2.8 or 50mm/f1.8 prime lenses, and the film was developed in Rodinal diluted 1+50.

Although there’s a lot to be said for taking just one camera and one film type on a trip, I did see a few possible images which really cried out for colour, so I returned two weeks later with the Mamiya RZ67 loaded with Fuji Velvia 50, which I developed in the Tetenal E6 kit.



The weather was even more wet and cold than the previous trip, but the Velvia was a good choice to bring the colours out of the gloom. The “Santa Special” trains were running so I queued up with the waiting families for a hot chocolate and mince pie to warm up before heading for home.

To sign off, here’s an older image to show that these engines do work !

Whoosh !


Glen Affric trip – Day 4 – a ducking for the Yashicamat

The WalkHighlands website again served as my guide for Day 4 of my Glen Affric trip as I set out for the Loch Affric Circuit on what turned out to be a very wet day. I should have taken more notice of the line in the route description that reads “stream crossings may be hazardous in wet weather” … more about that later. As this was billed as an 11.25 miles walk I decided just to take the Yashicamat 124G and a tripod, and leave the Mamiya RZ67 behind.

I had one frame of Rollei IR400 film left in the camera from the previous day which I used to take the image below, approaching Affric Lodge. Some of the images on the film weren’t brilliant due I think to poor processing on my part; as this one was a bit grungy I decided to grunge it up some more with Adobe Lightroom.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 2_

The road to Affric Lodge – Yashicamat 124G and Rollei IR400 film

After that, I switched to slide film – first a roll of Provia 400X, then Velvia 50.

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 5

Giant hedgehog taking a drink ? Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

At this point it was raining softly and I was beginning to wonder why the guides made a fuss about stream crossings. I did come to one spot where a stream decided to divert itself down the path, and a bit of boulder-hopping was needed, but nothing difficult.

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 9

By the time I arrived at this bridge crossing the Allt Coire Leachavie, (Allt just means stream) it was starting to rain harder, and I could also see more clearly the effect that rain in previous days was having on the amount of water running off the hills. I also managed to drop the Yashicamat in the stream at one point and was a little worried about the effects (try doing that with a digital). I’m happy to say there were no ill-effects, even though I could feel the film was wet when I loaded it for processing a week later !

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 2

Bridge over the Allt Coire Lochavie – Yashicamat and Provia 400X

Yashicamat 124G and Provia 400X

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 3

Lunch spot. Yashicamat 124G and Provia 400X

After another couple of hundred metres I got my first glimpse of the Allt Coulavie, and specifically of the series of waterfalls called “Sputan Ban” which tumble down for about 700 metres. Now, anywhere in England, this would be a well-known feature, endlessly portrayed in gudebooks, and perhaps with two coffee shops, one at each end. But here in the Scottish Highlands, it just passes as one more stupendous sight in an array of natural wonders. If you search on flickr right now for “Sputan Ban” you will see just four images, and two of those are mine.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 6

As I wandered along I admired the scale and force of the falls but it hadn’t yet dawned on me that I was going to have to cross this raging torrent, if I was to follow the full “Affric Circuit” walk. Perhaps because an estate landrover track had veered over to the right into a side glen, perhaps for deer-stalking, the quality of the track was deteriorating and there was no bridge over the Allt Coulavie, and in its’ current state boulder-hopping was not feasible. I had read somewhere that walking upstream might provide a better crossing option.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 1

By this time I’d changed to Velvia 50 and the weather required 1s exposure at f11; I quite like the resulting movement in the heather.

So I wandered slowly up the side of the stream, admiring the views, stopping for photographs, noticing that the rain was getting heavier all the time, and slowly realising that a crossing point was unlikely to be found.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 4

The Velvia struggled with the dynamic range here, hence the burnt highlights on the water – and a lens wider than the 80mm fixed lens on the Yashicamat would have been useful.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 7

Looking down towards Loch Affric and the smaller Loch Coulavie

Nearing the top of the falls I stopped to take my last image of the day before consigning the camera to the rucksack.

Original waterfall shot with strange colours

Original waterfall shot with strange colours

The shot as taken on Fuji Velvia 50, above, has some strange colours – almost as if it had been cross-processed, i.e. slide film processed in C41 chemicals, but that wasn’t the case. Anyway, I generally find that waterfall shots work best in mono, so here’s the mono conversion.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 3

Near the top of Sputan Ban falls – Fuji Velvia converted to mono in Adobe Lightroom

Soon after this point, the gradient eased off and it probably would have been possible to cross over the stream, climb down the other side of the falls, and resume the route around Loch Affric. But I’d spent so long clambering up besides the falls, and stopping to take images, that I doubted that I would complete the route in daylight, as it would be dark by 4.00pm. I also suspected that the rest of the route would, relatively, be routine after the thrill of observing these falls.

The OS map showed a path going diagonally down the hillside, and back to the footbridge where I’d enjoyed lunch. The path turned out to be more of an indication of a possible route than a firm guide .. on the damp slippery slope I fell down and got soaked so many times I figured that if I had taken my boots off and waded across the stream I couldn’t have ended up any wetter.

On the return route, the days’ rainfall was visibly increasing the amount of rain on the path by the hour, and I soon realised that I needed to replace my old waterproof coat. When I got back to the car, I was totally soaked and tired, had failed in my original objective, but had enjoyed a great day !

Photographically, the decision to take just the Yashicamat (and the middle-sized of my three tripods) was the right one for weight reasons, although having a wider lenses would have been handy at one point. I wanted to take more slides with the Yashicamat, in the hope of getting a few to mount in a very old 6*6 slide projector I had been given; but I would have obtained a higher proportion of “keepers” with colour negative film.

Glen Affric trip – Day 3

Day 3 of my Glen Affric trip saw a varied menu of photographic subjects, including a ruined Victorian mansion, woodland, and a raging waterfall.

The basis of my walk was the “Plodda Falls” route outlined here on the Walk Highlands website, but extended beyond Plodda Cottage to Guisachan House.

Guisachan House (pronounced Goose-a-kin) was built by Lord Tweedmouth in the nineteenth century and is known as the birthplace of Golden Retriever dogs, as his lordship was the first to breed them. Although now a ruin, the house is the site for gatherings of golden retriever owners from around the world.  You can see what the house looked like in 1897 here

2011-11-10, RZ67, Provia 400X, Guisachan, 1

Guisachan House, Mamiya RZ67 with Fuji Provia 400X transparency film

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Glen Affric trip – Day 2

Day 2 of my Glen Affric holiday saw me pack just the Yashicamat 124G, whereas the previous day I had mostly used the Mamiya RZ67. This was partly because I was planning to walk a few miles – although that’s not impossible with the RZ67; some people describe it as a studio-only outfit but I have walked 7-8 miles with it – but mainly because I planned to take some infrared photos using Rollei IR400 film.

Of course it is entirely possible to fit an R72 infrared filter to the Mamiya. However, all the Mamiya lenses use a 77mm filter and a Hoya R72 filter in that size costs around £100; whereas I have an R72 filter with a 52mm thread, which cost just £30.

Apart from cost, the advantage of using the R72 filter – which is totally opaque – with a twin lens reflex is that you can still compose with the filter fitted, since you view through the upper lens whilst the filter is fitted on the lower lens. As long as you don’t forget you have the filter fitted ….

In order to use a 52mm filter with the Yashicamat, I fit a Bay 1 -> 46mm adaptor, followed by a 46mm- 52mm adaptor, then finally the filter.

I followed the “Dog Falls walk” - see here for a map courtesy of the excellent WalkHighlands website.

Before I could begin the infrared images, I had some Fuji Provia 400X slide film in the Yashicamat which I used around the river.

2011-11, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, 23_

Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

2011-11-12, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Glen Affric, 7

Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

2011-11-12, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Glen Affric, 5

Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X
The dynamic range here was very challenging with slide film; some adjustments were made in Lightroom, but had I been using the Mamiya a film back with Portra would have been loaded instead of Provia

Once I got into the area wooded with Scots Pine, I stopped for coffee (from a flask – no cafe or pub for twenty miles) and loaded the IR400 film.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 3_

Coire Loch with Rollei IR400 film and a Hoya R72 filter in a Yashicamat 124G, developed in Rodinal

Coire Loch

Coire Loch with Rollei IR400 film and a Hoya R72 filter in a Yashicamat 124G, developed in Rodinal

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 8_

Scots pine tree with Rollei IR400 film and a Hoya R72 filter in a Yashicamat 124G, developed in Rodinal.

I metered these images, if I remember correctly, at about EI 12 – in other words allowing five stops compensation for the filter.

One of the things I like about Rollei IR400 film is that it gives pretty good results when used without an R72 filter, as a standard black and white film – see here for example. So, you don’t need to commit to shooting a whole roll as infrared.

It wasn’t all plain sailing with this roll of IR400. A few shots were spoiled with this mottked effect, which looks rather like a bicycle was ridden across the negative whilst it was lying on my garage floor … I’m sure that wasn’t really the cause but I’m not sure of the real reason.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 11_

Glen Affric trip – Day 1

Here starts a short series of posts containing various rambles about my photography trip to Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve been lucky to be able to visit Scotland for a few days photo holiday each year for the past few years. In 2009, I went with Light and Land to Knoydart, including touring by boat around Skye and the Small Isles. In 2010, I cycled the Outer Hebrides, from Barra to Lewis, with a camera. In 2012, I revisited the Outer Hebrides, this time arriving by car and concentrating on a nsmaller, but stil substantial, area – the islands of Lewis and Harris. The drive there routed me through Glen Shiel and the Isle of Skye.

Glen Affric, looking towards Sgurr na Lapaich. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

As I planned a trip for 2013, my mind considered various possible locations.

Scotland as a whole is my favourite place for landscape photography. It’s a big empty place (by UK standards) and yet if you randomly sampled images of Scotland on photo-sharing websites you might form the impression that Scotland consisted only of five square miles surrounding Buchaille Etive Mor.  As lovely as the Buchaille / Buckle / BEM is, I’d find it pretty hard to come up with a new interpretation of a mountain that has been so comprehensively photographed.

I considered returning to the Isle of Lewis, with the idea of staying for a week near Cradhlastadh / Crowlista on the west coast, and attempting to portray the bay and hills in some detail. I had photographed there for a few hours in 2012, but it’s a very isolated spot with little accommodation, and I knew I would need to return to a base for a week to get the most from the location. Whilst it’s fun to cover a wide area when first visiting a country or region, I am attracted to the idea of limiting myself to a smaller area and working hard to find images in thrs iat area. I may return to that plan in future, but decided instead to visit Glen Affric.

This was my first visit to Glen Affric, and I was pleased with my decision. It’s a really beautiful and quiet area. In the six days I stayed there, I never saw another photographer, and only a handful of walkers and cyclists (this was mid-November). I stayed at Glen Affric Holiday Park, and until the last night, I was the only guest !

Little tree, big trees. The River Affric; Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

I was concerned that strong winds would blow the leaves off the trees before I got there, but in the end I need not have worried. Whilst the colours were reportedly at their peak the week before I arrived, there was still plenty of colour and an extra bonus was that there was snow on the hilltops, giving extra visual interest, but not on the roads, so I could get around.
2013-11-10, RZ67, Velvia 50, Back 3C, River Affric , 9

Glen Affric is certainly not undiscovered, but it’s much less well know to photographers than, say, Glencoe or Skye. A search on flickr showed that the most popular spot for photographs seemed to be a marked viewpoint not far from the last car park at the end of the road, looking west up Glen Affric …. so therefore I’m not going to show any of my own images from that viewpoint !

Mamiya RZ67 and Velvia 50

Mamiya RZ67 and Velvia 50

The village of Cannich, where I stayed, is close to two glens (valleys) – Glen Affric itself and Glen Cannich. My original plan was to walk and photograph in both of these glens, in Glen Strathfarrar a little further away, and possibly to visit Loch Ness to the east.

Riverside walk, River Affric, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

Riverside walk, River Affric, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

In the event, I found so much of interest to photograph in Glen Affric that I spent four full days photographing in Glen Affric, one day in Glen Cannich, never got to Glen Strathfarrar at all, and only saw Loch Ness (no monster !) on the way home. In the past I have sometimes travelled far and consumed much fuel only to end up somewhere that was, at best, just as good as my starting point – so staying put was a good thing.

Loch Affric reflections - Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia. I normally take less saturated images then this, but it did really look like that !

Loch Affric reflections – Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia. I normally take less saturated images then this, but it did really look like that !

As well as concentrating on a smaller area, I also took less photo equipment than I have sometimes been guilty of. In 2009 I took digital, 35mm, and medium format. On the 2010 Outer Hebrides trip, my cycle transport forced me to slim down to one 35mm camera with 50mm and 24mm lenses. Returning to  Lewis and Harris by car in 2012, I again took 35mm, digital, medium format, and even half-frame 35mm!

However I have found that taking too much kit is a problem. For example, if I take both film and digital images, then the digital images inevitably get viewed before the films are processed, which reduces the impact of seeing the film images when they are ready. The 35mm kit was very appropriate for the cycling trip, but when 35mm and medium format images are mixed together, I’m unlikely to be satisfied with the 35mm images.

This time, I decided to take just medium format film cameras. I still ended up with three of them:

  • Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm, 65mm, 110mm, and 250mm lenses. The 250mm got traded in during the week at Ffordes, which is only about 20 miles away, for a 180mm, as the 250mm was a little too long for my purposes. I never carried more than three lenses at once.
  • Yashicamat 124G twin lens reflex, for occasions when I would be walking further than I wanted to carry the Mamiya.
  • Holga WPC Pinhole, which takes images on 120 film in either 6*9 or 6*12 cm format. I only used one roll of Fuji Acros, i.e six 6*12 images

At the last minute, a 35mm camera did sneak in to the car … I was testing an Olympus Trip (paid £2 for it) which had a roll of Portra 400 loaded and I decided the holiday would be a good opportunity to finish the roll.

2011-11, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, Portra 160, 24_

Fasnakyle damn, Yashicamat 124G with Kodak Portra 160 film

For the past year or so, I’ve been using mostly Kodak Portra film, but when Fuji announced that Fuji Provia 400X was being discontinued, I got all nostalgic and ordered 5 rolls, which were packed alongside some Velvia 50 I had in the freezer. The slide film certainly provided images with a degree of impact which I wouldn’t have got from Portra alone. I also purchased some Tetenal E6 chemicals so that I could develop the slide films at home in a Jobo processor. If you have a Jobo to maintain the temperature and rotation, processing slide film isn’t any more difficult than processing colour negative, and I would say that I got better results from home-processed slide film than from home-processed Portra.

In theory, using the Mamiya RZ67 with it’s removable film backs and a choice of slide or negative films should provide flexibility to select the right film for the subject matter and lighting conditions. I reasoned that I would carefully spot-meter the scene and, if the dynamic range was within the range of slide film (no more than 5 stops) than I could choose slide film; if the dynamic range was wider, or I wanted a more subtle intepretation of the colours, then I could choose colour negative film, or black and white.

A small pool near the River Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

A small pool near the River Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

In the event, it didn’t quite work out like that, because (a) I probably wasn’t careful enough with my metering, and (b) there were some times when I only carried the Yashicamat, which doesn’t have a removable film back, so I was stuck with whatever film was loaded. I ended up with some slides that had shadows too deep, or the snow on the top of the mountains too bright. I even ended up with a couple of Portra images where the white top of a mountain is not easily distinguishable from a pale sky. Given the legendary wide dynamic range of Portra, I must have messed up those exposures quite badly.

There's a snow covered mountain in the distance which I didn't manage to distinguish well from the surrounding cloud.  Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

There’s a snow covered mountain in the distance which I didn’t manage to distinguish well from the surrounding cloud.
Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

All of the images on this page were taken on the first full day of photography in Glen Affric. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites from the trip, which was actually taken with the lens I later traded in …

Inverted reflections, Glen Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

Inverted reflections, Glen Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film


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