Category Archives: Black & white

Still life successes

Using my antique (1900s) large format (10×8) bellows field camera I have been making some successful still life images.

I decided to move away from the uncontrolled variable light of the kitchen window to the fixed lights in my studio (dining room). This removed one variable from the exposure equation allowing me to make reliable test exposures on strips of the photo paper negative I am using. This saves the expense of wasting large sheets of photo paper on improperly exposed shots.

Whilst I am pretty happy that I can measure the light needed with my iphone app based on iso 6 for the paper negative, there are three other variables that come in to play.

1. At larger f stop values (smaller holes in the diaphragm) a small variance in position of the lever or ring setting the aperture has a disproportionately greater effect on the actual aperture used – at f64 on one lens a small tweak can make it effectively nearer f128 – doubling the required exposure time!

2. The bellows effect. Stretching the bellows past the focus length of the lens for close objects decreases the light intensity falling on the negative by an inverse square proportion. Doubling the distance decreases light intensity to a quarter. So 4x the exposure time is needed.

3. At longer exposure times, the longer the exposure the longer you need to achieve a set increase in darkening of the negative. So for a 2 minute calculated exposure I would expose for 2.3 minutes.

With these variables in play it pays to take a test exposure on strip of photo paper before committing to exposing a whole sheet.

For many of the still life images I am using a shorter (8″) focus length lens as this gives the greatest magnification. However it only stops down to f22,rather than the f64 of my other lenses, thus limiting the depth of field achievable. Accepting this limitation I have chosen subjects which do not demand a great depth of field – and am very pleased with the results.

I also added a graduated neutral density filter for the fennel photo to darken the bright base to get a more evenly exposed picture which seemed to work (see bottom photo).

Lens problems with The New Countess

Today was time to take the New Countess full plate camera to Clevedon and try some images of the wonderful Victorian Pier. Shame it was so breezy – not ideal for longish exposures with a huge camera like this one!

With two slides I had 4 exposures to make. It was a good opportunity to try the (supposedly) F384 lens too as it was a good focus length (12 inches – 300mm ) for the job.IMG_2026

Bringing the exposed paper negatives home for developing, I found that the lens I was using – Rapid Aplanat No.3 Ser.D.F.8 (R.O.J.A. vorm. Emil Busch, Rathenow) – was not operating at the indicated F stops – see the title image!

I had tested it in the garden on the pear tree using the widest aperture with no problem – but at the indicated f90 it way over-exposed the image (Paper negative). I tried a couple of other lenses at the same time successfully so thought I’d make some measurements of the diaphragm aperture with digital callipers and calculate the theoretical f-stop  (dividing the focal length by the aperture diameter)

As the F stop numbers increase the variance between the indicated F stop and the calculated one increases greatly. Column headings are Focul length, Diameter (of aperture) in 100ths of an inch, The F stop indicated and the F stop calculated.

Screenshot 2019-10-09 at 16.16.14

Using a more familiar lens at F45 for a 2 second exposure I achieved a reasonable if (wind) shaken exposure.


Large Format Portrait – Artificial Light

With its custom replacement glass screen fitted ( ) I have made some further tests of the recently acquired full plate (10×8 inch) camera (The New Countess). I wanted to test how well the camera could be used with artificial lights since the paper negative responds differently to film.


My first shot was with a short focus length f6.3 lens and an exposure time of 2 seconds. With two large fluorescent bulb lamps, this produced a well-exposed image but the depth of field was very short. To gain depth of field I changed to a lens that went to F64, with a much longer focus length.


However the sliding control moves past the “64” and my first images were way under exposed as the aperture was much less than for F64.

Further test strips gave me an exposure time of 35 minutes. Below are two images; F22 on the left, F64 (+) on the right. The difference in depth of field is evident.

Clearly a 35 minute exposure isn’t appropriate for portraiture. So extra illumination is needed to keep depth of field as great as possible. There is no real substitute for daylight!


Progress with the New Countess

A windless, bright day meant I could take the Countess into the garden and learn more about how it performs.

Successful experiments with low light and hight contrast situations have been encouraging. Focal lengths from 4 to 10 inches were tried with F stops from F6.3 to F45.

Exposure times ranged from 2 to 10 seconds.

However focussing is still difficult – I was waiting for a replacement screen that arrived a day later.
Here are pictures to show the difference in screen thickness.

DIY Cardboard Camera Mk2

After some success with the first cardboard box camera, and wanting to produce some large format (10×8 inch) images, I set about designing and building a new camera which could focus the image without being moved. This has the great advantage of being able to adjust the size an object appears in the image and still be in focus.

To achieve the variable focus I produced a box in two parts so that one slid inside the the other and joined them together, in a light-tight fashion, with a piece of black polythene bin liner. This give a light-tight but flexible join. I used the same film holder from the first camera with some improvements to make it more light tight. I added a channel to the new camera within which the film carrier could slide, using a strip of black paper to provide a flexible, light tight seal between the carrier and the box camera. The carrier is inserted in the top of the box.

As usual here, I am using Ilford glossy photo paper – at ISO6 and pre-flashing it to decrease contrast.

Utilising a spare vintage lens I ran a few test strips because even though the lens has marked F-stops, the distance between the lens and the film also affects light intensity. After running the tests I made the first 10×8 image (F22 2s exposure). This was in intense bright sunlight – not the best for a good tonal range – but it did really test the light-tightness of the camera. Here is an iphone shot of the negative a digitally produced invert to create the positive image. Once the negative is dry, I’ll take a high resolution photograph of it.

This works! – I am getting the tonal range and soft-dreamy look I am after – for a lot less money than the £800 10×8 antique camera on Ebay I’ve been considering.

Next step is to wait for a softer light and make some more images.

DIY Cardboard Large Format Camera

It was a very wet Monday morning – too wet to go out with the camera, so I thought I’d have a go at making my own large format camera to take 10×8 negatives. I have been looking to upgrade my 7×5 half plate bellows camera and so this would be an interesting step along the way. Using a spare lens that came with the bellows camera I bought last year I decided to make a fixed focus camera to do some close-up still life images. The lens  seems to have a 9 to 10 inch focus length and stops from 8 to 64.

The biggest challenge was making a dark slide to hold the negative (Ilford photographic paper – running at ISO 6). But eventually I have a design that is pretty light tight – but benefits from having the focussing cloth draped over it  when in use.


I used a “documents” box as my starting point, cutting a hole for the screen and dark slide. The screen is made from translucent stage lighting paper I had – but tracing paper would be as good.


Then a hole for the lens which was already mounted on a board, so some double sided tape fixed that to the box.


My first image was fogged and it was soon clear that the inside of the box needed blackening and the tiny holes at the corners and where the tabs fold in to make the lid all needed sealing up with black tape.


Once that was done – I made my first successful image. I have used it today with some more successful images – loving the image quality from the lens.


My still life work I have discovered is similar to that produced by the Czech photographer Josef Sudek who explored the play of light on ordinary objects and through his studio window in different weather conditions.



Adding a new camera to the collection

Two recent books have stirred my interest in exploring the variety of affordable vintage cameras that can still be used. The books are:
– Retro Cameras: The Collector’s Guide to Vintage Film Photography by John Wade.
  – Discovering Old Cameras, 1839-1939 by Robert White

This then led to exploring some of the discussion forums dedicated to vintage cameras – some just dedicated to a single manufacturer.

One helpful website was Emulsive on here is a comparison of three foldable cameras – one of which I have now bought – the German made – Agfa Record III.



For under £100 on Ebay this came with its leather case, a flashgun, yellow filter and lens hood.
Listed as “all appears to be working, but not tested with film”. When it arrived, the focus ring was seized, but with some patience a lot of force and the nearest dribble of WD40 it has freed up nicely.

This is a landscape format camera – taking a negative that is 9x6cm. This can be done with a 120 roll film – yielding 8 frames. However, I have a lot of pieces of X-ray film which I have now cut to 9x6cm. So my first test involved putting a single piece of film in the camera and closing the back.

Using the App “Light Meter” on my phone I measured for exposure using 100ISO for the blue x-ray film and took a few sample shots of the garden. As can be seen from the example below (photo of negative projected by enlarger and inverted to become positive, focus and exposure are good, but there is a flash of brightness – probably from a pinhole in the bellows. I put an LED light inside the bellows in a dark room and soon found 3 small holes. These will be dealt with – using flexible adhesive mixed with black pigment. – that’ll be in the next blog……



Other sites to explore

Matt’s Classic Cameras