Paper Cut

Until now I’d never taken out my homemade camera other than move it from my house to one of my work places.

I remembered how much hassle it was to move it but I was determined to see how much hassle it really could be taking it out into the field.


Well, in this post I’ll discuss trying to make a mobile darkroom out of some old velvet curtains, taking the camera up Arthur’s Seat and then into my tenements back garden.

I bought 3 bags of random assorted velvet curtains from a charity shop for £5 and tried to stitch them together using a heavy duty needle and string.

I made a couple of string hoops around the handles set in the roof inside of my car and strung up my odd Frankenstein creation.

It kinda felt OK though not even remotely perfect but I went ahead regardless, collected my camera and headed up Arthur’s Seat.

Photo Day 1

I had a lot of ‘stuff’ in the car including a child car seat so I had to empty everything out first to setup the the dark space.

Loading the film was pretty tough as it felt like light was managing to ‘find a way’ into the dark space much like Jeff Goldblum predicted in Jurassic Park.

I set up by Dunsapie Loch pointing the camera at some trees; they looked beautiful on the ground glass but the set up itself took a lot of time, like I said it did look great.

What the iPhone saw and the 600mm Rodenstock lens saw (in red)…

Pretty tight frame.

After that I set up by my car to make another photo.

The Second Frame

Leaning over the boot of my car loading/unloading the paper screwed my back leaving me hobbling around like a zombie.

I’m concerned I’ve fogged my batch of paper but I’ll have to wait until I get to Stills again to test this in a real darkroom.


Paper Cut
I had to wait until the next day to develop the sheets and get the bad news that they were totally black.

I was pretty sure I metered right, the first exposure was about 2 seconds at f22 and the second was slightly longer at around f45.

Oh well, I thought, I’ll try again on Friday 1st of March when I had the whole house to myself all morning with my only appointment to set up the front window of Iain, James and I’s exhibition.

Photo Day 2
The next day I set up in my flats shared garden space and set about making a photo of some towels hanging out to dry in the garden next door.

I started out rating the paper ISO6 with an exposure of around 2 seconds at ƒ22.

The same thing was happening, the sheets were just being burn to a crisp turning black in seconds even apparently reducing the coverage of the 24×24 lens.

I only managed to get a couple of images with something recognisable on it.

I went from ƒ22 to ƒ88 exposing for about 1 second with no change. I dumped my paper developer and made a fresh batch but yet again, no change.

I moved the camera into a shaded area at the bottom of the garden and repeated similar exposures at ƒ88 eventually using even shorter times, effectively rating the paper at ISO12.

It just seemed to get worse. I was getting really worried that I’d totally fogged my paper from the hard times I had loading/unloading in my mobile darkroom shenanigans.

This is what should’ve been on the paper:


Theories Going Forward
The similarities with each day was an intense sun beating down with my camera in the line of fire a couple of times so my thoughts are this:

1) the glass pane I’ve been using to hold my paper flat in the film holder is refracting the strong light scattering it across the whole sheet, studio light is softer and more dispersed.

2) the backing board isn’t thick enough to stop strong light passing through, in the studio it’s normally away from any direct light.

3) the space between the front/back standards isn’t a tight as I first thought.

4) general tightening of every bastard nook and cranny I can find with black tape and paint inside and out.

5) is my paper screwed from the mobile darkroom fail? I need to be in Stills to test 100% but there is evidence that this isn’t the case …

One of the little black bits of metal I was using to hold the backing board on had folded in on a couple of frames and obstructed light from the lens; the paper was white meaning no fogging.

I didn’t have any problems in a dark studio environment; I know the lens coverage is good; looked good on the glass when out; really bright and clear from edge to edge.

So there you go. More questions than answers at this time with no real idea when I can effectively test my changes.

Yes it’s a fail but I do have some weird looking images like the weird artefacts made by me pulling out the paper before it goes completely black.

More sometime in the future and thanks for getting through this meaty post if you managed.


2 thoughts on “Paper Cut

  1. The joys of the experimentalist! Hats off to your dogged determination.
    Suggestion: Develop a sheet from you stock without putting it in the camera. You should get a blank white sheet if your paper stock has not been fogged.
    Also, the glass pane holding your neg is a bad idea, you are throwing reflections around inside the camera including the back of your lens, Also there are two images projected – one to the top surface of the glass and one to the bottom/paper surface.
    Also suggest getting some blackboard paint and painting the inside and outside of the camera. Sometimes the wood (MDF?) is not light tight.
    Lastly the area where the smaller box slides inside the bigger one is the biggest potential for a light leak, you need a pretty good seal there, I have a similar design camera and use the soft side of velcro as a seal here.
    Hope that helps.


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