Medium format cameras

In the last two weeks I have been working with a Hasselblad camera (Medium format) for the first time. I started off learning how to load, unload and use the film, learning how the camera works and getting to grips with the difference between digital and analogue.

This week I got introduced into developing the film. The first part has to be done in complete darkness, which isn’t easy. The film, along with the paper it is backed onto has to be taken off the the spool and thread onto a wheel, which then has to be twisted to fed the rest of the film onto. Next you need to put the wheel onto a plastic rod, and then put it all into a container, making sure the flat base of the rod is in the bottom of the pot. After having to put the lid on and turning it until it clicks, only then can you turn the light back on.

Trying to feed the practice medium format film onto the wheels before entering the dark

The chemistry process is more specific to what film we had. I used Ilford HP5 film so my film had to be immersed in 500 ml of water with 50 ml of developer for 9 minutes, being inverted (tipped upside down) 3 times every minute. Once the time had run out, the developer was poured away and the tub was filled with cold water and again emptied to wash away any traces of developer. The tub was then filled with fix for 4 minutes, again being inverted 3 times every minute. After 4 minutes the fix was poured back into the container and the film was washed. the tub got refilled with cold water and wetting agent was added to it. It works like washing up liquid to plates, it cleans the film getting rid of any chemicals. after the the film can be taken out the the tub and hung up to dry in the drying cabinets.

The chemistry baths

The film I process didn’t have the best results. Some of the film was fogged which meant it had been exposed to light. This could have been when we fed the film onto the wheel or if the film wasn’t loaded/unloaded from the camera properly. We did manage to get about three whole pictures with minimal fog so we still had something to work with.

The fogged negs

After the film has dried its time to go into the dark room to print the negatives onto paper. There is either the wet darkroom or the dry darkroom. The wet darkroom uses the chemicals in trays to process the paper after it has been exposed to light in the same way as the film, developer, was, fix, wash. the dry darkroom has a machine that does that for you; you feed the paper in and the chemicals are inside the machine. when the paper gets fed out the picture is processed and can be seen on the paper. I used the dry darkroom.

The machine in which is process the paper

The machine in which is process the paper

When you first get into the darkroom you need to set up the enlargers. Making sure the right filter is being used (2) and the light is in focus and covers enough space is essential to getting a good picture. The first step is to make a test contact strip. The paper is literally cut into a strip, and then a line of negatives are laid on top of the paper. The whole piece of paper is exposed for 5 seconds on the timer. Then a section of the paper is covered with a opaque object such as a piece of cardboard and then the rest of the paper is exposed for another 5 minutes. This is repeated several times, every time the cardboard moves further down the paper. When you get to the last section the paper then goes shiny side down into the machine. The image on the paper should be stripy, the lightest section is that part that has been exposed for the shortest time (5 seconds) while the darkest area is what has been exposed for the longest time (probably 20 seconds). From the test strip I could see that my images, the few that I had, looked best at a 15 seconds exposure. I then created a whole contact print with out the cardboard and for the longer time of 15 seconds. These contact prints worked really well, although compared to other peoples, mine wasn’t that great. The next stage is to make your print, but before we do that the final print needs to be put into the negative tray in the enlarger and needs to be put into focus and made the right size. This is done by using the two wheels on the front of the enlarger. A test strip is made form the final image with the same process as before and again from that you can see what exposure the final picture needs to be. For my picture I choose 15 seconds but probably should have been exposed for about 17.

From top clockwise: Contact sheet, Negatives, contact test strip, final image

I’ve always wondered why analogue photography has started to die out and why the beautiful images that are created with analogue photography are being forgotten. After that initial workshop I discovered the faff and awkwardness that analogue photography comes with. The loading of the film into the camera, manually taking a light reading and then reading the marking on the camera that have worn off. The second workshop proved that even more. Winding the film onto the wheel is difficult and so time consuming it makes you wonder why any one did it in the first place. The satisfaction levels that come from working in the darkroom is such a joyous feeling but the hard work that goes into getting to the darkroom seems a bit pointless unless you’re doing it for a particular project or you know someone who is really good at doing it so you don’t have to!

The amount of money it costs for the film and paper is to high for an amateur who is more likely to ruin it by exposing it to light, like I did this time, than produced a decent image. If I could pay someone to develop the film for me and get it right, then I would definitely be using the darkroom a lot more than I will at the minute

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