A brief summation of my technical explorations, developments and failures over the last few months, ranging from my exploration with pinhole techniques to the various technical nuances of my screen printing process… In roughly process order – from start to finish…
I have been using my trusty 700D since around 2014 – and have been shooting pinhole photography with it for almost as long including a massive amount of very low light work for my concert photography series. At the beginning of this body of work I was convinced I should move to a better camera – primarily meaning one with a much large censor which would be capable of working noise free with much lower lighting conditions. I had access to a Canon 5D through work and took the opportunity to use this camera when I shot at Oldbury power station. When it came to it though I really wasn’t pleased with any of the results gained from the added performance of the camera. The added quality of the sensor effectively made the images too good, little noise or shake, and little opportunity for anything accidental or surprising to occur. On this shoot, the good shots I did get were as result of forcing the camera to behave badly – forcing the iso to the maximum, using the smallest possible aperture pinhole to bring some element of chance and remove back to the imagery I was capturing.
Over the past couple of years I have amassed and interesting collection of pinhole lens since creating my own with a drilled out body cap and drinks can. I first upgraded this to a Holga pinhole lens attach (pictured in the middle above). This is a good lens, if slightly softer than my own pinhole – surprisingly as it is laser cut. After this I invested in a set of German made laser cut copper lens, with aperture as fine as 0.1mm. These I mounted on an adapted body cap just as I had done with my original lens. This has by far provided the best image quality working well even at comparatively low light levels. Recently I invested in Thingyfy’s variable aperture lens – which allows you to manually stop down the aperture from 0.8 down to 0.1. Results with this have been mixed – with the 0.8 being far too soft (but sometimes useful to switch to when framing) and the 0.1 creating inexplicable light leaks in direct sunlight, which can be interesting but not always desirable. Generally now, I switch between my 0.1 etched copper cap lens and the Thingyfy lens set to 0.15. These create similarly satisfying results, with the etched copper lens providing greater clarity, with the disadvantage of a slightly wider angle due to the lens being slightly closer to the sensor. Going forward it would be interesting to experiment with creating a variable focal depth lens mount to allow greater experimentation when shooting – and also some way of quickly switching out individual copper lens.
Since discovering the process, I have loved the concept of digital pinhole, primarily because it is so immediate, but also because I do like the idea of subverting the digital process at both the beginning (pinhole) and end (screen print) of the process. I feel that the digital process brings almost as many nuances as accidents to pinhole photography as traditional film-based work. Raising and lowering the ISO has proven to provide wildly different results, that would be hard to control with any flexibility with traditional paper or film-based pinhole photography. Going forward though I would like to begin to explore more traditional pinhole photography methods more to find out what is possible and also begin to work with my current setup to explore avenues such as very long and night-time exposures, movement and pinhole video.
The quality of and care for transparencies has been a big part of refining my process over the past year. I have refined the use of my own Canon Pixma printer with ColourByte transparencies to create consistently high-quality transparencies for smaller (A3+) work. This approach is comparatively low cost as it uses the printers default PGBK ink reservoir, with the film itself costing <£1.00 per sheet. The only key pitfall to note with this process was banding on the transparency when outputting at high resolutions. I was unable to resolve this issue through any combination of ink, driver or output settings until I dropped the resolution of the output from 300dpi to 280dpi, at which point all banding and print discrepancies completely disappeared.
The transparencies have a slightly softer dot than image-set transparencies, but I find this creates a softness to the final screen work that I really like and embrace within my work. When working at larger sizes I have begun to use Jupiter Associates in Croydon to have proper image-set transparencies made. As well as being far more durable these have a far darker and consistent halftone dot which always transfers perfectly to the screen. I have printed all of my large format prints this year with these transparencies and am delighted with the results, in spite of the extra cost.
The biggest variable factor I have found with any of the transparency methods I have explored is in ensuring that the starting image has sufficient contrast to print strongly enough, particularly with the negative white halftone. I found consistently that if there was not a strong true white in the areas of the image I wanted to read as dark/black it was very easy for the white/silver layer to washout the colour underneath. In the end I would normally dramatically adjust the contrast and brightness of the negative halftone to ensure as strong as possible contrast on the final print layer
Screens and exposure
I work on a 150t screen (the highest available at UWE) and expose at 60 units to maintain the high level of detail in the screen. I was the screen intensively, sometimes jet washing areas gently if I don’t feel enough detail is coming through on the final screen. Higher exposures consistently cause blow out on areas of detail on the screen with massive loss of detail, so I err on the side of caution when exposing and rely on multiple pulls to bring more detail through on a print where desired.
I use Fabriano 5 paper as it has a high quality, but also a very tight weave, making it perfect for the detail work I am doing, whilst maintaining a quality of texture and whiteness.
I use Golden Silver acrylic ink to pull the top layer of my screens after finding that Daler Rowney silver was just to hard to pull and dried in very quickly. I use a high medium blend (around 70% medium) with a lot of retarded to keep the ink open for as long as possible as it is very prone to dry in after even a few prints.
I generally use Daler Rowney inks for all my other colour work, including my black slabs. With the colour positive layer, I have found it essential to ensure the opacity of the mixed in is perfect. If the ink is too strong it not only dries in much more quickly but is much too strong on the paper – which means it fights with the overlay silver. Essentially, I am aiming for an ink that registers almost as black once dry on the slab, but which warms the overlay colour when it is applied to create a very subtle deep duotone effect.
I always mix inks fresh, as any amount of age to the blend results in ink that dries in to quick and may print erratically across the fine mesh, across a session I will constantly evaluate the viscosity of an ink batch, ensuring “double cream” consistency with the addition of retarder and even water to ensure I am always working with loose inks.
With the low registration tolerance of printing onto an exactly sized colour slab I have found registration very problematic. Even with a flip sheet I have found that registration can be off by a critical 1-2mm, and it is nearly impossible to register using silver on a flip sheet as it is virtually impossible to see after a single pull. Generally now, I register through the screen itself, adjusting the screen so that the paper is registered perfecting along the pull edge, to allow some screen stretch as the image is pulled. I find that whilst the first one or two prints may be slightly off it is then quite easy to find a perfect registration – this is also generally quicker than checking flip-sheet registration.
Speed and cleanness of pull have become essential components of my technique. It is essential that the pull is smooth and consistent, with no drags or stutters, and also that the subsequent flood does not scuff or drag, as any inconsistency in the level of ink put down will result in patchiness on the final print. I’ve also learnt the heard way the need to have the snap as high as possible, and all airholes blocked out around the print, to allow the most opportunity for the screen to snap off the paper.