New negs

Well, with the darkroom functional for printing – though annoying to use without a safelight – this weekend Amy and I decided to work on the other half of the image and expose some film.

Laguna Dam - abandoned sluiceway

Laguna Dam - abandoned sluiceway

Read on for details!

First stop of course was our new local camera shop “Backyard Photography” in downtown Yuma. We were glad to see they had a number of customers in the store when we showed up, and they were glad to see us having seen Amy’s blog about them on the Sun’s website.  They apologized again for not having safelights in stock, they almost ordered for their initial stock – but held back at the last minute.  It sounds like they’re also going to get in some 120 film which I’m looking forward to.

While I preferred Ilford films back when I last shot film – I never used the Ilford developers normally using T-max developer, since the local store is still working on getting setup with Kodak this was a good chance for me to try some Ilford developers so I picked up some ID-11 and Perceptol film developers. The fixer and stop we bought last week can be used for both film and paper (just a different dilution) so we didn’t need any more of that. Dug out my old film tanks…and decided to expose some emulsion!

But I didn’t want to just shoot 35mm roll film. And having recently sold my 4×5 monorail didn’t have that as an option (though the cash from selling it did help us make the down payment to afford the house we bought and love so dearly so it was still a good call…I do have a 4×5 field view still…but it needs a new shutter.) I have a 120 Holga but it’s got a polaroid back on it and I don’t know where the original film back is right now. Plus it’s a Holga…super cheap plastic lens, no reliable way to focus, and lots of light leaks.

Amy and I also have a decent collection of older cameras a few of which will take 120 roll film…but I opted instead to dust off another “toy” camera that I’ve always had a lot of fun with. The Lubitel 166, a slight step up from the Holga. Like the Holga it’s still made of plastic, and has some light leaks. Unlike the Holga it has a real glass lens, a real shutter and aperture and can actually take some halfway decent photos. It is kind of tough to focus accurately though and with no light meter getting a good exposure takes a good bit of experience. But the effect can still be quite nice for the right subject matter.

Plus I really like working in the 6cmx6cm square format and the viewfinder is a lot like a view camera with everything backwards which gets me thinking a bit more out of the box and looking at things differently. Being a TLR (twin lens reflex) you don’t see the exact image that the film sees like you do with a SLR (Single Lens Reflex) but you get a much more accurate representation than you would with a rangefinder camera like the Holga.

I only had one roll of 120 film left though…it was a roll of Ilford FP4+ (125iso/asa) which expired back in 1998 and has been stored quite poorly in the bottom of a box ever since. But what the heck. Let’s give it a go!

We trekked up to Mittrey lake and Laguna dam road to take some photos of an abandoned part of the Laguna dam – also known as the Swastika dam. This was the first dam built across the Colorado river back in 1905 by the Bureau of Reclamation – at the time knows as the ” U.S. Reclamation Service” who had adopted the swastika as their emblem (well before it came to have the negative connections many of us associate with it now.) Read the link for more details about this interesting old bridge and dam.

Here’s some shots I took back in 2005 where you can see some of the swastikas….I didn’t take any yesterday that show them:

Canal Turnouts on AZ side at Laguna Dam

Swastika Bridge at Laguna Dam

Anyway, I’m getting off track! The point is we went up there and snapped some shots…we tried to make it up to the Imperial dam…but by the time we got there the sun had dipped behind the mountains and the light was fading and flat. And I only had 1 exposure left – oddly enough I managed to overexpose it trying to compensate for the fading light.

Once we got home, Amy mixed up the ID-11 developer and some film strength fixer while I cooked dinner. After we ate I dug in on processing some film and the results were not too shabby at all considering the quality of film and camera I had on hand.

Here’s the proof sheets I whipped up:


The lower right was my first exposure….not having used the Lubitel in a couple of years I got the self timer and shutter cocking mechanism mixed up and wound up doing a several second exposure by mistake…oops. The shot above that shows what can happen when you’re used to a SLR but switch to a TLR – I thought I had positioned the camera to shoot through the fence. Though I kind of like the effect I ended up with having the fence positioned like that. The other two exposures – the top one was exposed according to the reading I got with my light meter. The lower one I tweaked the exposure a bit to get the effect I was looking for – apparently I still remember a thing or two as it seems to have come out just like I planned. If you view the big version you may be able to see the little lizard sitting on the post who blended in to the point I almost didn’t notice him.

Oh and on all of these – please excuse the dust – my scanner sucks and is pretty dusty right now. I tried cleaning it off but it’s still bad. And the glossy paper tends to cause reflections on this scanner as well. Trust me when I say the original prints look much better.

The second contact sheet from this roll:

Amy makes a cameo appearance in the shot in the upper left, but she’s way down at the end of that wall and very small.  The two in the lower left were once the light was fading, the “no parking” sign was up at Imperial dam. I ended up picking the image on the lower right to try doing a print of – the frame at the top of the right column was a better exposure…but I liked the framing of the lower one better and wanted to print a full frame.

My first test print was a little flat – the scan distorts the tones somewhat, and makes it look a bit closer to what I was going for in the shadows…but the highlights look a lot flatter in the scan than they do in real life:


Since I liked the highlights on that first print I stuck with the same exposure but went from a 2 contrast up to a 3.5 contrast to bring in the shadows…but that was going too far:


3rd try I stepped back to about a 2.75 (I use a color enlarger so I can dial in variable contrast filtration more without having to do the 1/2 value steps you get with tradional multi-grade filters.) But I also stepped up the exposure just a hair since the highlights were looking a little weak on the previous two (or so I thought…once they fully dried I realized I was closer than I thought.)


Again – the scanner is throwing off the tones on these a bit but you should be able to see how the contrast is inbetween the last two.

No good final prints out of this session…but that’s mainly due to me getting frustrated working without a safelight and loosing my patience in the complete dark. Once I get a safelight setup (and a better exhaust fan) I’ll probably switch to the other neg of this scene and do a good final print that I’ll give to the local shop as thanks for being there and inspiring me to get back into the darkroom.


  1. Definitely like the last one better. Yosemite prints will be up next maybe? Those will take a bit of fancy dodging and burning due to the horrible exposures…

  2. who is this Leo? How is your ASA fav doing>

  3. Nice to see you back in the saddle. I guess I’ll pack up that box of stuff we discussed.

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