The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

Behind The Print: Glencoe Cottage

On my old blog I used to put up a few posts showing how I made my prints.  I got a lot of positive feedback from people saying that they found the posts useful and informative so I have decided to continue them here on my new site.  I am hoping that at least some of you will take something away from these articles which I have decided to name "behind the print", and I am hopeful that you will continue to provide feedback (either positive or negative) and let me know how your printing skills are coming along.  For this first article I have decided to talk about possibly my favourite print at the moment...

This picture was taken on one of my annual trips to Scotland in the winter.  Jess and I know of a log cabin which you can hire for a great price, and it is in the middle of nowhere right on the shores of Loch Awe which is fantastic if you're after a little peace and quiet. 

As a mostly landscape photographer i'm a huge fan of Glencoe.  It's a fantastic place that looks different every time I go, and it is only about an hours drive from the cabin.  As our traveling companions were having a lie-in Jess and I decided to head out early with the dog and head to Glencoe to take some photos.  Well, I wanted to take photos, Jess, being a supportive wife, came along to keep me company and snooze in as many lay-bys as she could find.  She is very supportive of my "quests" but doesn't quite have as much zeal for trekking through bogs and marshes to reach the best vantage point.

So far so good you may be thinking.  Wrong.  As soon as we got about fifteen minutes into our journey the clouds sank down, the rain fell and the cold air hit.  Most people would head indoors at this point but being blinded by rage I drove on relentless, determined to shoot a roll of film!  You may be thinking clouds are a wonderful thing, full of rich texture and detail.  Wrong, what we had here could best be described as flat, grey mush.  As we got up to Rannoch Moor I hopped in and out of the car a few times to grab a few shots before moving further up the road.  In fact, the cover image of this website was taken from a lay-by just before reaching Rannoch Moor.  More on that in the future maybe.  On a positive note, Ellie (our dog) was a big fan of the moor and decided to do her best deer impression repeatedly.

As we finished of in Rannoch Moor and made our way down the road to Glencoe we went around a sweeping left hand bend and I saw a large smooth valley which was catching the sun nicely.  I parked up in a convenient lay-by, grabbed my gear and started walking, waving bye to Jess as she had decided she was tired and didn't want to step foot out of the car again!  It turned out I was walking through a bit of a bog but I didn't mind as clever me had remembered to wear my waterproof sock liners (get some, thank me later).  I took some time setting up the shot and finally exposed the frame (which I haven't yet printed and probably wont).  Then just off to the left a white cottage caught my eye, it was really standing out from the murky grey of the clouds so I decided to head closer and see if it was a workable shot.  I found a nice vantage point, focused, metered and then exposed.  Later I would realise this is probably one of the most photographed cottages in the country, but who cares!

Well the day carried on in a similar fashion with the weather continuing to close in.  Nevertheless we decided we would still head up the ski lift to the top of the mountains.  Nothing wrong with a little sub-zero sledging!  The week went by and I kept shooting but I will touch on the other prints I have made from this trip in the future no doubt.  Upon my return home I developed the film (in Rodinal of course) and left it to dry.  A few days later I freed up some time and made a contact sheet.  I spotted quite a few frames which I liked the look of but this one seemed to be the best on the roll so I decided to have a go at it first.

I couldn't get into the darkroom to print for a while but Jess decided to go visit a friend for the day and so I took that as a sign from the universe to go forth and print.  The negative seemed to be an ideal candidate for some split grade printing using my newly acquired RH Designs f-stop timer so I setup the negative in the enlarger, focused, set the contrast grade to 00 and did my soft test sheet.  I used to just use offcuts of paper for making test strips but I have found that because I am doing lots of dodging and burning to my prints these days a whole sheet makes it easier to deduce times for all parts of the image.  My test sheets tend to go from around 5 seconds up in 1/6 of a stop intervals, if I need anymore I will just do a new one starting at a different base exposure.  Here is what I got.

I chose the strip with a base exposure of 8.98 seconds because it gave tone to the snows on the mountain top.  I knew I would want the cottage walls to be lighter but more on that later.  I should say here the paper I was using was Ilford MGIV FB developed in Ilford Multigrade developer.

Next I did my grade 4 1/2 test sheet (I can't do grade 5 with the colour filters on my enlarger) and got this:

Again I chose the 8.98 second exposure time as it gave me good, deep blacks.  I was happy with the contrast overall so I turned my attention to dodging and burning.  I knew I wanted to lighten the cloud somewhat and darken the foreground to really made the cottage stand out.  This is where offcuts of paper come in really handy - any dodging and burning times I cannot figure out from the test sheets I made earlier I can deduce using small strips of paper placed in the relevant parts of the image.

After much trial and error I got the dodging and burning times I wanted.  During the soft exposure I dodged the sky for 3/4 of a stop and the trees to the right of the cottage received a 1/3 of a stop burn.  Then the right, left and bottom edges of the print received an extra 1/4 of a stop each.  Then I switched to the grade 4 1/2 filter and dodged the sky 1/3 of a stop.  The trees received another 1/3 of a stop burn (if you don't do the same dodging/burning on the same part of the print with both filters then you change the contrast) and the bottom edge of the print received an extra 1/3 of a stop.  The right edge then received 1/6 of a stop to balance it out whilst the cloud received 1/6 of a stop burn in a series of small up and down gradations of a rectangular piece of card.  This added a slight gradational effect to the sky.  Finally each corner got an extra 1/6 of a stop just to add a slight vignette.  This left me with this:

I was close but the cottage wasn't quite popping enough.  I brushed some dilute potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide bleach over the cottage which lightened the highlights slightly and added extra pop.  I re-fixed and then toned in selenium 1:5 for 2 minutes.  This gave me this print:

The selenium has added extra pop (I love selenium toner) but I wasn't quite happy with the print.  I decided to go crazy and dig out the few sheets of warmtone paper I have, I felt that this print was worthy of going onto this expensive paper!  I made an identical print and set the drydown compensation to 5% (drydown is the effect of fibre prints going darker when dry - a pain)!  This time I fully toned in selenium (4:30).  I did try pulling the print from the toner at around 2 minutes but it looked strange being a warm reddish colour all over with a grey sky on top.  After all this work I was left with my final print which I think is my best print yet.  Here it is again so you don't have to scroll back to the top of the page to view it:

And that is pretty much how this print was made.  I know it is not everyone's cup of tea but I like it and that's the main thing isn't it?  I hope that wasn't too boring for you!  Until next time, happy printing!