… and keep your camera dry

photo of a box of Seed’s Dry Plates courtesy of Petapixel

Toronto. The wet-plate process became the primary process in photography for the next few decades until another Englishman, Richard Maddox solved its problems of slow speed, damp cameras, and the need for immediate exposure and processing.

Maddox came up with a dry plate process whereby dry sensitized glass plates could be sold at retail to be later exposed (still on a tripod, but possible to be used hand held in bright sun) and even later processed. A sub-second or ‘instantaneous’ shutter was needed on the camera.

The Maddox process led the way to innovation in America and the gradual use of plastic flexible film (in movies and minicams) in place of glass plates for the century from about 1870 to 1970 when digital technology slowly began to gain ground over film.  Today with very fast, full colour, digital cameras and smart phones, innovations like dry plates have disappeared into history.

Note. The title of the post is a riff on a saying attributed to Englishman Oliver Cromwell, “Trust in God and keep your powder dry“.

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when wet-plate was king

Toronto. Of the two earliest photographic processes, most photographers chose to use the Daguerreotype. It was free (outside England), had the best resolution by far, and had good contrast. But it was limited to one plate unless the plate was copied – over and over.

On the other hand, Fox Talbot‘s process – the Calotype – could make any number of prints, but it suffered  a softer contrast and far lower resolution.

The emulsion could be applied to glass and sensitized, but it was so slow that it was only suitable for contact prints, not for use in a camera. This all changed around 1851 when the Englishman, Frederick Scott-Archer, announced his new wet-plate process.  The process was fast enough to be used in a camera on a tripod – still too slow to need a sub-second shutter. The gun-cotton based emulsion coated a glass plate and was sensitized with a silver -nitrate solution.

Immediately after the glass plate was sensitized and before it dried, the medium had to be exposed in the camera and developed. If it should dry, the glass plate would become so insensitive that it was useless in a camera and would not be successfully developed.

The sticky goo that oozed off the wet plates slowly destroyed the cameras making wet-plate area cameras obvious and extremely rare in decent condition.


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Hollywood in the Klondike – Book Review

Hollywood in the Klondike as reviewed by George Dunbar

Toronto. About five years ago I did a post called, “Frozen in Time” about some movie reels discovered up in Dawson City. Since then Michael Gates has written a book about the find.

Our good friend, “George Dunbar” managed to get a copy and generously wrote this review:

“Here’s a wonderful book that’s sure to please those interested in early Hollywood history, the Klondike gold rush and particularly, an amazing film treasure discovered in Dawson City in 1978: “Hollywood in the Klondike,” by Michael Gates.
“The following are my notes upon the enjoyment of this Canadian/Hollywood film history. Perhaps some editing and rewrites will be required, but my enthusiasm should be evident.”
(There are no quotes below as I took all of Mr Dunbar’s review.)

Continue reading

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flattop revisited

April 1950 ad showing how the light in the Hobbyist is spread evenly by design

Toronto. A few days ago I did a post on a February, 1950 ad for Kodak’s enlarger – the Hobbyist. Two months after that ad, Kodak did another one on the Hobbyist, this time explaining the way the Hobbyist ensured even lighting and encouraged the use of fluorescent ‘circular’ bulb illumination in enlargers.

While the idea of a circular fluorescent bulb was promoted for a few years, the idea of using fluorescent rather than incandescent lighting in enlargers never really took off.

In fact, I was unaware of the virtues and alternatives offered by the use of a fluorescent bulb. To me, all fluorescent bulbs were a pain as they caused static detected by many short-wave radios, including mine.

I did experiment on using a circular Fluorescent light source by adding it sandwiched between two aluminum pie plates to an old Federal enlarger with no light head. No great shakes – too dim for my taste. A hearty thanks to my good friend, George Dunbar, for this ad and follow up on the Hobbyist.

NOTE. The title is a riff on British author Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 book, “Brideshead Revisited“.

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egging it on

c1950 farm chickens and eggs

Toronto. In the early days of photography, the idea of paper prints took hold. Thus the albumen print came into being. At its peak, photography was a major user of eggs.

Albumen (or raw egg whites) was (were) used to stick the light sensitive emulsion coating to the paper and give the print its slightly glossy look.

The thin paper, ‘glue’, and emulsion coatings with the emulsion coating sensitized, made the resulting photo-sensitive print extremely curly. This was solved by gluing the paper to a cardboard backing, a practice that continued on with CdVs and other sizes of studio prints (popular in the mid to later 1800s).

Note. The photo is that of my father’s sister on her farm. The sale of eggs gave my aunt ‘pin money’. The photo was taken with a Kodak camera – most likely my dad’s folder, but it may have originated in my box camera (also a Kodak). Of course, albumen prints had long passed into history by then.

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a hot time in the old town tonight

A March 1950 ad by Kodak touting the use of Lanthanum glass in its lenses

Toronto. When I first saw this March 1950 ad for a Kodak lens that used Lanthanum, I immediately thought about the radio-active Leitz lenses I remembered reading about.

To create unique glass characteristics, many glasses were melted with pinches of stuff like rare earths such as Lanthanum added. I looked up Lanthanum and learned that most Lanthanum is inert – except that there is a very small percentage of a Lanthanum isotope that is radio-active.

Looking further the next day, it turned out that certain high end lenses from the 1950s were indeed slightly radio-active due to using elements made from glass with slight amounts of Thorium  Oxide which is radio-active with a very long half life.

So indeed some 1950 era lenses were slightly radio-active – but not from using glass made with a touch of Lanthanum rare-earth added!

Thanks to my good friend, George Dunbar for discovering and sharing the March, 1950 ad from Popular Mechanics.


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Think enlarger, think Kodak, think Hobbyist!

Toronto.  Post WW2, Kodak made goods to be all things photographic ensuring any new comer to the hobby would automatically think ‘Kodak’ when outfitting his/her camera, darkroom, studio, etc.

Enlargers were no exception. In the early 1950 ad shown, Kodak advertised its ‘Kodak Hobbyist’ enlarger and accessories. Popular at the time were fluorescent lights and the so-called ‘cold light’ enlarger using a circular tube and a specially shaped and painted enlarger head to produce an overall even illumination.

The touted benefit of cold lighting was the elimination of dust spots on the negative – those missed by any careful cleaning process. Traditional lighting used a condenser and a bright point source light that boosted contrast, print resolution, and any pesky bits of dust on the tiny negative.

A tip of the hat goes to that energetic researcher and very good friend, George Dunbar, for discovering and sharing this ad with us.

NB. The post title is the name of one of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic villains (and the look of Kodak’s enlarger head)!

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a mystery stereo viewer made in Vancouver

a Stereo-Phot stereo viewer from mid last century.

Toronto. A PHSC Member from Edmonton came across an unusual stereo viewer made by Stereo-Phot in Vancouver around the end of WW2(?).

Brian writes, “I have a couple of binocular viewers made by the Stereo-Phot Company, Vancouver, B.C. and I’m curious what photographic purpose they served.

“The viewers have a pressed metal body with a crinkle finish, a set of viewing lenses on one end and an opaque glass screen opposite. The viewing glass is approximately 5 1/2 inches (14 cm) across and is 3 inches (7 1/2 cm) vertical. There is a slot (approximately 5 1/4 inches long) on top of the viewer that a slide could go into, but it’s narrower than a classic Victorian stereo view.

“An internet search of the Stereo-Phot Company gave no results. Is there anyone there who has some insight?”

NOTE: The standard for stereo transparencies was set by the Stereo Realist at 1-5/8 inch x 4 inches – smaller than the Stereo-Phot. If any viewer can help out, drop me a line at info@phsc.ca and I will contact Brian.

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blues in the night

Herschel 1842 – Lady with a Harp – Cyanotype

Toronto. In the days of back and white films, prints were toned for artistic purposes and sometimes for protection. Gold toning helped protect the print and extend its life. We all remember sepia toned prints, The brownish colour was a popular alternative to the basic B&W print.

Occasionally iron was used to give a blue cast to the print, or create cyanotypes or blue prints. Blue prints were typically used by engineering firms and manufacturers rather than photographers.

Note. The title of this post is the name of the 1941 song, “Blues in the Night” sung here by Cab Calloway.

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a light purple cast

using colour cast for an artistic purpose

Toronto. In the days of colour films we used the correct transparency film or adjusted filters while making colour prints from colour negatives to attempt to get the correct (neutral) white balance.

When digital images and tools like Photoshop came along, we spent hours fussing with colour balance to eliminate any colour cast in the shadows or highlights.

Modern day cameras and smart phones make this simple with an auto white balance setting in the camera, smart phone or computer software.

Lomography, long  a proponent of colourful cameras and special films, recently announced a revival of the easy to use (and reuse with any 35mm film) ‘one-shot’ camera with built-in film and flash. Their novel twist is to make the camera’s colour film ‘artistic’ by offering built-in colour casts!

Lomography explains, “Discover crazy color shifts at every click of the shutter with this creative camera – skin tones pop in bright blues, skies glow orange and golden gradients grace the frame. Portable and ready for anything – this pocket-sized Simple Use Reloadable camera shoots undeniably analogue snaps and is reloadable with any 35 mm film on the market! Made for street, action and creative photography this new addition to our much-loved family of Simple Use cameras is keen for experimentation!

NB. The post title is a riff on a line from the 1939 song, “Deep Purple” sung here by April Stevens and Nino Tempo.

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