Follow me for a minute while I talk about a picture of a mushroom.

Sure it sounds weird, but I’m excited about this picture of a weird mushroom I took the other day. If you’re interested in large format 4×5 photography, stand development, Kodak Aero-Ektar lenses, niche films, etc., then this might interest you. If not here’s the picture and the link to purchase it: 🙂

A strange mushroom photographed with a Kodak Aero-Ektar 178mm/2.5 lens on 4x5 Shanghai 100 speed film
A strange mushroom photographed with a Kodak Aero-Ektar 178mm/2.5 lens on 4×5 Shanghai 100 speed film

Large Format 4×5 photography
I kind of made a new years resolution to shoot more large format 4×5 stuff. I used to really be into it and I pretty much had everything necessary to just pick it up and do it again. The primary reason I hadn’t shot much of it was that it’s a pain in the butt to process. I could either dip and dunk in total darkness or use a Doran Daylight Tank. Both options use a lot of chemicals and I’m not too fond of developing in the first place. Enter stand development and the taco method!

The taco method is basically curling two sheets slightly to fit into stainless double 120 daylight tank. It works great but a couple of test sheets crept up the tank and above the developer line. The solution was just to use 1L of chemicals. Problem solved and it’s still less than the 1.5L either of the other tanks used.

Stand Development
The other side of this developing epiphany was nailing stand development for the first time. I had read that stand development using Rodinol (R09 or equivalent) should be mixed 1:00 or 3.5ml per 8×10 sheet. This is a little misleading. See, I was developing half of a 8×10 sheet and using 2ml gave me super thin negatives. I still got an image off one of them, but the others were useless. In my opinion the formula should read NO LESS THAN 1:100 dilution or 3.5ml per 8×10 sheet. When I used 1:100 or 10ml of Rodinol it worked great and that was this shot. I could see though if you were stand developing 36 exposure rolls of 35mm in a multi tank it takes 290ml of developer per roll and that would be 2.9ml if using 1:100 so you would 3.5ml instead. Kind of complicate but stand development is AWESOME!

Here’s why I really like stand development so far:

  • No differing development times everything gets souped for an hour.
  • Doesn’t matter what the ISO is, it gets souped for an hour.
  • This means you can rate the same roll of film at different speeds!
  • You don’t have yo babysit the film and agitate a lot, just some gentile inversions at first and one or two at 30min.
  • Using 1:100 or 3.5ml/8×10 sheet dilution is very economical.
  • So far I like the results and will keep using this method and try it with other formats.

The Kodak Aero-Ektar
I’m not going to dig too deep into this because I’m planning on a post just about this wonderful lens but this is a bit of a preview. The A-E is a 178mm/2.5 lens that covers 4×5. It’s amazing. Wide open it looks gorgeous and you’d be silly NOT to shoot it wide open. The lens does have it’s own challenges but I really like how it rendered this image. For a sneak peak, here’s the lens mounted on my Graflex Speedgraphic Pacemaker:

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I’ll be doing more with this lens for sure!

Niche Films
I shot this image on expired in 2011 Shanghai film. I picked this film mostly because I got nearly 2 full boxes of it for less than $30USD. I’ve shot Shanghai before and this is the best density I think I’ve ever gotten out of it. There looked like there was some dust on the neg when the image was taken which could have been my dark bag or the, ugh, lax quality control on during manufacture. I got a dark tent and I’m excited to see how future sheets look.

I’ve said before, and I’ll still stand by it today that none of this stuff makes an image successful. The audience doesn’t care about the work, knowledge, and effort that went into a photograph, they just want to be engaged and interest by it. I think that in this case the process, camera, lens, and film selection helped make this more interesting. It’s a weird pile of mushrooms to begin with but just a snapshot of it probably wouldn’t garner much interest. This image represents a strange way of seeing a strange thing. While I think it works I acknowledge that I may be too emotionally invested in having taken the shot and that may be coloring my estimation of it. Feel free to comment and let me know if right or wrong about that!

If anyone knows what kind of mushroom this is, I’d love to know. I made several unsuccessful attempts at identifying it.