Finding Film part 1: experiences so far

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Hello EMULSIVE community!

My name is Tom Rayfield, by day I am a secondary school teacher from Norfolk, UK. I am a passionate film shooter, who loves to shoot medium format black and white film photography. I develop all of my film, in a darkroom that I built myself last year.

Over the coming weeks and months I plan to shoot my way through the different medium format black and white films on the market, using a range of developer combinations and techniques to find my favourite combination. I will be sharing my experiences here on EMULSIVE, but before that, let me explain a little more about myself and my journey so far.



First steps

My first experience of photography came many years ago with my grandfather. I had been amazed at the pictures on the wall of his house for years; stunning scenes from his travels to Yosemite Park in America. At the time he was shooting semi-professionally, mostly specialising in black and white portraits, with the occasional bit of colour slide film. He had a darkroom in his garage, where he developed his own film, making his prints using an enlarger.

One summer, curious about the images on the walls, I asked about the photography and if I could have a go. He agreed, and we went out and took some photos of nearby buildings, churches and the Norfolk landscape. Following the shoot we went back to the darkroom, developing the film, and he talked me through the process. The following day I went back to make prints of my photos. Needless to say, I was hooked on the whole experience. Watching a photograph I had taken come to life in front of my very eyes was incredible (even if the resulting photos were either out of focus, or very poorly composed).



Trying my hand

Over the coming years I had several cheap digital point and shoot cameras (whatever I could find and afford at the time), and found myself taking many photos whilst on holiday, or of nearby buildings and architecture. Unfortunately I no longer have many of these images, having failed to backup my files properly in my youth. However, I was young, experimenting with my craft, and enjoying the process.

Fast forward a few years and I was in a position where I had a job, a stable pay-packet, and a burning desire take my photography more seriously. So I bought a DSLR and began shooting on a weekly basis, honing my skills in the Norfolk countryside. I would show the results to my grandfather, getting feedback as much as I could about how to get better. I entered a few weekly competitions on Twitter, and began participating in the photography community more and more.

"Canary Wharf", Sony a5100, 16-50mm kit lens.
“Canary Wharf”, Sony a5100, 16-50mm kit lens.

My passion for the craft was continuing to grow at a rapid pace, I was beginning to develop a style and found myself shooting monochrome more and more. I even had a few images that were shortlisted in competitions, or featured online.

"Thurne", Canon 6D, Samyang 14mm f2.8
“Thurne”, Canon 6D, Samyang 14mm f2.8

Despite the small successes, I found myself enjoying the process less and less, so I decided to give film a go. I had such fond memories of it in my teenage years, so why not pick it up again, maybe this is what I am missing? I asked my grandfather if he still had any of his film cameras left. He had given photography up a few years earlier due to age. His reply still haunts me to this day: “If I had known you were going to get into film photography, I would have given you my old Hasselblad”. Damn!



Returning to film

My wife bought me a Yashica Mat-124G for my birthday (she’s great like that), and so I had a go at medium format photography for the first time. I chose medium format because I liked the idea of bigger negatives to work with, and I was beginning to experiment with square format composition with my digital work. I watched many videos on YouTube about developing your own film (Matt Day in particular was very useful – thanks Matt!), and decided to give it a go.

I was shooting Ilford FP4+ and decided to get some Ilfosol 3 to go with it. I chose FP4+ because I remember using it back in my teenage years, and Ilfosol 3 seemed a good, cheap, all-round developer to get started with. Like many people do, I developed in my kitchen, using a changing bag and a few spare measuring jugs that were lying around. Fortunately the results were a success (after much practice beforehand of trying to get the film onto the spool).

"Daydream", Yashica Mat-124G & Ilford FP4, Self-developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9, 6:15)
“Daydream”, Yashica Mat-124G & Ilford FP4, Self-developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9, 6:15)

Suddenly, I found myself enjoying the process all over again. I enjoyed photography being a physical thing, something that the Internet/digital age seems to have taken away, even with cheap photo prints. I was taking things at a much slower pace, considering the composition, waiting for the right light or the right moment.

I was really enjoying the darkroom process, and even bought a scanner to scan my negatives. I was so enthused I wanted to have my own darkroom space, after all, developing in the kitchen with small children in the house didn’t seem like a great idea long-term.



Building a darkroom

Fortunately, my dad works in construction and found some old floor boards that were going to be thrown away. So he asked if I wanted to build the darkroom. Excited about the prospect I said yes and we began building. The project took us three weekends, adapting some unused garage space into a light-tight space for my darkroom work. My grandfather may have sold his Hasselblad, but he still had the chemical sink, which I was able to add to the darkroom.

Building the darkroom
Building the darkroom
Building the darkroom
Building the darkroom

With a finished darkroom I worked on my development skills, trying a number of methods (stand, constant agitation, different developing times, different concentrations) with my FP4+ / Ilfosol combination. Through Twitter I came across the FP4+ Party and entered a couple of times with the images below.

"Thornham", Yashica Mat-124G, Ilford FP4, Self-developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9, 4:15)
“Thornham”, Yashica Mat-124G, Ilford FP4, Self-developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9, 4:15)
"Holkham", Yashica Mat-124G, Ilford FP4, Self-developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9, 4:10)
“Holkham”, Yashica Mat-124G, Ilford FP4, Self-developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9, 4:10)



Next steps

By the end of 2016 I felt like I had a handle on my development process, and here in 2017, I am feeling confident at getting the film into the tank without wrecking it. However, still, to this point I have only ever shot FP4+. Not that there is anything wrong with it but I feel like I’m missing out.

What if there was something better suited to my style, and I was unaware of it? What if Ilfosol wasn’t the developer for me?

So that is where my project for 2017 came from. My plan is to try all of the different medium format black and white films on the market. On hand I have Fomapan, FP4+, HP5+, Pan-F, Delta, Tri-X, T-MAX, Fuji Acros and Rollei Retro to name a few.

In the summer months,  when the sun finally returns, I will give Rollei Infrared 400 and Ilford SFX 200 a go, as my infrared experience is minimal so far. As for developer, I will be using Rodinal and DD-X to begin with, and I will look to others once those run out.

Amassing a small collection of film
Amassing a small collection of film
Just a few chemicals
Just a few chemicals

Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing my experiences with the different films and developers, sharing as much detail as I can about the whole experience.

The articles won’t be as long as this one has been, I promise. Obviously your mileage may vary with the results and preferences, but hopefully this will be useful to some of you out there who are thinking about giving other films a go.

Looking forward to having you along for the ride!

~ Tom Rayfield



Update: this series has grown considerably since it started and you can catch up on all of the other articles in my Finding Film series by following the links below:



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Photography: The gatekeeper – ILFORD FP4 PLUS (35mm format)

Photography: Steamroom – Ilford FP4+ (35mm)


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