DIY Photography

paper neg

I’ve had the idea of building my own camera brewing for quite a while now. I’ve been collecting various bits and bobs whilst thinking “this could be useful for building a camera!” but in my head I don’t yet have a clear idea of what I want to make. There’s a lot of options – will it be a pinhole or uses lenses? Will it take film, plates or photopaper? What format will it shoot?

I’ve pretty much decided that it will take a lens(es) of some kind. I’m also leaning towards a bigger format – medium or large. Using lenses presents a dilemma though – focus. Unless I just set the lens to infinity and be done with it I’ll need a way of focusing the thing either by having a lens with a focusing mechanism or by building a bellows type system found on large format cameras. The bellows system has the most appeal because not only would it allow me to focus but would also give me the ability to tilt and shift. I’d also need a way of seeing if it’s in focus – probably using a focusing screen of some kind. Luckily I recovered a plastic screen from inside an old projector T.V. which is absolutely perfect for this. This will require me building dark slides to hold my negs in though and a means of attaching them to the camera.

Taking this idea one step further I’d also like to make my own emulsion and developer. I’ve got a few potential ideas for this. The first is a tried and tested silver based emulsion which seems easy enough to make. There’s also a few different developers that can be cooked up at home with relative ease such as H&W Control and ID-68.

The second idea is a little more ambitious and might not work at all. It involves a chemical called 2-(2,4-dinitrobenzyl)pyridine. This reacts and turns blue under UV light and in theory could be used to make ultraviolet photographs. The best part is that it requires no developer and can be reused. The colour change is stable for several hours before degrading back to it’s normal form. I could scan the images before they disappear then reload the plate back into the camera. That’s the theory anyway… There’s a few problems that crop up though – first I’d need to disperse the crystals in some kind of substrate. Gelatin or something equally unreactive would be the obvious choice. Secondly I don’t know if the crystals will be able to display a range of tones. The only way I’ll know is by trying it out. Thirdly the crystals mostly react to ultraviolet and most lenses only let a very small amount of that through. Normally quartz lenses are best for UV photography but they are both rare and expensive. I do know however that the crystal react to purple light so theoretically the near UV end of the spectrum which should be passed by the lens should be enough.

Assuming making my own emulsion doesn’t work I’ll fall back on the idea of using photographic paper. The sensitivity is extremely low though so exposure times will be lengthy especially if I make a large format camera which will require very small apertures for and image requiring a large depth of field. Hoh-hum, lots to think about…


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