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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

My first contact print

Contact print

Above is my first ever contact print. A contact print is when you lay a negative (film, paper, tin, glass) onto photo-sensitive paper and shine light onto it to expose the paper. You then develop that paper into a positive print (or what you’d think of as a normal photo).

This is a milestone in my film journey. I’ve been trying to build enlargers with household materials over the last few quarantined weeks without any real success. In fact, I might just give up on it altogether until I get my hands on a real enlarger (which I think I have one in my sights).

Here is how the story of the above photo began.

We are in quarantine. Are you? I bet you are. Well, we’ve been in quarantine now for over 2 months or so. And that has led me to do all sorts of at-home photography projects such as my bedroom camera obscura.

Last night I got the idea to finally try my hand at making a contact print from a paper negative. I didn’t want to use the negatives I had created with the camera obscura so I thought of creating many smaller sized negatives using some old cameras I have laying around.

So step 1 was to create some cardboard templates for the focal areas for the cameras I was going to use. In my case, I chose three cameras. A Baby Kodak Brownie, a Kodak Brownie Holiday Flash Edition, and a Canon 650 35mm film camera. I chose the Brownies because they’d give me a relatively large negative (about 48mm x 23mm) and I don’t have any film that can fit into them. I chose the Canon 650 because it is a fully manual film camera that wasn’t currently loaded with any film and I can control the shutter speed.

The Baby Brownie, Canon 650 and the cardboard templates.

Now for the hard part. Rather than wait until dark (I don’t have a darkroom yet unless I create one), I decided to cut the photo paper in my changing bag. This means that I had to cut the paper blind by feeling the templates. Doing anything blind is harder than it seems it would be.

My cuts weren’t very straight, but by putting the cameras into the dark bag I was able to load the cameras with their single-shot paper negatives.

I then ventured outside our apartment to quickly take advantage of the fading light.

First, I took a photo with the Baby Brownie which ended up coming out under exposed. The photo paper is rated at about ISO 12 from what I’ve read so I thought the relatively slower shutter speeds of the Brownies would be to my advantage – but I guess I needed them to be just a bit slower. My guess is that they come in at around 1/50 or 1/60 and I really need 1/15 for this. Here is the negative and photo I took with the Baby Brownie.

Under exposed Baby Brownie paper negative
Digital positive created from paper negative
The Baby Brownie and the paper negative

Black and white photography continues to amaze me at how much information is stored in even under or over exposed negatives. This tree was in full sunlight when I took the photo and yet it came out with a very moody feel.

Next, I shot the Kodak Brownie Holiday Flash Edition – a fun looking camera that I got from a friend.

Better exposed Brownie negative
Digital positive Brownie from paper negative
Brownie Holiday Flash Edition with paper negative

This one of the apartment building came out far better exposed – but still under exposed. Again, though, you can see a lot of information is retained in these negatives despite how hacked together they are. And also despite the fact that this is photo paper and not film.

Last is the paper negative, digital positive, and contact print I created using a photo I shot with the Canon 650. I was able to meter the subject using an iPhone app, control the shutter speed (unlike the Brownies) and so the result is far better. That is why I chose this negative to create a contact print from – even though the size of the negative is smaller at just 35mm.

Canon 650 paper negative
Digital positive from paper negative.
Contact print made from paper negative
Canon 650 with paper negative and positive contact print

For the photo nerds out there, this shot was taken at f/5.6, 1/15s, and the paper is ISO 12. I developed all of the paper using Kodak D76 in my bathtub all for roughly 2 minutes or so.

I made the contact print by laying the negative on top of a fresh piece of photo paper and using my iPhone’s flashlight for about 10seconds to expose the positive. I then developed the positive in the same solution for about 2 minutes. I think I can do much better next time by making a contact print at a much larger size – say, 5×7″.

I’m definitely going to be doing more of this. Perhaps directly from negatives. But almost certainly using larger paper negatives rather than these small ones.

Seeing photos become “real” right in front of your eyes is a real treat.

Flowers – May 2020

The above image is a digital positive created from a paper negative. It was handcut from Ilford photo paper, shot, developed by me last night. I also used it as the subject for my first contact print.

You can read the behind-the-scenes story here on my blog. Also More also on Instagram.