I’ve been doing solargraphs for a few years now – if you want to read more about them, have a look at my article here. I put a batch of ‘cameras’ out last December, exactly six months ago as I sit writing this, the main difference this year being the motley collection of tubs and tins which I used! And again, there is one of my blog postings about that right here!
I was impressed how well they had fared out there, including my black spray-job on some of the tins! Inside, it was also good news: Just a couple of failures with nothing usable on the ‘film’ (aka ‘black and white photographic printing paper’). Even where water gets inside, most notable on the black peppercorn tubs I use, I still like the results, so I do not regard this as failure at all. But apart from this already-known issue, all the remainder were dry and largely intact.
… I like the result of this water-damage also, for the texture that it adds. Of course, once out of the camera, the image needs to be scanned, usually at 600 dpi or higher, given the small size of the film in the 35mm film-tubs. This scan is, of course, a negative (ie, the sun-trails come out as dark lines in a white sky), and so I invert this in Photoshop. The image is also laterally reversed (left and right swapped over), so is flipped around too. Finally, I correct the blueish cast present (b&w photo-paper is not sensitive to dark-room safe-light, which is red, and causes this cast in the final image): Often, the auto-colour setting will do this fine, or at least provide a good place to start. After that, it is over to the colour-adjustment sliders.
This is the point I save my results as the ‘original’ image from each camera, and any further manipulation starts from here: The Levels and Curves are both useful (you’ve guessed it, I have a post on that also … here!), and adding an Unsharp Mask helps to sharpen the image some too (you can often add this during the scanning phase, depending on your scanner’s software).
After that, it’s time to get creative: All the images here have been further manipulated using various effects I have – the Google Nik collection for Photoshop, Perfect Effects 8 and Dynamic Photos HDR 5 have all been used in the images you see here. It’s a chance to see what you can do with the images, given that they have all come out of the various tubs and tins in hugely varying condition to start with, colour- and contrast-wise.
… this is part of the fun for me; seeing what treatment I think will suit a particular image. I’m not going to turn this into a solargraph-treatment-workshop, but I do like the ability to use the Match Colour feature of the pseudo-HDR treatment, as an effective way to swap colours around using pre-set images within the software, as I have done below:
I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with the Contrast Colour Range within Colour Efex Pro4, part of the Google Nik plugins, as in the following image:
The only rule is, there are no rules. Since you are starting with an image so different from usual photographs, it’s entirely up to personal preference. But it’s worth considering each individual image beforehand, and having a rough idea of what you are trying to achieve before madly pressing all the buttons! Although, I’m not above that too at times, under the guise of ‘learning’!
You may like some more than others; I certainly feel that way about these images. But that’s all part of the process too. And a fascinating antidote to the crisp, instant results from digital imagery. I hope you enjoy them and are maybe inspired to give it a go.
One final thought … the film used in the cameras is, as I have said, b&w photographic printer paper (the light-sensitive sort, not the stuff for inkjet printers!). So, it shows shades of grey, and yet there are colours here (I have enhanced them, tweaked them, swapped them around, but not added them where none existed before). No idea what the physics of that is, but I find it rather interesting.