Michael, Kaela, and Ana: Caffenol 3

This past week, we went up to Dushore, PA for a few days with a group of friends. It was a great opportunity to take my caffenol portrait project on the road.

I convinced Michael and Kaela to sit for me on the first day even though the temperature was in the teens and I was going to shoot outside to take advantage of the low winter sun.

The house we stayed in had a long front porch that ran the length of its southern side. That seemed like the best place to start. Michael went first. I took a couple of quick shots at about 1-second exposure at f6.8. The only difficulty was a jam while reinserting one of the dark slides. Kaela went second and using the same exposure I made 4 exposures.

Michael shot in full sun on the porch

Of those shots, the ones of Michael came out really well. However, the ones with Kaela didn’t turn out quite as nice. The composition was a bit off and they weren’t quite in focus.

The next day we tried again, this time indoors, using light from one of the southern-facing windows and my makeshift key light. Kaela agreed to sit again. This time the exposure was about 4 seconds at f6.8. I say “about,” because I counted it off, ‘One one thousand, etc.”

Kaela indoors with window light and spotlight.

This portrait of Kaela came out better. I was surprised by just how dark the background was in the final print. I would have preferred some more separation between Kaela and the background. She was sitting in the dining room, a good distance from the walls, and I expected more of that room to visible in the print. I can see now how important it is to pay attention to the background light as well. I still like the print. I think it looks like something from a German Dadaist in the 1920s.

My friend’s daughter Ana and my daughter Nora also agreed to sit for me. I shot them both in the same setup as I had for Kaela. Unfortunately, something was wrong with metering for Nora’s shot and it didn’t come out. The portrait of Ana came out better, but very dark in the background and with some weird spots.


Ana emerging from the dark


I do like this look for the portrait, but I would have liked to see another option that had more of a background. And I have no idea what caused the white spots.

Lessons learned:

  • Think about the tonal separation between the foreground and the background
  • Take at least 4 shots for each sitting
  • Double check the metering

Gr: A first attempt at caffenol

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Gr was visiting from Oakland and they graciously agreed to be my first Coffee With Friends subject. I set up the Graflex 4×5 camera in the backyard, trying to catch some late autumn sun. Unfortunately, I did not take notes on aperture or shutter speed. I’ll have to remember to do that next time.

Shooting went well with only one mishap. I had 2 film holders loaded with paper and I managed to get 3 captures with them. One sheet got a little jammed up when I put the dark slide back in.

Development was a different story. Although the recipe calls for “washing soda” I used Borax. I didn’t realize the two were different. I’ll have to brush up on my household chemical compounds. Despite that, I did manage to get images from the paper. Development took about 20 to 30 minutes when it should have been 4 minutes. Even then, I did not achieve a true black on the print. In the end, they came out looking more like a Van Dyke brown than a silver gelatin print. Hopefully, I can catch Gr on another trip out here for a redo.

Lessons learned:

  • Take detailed notes on exposure and aperture for each shot
  • Washing soda and Borax are not the same. DO NOT USE BORAX in this recipe