Coffee with Christine

Last year, I offered a coffee portrait session for Broad Street Ministry‘s online fundraising auction. Christine won the auction, and this weekend we managed to schedule the session. I love the results. They have a very 1930s look. Also, some really good longe exposure “mistakes”.

Something about the earring makes me think Man Ray
Just a little movement makes this one
Heading toward abstraction
Not all of them were serious!

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

Brett: Caffenol 2


My good friends from graduate school, Brett and Eric, were in town recently for a reunion of sorts. This was another opportunity to work with my Coffee With Friends project. Now that I got the whole washing soda/Borax issue worked out, I was hoping to get some nicer prints. Well, yes and no.

First of all,  due to timing, I couldn’t get Eric to sit for me. I’ll have to get him next time he’s around. Second of all, with the days being short and trying to pack a lot in (Brett insisted on getting a cheesesteak at Pat’s) I decided to try having him sit inside rather than outside.

The Harman Direct Positive paper is very low ISO. It’s also blue sensitive so you can handle it under a red safelight. What that also means is that it’s much harder to shoot under regular indoor lights.

I had Brett sit on the couch and set the camera up with one key light to his left. This was a homemade setup using a simple clamp light fixture from the local hardware store and a compact fluorescent bulb. He had a window to his right, which wasn’t letting in a lot of light. I also had overhead LED lights and a standard bulb in a table lamp to the front and right of him. So he was pretty much bathed in light. Even so, it was a long exposure.

I had read online that the paper was roughly ISO 3. Using my iPhone meter app, the suggested exposure was 6 seconds wide open at f6.8 for ISO 3. I did two exposures at that time and Brett was a real trooper at holding still. Then I shot one exposure at 9 seconds and one at 12 seconds. Can’t believe he managed to sit still for those. The guy is a professional.

The 2 prints at 6 seconds came out way too dark. The 9-second print was better, but not great. The 12-second print looked good, but there was another issue. The camera had moved on the tripod. The viewfinder was off because it’s not calibrated to this lens.

Lessons learned:

  • Get better lights
  • Don’t let the camera move on the tripod
  • Focus on the eyes
  • Meter the face

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


Coffee With Friends Project

For a while, I have been intrigued by a family photograph of my wife’s great uncle (Croce Cappellino, known to the family as “Uncle Priest”, since he was a priest). The photo looks like a formal, sepia-toned studio portrait. It was most likely shot on a 5×7 camera and the negative contact printed, as the film holder markings are visible on the edges. When I got my own large format, 4×5 camera I knew I wanted to make portraits like this, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to begin.

File_001 (5)

I recently learned about the Finnish studio, Cahute, shooting Harman Direct Positive paper and developing it in caffenol. Although they are shooting 8×10, the look intrigued me as well as the opportunity to create single, unique images. Other options I was thinking about were Van Dyke brown prints and lith prints. I already do a fair number of lith contact prints and I am still working out a light source for the Van Dyke brown. I may come back to both of those at some point though.

My goal is to take a few portraits each session and allow the subject to keep the best one.  I will keep the next best one and archive them all in a Paperchase photo album, with some notes about the person and the session.

Here is the caffenol recipe I am using, Google-translated from the original French.


Add to 100 ml lukewarm water in a measuring cup:

1. Na2CO3 20g (80g / l), wait for complete dissolution then
2. Ascorbic acid ~ 1g (4 g / l) [1/2 teaspoon], mix well … then
3. 10g soluble coffee (40 g / l), mix well.

• Add cold water up to 250 ml, mix.

• Measure the temperature of the mixture and record it, this allows to know the effect of the temperature on the prints. With my protocol, the temperature was between 20 and 23 ° C and I had no problem so far.