Family portraits

It’s been a while since Christmas, when my father-in-law-to-be gave me a Victorian camera. I’ve played with it a few times since then but because I’ve been so busy I haven’t got around to scanning any of the pictures in. Until today.

These pictures were taken between Christmas and New Year when I’d only had the camera a couple of days. I spent a few days with my family, so I asked them to stand dead still for two minutes in ambient room light while the picture was taken – just like in Victorian times. As the exposure was two minutes, it was long enough for me to remove the lens cap (the camera doesn’t have a shutter), run around, and be in the picture myself (I’m on the right). Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have stood terribly still and my face is blurred. I think Dad gets the award for “most still”. We used the classic Victorian portrait trick of leaning on a piece of furniture to steady ourselves. Sorry Mum, that chair wasn’t there for your benefit 😉

My family
My family

Having managed two whole minutes without bickering (much), the family shuffled off. I know Edmund loves dressing up, so I asked him to put on his new dinner suit and scowl like a Victorian. I took two pictures of him; this first one was lit with ambient room light and exposed for two minutes.


For the second picture I used a magnesium flash bulb to illuminate him. They are much brighter than a typical electronic flash and so I the exposure was only a few seconds long – just as long as it took me to remove the lens cap, fire the flash gun, and replace the lens cap.

The flash gun has a 4″ chrome reflector but it’s still a small light source and the shadows are hard. It gives the picture a very different feel.


This is an insanely fun camera which can produce wonderful results given a bit of effort. I’m looking forward to Spring and Summer when the weather is nice enough to use it outdoors. I think it will do nicely for landscapes.

Geek info: If you read my previous notes on the Instantograph, you’ll know that this camera is larger than medium format, and the entry level large format size. You can’t get film the right size for this camera, and even if you could, it would be too sensitive to use, as the camera lacks a shutter. You have to control exposure by removing and replacing the lens cap. So I decided to take some regular darkroom printing paper, cut it to size in the darkroom and use that. The film equivalent ISO speed rating of the paper I used is ISO 6, and that’s an unusually fast paper. Coupled with the camera’s f/10 lens, it gives plenty of time to measure exposures in whole seconds or minutes, rather than fractions of a second.

Once I’d made the exposures, I processed the paper in the usual way in the darkroom, ending up with paper negatives that are flipped horizontally. When you shoot film, you look at the film from the opposite side that was exposed, i.e. you look through it. Obviously you can’t look through paper, so you have to turn it around and look at the side that was exposed, hence it is reversed. As paper negatives are opaque they can’t be printed in an enlarger. I made contact prints by sandwiching it with a fresh piece of paper, emulsion to emulsion, and exposed it to light from the enlarger. Making a print in this way reverses the image back again and you end up with a positive print the same size as the negative.

I made several prints in this way, but the images you see on this website are scanned from the paper negatives, not the positive prints, flipped horizontally, colour inverted to get positives and slighted toned sepia to match the positive prints that I genuinely did tone sepia! I also scanned the positive prints, but overall I preferred the look of the scans from negatives.

4 thoughts on “Family portraits

  1. Nice work mate. Did you dad temporarily pass away during that shot, as he’s a steady as a rock?
    Glad to see Edmund sporting a real bow-tie too.


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