Never travel without your camera! I know: so often the weather's bad, your out walking and your friends won't wait or you've only got 100asa and it's nearly dark! On this occasion I had all those excuses at hand but I was on the Isle of Skye where you should be certified if you don't carry a camera with you. Persistent rain and low cloud meant it was summer and our attempts on walking the famous Cuillin ridge was replaced by a mooch about on the north east of the island overlooking the island of Raasay. Looking through the sequence of negatives revealed that I took only 5 frames that day and I made this shot almost grudgingly through cloud and drizzle. Even after making contact prints I was not immediately drawn to it and a great deal of cropping was needed to tidy up the composition.
I was frustrated that I only had a 35-70mm lens on an old Pentax ME as I couldn't isolate any particular features on the low-lying island across Raasay sound. Instead I took in the broad sweep of the island together with the rain clouds and very softly lit sea. I often use 'L's (right angles cut out of black card) to play with different crops on the contact sheet and discovered that a panoramic crop made the best of the lighter coloured clouds over the island. These reflect in the sea to give a lovely soft pool of light that lifts the mood of the photograph. I was using Plus-X and had to use a gatepost to steady the camera with an exposure of 1 / 30 th second at f8.
Print A shows the full negative, but I used only a small section of it as shown by print B. Both are straight prints, with no dodging or burning on Ilford MG FB Matt at grade 2 with a 30 second exposure. The negative was developed in D76 and although it is quite dense and grainy, lacks any real contrast due to the very flat lighting conditions.
The next step was to increase the contrast to grade 3 1 / 2 and experiment with burning in the sky, the lower half of the sea and the boundaries of the print area. After a few attempts I found that it was very difficult to produce tone that balanced the picture and resorted to sketching out a sequence of visual instructions to follow like a recipe. In doing so it often easier to spot short cuts: instead of burning-in many small areas of sky it is simpler to add extra exposure to a broader area whilst shading one or two key highlights. Because I had to enlarge the image so much, even with a 50mm lens, the projected image on the baseboard was very dim. Whilst calculating the various exposure times for different areas of the image I had to turn off the safelights to make it easier to see what I was doing. I had to be very accurate with burning-in to avoid stray light darkening the white clouds and so printing on 12x16 paper was helpful as its size gave a greater margin for error!
Print C shows the final result of a long sequence of printing that achieved the balance and mood I had in mind. To raise the game further I decided that blue toning would enhance its mood and I printed 4 versions of the print with slightly different densities to give me a choice after toning.
I made sure that the prints were washed thoroughly as it is essential to remove all traces of fix before any toning. I used a one-bath toner that combines a bleach and a toning component. It's a messy business and it is difficult to see what is happening on the surface of the print to gauge when to remove it. I have since changed to using a two-part mix with separate dishes for the bleach and toner.
It is important to regularly monitor the washing of a blue toned print. Blue tone is neither very robust nor permanent and after the yellow coloured bleach is removed, the strength of the blue tone slowly begins to degrade. In the end I washed the selected print for 20 minutes, which removed almost all the colour from the image. I preferred the resulting subtle tone as it suits the image: the stronger blue variations looked too garish. A good deal of spotting in was needed to finish the print.
I made the print some 4 years ago and since then the colour has faded still further but still leaves a beautiful image that captures the tranquillity of the Western Isles.