Not long ago I had an unexpected day off, so I shot, developed, scanned, and uploaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X. I shot stuff I found around the house, on my coffee table. My Yashica-12 was on my tripod, and I attached my Spiratone close-up lens kit. The available light led me to slow shutter speeds, around 1/4 sec. at f/5.6, so I screwed a cable release into the socket to prevent shake.

I wanted a pleasant day of photography more than I cared about making images for the ages, and I succeeded. I’d been thinking about doing some available-light still lifes for a while, I suppose to channel my inner Edward Weston. I found no gnarled green peppers in the fridge, so I worked with whatever I found lying around. That included my favorite coffee mug, the little pot we keep paper clips in, and a geode given to me by a dear old friend.

Random stuff I found in the living room

I used the Yashica-12 because it was out and because it has an accurate onboard light meter. When you use that meter, the 12 limits you to films of up to ISO 400. This was fine, because Tri-X 400 was the fastest film I had on hand anyway.

Lidded bowl

The Spiratone kit comes with two lenses, one for each of the TLR’s lenses. The viewing lens promises that it corrects for parallax, but it also magnifies the scene more than the taking lens does. I made every one of these subjects fill the frame, but had to crop them all in post. In this photo of the lidded bowl I wish I had managed to get the entire lid in focus.

Belleek pitcher

The photo above of a Belleek china pitcher came out a little dim, and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop without overcooking. The photo below of a duck decoy did too. The duck is painted in dark and muted colors, which might have led to muddy middle grays. My mom’s grandfather made the decoy by hand, by the way.


I had greater luck photographing a couple bottles of whiskey Margaret and I brought back from our tour of the Old Forester Distillery. We sampled both of these whiskeys at the end of the tour and they’re delicious. The 1920 whiskey is a whopping 115 proof! We’re saving the bottles for a special occasion.

Old Forester

Conventional wisdom is that Tri-X in Rodinal results in pronounced grain. Yet I don’t mind the grain in these. Perhaps that’s in part because I didn’t have any particular look in mind as I shot these. I just wanted to have some fun and see what turned out. But as I think about doing more still-life work, I feel sure that T-Max 400 or Ilford Delta 400 would yield sharper, smoother results with richer blacks. I think that would be a nicer look for subjects such as these, so I’ll use T-Max or Delta next time.

Old Forester

I’ll also dig through my stuff for a much longer shutter-release cable, as the one I found was too short for me to stand out of the way. Look closely, and you’ll see me (and the Yashica-12) reflected in the bottles.

Of the 12 exposures I shot, only nine were scannable. Something I did wrong in developing partially fogged my first three shots. My scanner’s bundled scanning software thought there was nothing on those frames and threw an error. I wish it would simply scan whatever it finds, as I might have been able to do something with the partial images that are clearly visible on those frames.

Also, the Tri-X curled enough during drying that I struggled at first to lay it flat into the scanner mask. My scanner came with a little card the width of 120 film that you lay onto the end of the film to hold it flat in the mask, and then pull out after you close the mask. It worked brilliantly.

Despite all these challenges, I had a lovely morning of photography. It was wonderful to go from concept to uploaded scans in just a few hours!

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23 responses to “Living room still lifes”

  1. P Avatar

    Nicely done, Jim. I continue to enjoy reading about your developing experiences and the accompanying images. I’m glad to hear you had a good time with this roll. Sorry you lost three frames, but I think the others make up for it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks my friend! I’m edging ever closer to consistent developing results. I’ve got a roll of T-Max 100 that I shot in an old box Brownie that I hope to develop this weekend.

      1. P Avatar

        I look forward to seeing it. TMX is a really beautiful emulsion. I bet the original owner of your Brownie could have only dreamed of a film stock as fine-grained when they were using it. I think it’s quite interesting to use modern emulsions in very old cameras, especially basic box cameras.

    2. arhphotographic Avatar

      Thank you for the post , very inspirational . Your last sentence is particularly motivating . Thank you

  2. dougd Avatar

    Gotta love bundled software!
    The bottles are intriguing on many levels.
    The photo, the contents, the trip.
    Got any other trips planned for the near future?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Margaret and I are doing Chicago in January, but otherwise nothing on the radar!

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Some of my most enjoyable hours of photography have been spent with one of my Nikon bodies and the Micro-Nikkor lens just shooting stuff around the house. These are fun!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      After I get my developing techniques to yield consistent results on 120, I’m going to shift to 35mm. Then I can get out my F2 and my Micro-Nikkor and really go to town on subject like these!

  4. Dan James Avatar

    Love your last line too, from concept to scans in a few hours. That’s virtually digital Jim!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      With a lot of manual work along the way!

  5. -N- Avatar

    Nice work, Jim. I have close-up lenses for my folders, which are worthless in my opinion as you cannot see what you are focusing on and how it will look. I’ll have to look for some for my TLR!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My kit is from Spiratone, which made a bunch of inexpensive accessories like this for a long time. The box says, “Spiratone Close-Up Kit,” if that helps you find one on eBay. There were several kits with varying levels of magnification.

  6. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    There are ways to get Rodinal to work so I hear, and I guess for practice development it’s fine. I’m doing a bit of research and it looks like a bit of a speed-losing developer and people recommend shooting many ASA400 films at around 250. And I agree that the Tri-X doesn’t look good, to my eyes it appears fogged, but there are combinations that look beautiful. I seem to remember seeing some Tri-X shot at 6400 stand developed in Rodinal 1+50 that looked beautiful. But you’ll get better results if you pick a film that does well with Rodinal. Otherwise pick a developer that does well with Tri-X!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not sure how, but your comment got trapped in my spam filter. I’m glad I looked in there today or I would have missed this! I too have read about shooting Tri-X at 200 or 250 when developing in Rodinal. But you’re right, it’s probably better to just pick a film that Rodinal likes.

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Rollei RPX 400 maybe?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Never tried it! I’ll look it up.

  7. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I do not know about your scanner but Epson scanners allow either automatic finding of frames or it lets you manually denote the area that is to be scanned. Sometimes I need to manually border the frames because the scanner does not think there is an image in the area to be scanned.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, the bundled software with my Epson V300 let me select whatever area I wanted to scan, and scanned whatever it found. The bundled software with my Canon CanoScan 9000 thinks it’s smarter than me.

      1. P Avatar

        Don’t you hate it when technology thinks it’s smarter than people are?

  8. Marc Beebe Avatar

    “I just wanted to have some fun” – in my opinion that, more than anything else, embodied the spirit of photography. Or spirits in the case of the whiskey bottles.
    Now I’m going to suggest that the geode is a tad incongruous with the mug and pot, and that you probably are feeling the desire to shoot some of these items again albeit in colour just for the experience. It happens to me often.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fun is why I’ve been interested in cameras and photography since I was 8. I’ve had lots of hobbies come and go, but cameras and photography have been a common thread since I was that small! I might do some color still lifes one day but at the moment I’m still learning b/w development, getting my technique down, so I’m focusing on b/w right now.

  9. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    Since you’re already on the tripod don’t be afraid of giving it an extra stop or three of light, especially with nice flat indoor light.

    I handle curl by rolling the negatives backwards and putting them into an old 35mm canister. Put them into a freezer bag to keep out the dust and leave them for an additional day or two. You’ll have nice flat negatives when you pull them back out. Most kodak films love to curl.

    Also if you shoot a lot of kodak i would look into D76 or Xtol. They really bring out what kodak has to offer. I know a lot of people love rodinal but it’s not very forgiving and honestly i don’t think it adds a lot of value unless you are stand developing.

    Great work so far though, i really enjoy still life.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      An extra stop or two would have really helped the photos of the duck and the Belleek pitcher.

      I’m using Rodinal largely because it’s easy. I want to get the techniques down into muscle memory before I start messing with other developers.

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