Making time for it

There was a time I used to take pictures every day. Now I seem to have more days than pictures. Life somehow gets in the way.

I commute to work. At this time of year it’s dark both ways, so I only get to see daylight at weekends. But there’s stuff to do and the days are short. We do get out, but often it’s walking the dog and there are only so many pictures I want of our local woods.

So it feels like a dry spell, photographically.

Time was, I’d go around with a huge bag of lenses. Primes of course, as any fule no that zooms are not as sharp. These days I might wander about with a compact camera but a blessedly lighter bag. So as well as taking fewer pictures, I’m carrying less stuff to take pictures with.

Looking at other people’s pictures can be inspiring, but they have to be good. I must confess to being bored by a lot of what I see. I’ve given my opinion on landscapes before but I find myself looking at all sorts of pictures and thinking ‘so what?’ A picture should interest me, not look like a drive-by snapping.

So how to keep my mojo rising despite these riders on the storm?

Part of it is experimentation. There is no pressure on me to deliver any specific result so I can do what I like. On a recent walk I tried moving the camera on a slow shutter speed.

Streaky
Interesting – I might do more with this.

I’ve got a tilting adapter for my Kiev medium format lenses to fit them to my 35mm camera. It’s good fun shifting the plane of focus around. Surprisingly it works with portraits – you can make the sharp zone vertical, shoot the person at an angle and really throw the background out.

Cathedral
Works with buildings too.

Bored with my dark commute, I stuck the camera on the dashboard and fired it with a remote.

Christmas decs for commuters
Don’t try this at home.

I know there are things like photography clubs, but I kind of fell out of love with them. There are photowalks too, but I have other things to do at weekends. … And that’s the root of the problem: I have too many other things to do. I guess photography has remained an important part of my life, but not the most important. It used to be all-consuming, but I calmed down. I used to take a camera for a walk, and now I realise that I go for a walk and take a camera along. The difference is that the point of the walk now is the walk, not going somewhere steep just for the sake of a picture.

Dan
Dan realises that what goes up has to find a way down.

I think it’s just the time of year. By the time you read this I will have spent a week in Staithes, so I fully expect to have taken a picture or two and enjoyed doing so. And I’m taking a selection of awkward and difficult cameras. And then Spring will be here and I’ll get over myself and all will be well with the world again. So there.

litho effect

In the spirit of my 2020 resolutions, this was going to be called sunshine on lith, but I have dropped the pun and used a straight title.

So this is about the Photoshop settings to make lith prints. Or perhaps lithy.

A lith print is defined thus: “warm tones, hard shadows, enhanced grain and creamy highlights are signature characteristics of lith prints”. That’s from Ann Pallesen. Traditionally it would have been an actual print on Litho paper, which is very high contrast. The print was developed by inspection in dilute developer and then pulled and fixed as the image developed and before it turned to pure black and white. Definitely an art. There are enough variables that each print will be unique.

One of the joys I found when I went from a wet darkroom to digital was the ability to make small changes, see what they looked like and reverse or tweak them. And when I had settled on a result I liked, I could make as many finished copies as I wanted. So to make a lith print, what I would need to do is warm the tones with some colour, make the shadows dark, add grain and then a bit of blur on the highlights.

Method 1

Remove colour by desaturating with one or, better, two Hue Saturation adjustment layers. The reason and method for this is here.

Duplicate the background layer and call this new layer Clipped. Create a Levels adjust ment layer linked to it and drag down the white point to block-up the highlights.

Clipped

Add noise to the Clipped layer with a value of around 9%. The menu options are Filter, Noise, Add noise.

Noise

Temporarily make the Clipped layer invisible to work on the background.

Adjust the levels of the background, moving the black point to the right to lift and lighten the shadows.

Shadows

Sepia tint the picture. Add a fill layer at the top of the layer stack using Layer, New Fill Layer, Solid colour. Set the colours to R210 G165 B90. Set the blending mode to Colour.

Make the Clipped layer visible again and use an unsharp mask with values of around 100%, 6 radius and 0 threshold. To do this use the menu options Enhance, Unsharp mask.

GRAIN

Change the blending mode of the Clipped layer to Multiply.

If necessary, add a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment layer at the top of the stack to tweak the image.

Stack

Litho 1

Method 2

Add a Hue Saturation adjustment layer above the background with blending mode Overlay. Set the Hue between 10 and 25.

Create a new fill layer above the Hue Saturation one with RGB values all set to 128 (50% grey), blending mode Overlay.

Add noise to this fill layer with an amount of around 10%.

Add gaussian blur to the fill layer with a radius of around 0.4.

Duplicate the background layer, calling it Mask. Use Filter, Adjustment, Threshold to Select the shadows. Invert the layer with Ctrl i.

Shadow mask

Move the Mask layer up the stack above the fill layer. Group the mask layer with the fill layer (Layer, Group with Previous). Add some gaussian blur to the mask layer to smooth the tones.

Add a layer at the top of the stack to sepia tint the picture. use Layer, New Fill Layer, Solid colour. Set the colours to R210 G165 B90. Set the blending mode to Colour.

Stack 2

Litho 2

This second method might be closer to the litho effect, as the shadows are darker. Anyway – over to you. Have a play and see what you can do.

The Fujicarex II

After saying how much I needed a one-handed camera, I got one. Meet an odd hybrid from 1963: the Fujicarex II.

This is a strange hybrid of SLR and rangefinder that weighs as much as the combined pair and is reputed to have more mirror-slap than a Pentax 67. Think of it as a Single Lens Reflex Rangefinder.

Imagine a design team that started with the desire to combine what they thought were the best features of existing cameras. Through the lens focusing – check. Leaf shutter for easy flash sync – check. Light meter visible in the viewfinder – check. And then it all went wrong. Use your right thumb to control exposure and to focus the lens – check. Add mechanical linkages and drives so that the camera is really heavy – check. Put the film rewind out on the end of the camera, a bit like a Leica – check. Fix the lens to the body so that you can only change focal length by swapping the front group – check. Put a split-image focusing aid in the viewfinder so it still works a bit like a rangefinder camera – check. Build a really complicated shutter mechanism that has to close and open a leaf shutter and a swinging mirror at the same time – check. Weighs nearly a kilo – check.

Fuji 1

The 1960s were the time of the fixed-lens rangefinder or viewfinder camera, typically with a 45mm f2.8 lens. So this Fuji seems to have been an odd progression path, offering the photographer a camera that looked and worked a lot like their trusted scale-focus friend, but had a fast lens and some of the features of an SLR. With the odd selling point of being able to use it one-handed. If you were right handed. At least it left you one hand free to support its weight. Think of it as a mirror-image Exakta.

So, snarking aside, what’s it like to use? Odd.

The metering is displayed in the viewfinder. You set the film speed on the lens and select the shutter speed. The aperture and speed move together to maintain the exposure value, or you can turn the dial on the back of the camera to alter the aperture alone until the meter needle falls into the correct zone. It has a good ISO range of 10 to 1600.

Fuji 3
The red dots align to release the front of the lens. And yes, it could do with a clean.

The aperture in use is visible through a little window on the top of the lens. The distance of focus is visible in feet on one side of the camera and in meters on the other. There is no way of setting the hyperfocal distance – you would need to carry the manual to refer to the depth of field scale. There is a lever on the bottom of the lens that stops-down the aperture so you can judge depth of field.

The meter on this one is dead, but if working it would display in the viewfinder. Besides the over and under markings. there are separate markings for 160 and 32 ISO film, as these settings are not shown on the lens. The manual has instructions on how to meter for ISO 32, 64 and 160.

Fuji 4
The exposure and focus wheels are visible, as is the mirror-come-darkslide, that gets out of the way when the leaf shutter does its job.

The focusing screen is unusual, with a horizontal section that acts as a rangefinder wedge.

Split

The flash shoe is cold, as the trigger contacts are in the leaf shutter lens. Even my 1948-ish Mercury managed to have a hot shoe (and a second cold one).

In use it’s quite slow, as the focusing thumbwheel is harder to use than twisting the lens. You also risk changing the aperture instead of focusing. Basically you are taking this camera away from your eye a lot to check the settings. Fine for posed snapshots but I wouldn’t use this for sports. Not unless I could prefocus. There’s a lot happens when you press the shutter too, so the noise is quite distinctive.

I’m also a bit nervous about using it. There is a lot going on inside the camera and I managed to lock it up by using the self-timer – the clockwork is very stiff and it took some encouragement to run it through and give me the camera back. Speaking of shutters, this doesn’t look like it has a separate leaf shutter and aperture in the lens. Watching it work it looks like the aperture stops down and returns, so there is some clever timing going-on between the lens and the mirror.

Its first outing was a trip to the local woods. The shutter noise is quite loud and the focusing screen is dark. I found myself using the odd central rangefinder section to focus. I also kept moving the exposure dial instead of the focus one, which meant taking the camera away from my eye to tilt it and check the aperture setting.

Fujicarex II

Overall it feels like a complex solution to a problem I’m not sure I had. But the film frames were well exposed and evenly spaced, the lens seems sharp enough and the bokeh is smooth.

Would you want one? Probably only to see how weird it is.

Extra

Just before going to press I learned that Fuji used the same focussing thumbwheel on other camera models.

It’s still an odd idea.

High key

Flooded with lightness,
Disposal of dark alone.
Does a pun translate?

… and that, dear friends, was a haiku about haiki. Thank you; I’ll be here all week.

High key pictures are meant to have a low contrast range, little or no shadow and delicate highlights: basically to be filled with light. High key is often used for pictures of women and children, but that is a stereotype begging to be broken.

Haiki

So if you are shooting for high key, use plenty of fill light to lighten the shadows and reduce the contrast. Diffused frontal lighting will hide the skin texture. If you are using one of those clever digital cameras, expose to the top end of the histogram (without clipping the highlights). For film, place the skin highlights on Zone 7 or even 8 – so meter for the skin highlight area and overexpose by one or even two stops.

Then what? To the Photoshop!

Bring in your picture and do any spotting or correction. Add a levels adjustment layer. Move the shadows-end pointer in the output levels slider up to lighten the whole image.

Make a duplicate of the background layer and place the copy above the levels adjustment layer. Add some fuzz to the duplicate layer with Filter, Distort, Diffuse glow. Set the graininess to around 9, the glow amount to 12, the clear amount to 15. Set the blend mode to Screen and the Opacity to 90%.

Add a new fill layer above the duplicate, filled with solid colour. Use white or the main highlight colour in the face as the fill. Set the blend mode to Soft light and the opacity to 80%. Filter this layer to add blur: use Filter, Blur, Gaussian blur with an amount of around 70 pixels.

Will and Dan

This is what the layer stack looks like.

Haiki stack

There you go. Just don’t use it for everything. You will also be pleased to know that brighter pictures are thought to be better.

The Kodak Retina 1b

This is one of the first of the renowned German Kodaks, produced between 1954 and 1957. This is an early model, so has no rangefinder. It has a lovely heft though, and the lens opening is a joy of smooth cuckoo-clock movement. The focus action is also beautifully smooth, which is really unnecessary as this is a scale-focus camera so you are not going to be holding it to your eye and adjusting the focus. Even so, this thing feels like class and fine engineering. The source for it was my surprise box of cameras.

The lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar of 50mm and f2.8, which is basically a Tessar. It glides out when you press the button on the cover panel but must be set to infinity before it will close.

Retina 1
The rangefinder is useful but not standard

The wind-on lever is on the bottom of the camera, which looks like it would be difficult to use. It actually works quite well if you point the camera downwards after shooting.

Retina 2
Winder and rewind release on the right, with the film door release under the arrowed tab on the left.

It’s a little fiddly to set the aperture. It’s on the bottom of the lens and requires that the pointer is pulled out to set. In use it locks the combination of aperture and shutter speed together so they change in sync.

Retina 4
The green thing sets the flash sync. The cog on the right is the focusing tab.

Making the lens retractable adds complexity and weight for a possible gain in portability: with the lens shut it’s a flatter package that would fit better into a bag or large pocket.

Retina 3
There is a cute bellows hidden inside the lens arrangement

Ken Rockwell tried and wrote about the precursor to this, the 1a. He seems to hate cameras that scale focus and don’t have meters, but he liked the lens.

So basically, unless you want to guess, you need to carry or fit a rangefinder and a meter. It also has a quirk in the way the frame counter works: it counts down from the maximum size of the film and locks the camera after frame number 1 has been shot. This may have been a protection from the heavy-handed, but it’s a pain to a frugal photographer. The trick is to start the counter above the maximum frame count to get that last frame or two off the film.

In use it’s a bit like a miniature view camera, to the extent my darling partner asked if I needed to put a cloth over my head when I was using it. You open the camera, check and set the focus, check and set the exposure, then shoot. Using this will definitely slow you down: it’s a measured performance. This is not the camera to carry around for quick snaps. The lens is sharp though, so it could be a good way to do the slow and mindful photography thing. The fact that it folds up could also make it a contender for the sort of camera that you would throw into a rucksack, if it wasn’t so heavy. If I wanted a folder I would take a medium format one and get bigger negatives, or an Olympus XA which is smaller and lighter. So it’s a mechanical marvel with all the ease of use of a large format camera and all the quality of a smaller negative. So what makes this camera less attractive than the equally-fiddly Mercury? Mostly it’s the looks of the Mercury – it’s a steampunk delight. I forgive it being awkward because it’s fun.

So would you want one of these? It is very quiet in use and it’s a mechanical joy to handle. It might also be perfect for learning how the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and focus works with 36 (or more) shots on hand. I’m not so sure about the folding thing though – that feels more like they did it because they could, than for any real reason.

Wheldrake, Retina 1b
Works well enough

While the lens is sharp, the lack of a coupled rangefinder means that you can’t really use it for close work. But then, that’s probably what most people would have wanted a camera for anyway: groups and landscapes. There was a IIc model that did have a coupled rangefinder, so you could look for one of those if you really needed the focusing.

So the verdict is: nice lens in an awkward package.

Angle of view

We refer to lenses by their focal length, and usually convert that to a full-frame 35mm equivalent. But since different sizes of sensor or film have different equivalent focal lengths that give the same field of view, we might do better to talk about lenses in terms of their angle of view. Then we would know exactly what we were talking about (a world first!). So my new compact camera that has a fixed zoom would make sense to me – I have no idea just by looking at it what equivalent in 35mm terms the 7.4 – 44.4mm zoom is. All the numbers tell me is that the lens is a 6x zoom.

There is also a difference between what the lens does and what the sensor or film uses. The lens projects a cone of light, but the sensor sits inside that cone and captures a portion of it. Since the sensor is usually square or rectangular, the most it can capture would be when the cone of light just covers the diagonal of the sensor. I think that’s misleading in real terms though – it’s like the way TV screens are described by measuring the diagonal of the screen. In practical use, what matters is the angle of view seen by the longest side of the sensor. That sets how wide you can capture a landscape or how tall a building (unless you are shooting a square format, in which case they are the same). So a 60 degree angle of view lens on my 6×9 roll film camera will get the same shot as a 60 degree lens on my APS-C digital. The difference will be in the amount of detail captured. If I changed format to say a 6×17 camera, I would still get the same side to side angle of view if I used a 60 degree lens. All that would change is that I would lose a lot of the vertical dimension. I could get the same picture by cropping down a different camera to the letterbox format, providing I was still using a 60 degree lens.

You still need to think in terms of the focal length though, if you switch lenses between different formats. A 40mm lens on 6×6 covers the format and provides a 70 degree angle of view. Put that lens on an APS-C camera and the smaller sensor can only see a portion of the field of view. The focal length stays the same but the angle of view seen by the sensor changes, in this case to a 33 degree lens. It is a handy way to get cheaper long lenses to use on smaller format cameras though – I’ve used what would be mild portrait lenses on medium format as long tele lenses on APS-C to shoot sports. The famed Kodak Aero Ektar at 178mm focal length was the same angle of view on aero film as a 50mm lens on 35mm/ full frame. Stick it on a medium format camera and you have a decent portrait lens (in terms of angle of view).

Who cares? Well, it makes it much easier to understand what a lens will do than quoting the focal length. My Canon compact has a 54-10 degree zoom lens, equivalent (in old money) to a 35-200mm zoom on 35mm or 23-131mm on APS-C.

Working with angle of view rather than focal length means I could do some test shots on ‘free’ digital with say, 90 and 60 degree lenses and know exactly what lens to take if I wanted to use a different camera for the final shot, without having to do sums.

Of course, if we wanted to be even more practical we would measure our lenses in mils rather than degrees. The army uses mils, as it makes it much easier to correct the aim of things or estimate distance. I only found out about these when I borrowed an army compass and saw that it had too many numbers on the dial. Mils might be more useful than degrees when you are shooting pictures at a distance. Knowing roughly how wide a stage is and how far away you are, you can fairly easily look up the angle of view of the lens you need to cover it. Want the singer to roughly fill the height of a horizontal frame? Same calculation:

Angle in mils = subject size in mm / distance in metres.

So if you were shooting a car race and wanted to fill the frame you could work out what lens to use. Say you are 60m from the track and you want the field of view of the camera to be 4m wide. You need a lens with an angle of view of about 67 mils. A 500mm lens on 35mm gives you 73 mils, so that’s what you would take (or a 300mm if you were shooting on APS-C).

The army does this sort of thing a lot, so they have ready-reckoners for working out the size of a distant object in mils so that you can estimate the range (or in our case, pick the right lens out of the bag). The width of one finger held out at arm’s length is about 30 mils. Two fingers together are about 70 mils. Work out what combination of fingers matches your lenses and you can work out what you need before you take it out of the bag. The other trick with mils is that it makes it easier to estimate distances:

Distance in meters = size of object in mm / width or height of it in mils.

So a 3m long car covered by my single finger (30 mils) is 100m away. For closer work you could use a card rangefinder.

But I expect that in a hundred years time we will still be talking about lenses by their 35mm format equivalent focal length.

Stand and deliver

A few years back I had the job of arranging the speakers for a photography club. There was a regular repeating group of local pundits, so of course I went totally off piste and got people in who did more than the usual landscape and a bit of wildlife. One of these was the (sadly missed) Terry Cryer. Apart from being a wonderful raconteur and a brilliant printer, he was also a great photographer. One of his pictures was a little girl stood in a doorway. He said it was almost too dark to focus, so he threw the film in some D76 diluted 1:100 and left it for a couple of hours. My spider senses were aroused – what was this thing he did? It was stand development, and I was at least a hundred years late to the party. So I parked the idea in memory as something that might come in useful one day.

Day – and I had a roll of film shot under difficult lighting. Very contrasty, with intense highlights and deep shadows. What I needed was a method of holding back the development of the highlights while bringing-up the shadows. There was something rattling in the back of my head about standing around. To t’interweb!

It seemed the answer was semi-stand development in dilute Rodinal. Even more joyous was the message that the same development method and time worked for most films, so I could fill the tank with different types or speeds and get loads of stuff done in one go. So, here we go – Rodinal diluted 1+100; normal agitation for the first minute then leave the tank to stand; one careful inversion every 30 mins; tip it out, wash and fix after two hours. And it worked!

Even better was the news that it could be used on old film or film with unknown sensitivity or exposure. I got a very expired roll of Tri-X as part of the Emulsive Secret Santa with the first couple of frames shot by the donor and me to finish. It worked better than I hoped, even though the film itself was fogged and spotty ( which reminds me of my teenage self).

I had previously tried two-part developer as the magic combination. This too is supposed to preserve the highlights while developing the shadows. The problem is that I seldom got it to work. Unless I made it fresh, my film was grossly under-developed. But the joy of stand development is that the developer is freshly made, just that there is not much of it in the water.

It seems to work though, and it works with pushed film. There are some films that are recommended to not develop with this method, such as Fomapan 320 soft, but my regular diet of HP5 works well. Do I use it all the time? No, I don’t want to take more than two hours to develop a film. I am also worried that I could end up with streaks, so normal film gets normal methods. It’s a useful tool in the box though for when you could have underexposure or a wide exposure range on the film. And isn’t that how you used to tell a Real Engineer – that they had a graded set of hammers?

What about two-part development though? Doesn’t that do the same thing, with less risk of streaking? I would use them to do different jobs. Two-part development works by soaking the film in developer, and then activating just the developer that was absorbed in the film. I would use two-part development when I had greatly overexposed the film. It holds back the highlights because they only have as much developer as they absorbed. So this should be great for pulling film: giving it two or three stops of overexposure so that you get loads of shadow detail. I actually did this as an experiment, photographing a willow tree in full leaf in direct sunlight. Each frame in the sequence was overexposed by an additional stop, but all that happened is the shadow detail increased: the highlights stayed the same. So this is great for when you have to deal with high contrast and want to render it ‘normal’.

People of York
Shot on a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye on ISO 400 film in bright sunshine. Coped nicely with overexposure.

I would use semi-stand development for when I had pushed the film. The highlights are held back because they exhaust the developer locally, while the shadows continue to develop. What Terry Cryer did was to push his film with the picture of the little girl: underexpose and then bring it up in development without increasing the contrast too far to be printable. I would also use semi-stand for when I had very mixed scenes on the same film. An example was recently, where I was using an unsophisticated camera to take both night shots and daytime landscapes. Bung the film in the tank and semi-stand it and all the frames turn out OK.

No doubt people use either method to do either job, and I think even my description of them ends up saying that they are the same. For me it’s all just theory anyway: I’ve found two-part developers to be unreliable, while semi-stand uses known good chemicals. So while I might theorise about using different methods, I would use semi-stand for both situations.

And an aside – why semi-stand and not stand? Stand means no agitation at all, and really does risk getting streaky negatives. Semi-stand means agitating a tiny amount; just enough to stop the streaks. And not a double-entendre in sight.

Is it worth trying? For sure, so that you have it there if you ever need it. Give it a go. I’m adamant. (Sorry!)