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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.


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.

The resolution will be televised

Looking back at my resolutions for the last year, how did I do?

What I said I would do was:

  1. Keep writing.
  2. Take more pictures of people.
  3. Develop my collection of Peeps.
  4. Share my pictures more.
  5. Avoid GAS – I already have more cameras and lenses than fit into a single bag I could carry.
  6. Get my older negatives and slides organised and catalogued.
  7. Get the Kiev fixed (don’t ask).
  8. Sell off the stuff I don’t use.
  9. Vegetables for all (world peas).
  10. Make more mistakes, so I can learn.

More to the point, what are the things I intended to not do?

  1. Give up.
  2. Eat creme caramel.
  3. Wear flares.
  4. Stop trying to find a hat I look good in. It may be a Trumpian double negative, but as they often say round these parts “Ee, tha looks a bugger in that’at”.
  5. Break cameras.

And then, what did I actually do?

  1. Kept writing. A new post every week. Yay!
  2. Probable fail – I just don’t do street photography or portraiture. I much prefer people engaged in activities, and I haven’t been to many of the right sort of events. I did take pictures of people diving though, where previously it would have only been fish.
  3. Another fail. Somehow I just don’t have the time to print pictures. I did send a load out for printing, so perhaps not a total fail.
  4. I only really share pictures on this blog. I would rather use pictures as illustrations than just show them for their own sake.
  5. Oh dear! I was doing really well, and then I bought a box of cameras.
  6. Not too bad. I dug a load of negatives out of filing envelopes and put them in filing sleeves, then ‘contact printed’ them with a dSLR and a lightbox. So I now have a better idea of where the old pictures are and how to find one amongst them.
  7. Nope.
  8. Yep. I sold off a bunch of stuff and feel much better for it. Especially as it let me buy replacement stuff.
  9. Unlikely.
  10. I did this one wholesale.

And as for the things I said I would do less of:

  1. Still going.
  2. Eew!
  3. Damn right! I even got rid of some old pairs of jeans with suspiciously wide legs.
  4. Still looking though.
  5. Fail. Perhaps because I insist on using them?

So what would I change from this list or resolve to do this year? What is my 2020 vision?

  1. It may be time to shut down Any fans of Sir Pterry want a relevant domain name?
  2. Keep writing. Who needs an audience when I’m getting all this therapy?
  3. Find more opportunities to take pictures of people engaged in interesting activities.
  4. Get the Kiev fixed.
  5. Sell the gear I don’t need or use.
  6. Keep trying for a good hat.
  7. Try being more sociable.
  8. Try developing colour film.
  9. Make fewer mistakes.
  10. Scan-in more of the archive of negatives and slides.
Do my feet look big in this?

And something I read in a “how to attract more readers” article – I’ll cut the punning titles and try just saying what the post is about.

There you go – that’s my 2020. What about you?

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