Ars longer

I’ve been scanning a load of my parents’ and grandparents’ old negatives. Amongst all the fuzzy shots of relatives on holiday was one film’s worth of long-term shots taken in my parents’ garden. They were taken by me of a family occasion. I had obviously given both the prints and the negs to my parents so they could make reprints. I’d forgotten all about the pictures and the occasion. But aside from that, I’d forgotten how good a long lens is for pictures of people.

These days I tend to use standard to wide angle lenses. I get environment and context in the shot. But the simple joy of seeing a single figure separated from background, not particularly aware of your presence – it’s great.

Ben and Sally

It was a sunny Summer day and I was using 200ISO colour negative. I only had two long lenses at the time and it was obvious from the shots that I didn’t use the zoom. So these were shot on a 135mm lens. It was bright sunlight and I know I was shooting with flash, so the fastest shutter speed I could have used is 1/125 which means this lens must have been stopped-down and not wide open. It still blurred the backgound nicely though.

I think this focal length has gone out of fashion: it’s thought to be too long for portraits. One of the photo podcasts described it as a focal length that was invented to let German hill-walkers pick out a detail on the other side of the valley. I guess it would be too long for indoor portraits, but it worked perfectly in my parents’ garden. I’ve even got full-length portraits.

Roy Friday

So I’m back in love with the 135. The one I was using at the time was a Pentax – the SMC Takumar f2.5. In the years since the aperture blades have become oily and slow, so I need to send if away for some TLC. But a Vivitar f2.8 came up on eBay at under ten squids and now it is mine.

Back in the old days we used to know that with a 50mm lens on 35mm (or full frame) held portrait, a person would nicely fill the frame at about ten feet. I just did the sums again and the field of view for a 50mm lens on a vertical 35mm frame is two meters at nine feet (ooh, nice mixed metrics – it’s 2m at 2.8m distance).

Slap a 135mm lens on and the distance increases to 24′ (7.4m). So yes, you’re unlikely to be shooting full length portraits indoors. I do like the effect though and it will come in handy with our current distancing and separation.

Down sides? I had obviously not used the Pentax lens much in recent years. Perhaps it really was a bit too long for people and not long enough for sport. I do remember that it was never out of my camera bag at the time. Perhaps then it was just me changing the sort of thing I shot? Maybe I got old and slimmed-down the camera bag?

So it looks like I’ve rediscovered the modest tele lens. Let’s see what I do with it during my government-allowed exercise period.

Big grain

Just as Edison was reported to have discovered hundreds of ways to not make a light bulb, I have found many ways to make a photograph worse. How about huge, intrusive and detail-wrecking grain? Yep, got that one down real good.

In previous years I have push-processed some expired cine film, not for any other reason than the film was cheap and I wanted to take pictures in the dark. I have also enlarged a small section of a negative because I liked the effect.

30

This time was a bit different. I was using a film that was meant to be push-processed but I used the ‘wrong’ developer. To explain: I bought a roll of Kodak P3200. This has reportedly got a true ISO of around 1000 but can be push-processed in the recommended TMax developer to 1600, 3200 or beyond (but not beyond infinity, Buzz). What is positively not recommended is to use stand development in Rodinal. So that’s obviously what I did.

Why am I this contrary? Because I had one roll of this film and I didn’t want to buy a bottle of special developer – this stuff is already expensive; why add the cost of a bottle of developer that I couldn’t use for anything else? Besides, if we stuck to what other people say is safe, how would we learn anything?

P3200 is a low contrast film. This helps compensate for the gain in contrast you normally get when push-processing it. I was planning to use semi-stand development, which lowers contrast. There was a likelihood I would end up with golfball grain and two shades of mid grey. But I was also planning to shoot the film in conditions of extreme contrast: under street lamps, at night. What could possibly go wrong?

Metering, for one. How do you expose for a scene that contains its light source and ranges from light enough to read by down to dark enough for murder? My little book of notes says that ‘subject under bright street lamp’ is EV 4. If we say the film is going to be exposed at 1600, that converts to 1/60 at F2. There was going to be a full moon at the time I was playing, and the magic guide says this is around EV -3, or 2 seconds at F2. So I could be looking at a seven-stop range. This is well within the capabilities of a negative film.

But…. what I actually did was meter off a whitewashed wall behind a streetlamp and give it a couple more stops of exposure. And then give it a few more stops for scenes that contained street lights but were not directly lit by them. And after a few more beers, I basically waved the camera about and hoped.

The film got what is now my standard semi-stand development: Rodinal at 1+100, 30 seconds agitation at start then two gentle inversions every 30 minutes for a total of two hours. I was relieved to see exposed frames when I took it out of the tank and even more relieved to see some interesting images when I hung it to dry.

Then I scanned it. Oh boy, but that’s grainy! Metering off the wall behind the streetlight worked quite well. Guessing the exposure wasn’t too bad. Putting the camera on a wall and hoping gave me some ‘variable’ success with framing. But the grain!

04

So is this a waste of an expensive film or a method I would recommend? Both. If you want to emphasise the grain, try this. If you want to shoot fine detail in the dark, use a different method or a different film. There will be another post along soon that shows what a 100 ISO film can do under the same conditions and with the same development.

Night in Staithes
No idea

How to use flash

 

Not the cleaning product; the lighting one. But you knew that.

I’ve written before about my use of flash, but I’ve never written about yours. What made me think about it was an article on Emulsive, plus Em’s own opinions on the unhelpful arses who tend to answer questions on social media.

So here you go: flash 101. That said, this is not about how to light a scene with flash; this is about connecting a flashgun to your camera and getting the exposure about right. You can then learn how to use flash lighting by trying stuff out.

We’re talking here about electronic flash. There may still be the odd bulb or Magicube  around, but they must be rarer than free beer.
Electronic flash – let’s just call it flash – is a very brief and intense pulse of light. Packing even the small amount of energy from a battery into a very short pulse means that the flash can be very bright – the candle that burns half as long burns twice as bright, as they didn’t say in Blade Runner.

Your camera has a connection or method for triggering the flash just at the point the shutter is fully open. Most cameras have a ‘shoe’ bracket that the flash clips into, called a hot shoe because it has an electric contact in it to trigger the flash. Older cameras have a variety of fittings. Without the contact (a cold shoe) or without the shoe, you need to find a little round socket that a flash cable can plug into. Some older flashguns will take a cable connection, some even have a cable fitted, or you can find adapters that take a cable feed into a hotshoe fitting. If you need to find the cable port on your camera, it looks like a miniature version of an old coaxial TV socket. It can be set flush in the camera body or be on the side of the lens like a short stub of pipe. If it is labelled or there are several, use the one marked X or PC. If it’s on the lens, there may be a pointer with X, V and M symbols. Set this to X. Some old Russian cameras have a setting around the shutter speed dial for M or X. Again, set it to X. The X setting fires the flash when the shutter is fully open. The other settings are for flashbulbs. If your camera has a hotshoe and none of this other nonsense, it’s already set up to use flash.

Flash 1

In reading order: cold shoe; hot shoe; cable socket on lens; flash setting on lens; cable sockets in body; flash setting on shutter speed dial. The last one also shows an X on the speed dial, which is the fastest capable speed for flash, in this case 1/30.

A word about putting old film-era flashguns onto digital cameras: care. I’ve heard that some old flashguns can send voltage back down to the connection that triggered them. I hear tell that this can damage some modern digital cameras. If you are worried, buy a cheapo Chinese radio trigger to fire the flash with.

Triggers
Cheapo radio triggers. Ignore the large plug – I use this on a different type of flash.



So, now what?

Rule 0 – get your hands on at least one flashgun. Ignore the ones that are dedicated to a particular camera. Even ignore the ones that are automatic or have sensors, although they are handy. Old manual flashguns are unloved and cheap. Get some.

Flashes
Old manual flashes. They have exposure calculators on the back.



Rule 1 – you control the exposure of the flash using the lens aperture. The flash pulse is much shorter than even your fastest shutter speed, so the shutter speed can’t reduce the amount of flash light. In fact you may need a slow shutter speed. Both curtains of a focal plane shutter have to be out of the way, and sometimes this only happens at speeds slower than 1/125 or even 1/60. Check on your shutter speed dial for a speed that’s a different colour or a setting marked X. You should only use this speed or slower.

Rule 2 – the flashgun has a way of telling you what aperture to use. Some flashguns have a distance vs aperture calculator on the back. Or you can try to find the Guide Number (GN) in the manual or online. The GN will be a distance and an ISO, so something like 12 metres (100 ISO) would be typical. If you were shooting at 100 ISO, focus on your subject and read-off the distance. Divide your GN by your subject distance (in the same units) and that’s your aperture. So if my subject was at 3m, with this flashgun I should use 12/3 = f4 as the aperture. At 400 ISO I could close-down by two stops, so f8.

Rule 3 – surfaces. Flashlight bounces and fills like a torch beam. If you are shooting indoors, you might get smoother and rounder light by bouncing the flash off a wall or ceiling rather than pointing it directly at the subject. This is where you really need an automatic or sensor flashgun, as they can sense the right amount of light rather than trying to use the GN.
Be aware that flash bounced off a green wall will light the subject in green.

Autos
These have an auto mode, where the flash can control its output to match a defined aperture.



Rule 4 – slaves. These are little sensors that (usually) clip to the hotshoe fitting of a flashgun. They sense the brief pulse of a flash going off and trigger the flashgun they are attached to. They can do this fast enough that your camera sees both flashes. This is great for any old flashguns you can find (rule 0) – put a slave cell on them, maybe some coloured cellophane over the light and put them round the back or side of your subject. Or in the next room to shine through the door. Or inside a car or house you are shooting from the outside. Now you get to play with your light balance. To start with, unless you are after an effect, make sure the GN and subject/ backdrop distance for your slave flashes needs a wider aperture than your main flash. Then they will throw less light. Some flashguns will let you reduce their output. Or you can tape a tissue over the light. If you don’t want to trigger the slaves with a flash on the camera, fire one of them with a radio trigger or a long cable.
A slave cell also lets you fire separate flashguns from a simple point and shoot. Tape a bit of tissue over the camera flash if you need to tone it down.

Slaves

Slave cells

Rule 5 – fill-in. It’s possible to balance the light from a flash with the daylight on your subject so that the flash fills-in the shadows. Measure your subject distance, refer to your GN and set the aperture one stop smaller/ darker to underexpose the flash. Then adjust the shutter speed to expose the scene correctly as though the flash was absent. If the shutter speed you need is faster than you can use for flash, you need more flash power or to get closer. Cameras with the shutter in the lens can usually work with flash at any shutter speed, so are good at fill-in lighting.
Get this right and it looks like you have used a reflector to fill the shadows (without needing an extra pair of arms). You could also underexpose the background for drama. Or put a blue filter on the lens and a yellow one on the flash to make the background go day-for-night blue.

Rule 6 – play. Flash freezes motion, so follow a moving subject with the shutter held open on B then trigger a flash just before you lift your finger. Try multiple flashes for a strobe effect. Try a flash from one side through an orange filter and one from the other side through blue, to get that modern orange and teal look. Put a flash on the end of a selfie stick, trigger it with a slave and you have instant side-lighting. Get a chum to point a flashgun at the back of a subject at night and fire it with a radio trigger to get backlighting. Put the camera on a tripod at night, lock the shutter open and walk around your subject firing a flash at it. Have fun.

Cable
The last resort – a long cable



Want more? Read the Strobist.

See? Nary a snarky comment made. It can be done.

Composition

So what are these magical arrangements that every photographer should strive for and will guarantee success?

There are some standard ways of arranging things in a picture that have been widely used. I know I’ve made fun of them previously, but they do work. I’ve also been listening to one of them there podcasts (forgive me, I forget which one) and they were saying that you couldn’t do the Daguerreotype thing any more: you couldn’t have people stood dead-centre in the frame, staring into the distance and keeping very still. And yet you can. So besides breaking the mould we should perhaps learn first how to make it?

So here’s the starting set of standard layouts, as seen in a myriad pictures of yore (and mine).

1981 10 11a
In reading order: thirds; golden mean; line; cross; L; T or variation of cross.

1981 10 11b
H shape; C or spiral; triangle; steelyard (large mass balanced by a small one)

1981 10 111
Circle; S or snake; diagonal; box within box or frame within frame; receding planes; stairs

It’s interesting to note how many of them are the same shape as letters of the alphabet. I wonder if I could write something rude using compositions?

Why do they work? Perhaps because the visual side of our brains are looking for patterns and give your system a little pleasure kick when they find one.

Anyway – why not give one of them a go?

Here comes the sun

The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the boidie is.
They say the boidie’s on the wing.
But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid.

I can’t lay claim to this verse, but I second that emotion.

So daylight is finally increasing and an old smudger’s thoughts turn to possibly leaving the house with a camera. But where will the light fall and how long will it last?

Being smarter than the average bear, we fire-up The Photographer’s Ephemeris. This marvellous tool is available as the usual web page, but also comes in smartphone versions to help people who have already left the house and find themselves wandering in the wilderness.

Find the spot you have in mind and take a look at how the sun (or moon) will rise and set, how they track across the sky and how high they get.

So what? Well I used this for a picture I wanted to get of a friend’s place, that was at the western end of a narrow road. I knew that the morning sun would glance across the face of the building, but I wasn’t sure exactly when. Easy – find it on the map, zoom in and drag the time-of-day slider across to see when the sun shone down between the houses.

Perk Up

I know I have mentioned this in a previous post, but what got me thinking about it was driving past a steamy big industrial site every day and watching the sun gradually climb over the hill behind me to illuminate the chimneys and then the buildings. If I wanted to come back at a weekend and stand on a nearby bridge, what time would I need to get there? Turns out I can’t be arsed to get up that early and drive nearly to work at a weekend.

But there you go. When does the sun fall on the front of a particular building, or backlight it?  When would a low-angled sun fall directly down the line of a wet road? When will the moon be low on the horizon? What time is golden hour or blue hour? Go ask the TPE.

One more trick up your sleeve. How do you easily find north or south? With a wristwatch. It has to be an anlogue watch with hands though. In the northern hemisphere, point the hour hand at the sun and bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 o’clock (works for GMT, but take an hour off for BST). This half-way angle points south.

For the people of the counterweight continent, it’s a bit different. Point the 12 o’clock on your watch at the sun and bisect the angle between 12 and the hour hand. This points north. Simples.

For the landscape photographer (yawn), you might want to know when the sun will appear over a hill. Remember your trigonometry from school? Fair enough. Get a decent OS map and a bit of graph paper. Mark the low-level point you want lit and the high point that the sun has to clear. Work out the different in height and the distance between them. If you can’t remember the maths to calculate the upward angle from the low point to the high one, draw them to scale on graph paper and use a protractor. The TPE will then help you work out what time of year and time of day the sun will be in the right direction and at the right height (it shows the angle of altitude of the sun or moon).

Hell Wath fields
Oh no – we’re surrounded!

Enjoy.

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.

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.