Category Archives: Black & White

Instant Photography, Ironically, Isn’t Instant

Yesterday, I put my old Polaroid SX-70 camera to use with a pack of Impossible Black and White instant film. The irony is that instant photography takes more time per capture than digital cameras do when I count shielding the film from light for a few minutes while it develops and the capacity of my digital camera to make bracketed shots with one click of the shutter realease button or bursts of several shots in sequence.

Original capture on Impossible Project B&W film
Original capture on Impossible Project B&W film
I feel differently working with analog media in photography. Shooting film feels more connected to mother earth. The tools are physical objects functioning in mechanical actions inside my camera: opening and closing shutters, advancing roll film, ejecting instant film. I have a wider selection of actions to perform as well: loading and unloading film, developing prints with chemistry (or waiting while instant film chemistry works its magic), pulling integral instant prints from a camera and shielding them from light, pulling, peeling, and waiting for Polaroid Land camera film to develop, etc.

 

Repeatedly, new inventions have provided quicker, less physically demanding tools and methods to get clean clothes, clean dishes, hot food, transportation for school, work, vacation, or family, and photographs! While it is easier to do more and more things, however, we’ve lost the down time that slower processes give us. In a way, every job is easier, but our lives are harder as we fit more and more tasks into our days.

 

Analog photography is one step back into the past that I can actually take. “You can’t turn back the clock,” the saying goes; but I can with my film cameras go back to a slower paced time, taking time to watch the seconds tick away while physical processes unfold into photographic images.

Inspiration by Association

I’ve learned not to think when I run out with my camera to take some pictures. I may have a feeling about a place, a time of day, a sense of perfection or ruin in mind, but I am looking in my camera for something that just feels right. When I began as a photographer I had to think until I mastered operating my camera controls, which were all manual. Unfortunately, that habit of thinking about every shot really inhibited my shooting; and I took forever to expose a roll of film.

 

2015startonthestreetI was over my hesitancy when my enthusiasm for photography was reignited in 2000 or so when I accepted warm invitations from Randi Laak, then an instructor at the Worcester Center for Crafts, to enroll in his Friday evening photography class. I freely experimented with exposures, films, darkroom chemistry and processes as I had not when I started out.

 

Together with the freedom in the darkroom (And now in Photoshop), the history of photography of which I had learned as a beginning photographer and witnessed in publications and exhibitions as time passed, and my love of many paintings, prints, sculptures, etc. at the Worcester Art Museum and elsewhere, I am endowed with feelings associated with these beautiful or provocative objects that are evoked, I believe, as I walk through the world. I think those feelings and associations are part of my feeling of “rightness” when something captures my eye.

 

The universe seems to notice that I take the time to stop and see things then  once in a while shouts at me to stop and look at this!

 

Here’s one example of a landscape photograph of a scene of light penetrating a shadowy wild place for which I felt similarly to when I look at an 18th century painting by Alessandro Magnasco:In painting and photograph the light seems to stab into a shadowy wild place.

 

Numbers, part three (Conclusion)

Sensitivity is defined by the International Organization for Standards (ISO) in its abstract thus:

“ISO 12232:2006 specifies the method for assigning and reporting ISO speed ratings, ISO speed latitude ratings, standard output sensitivity values, and recommended exposure index values, for digital still cameras. ISO 12232:2006 is applicable to both monochrome and colour digital still cameras.”

ISO 200 (low noise)
ISO 200 (low noise)

Long ago we used to call this the ASA, which was the similar method for determining film sensitivity from the American Standards Association.

The lower the ISO number is set the longer it takes to record an image; and the less noise appears in the image files; higher ISO’s make faster recordings of images with more noise. Camera image processors have improved noise reduction so I may select higher ISO settings with little noise in my image with recent digital camera models.

Click on images to view at full size for better comparison of noise levels in the two images.

ISO 16000 (high noise)
ISO 16000 (high noise)

Methods of noise reduction include blurring or smearing small artifacts, subtracting pixels based on another exposure, and so on. Perhaps some small details get lost in the process. Although, details may be recovered using the algorithms used in the camera image processor or post processing. Some pixels in the resulting image thus may be made by firmware or editing software rather than light.

In summary, I can apply three basic camera settings: aperture, time, and sensitivity to make creative choices such as sharpness, and blurred or frozen motion. I can compensate for the lighting; I can select high sensitivity for low light exposures, and low ISO settings for cleaner, more detailed images.

Making choices with these settings lets me capture how I see a thing and share it in a photograph.

Numbers, part two

Today, I want to talk about time. The duration of an exposure can be very short, very long or anywhere in-between. Cameras can be set for exposures of one thousandth of a second or less, or of many seconds or minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1/800 Second Exposure Freezes Motion

Time, how long the shutter is open, or how long the sensor is recording can be set for a capture that is shorter, which will freeze action, and is handy for sports and fast moving subjects like children and race cars.

I can choose a longer exposure to blur objects as they move across the frame for an impression of speed, or to smooth moving surfaces like river rapids in which the water is a smooth clear or milky flowing substance over rocks.

With very long exposure times, electronic noise can get recorded in my image file as the camera circuitry builds up heat, and, especially if it had been low at the start, the battery could run out of charge.

1/25 Second Exposure Blurs Motion
1/25 Second Exposure Blurs Motion

There may be technical consequences to very short and very long shutter speeds that I want to bear in mind. Higher sensitivity (which I’ll write about in my next post) may be required to capture an image completely when I wish or need to make a very fast exposure.

Numbers, part one.

Sometimes I understand the way one person says things better than others. So here in my words are a few comments about camera settings that may help us know our cameras better. Photo editing software may allow me to compensate for less than ideal exposures, but better results come with good initial captures.

Loosely defined, these settings are:

  1. Aperture: The size of the lens opening relative to the distance from the sensor.
  2. Time: How long the lens is open for light to pass, how long the sensor is recording.
  3. Sensitivity: How long it will take for the sensor to record enough data for an image.

Today, I’ll discuss number one, the aperture. Aperture, the diameter of the opening for light, is expressed as an f-stop. The higher the f-number is; the smaller the opening. The f-number is equal to the distance from the aperture opening to the sensor divided by the diameter of the opening. If I had a gigantic camera with a one mile diameter opening that was sixteen miles from my gigantic sensor, my aperture would be f/16. Sixteen miles distance divided by one mile diameter is f/16. Fortunately, my camera is smaller, but because f-stops are ratios they work at any scale.

f/64
f/64
f56-P6090436
f/5.6

One impact of my choice of aperture is how much of my photo is sharply in focus. The smaller the aperture (higher f-stop), the greater percentage of the distance in my capture from foreground to background is sharply in focus. The larger the light opening (lower f-stop), the less depth of field is in focus. High f-stops are ideal for lots of sharp detail in my image, maybe for a landscape or architectural shot. Low f-stops allow for selective focus, so I can, for instance, take a portrait shot of someone where they are in focus, but the background is softly focussed.

Next time, I’ll take a look at time and sensitivity.

Instant Photography

Bankruptcy and the ceasing of production of instant films by Polaroid could have left only Fujifilm as a producer of peal apart instant film for Land Cameras, but no integral instant films for classic Polaroid cameras. However, in 2008 The Impossible Project was conceived and funding was found to purchase the last Polaroid film manufacturing plant in the world.
Ten of the best former Polaroid employees were recruited to join in the effort to recreate film chemistry for SX-70, 600, and Spectra/Image cameras.By 2010 Impossible released its first black and white instant film, recreating instant film for Polaroid format cameras.
Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film
Scamper in the shadow of lace curtains. Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film.
Today, it produces black & white and color integral films, 8×10 black & white film, and the Instant Lab, which works with black & white or color SX-70 or 600 films to make instant prints from smartphones and tablets; and it refurbishes classic Polaroid SX-70, 600, and Spectra/Image cameras.
Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film
Pepper behind lace curtains. Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film.

Find out more about Impossible.

Prehistoric Photography

When I was a kid, somewhere in high school, I probably thought sixty-somethings were from prehistoric times; I also bought my first serious camera, a Mamiya-Sekor DTL 2000(?) 35mm SLR (Mamiya only makes medium format nowadays)–on lay-away from Denholm & McKay. Before recorded history cities mostly had local department stores; and Macy’s was in New York–you had to go there to go to Macy’s. My best friend got a Nikkormat. That was Nikon’s economy brand–a solid, quality SLR none the less. I usually tell people I have been a photographer since about 1973, the year I began learning to work in the darkroom, but that’s just a convenient time to label as my beginning.

It was a step up from a long growing interest. I enrolled in a continuing ed course in black & white photography at the Worcester Art Museum (worcesterart.org) for two semesters. Dennis Wixted was a patient, encouraging, and thorough teacher who, in addition to technique, taught photography’s history and the contempory scene. At his wake I was just one of many who shared their appreciation of his teaching and friendship with members of his family. I labored with the camera to do assignments and take personal shots, thinking about the camera settings, the light, the film… I think I thought more than I shot. It was a job for me to expose all the frames on a roll of film. Eventually, I started buying 24 exposure rolls of 35mm film, 36 exposures being the other common packaging, a little less challenging to finish.

BRONICA ETRSFor most of my later film photography before I changed to primarily digital cameras I used a Bronica ETRS. Here’s one of my images from that camera. The maple trees in the background were at the height of their blazing orange autumn foliage. I used an orange filter on the front of my lens to brighten the leaves that were in full sun to nearly white in my print.

 

Next time I go over to the dark side and start using digital cameras. Eveything is the same if you think about it.

Fingers and Digits

As I wrote last time digital photography was on its way to surpassing the market share of film or analog photography when I got much more active in the first decade of this century. In my mind, at first, it was hard for me to understand digital black & white photography. Plus, there is an aesthetic to each as practice: one a craft working in all physical media, the other seemingly technological, electronic, office-work-like. One emerges gradually before the eyes, the other instantaneously from the camera, or with a change of settings or a few clicks of the mouse. This thinking took a few years to work out in my mind.

What finally made me happy with digital photography is a realization that the same full spectrum light arrives at the surface of the negative or the surface of the camera sensor. There are parallel choices in editing software to choosing contrast filters and the like. I can still choose my preference of texture and brightness and gloss in photo papers. I can make alterations by hand, hand cut window mattes, and assemble frames.

Alternative chemistry equivalent with digital gear and editing.
Alternative chemistry equivalent with digital gear and editing.

What is different, do I think? One thing is an historical fluke. Right now serviceable good quality film cameras capable of producing very high resolution “captures” (up to gigapixels in large format) are available at a fraction of the up front cost for their digital equivalents. Afterwards, film and processing costs accumulate, making analog a non-competitive choice in commercial settings where expenses must be controlled. For us ordinary Joes and Josephines, film can be very satisfying at least occasionally or for certain uses such as landscape and architectural subjects. A good thing about today, is the variety of choices a camera enthusiast gets. I can shoot film and print in the darkroom, scan and print from my computer, scan or use my digital capture to produce a transparency for alternative printing processes, such as cyanotype, platinum and many others. A variety of chemistries, tools, and materials can be had from websites such as freestylephoto.biz. Jumping into these processes is easier than before digital emerged.

Toned Silver Gelatin Print
Toned Silver Gelatin Print

Another is the physical work (or play) in analog photography. It’s just fun to choose and use various films, papers, developers in different dilutions, amounts of agitation, and more in the darkroom to alter the impact of processing on the negative or photo paper; and then to watch the result gradually darken in as it sits in a trayful of developer under a safe light.