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Friday, January 3

Shooting in the Dark

Well, that was an interesting experience! My first large format foray of the New Year and I haven't a clue what I've just returned with. I took the Speed Graphic and four sheets of Tmax 100 with the intention of doing some 5x4 shots in the tenement closes I've written about in the past herehere and here.

The weather was wet and gloomy and the normally dimly-illuminated closes were even darker than they had been on my earlier visits. The lens I have is the 127mm f4.7 Ektar, not a fast lens by 35mm standards but not bad for a 4x5 optic. I'd anticipated that it might be a wee problem focusing accurately but what I hadn't foreseen was the inability to even frame a scene.

I've been using the pop out viewing hood on the Speed Graphic rather than a dark cloth but I think I need to reconsider. Looking at the ground glass all I could see was the odd highlight where light from the roof window in the stairwell was hitting some varnished part of the handrail. Everything else was dark. In truth, even with a dark cloth over the camera I still wouldn't have been able to see much. A torch will now have a permanent place in my camera bag!

The iPhone pic that served as my remote ground glass - see below.

Without a word of a lie, this is the (simulated iPhone pic) view I was
getting on the Speed Graphic's ground glass.

It pains me to report that digital got me out of the predicament. The only solution was to take a photo with my iPhone held directly in front of the Ektar. It seems to have a field of view similar to the Kodak lens. The 5x4 ratio is 1:1.25 and the iPhone's 4x3 format is 1:1.33. So, by comparing the angle of the highlight on the ground glass with its position on the iPhone pic - remember the Speed Graphic's screen is also upside down - I was able to compose the shot.

At least, I hope so! There are four sheets of Tmax 100 waiting to be processed and I won't know for sure until I see the results. To give you an idea of how dark it was, the exposures ranged from one to four minutes at f16 with the Tmax rated at 50 ISO (I'll be developing it in Acurol-N and there's a slight speed loss). The last one was four minutes at f8. Allowing for reciprocity failure, that meant an eight minute exposure.

This inability to see what I'm photographing is obviously a major problem! Solutions? Well, I suppose I could try using the auxiliary viewfinder atop the Speed Graphic but I doubt it's too accurate and probably suffers from parallax error. I could try lighting the scene with a torch to get a rough idea of composition and use the side-mounted rangefinder for focusing but more tests would need to be done to ensure the rangefinder is measuring accurately. Or I suppose I could shoot the stairwells on something like the Rollei SL66E where I can at least see what's happening.

But the thing is that I've been looking forward to getting some cracking negs of these closes and doing big blow ups, all with beautiful tonality and amazing sharpness. Medium format is good but, for all its virtues, it's not in the same class as 5x4 when it comes to this sort of thing.


Nasir said...

Try getting a brighter ground glass for your Speed Graphic? A faster lens will help as well but that will also alter the look of the final image.

I'm wondering what compelled you to photograph in such dark conditions in the first place and what you're expecting? Did you manage to focus? Light is a big factor for me when choosing to photograph a scene. With the absence of light...

marty said...

Hello Bruce. The place looked somewhat familiar... Indeed must have been a quite a challenge to compose, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? If we wanted it to be easy we were using that modern technology... But a torch isn't too big or too expensive to have in the bag so you're good to go for the next photo walk :-). Now you really should to get those negs developed, I'm courious to see what happened.
Cheers and Happy New Year!

Bruce Robbins said...

Light is vastly over-rated. :) There is some light in this stairwell but it all comes from a window in the roof right at the top. You'll need to wait until I've developed the negs to see what I was after.

I agree about the torch. It would also be handy for painting a little light into the deepest shadows during the exposure.

Herman Sheephouse said...

It's been shockingly dark hasn't it Bruce! A torch is the solution and a dark cloth.
The best wee dark cloth I have found is a cheap Craghoppers Micro-Fleece top - was about a fiver in a sale. It has a zip collar which you can place around the rear standard and zip up to tighten! Works a treat in brightish light too and being semi-breathable the GG doesn't fog as much.

Wes Medlin said...

Bruce, don't forget the Speed Graphic is a press camera. You could always frame with the wire finder or viewfinder,and focus with the rangefinder. Many a good shot has been made by these old beasts in that way.