The Online Darkroom Store

Wednesday, February 5

Rescued by a Rollei

January was a bit of a barren month in the Robbins household as far as taking photographs goes. The weather, for seemingly weeks on end, has been wet, cold and windy. It's all I can do to force myself across the doorstep, never mind venture further afield with a camera.

Having said often enough that I like dull weather for photography, there's a limit even for me. The ideal of being buffeted out in the countryside, trying to stop the camera from shaking violently and getting covered in rain is not appealing. Here's what I'm seeing out the window right now (best viewed large):

How the blossom is hanging on to the cherry tree in the garden is a mystery to me. It doesn't help, as when writing the previous post about the Sunny f16 topic, to have guys from California and Australia leaving comments about how the rule always works for them because it's always sunny where they stay! It must be great living in a climate like that but, barring a lottery win, that's not going to happen. I've just finished watching the Dexter series on Netflix and I couldn't get over the apparent brightness of the light in Miami - it's blinding. I can only imagine how uplifting that sort of environment must be - assuming you don't end up on a serial killer's table, of course.

But back to this post. The photograph above is from a pre-Christmas visit (for the reason mentioned above) to my favourite stairwell. This shot is looking straight up at the skylight window in the roof. It's this overhead light that gives this particular stairwell its appealing mixture of light and shade. But unless you're some sort of contortionist, it's almost impossible pointing a camera straight up for a subject like this.

If I used my Speed Graphic or 35mm SLR for this photograph, I'd be lying on my back to see the focusing screen. If I used my Rollei SL66E with it's 45 degree prism, I'd be on my knees. So what to use? Well, I thought I'd give a Rollei TLR a whirl. With its waist-level finder and with the camera on an extended tripod, all that's required to see the view is a slight stoop - and I can just about manage one of those.

I've got a few TLRs but the only one loaded with film was the 1954 Automat which had Tmax 100 in it. I'd rated the film at 50 ISO with a view to developing it in Spur's Acurol-N. So that's what I took with me on this visit. There's quite a difference in light values between the shadowed stair walls and the light flooding in through the window so something had to give.

The result is above. I love the curving highlight along the handrail on the right and the little bit of bicycle handlebar just visible beneath the window. The Rollei's Tessar lens has imparted some Leica-glow (flare) which I think looks good. I also like the asymmetry. I find that many stairwell shots that are almost perfectly symmetrical can be a trifle boring.

I'm beginning to build up a nice, wee collection of these tenement stairwell shots. One of the best things about this type of photography is that it can be done irrespective of the weather - hail, rain or shine!

You might also like:

Firstcall 400s In Rodinal
Tenement Project Rethink
Best Film/Dev Combo For Contrasty Low-light?


Omar Özenir said...

We desperately need some of that rain in Turkey! It's been an extremely dry and sunny winter so far.

Bruce Robbins said...

We're never happy, are we!

Herman Sheephouse said...

Bruce - if we try we can send some of this East Coast murk over to Omar.
Nice post and you're right - a TLR is just about the most easily useable MF camera in awkward circumstances.
I really like the photo . . our house has a cupula like that . . at least it would were it not for the fact it has been divided and we're downstairs and blocked off. It's like the Eloy and the Morlock round our place ';0)

John Carter said...

Like Omar, we need rain too. But really living where the sun always shines is really photographically boring. We talk about the days when there were cumulus clouds in the sky. We dream of good rain so we can try something other than Sunny 16.

Anonymous said...

In fact murky weather should be better for the stairway shot. Not as much contrast to deal with.

As for weather the pacific northwest part of the US can be fairly dull a lot of the time but we do have our variety also. Quite sunny and clear today and that means cold tonight.

John in Olympia, Washington state

Nick Jardine said...

Hi Bruce, love that shot, it's brave.

The framing is based on that sliver of highlighted bannister that curls up the frame, tack sharp amongst all that gorgeous shadow.

Looking at the shot through the viewfinder, with that level of contrast and in colour would not be easy for many to spot the potential for a B+W print.

Yet you have and clearly demonstrated how the dedicated monochrome photographer goes about their business successfully - with imagination and skilled craftsmanship.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Nick. That's about the nicest compliment I've had for my photography. It's very much appreciated.

Bruce Robbins said...

John in Olympia,

I know what you're saying about dull weather reducing the contrast but I'm not sure it makes a lot of difference for this particular shot.

Practically the only illumination in the stairwell is from the skylight window. If it's bright outside, it boosts the light level in the stairwell so I don't need to give as much exposure for the scene which, in turn, cuts down the over-exposure of the window. If it's dull then light levels in the stairwell are lower and exposures are correspondingly longer meaning the window gets more exposure as well.

I reckon the upshot of all this is that the difference in light values between the stairwell walls and the skylight window on sunny and dull days wouldn't be all that different. It's an interesting thought, though, and I'll try to remember to check on future visits.