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Tuesday, October 14

50 ISO is just too slow for walkabout photography

A final pair from the roll of CHS ART 100 courtesy of the Voigtlander Vitessa. The bottom one shares the same problem that Doug H highlighted in the comments on my previous post. It was quite dark under that tree and I was shooting at f2.8 at 1/25th so there's not much depth of field.

That's why I don't think a film rated at 50 ISO (for development in Spur Acurol-N) is much good for walkabout photography. Almost by definition, you're not likely to know what sort of subjects you might have to tackle and a slow film doesn't leave me with much leeway. Far better would be something in the 400 ISO region - maybe Ilford Delta 400 which would be almost on a par in terms of grain with the Adox film. Hardly a revelation I know but I always seem to have something in the 50-100 ISO range in the camera for this type of stuff when I should know better.

On this particular day I'd decided to have a walk around a local country park as much for some exercise as anything else. There was one shot I had in mind - I've copied an earlier version of it below from my Rangefinder Forum gallery - but when I got there a couple of fishermen were trying to fix an outboard motor right on that spot so I moved on.

Halfway round the reservoir, there was a wee opening in the woods and I could see the branches touching the water. It's the second one on this page and not the most original photograph I'll ever take but it came out OK, apart from the limited focus which does its best to spoil it. These photographs don't have to have front-to-back sharpness but if you're going for shallow depth of field then I think it has to be really slim and not just look as if you don't quite know what you're doing.

You see a fair few pics like this on the internet but I find they're actually quite hard to pull off. This one below by Bill Schwab is my favourite from this branches and water style of photography - in fact it's one of my favourite photos ever. I just love it.

"Willow Branches, River Rouge, Dearborn, MI, 1999"
By Bill Schwab

The technical aspects of these photographs are easy enough - providing you have a fast enough film! - but the arrangement of branches, water and reflections has to be just right. I've taken many in the past but only had a couple that I thought were successful. For this one, I focused on a branch just up from the middle of the pic but the Ultron at f2.8 left the branches in the top half of the frame out of focus.

Later on, the weather had cleared up a little and a weak sun did its best to squirt a few rays through a gap in the clouds so depth of field on the first pic is more acceptable. There was a swan on the reservoir that promised at one point to swim right past the end of the jetty. I stood there for about ten minutes as it approached the left hand side and then turned round and went in the opposite direction, repeating this apparently pointless exercise a few times.

I wanted it right bang in the middle of the jetty in the middle distance but after a while I realised that it was basically just taking the mickey. It will probably regale its grand-cygnets with the tale about the time it kept a human hanging about for no good reason.

This is something I've noticed in the past with wildlife: they never seem to do what I want them to even when it looks like a 50:50 decision. When I want them to go right, they go left and vice-versa. I wouldn't mind it so much if I hunted or fished but there's no reason they should refuse to conform to my rules of composition even if it's just through the law of averages. Maybe I just need to add a couple of slices of bread to my photography kit next time I'm at the park...


Herman Sheephouse said...

Hi Bruce - never mind the quality, feel the width! Look at the tonality you have in the tree/water picture - it is beautiful. But I do tend to agree - 50 is too low, even 100 is a bit low too. I had similar problems myself recently, however I found great benefit in using the Leitz table top tripod as a brace - it really does work - as a wall brace, chest brace, window brace . . and even a tripod as well - I found myself able to get really sharp pics on a 1 second exposure bracing it horizontally against a telegraph pole with my hand supporting the camera and my finger gently squeezing the shutter release.
Recommended for those shite-light situations - one of the most useful photographic items I own, and you can shove it in a (large) pocket too.

MartyNL said...

Bruce, since when has "walkabout" photography ever been a photographic genre? From most of what I've seen of your work it would probably loosely fall into the category of landscape. You have some wonderful equipment ideally suited to your subject matter but you persevere to try and squeeze every last drop out of handheld small format cameras. I take my hat off to you!

Bruce Robbins said...

I put it all down to laziness, Marty. ;)

David M said...

You might like to look at this, on the website of the Museum of London. Another neglected hero.

If "The Decisive Moment" had been published in the English language in Australia rather than the USA, it could well have been called "Walkabout Photography" – a plausible translation of the original French title, "Images à la Sauvette." So you are in good company. Perhaps you should get yourself a beret?
And what is a flâneur, if not a person walking about?
Let me try to reconcile you to 50 asa. One word: Kodachrome – 25 asa. Ha! You don't know how lucky you are. We used to take photographs in a cardboard box, down a coal mine with lenses made of lead, lead, lead.
Keep up the good work.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks for that link, David. I'm amazingly ignorant of so many photographers.

John Robison said...

How true. Even when I slip my little 16mm Minolta 16II in a pocket it has Eastman Double X shot at 400. You ain't seen grain until you enlarge a 10X14mm negative to 5X7. If I want finer grain I shoot 6X6.