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Seeing The World In Black And White

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 28, 2014 in Photography |

The plan today was to go out with my small selection of cameras and start learning. The results of this learning process will take quite a while to come through, since the films have to be developed first, but there is always a digital back-up just in case. The plan meant that I was allowed freedom of the streets with a Canon EOS 40D, a Voigtländer VSL 3-E  (Fujichrome Provia 400X color film) and a Asahi Pentax ME (Agfaphoto APX 400 film). The films are those I bought from the local photographer, not having the patience to wait for my ordered films to arrive! Patience, especially when it comes to photography, is something that I am going to have to learn: the world isn’t photo-ready at the same time as I am.

The plan worked, I hasten to add, and I did get out into the freezing cold with my three cameras and a rough idea of how things work. After that it all goes downhill.

Photo Source: Viktoria Michaelis

Well, not really downhill, things were not that bad. For me the hardest part is struggling against the cold. After the mildest winter start on record – I am told – we hit minus temperatures last night, and they hadn’t raised anything worth mentioning when I padded out of the front door, done up with everything warm on you can imagine. This morning at nine it was still minus six (that’s 21°F) and the ground frost was battling the thin sunshine with a good chance of winning the day.

Why take three cameras? The Canon must be clear to everyone: I need a camera which I can take quick photographs with to check my settings on the other ones. I also want to be able to see what the end results on film might look like, although I know that the chances of them being the same, or even close, are slim. The Canon uses completely different, more fractional, settings than I can put on the Pentax or Voigtländer, and works automatically. However, it gives me a rough idea of what I could be looking at, and a hint as to which light settings I should be using. A hint, because I’m not going to be sticking with anything the Canon says, I want to get more depth of field in my results and, as I have learned, the Canon is not so good at picking out the details in shadow with a longer shutter time. My first photograph here shows that quite clearly: the deep shadows in the foreground are a grass bank along the railway lines. The Canon concentrates too much on the well-lit area, and takes its settings from there, blanking out any detail in slightly shadowed areas.

I set the Pentax – with my black and white film – with a smaller shutter opening, but a much longer shutter speed, hoping to capture more of the grass in the foreground and a good deal more detail on the buildings as well as showing the steam rising in the top half of the image, which the Canon only recognizes as a blur.

Photo Source: Viktoria Michaelis

I have to add too that the photographs I took with the Canon – both those here – are real snapshots. I didn’t take up a decent position or judge the lines of the buildings before taking the pictures, merely shot to see what would happen. So we have the lack of detail in the first image and lines which would have been straight had I taken the time, in this second image.

Neither one of these are designed as Street Photography; they should be studied and set up with considerably more care. As you can see from the image above, the care is lacking, as is a good deal of detail from the asphalt on the strip of road in the lower part of the image. I would have been happier with the lines of the building running straight across the image, but that would also have meant that my perspective would have changed, and the off-set bicycle shelter would have been equally straight and less interesting.

The advantage of taking a digital camera along too is clear: I can take test photographs and see where the lines run, how the perspective works, whether a slower speed is needed for the details and what I should avoid when it comes to placing the camera for a good picture. If a photograph doesn’t work on film, I can’t simply jump in a car and drive back to the scene and shoot it again, the moment is gone. Light changes, positions change, the whole effect is gone forever. That is, perhaps, the only real disadvantage of a film camera, not being able to see what you’ve captured at once but, on the other hand, it is also an advantage. Not knowing, having to wait for the prints to come back or until you’ve developed the negatives yourself, you’re more likely to take your shots with care and attention. You’ve got thirty-six chances with a film, not two thousand with an 8MB card!

Love & Kisses, Viki.

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