Saturday, April 6, 2024
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Visualization and Film Photography

As a follow-up to my previous essays on visualization, in this article I will share select photographs made on film with a detailed description of the thought process, the choice of tools, and technical considerations that were involved. I have chosen two starkly different photographs (both landscapes) to discuss. I hope that these photos with the accompanying narrative will prove interesting and helpful to beginning film photographers and perhaps guide more experienced photographers in advanced techniques and approaches. Of note, Photography Life contributors John Bosley, Laura Murray and Vaibhav Tripathi have previously written excellent essays on film photography that may also be of interest.

On three key topics (film scanning, the view camera, the Zone System) during the discussion, I will briefly digress to provide additional background, as I feel that will help the reader understand the concepts and technical processes. A complete discussion of these concepts is beyond the scope of this article, but I have made an effort to provide references at strategic points that should provide a more comprehensive treatment. Although some of the principles and tools here are applicable solely to the film photographer, the underlying process of visualization applies equally to photographers of analog and digital formats. I should emphasize that the construction of each photograph below was based on the process of visualization and the intersection of light, artistic vision, and skill.

After humble beginnings in learning the process of film and visualization nearly five years ago, I currently use a wide variety of formats and film stocks. In particular, I use small, medium, and large formats with both color and black and white film. I do not discriminate. I tailor my choice of tools to the objective and that will permit me to take command and control of the situation at hand. For example, I use 35mm for moving people and objects, large format for static objects (stills, landscapes, portraits) and high technical image quality, and medium format as a practical compromise among bulk weight, image quality, and in the face of rapidly changing light where work flow speed is of the essence. Although the choices of film emulsions have diminished significantly over the past 10 years, there are still a plethora of excellent professional and consumer film stocks from which to choose. This year, based on aesthetic, process, and technical considerations, my tools of choice have become large format black and white sheet film in the 4 x 5” and 8 x 10” formats and the view camera, although I still immensely enjoy roll film and color film. The merit of these choices will become manifest in the descriptions below and on the second page of this article.

So, let’s start with this first example – a landscape. I made the photograph below last summer during a hiking trip to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park in Washington state. For those who are not familiar with this area, Olympic National Park and its beautiful rain forests are one of the hidden treasures to explore in the US. It is a bonanza for hiking, camping, wildlife photography, and landscape photography. This photograph represents one of the more classic and beautiful sites within the Hoh. I chose this photograph because of the visual mood it evokes, the interesting lighting, and the challenging approach to exposure. This was actually my first visit to this park. During my research of this park, I had heard and read all the positive reviews from fellow hikers and photographers. I had seen the photographs in magazines and on the internet. But, even those accounts could not do justice to the striking beauty and pristine mood that I witnessed with my own eyes.

Mamiya 7II, 43mm f/4.5 L, Fujichrome Velvia 50

The day before I set forth on this modest hike, it had rained. During a break in the weather around mid-morning, I set foot on the trails. Aside from the annoying mosquitoes, I had never felt more at peace with nature. The mood was uplifting, the air was clean, and the sights mesmerizing. Trekking through this rain forest felt like I was in the midst of Middle Earth. Beautiful, yet surreal… During the late morning, sunlight was starting to break through, and as I came across this turn in the trail, I was stunned at the site of the shaggy moss-laden maple trees and surrounding ferns. I was so taken aback from this view that I stopped in my tracks, dropped all of my gear, and sat down to admire this beautiful site. Following a fresh rain, the contrasty backlighting made the greens *pop*!

I had to work quickly, because the sun would soon create excessive (and uncontrollable) contrast. For this scene, I instinctively knew what film to capture the essence and physical attributes at play: Fujichrome Velvia 50. Also known as transparency film or color reversal film, Velvia 50 has been a legendary selection for landscape photographers for over 25 years. This slide film is a joy to use because it can create vivid, contrasty, saturated, sharp, and highly 3-dimensional images. The weaknesses of this film are that the exposure latitude and dynamic range are narrow compared to print film, which make it technically challenging to manipulate with difficult lighting. Yet, when the photographer is in command and control of the light and his/her technique, Velvia 50 delivers the goods.

My other tool choices for this shot were my medium format camera, the Mamiya 7 II and a wide angle lens, the Mamiya 43mm f/4.5 L. In the 6 x 7 cm format, the 43mm focal length provides an angle of view that is similar to that seen with a 21mm lens in the 35mm format. Due to its light weight, relatively small size, few bells and whistles, and superb image quality, this camera has become my “go-to” camera for hiking over the years. This system is so good that it even rivals the quality of 4 x 5” film. It has never let me down.

My goal with this exposure was to capture the quintessence of the intersection of light, land, and vivid color. After framing the scene with my composition card, I set the composition though the external viewfinder. I set the hyperfocal distance to 7 ft and stopped down the aperture to f/16. For filtration, I used a polarizer filter to remove the some of the glare from rain droplets on the foliage. And to adjust the white balance, I used an 81A warming filter.

In this scenario, the rational for the warming filter is two-fold. First, it can be used as a creative tool for adjusting the color temperature of the ambient lighting to adjust the color balance on the transparency. Secondly, based on experience with this film, Velvia 50 tends to be a “cold” film, meaning that although it is a daylight balanced film, it tends to give a “cooler”, or a more blue, rendition to the scene, especially when used in heavily shaded areas such as in this scene. White balance in film photography is a very interesting topic that merits its own discussion in another article. In general, shadows are predominantly lit with blue light, especially from sky light in open shade. If the photographer does not take action to filter out this excessive blue, then the resulting scene has the potential to be rendered cold. On the other hand, if the photographer desires a cool mood, such as in a winter scene, for example, then no correction would be needed. Comparatively, the 81A filter is a low-strength warming filter, followed in increasing strength by the 81B, 81C, and the 85 series.

For determining the proper exposure for both slide and print film, I practice a modified version of the Zone System, which was pioneered by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in 1939-1940. A discussion of this concept is far beyond the scope of this article, but essentially the Zone System is a systematic approach to determine the proper exposure and development of film for a given scene. It is based on the luminance values of a scene that are categorized into standardized zones of exposure from “zero” to “ten”, with pure black representing Zone 0, pure white representing Zone X, varying degrees of shadow detail and tonality from Zone I through IV, midtones at Zone V, and varying degrees of highlight detail and tonality from Zone VI through IX. In practice, Zones II through VIII are the most useful, as those represent the range of textures that we see on our subjects. For those interested, I would highly recommend reading Fred Picker’s book, “The Zone VI Workshop“, which provides a simplified treatment and application of the Zone System. For the pure technical analysis and original description, Ansel Adams’ landmark book, “The Negative: The Ansel Adams Photography Series 2” is a must read.

With regards to the exposure strategy for this scene, in stark contrast to print film, the imperative in slide film photography is to expose for the highlights. Due to slide film’s tight exposure latitude, if the highlights are overexposed, then that detail is essentially permanently lost. Of course, there are exceptions to this strategy, in particular if there are weak highlights in the scene or if the highlight detail is of no interest to the photographer. For this scene, I desired to preserve as much highlight detail as possible in the backlit foliage. To this end, I metered the highlights in the foliage to the middle left of the frame and placed those high values in Zone VII and let all other exposure Zones fall into place. A priori, I decided to leave my spot meter at home to reduce the bulk weight of my gear and use the native spot meter in my camera.

A *critical* principle in which a photographer must be in complete command in order to correctly set and interpret a spot light meter is that *any* light meter (either within the camera or an external hand held meter) automatically will yield an exposure value that falls in Zone V (midtones), regardless of whether the scene is brightly lit or dimly lit. This is what a light meter is designed to do by default. It is the photographer’s responsibility to *override* that meter reading in order to appropriately expose the Zone of interest. This cannot be overemphasized enough: a light meter sees one thing, and only one thing, and that is Zone V, or the middle of the Zone scale. This is where the skill of the photographer is paramount, especially when using slide film, which is unforgiving with exposure errors. On the other hand, if the exposure Zone of interest happens to fall on Zone V, then of course the photographer would not need to override the meter.

There are many ways in which the photographer can override the meter, depending on whether he/she is using a hand held meter or the camera’s meter and on the characteristics of the individual dials. For my particular camera model, I can only adjust exposure compensation from -2 to +2 in one-third stop increments, which does not leave much leeway to account for multiple filter factors and exposure compensation. There are easy tricks to solve this problem. If I have multiple filter factors, I will typically enter those factors into the film speed dial, which effectively “tricks” the camera meter into exposing for a “slower” film speed. For exposure compensation, I will enter those values into the exposure compensation dial. Alternatively, one can mix and match these settings. It is very simple. As long the photographer is consistent with this approach, then the end result should be the same.

So, returning to this exposure, since I desired to place the brightly lit foliage in Zone VII, I dialed in +2 exposure compensation into the exposure compensation dial to deliberately override the meter, which will automatically want to bring the exposure down to Zone V. For both the rated film speed (exposure index 40) and the filter factors for the polarizer (+1⅔ stop) and the 81A filter (+⅓ stop), I entered those values into the ISO dial by decreasing the box speed of ISO 50 downward to account for these factors. Finally, I used aperture priority mode and requested normal development from the lab.

Since I am not yet trained in developing my own film (nor do I have a dark room or optical enlarger), I have my film professionally developed at Northcoast Photographic Services in Carlsbad, CA, which provides excellent developing, scanning, printing, and retouching services. They do a superb job and service clients all around the globe. I have a great working relationship with my film technician, Scott, with whom I can *always* rely to make the appropriate adjustments to film development when requested. I highly recommend them. Thanks, Bonnie and Scott!

For web display, I personally scan all of my 120 negatives, slides, and sheet film using the Epson V850 Pro flatbed scanner. Scanning is relatively easy, although it takes some practice to learn and adjust the settings. An excellent resource that I recommend for film scanning is Kenneth Lee’s tutorial on his scanning page. Mr. Lee is a brilliant and inspiring artist, an expert large format photographer, a gentleman, and very willing to help. Please, check out his web site, educational resources, and gallery. Thanks, Ken!

The Epson scanner provides high quality images with an optical resolution at 6400 dpi, a scanning resolution of 6400 x 9600 dpi, and varying output resolutions as high as 12,800 dpi, although the best output is probably at 2400 dpi (this point has been the subject of debate with earlier models). For my 8 x 10 negatives, I use 2400 dpi; for my 4×5 negatives, I use 3200 dpi; and for my 6 x 7 cm and 6 x 4.5 cm negatives, I use 4800 dpi. Of note, flatbed scanners are probably not the best for scanning 35mm film. I always have my 35mm film scanned at Northcoast Photographic Services at the time of development, since they have a dedicated 35mm film scanner.

Once the Epson scan is complete, I save the file as a lossless TIFF format. From there, one can import the file into the post-processing software program of choice. At this stage, I apply minimal post-processing, sometimes none. The rationale is that conventional “adjustments” that are commonly used in modern-day digital post-processing are “destructive” and have the potential to degrade the image. Thus, almost any manipulation made to the scanned TIFF file has the potential to make the image look less like film and more like digital, which is highly undesirable. Occasionally, I will make a slight contrast or highlight adjustment in Photoshop, sometimes “spot” the image to remove noticeable dust spots (which is a common problem with sheet film), and very often crop the image to adjust the aspect ratio. Otherwise, I make every effort possible to get the exposure right to precisely record shadow detail, appropriately develop the film with good communication with my film technician to appropriately bring the highlights into the Zone of choice, and then properly scan the negative or slide. After making any minor adjustment or crop, I will save the file as a lossless PSD master file. Subsequently, I can downsize the image to any resolution as needed for printing, typically as a JPEG file.

Returning to this photograph, upon examining the side on the light table, the result was stunning: rich colors and contrast with an uncanny 3-dimensional appearance. It was almost as if you could wrap your arms around the maple trunks or reach out and grasp a fern leaf. I scanned the slide at 4800 dpi. The actual image dimensions of this particular 6 x 7 cm format are 56mm x 72mm (every such camera system will have a slightly varying long dimension). With this output resolution and film dimensions, the scan yielded a 144 megapixel image. In Photoshop, I made a slight adjustment to lighten the foreground maple trunk and then cropped the frame to a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Overall, I was very pleased with the rendition. The emotion, the interplay of highlights and shadows, and the beautiful greens conveyed what I had witnessed with my eyes and visualized in my mind as I made the exposure. From a technical standpoint, Velvia 50 did precisely what it is designed to do. In retrospect, that short hike was a memorable day, indeed. Interestingly, in the ensuing hours and over the next 4 days following this exposure, there was nary a cloud in the sky. The rain forests were flooded with nasty and excessively contrasty light, which effectively ended those particular photo shoots. I was OK with that because I got my shot and was treated to beautiful skies under which to hike on the other side of the park 🙂

As a historical point, for those who are not familiar with slide film, it is important to note that, traditionally, no web-based scanned image will ever do justice to the full resolution and 3-dimensionality of a transparency as viewed on a light table. Certainly, an ultra-high resolution drum scan could extract more detail, but it still would not duplicate the 3-dimensionality. As the name implies, slides were also designed to be *projected* onto a viewing screen, where the full resolution can be enjoyed. Sadly, such projectors are no longer in production and are scarce on the used market.

Next, staying within the realm of landscapes, I chose the following photograph to share and discuss. I made this photograph last month at my favorite place to hike and photograph, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. For this photograph, I chose an overlook, Yucca Point, which provides a classic view of coastal San Diego. I desired to construct an image that captures the quintessence of the intersection of light, land, and sea at sunset and to record a continuous plane of textural detail and tonality from near to far. Previously, over the past 2 years I had made attempts to photograph this view at sunset, but my exposures had been disappointing because of either harsh and inordinately contrasty light, or flat light due to overcast skies. What I desired was modest cloud cover with a patch of unidirectional sunlight near the horizon to impart a *touch* of contrast to the landscape. I dedicated a stretch of days to scout this site and await the right conditions. Although this was not quite the light for which I was searching, what Nature provided was good enough. The first photograph below is a scout photo made with my iPhone to illustrate what I was seeing through my composing card.

iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/726, f/2.4

To make this photograph, there were multiple considerations, but the key ones were the quality of the light, the contrast, the near-far relationship, and the plane of focus. In terms of the weather conditions, it was near sunset. The skies were mostly cloudy, but sunlight was intermittently bathing the landscape. I set up my camera at a near 90 degree angle to the incident light, which was coming in low near the horizon to the west. As the cloud cover evolved, the contrast alternated between low and moderate; moderate contrast was what I sought. The landscape had structure of interest in the foreground, middle ground, and distance that I wanted to render in sharp focus. With those considerations in place, I chose an 8 x 10” format, the Tachihara 8 x 10 field view camera, and Kodak Tri-X film, which is a legendary film stock in terms of its tonality, aesthetics, moderate contrast, and wide exposure latitude and dynamic range.

iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/421, f/2.4

Briefly, for those readers who are unfamiliar with a view camera, this type of camera offers the photographer the advantages of controlling the plane of focus and the shape of the perspective by virtue of the manipulating planes of the subject, lens, and film without having to excessively stop down the lens aperture to control depth of field, in stark contrast to the conventional “rigid” camera, in which the aforementioned planes are parallel to each other and fixed. For additional background on this type of camera, there are a plethora of print and internet resources on this topic.

To frame this perspective, I chose a moderately wide angle lens, the Fujinon-A 240mm F/9. In the 8 x 10” format, this focal length provides an angle of view that is similar to what is seen with a 32mm focal length in the 35mm format. To focus the view camera, the photographer must first decide where the plane of “best focus” lies. Given the detail that I desired to capture lied in the near, middle, and distant landscape, the plane of “best” focus lied on a plane between the foreground rocks, the bluff in the middle, the distant bluff to the top left. For the far focus, I chose the bluff at the far upper left instead of the more distant peninsula because I desired precise detail on which to set the far focus. And this is where the fun begins! I employed “movements” of the view camera (e.g., adjusting the film plane-to-lens plane distance with the focusing knobs, tilts, and swings) to achieve the plane of best focus on the focusing screen (the ground glass) and then stopped down the aperture to f/45 to achieve the optimum depth of field.

A complete description of view camera focusing and movements and depth of field considerations are far beyond the scope of this article. However, it is wise to state here that the underlying principle of view camera focus is based on two important laws: the Scheimpflug Principle and the Hinge Rule. Basically, these principles dictate that the plane of best focus is achieved when the photographer adjusts the view camera such that the subject plane, the lens plane, and the film plane intersect at well defined points and lines. The geometric analysis is interesting, complex, and difficult to grasp at first. There are some things that I still do not understand about the geometry, and the calculations are exceedingly difficult and impractical to apply in the field, especially when trying to capture the light and time is of the essence. The depth of field considerations are even more complex – I will not even go there. Nevertheless, for those who are interested in the pure technical analysis, I would recommend reading Harold Merklinger’s numerous publications (available in PDF) on his website, including “Principles of View Camera Focus”. Mr. Merklinger, by the way, is an engineer and a pioneer in view camera geometry. To simplify matters, many view camera photographers use well-defined and vetted checklists to efficiently focus the camera. There are several good ones out there, but I prefer Howard Bond’s elegant “Check List for View Camera Users”.

Returning to the photograph, once I achieved the desired focus, I turned my attention to light filtration and metering. One of the more important tools that black and white film photographers use in the visualization process are contrast filters, which can be used to selectively separate colors and adjust contrast. Surprisingly, some photographers do not believe in using them, preferring to adjust contrast during the development of the film and subsequently and at the printing stage. Other photographers heavily rely on these tools. Personally, I often make use of contrast filters, but I use them selectively when there is a specific effect that I wish to achieve. For landscapes, contrast filters can be used to lighten or darken the sky, foliage, and rocks, as well as increase the contrast between clouds and the sky. For this scene, I chose not to use a contrast filter. The only filter that I used was a polarizer to cut down the glare from the ocean.

For the exposure strategy, the guiding principle for print, or negative, film is that the photographer must expose for the shadows and develop the film to adjust the highlights. This is a *big* one, because if shadow detail is not captured on the negative, then it will not appear on the print. It’s that simple. Certainly, once a negative is made, the photographer can dodge and burn at will, but shadow detail will have remained fixed on the negative.

With regards to capturing shadow detail, the most important decision for the photographer (which has been subject to debate for many years), becomes into what zone should the shadows be placed. For years, photographers have argued that shadows in landscapes should be placed in Zone III, whereas other have argued that they should be placed in Zone IV. So, what is the correct answer? For me, it is easy: shadows should be placed where ever the photographer wants them to be placed. It is that simple. As with many other aspects in photography, there should not be hard “rules” about anything. If the photographer wishes to have ample shadow detail in a scene, then exposing for shadows in Zone IV would be an excellent choice. On the other hand, if the photographer desires little detail or tonality (or perhaps none) in shadowed areas, then exposing at a lower Zone would be appropriate. Again, it all comes down to the process of visualization. Whatever construct the photographer visualizes in the mind and wishes to translate into the final image, then he/she should use whatever exposure strategy and methods that are necessary to achieve it, even if it cuts across the grain of “conventional wisdom”, which can sometimes exert an unfortunate drag on creativity, in my humble opinion.

For this scene, I desired to retain maximum detail in the shadowed areas in the foreground rocks, illustrated by the “red circle” in the iPhone photograph; this would require that the shadows be placed in Zone IV. The luminance of these rocks were very nearly in Zone IV as is. For development of the highlights, one must determine where they fall in the scene and where they should be developed on the negative. Here, I desired to keep the highlights on the sandstone rocks present in the middle of the frame as is, in Zone VI, illustrated by the “green circle”. (Of note, in between taking the iPhone snapshot and the view camera exposure, the lighting changed such that the intensity of the light diminished from that shown in the iPhone photo). Therefore, using my spot meter with the film exposure index (I chose the box ISO speed of 320) and the filter factor for the polarizer (+1⅔ stops) dialed in, I metered the shadows, which gave a luminance value that, once again, automatically falls on Zone V by default. Then I rotated the EV dial to set the Zone IV exposure and read off the shutter speed. Since the highlights were already were I desired them, I requested normal development from the lab.

Since the usable area of an 8 x 10 negative is 7.75 x 9.75”, at 2400 dpi the scanner provided a 435 megapixel image, which is plenty. For my purposes, higher resolution scanning for 8 x 10 film would be overkill. In Photoshop, I made a modest adjustment to the contrast, removed a few dust spots, and cropped the image to a 5:4 aspect ratio, As the photograph reveals, there is modest, but pleasant, contrast across the landscape, ample shadow detail in the foreground rocks, good sharpness across the frame, beautiful textural detail from near to far, and adequate depth of field. Overall, I felt that the image nicely captured the beauty and mood of the scene as I had visualized it.

Tachihara 8×10, Fujinon-A 240mm f/9, Kodak Tri-X

I hope you have enjoyed this article on film photography and visualization. In the next sections of this article, I will share additional photographs (architecture, more landscapes, close-ups, color negative film exposures, 35mm exposures), analysis, educational references, and concluding remarks. Please, stay tuned.

References:

  1. The Negative: The Ansel Adams Photography Series 2”. Ansel Adams.
  2. The Zone VI Workshop”. Fred Picker.
  3. Beyond The Zone System”. Phil Davis.
  4. “Scanning Tips”. Kenneth Lee Gallery
  5. View Camera Magazine
  6. Principles of View Camera Focus”. Harold Merklinger.
  7. View Camera Focus and Depth of Field: Part I”. Harold Merklinger.
  8. Technical Books on Photography”. Harold Merklinger.
  9. Check List for View Camera Users”. Howard Bond.

In this second installment to this series on visualization and film photography, I have selected two photographs, “Gravida” and “Pyramis” (both architecture), to share and discuss. As on the first page of this article, I will provide a detailed description of the thought process behind the construction of the photographs, the choice of tools, and the technical considerations involved.

This year, I have been particularly interested in studying and photographing abstracts in natural and artificial subjects. This summer, I decided to seek out architecture to study structure, shape, pattern, and abstracts. With this goal in my mind, I paid a visit to the Mission San Diego de Alcala, which was first the mission that was founded in California. The façade of the building is striking: whitewashed stone with interesting textures, lines, and shapes. The whitewashed stone is reminiscent of Aegean-Mediterranean architecture; and the façade is reminiscent of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, which is another famous mission in the U.S.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

As I studied the beautiful façade with my composing card, I was interested in the confluence of the lines on the roof with the stark contrast between the whitewashed stone and the deep blue sky. As I studied even more carefully, I was struck by what my mind interpreted as the profile of a pregnant woman. As I held up my composing card to frame the composition, the structure and the aesthetics resonated with me. At that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I desired to construct a photograph that tells the story of an expectant mother in an abstract presentation. So, with that objective and composition clearly defined in my mind, I went to work.

There were multiple considerations for this photograph: the light, contrast, the perspective, exposure, and development. In terms of the final print, I desired to make an image of a brightly illuminated facade outlining the profile of the gravid woman that stands out from a black sky. In other words, I desired a pure abstract associated with *strong* contrast to captivate the viewer’s imagination. At the same time, I wanted the negative to contain just enough detail in the stone for the viewer to appreciate. For the lighting, I deliberately waited for a day when there was a cloudless sky replete with the harshest and most contrasty light available (i.e., between high noon and mid-afternoon).

For my choice of tools, I decided to use my monorail view camera, the Cambo SC 4 x 5. In contrast to a folding field camera (as in the Tachihara in the first section), monorail cameras are a type of view camera in which the front and rear standards are positioned onto a strong center rail. The design makes the camera more versatile with respect to camera movements as it allows extensive movements (even precise geared movements in some models) of both the front and rear standards(e.g., rise/fall, tilt, swing, and shift), as opposed to the more limited movements with the folding field view camera variety. For these reasons, monorail view cameras have traditionally been the tool of choice for architectural photographers. To frame this perspective, the obvious choice was the use of a long lens. Ideally, I would have preferred a 355-360mm focal length, but I do not have that lens in my camera bag. So, I chose my Nikkor-M 300mm f/9, which is a gem of lens. It is a compact, contrasty, and razor sharp Tessar design. For those who are interested, you can find a description of Nikon’s large format lens line-up here, kindly provided by Kenneth Lee Gallery. Thanks once again, Ken! In the 4 x 5” format, the 300mm focal length gives an angle of view that is similar to that seen with an 85mm lens in the 35mm format. In terms of framing the perspective, the 300mm focal length was a tad short and provided a wider angle of view than I desired. Unfortunately, due to a garden that was situated directly in front of me, I was not able to move closer. Thus, I will have needed to have cropped the negative.

In order to control the shape of the perspective and distortion of the lines, I applied forward tilts to both the front and rear standards to align the standards parallel to the wall in the vertical orientation. In addition, I slightly adjusted the front and rear swings to ensure that the standards were parallel to the wall in the horizontal orientation. To control depth of field, which was not a significant consideration with this relatively flat subject, I stopped the aperture down to f/16 (1⅔ stops down from the maximum aperture.

For film, I chose Ilford Delta 100, which is a high contrast, fine grained, sharp, and high resolution black and white film and one of my “go-to” sheet films.

The challenge with this photograph was to translate the aesthetics of the vision in the mind’s eye into the appropriate exposure strategy. Achieving a pure black sky on the negative and print (i.e., in Zone 0) required the use of a skilled approach to light filtration and metering. This is where the black and white contrast filter, which I briefly described in the first section, plays an instrumental role in the exposure. I used two filters to make the sky print black: a red filter (also known as a Wratten #25A) combined with a polarizer. “Wratten” refers to a historical labeling system for contrast filters. At this point, please allow me digress briefly to provide some background to explain the physics and the rationale behind contrast filters.

Black and white contrast filters, which were originally designed as rectangular gel filters, are now widely used as circular glass filters that screw into the front lens thread (or into a front lens adaptor for those lenses that do not have front lens threads). A time honored schematic that is helpful in understanding the physics is the so-called “color wheel”. Physically, these filters *pass* light whose wavelengths are of the same color as the filter. Conversely, these filters *block* wavelengths of light that are on the opposite side of the color wheel.

For example, a red filter passes red, orange, and some yellow light but blocks blue and green light. A green filter passes green, cyan, and yellow light but blocks red and some orange light. In general, a given contrast filter will lighten colors that are near each other (the adjacent sector) on one side of the color wheel and will darken colors that lie on the opposite side (two to three sectors around). Thus, these filters can be used to exert potentially creative effects on the contrast and aesthetics of the print. For example, red and orange filters can be used to darken a blue (and cyan) sky and increase the contrast between the sky and clouds, yet they also darken green foliage. In this regard, the red filter exerts a more powerful effect than the orange filter. Green and yellow-green filters can be used to lighten foliage and also to darken the sky to some degree. Of note, green filters have also been used creatively to darken and separate the reds in rocks structures in the desert southwestern U.S., for example. In addition to red, green, and orange filters, there are also yellow and blue filters. For a given color of contrast filter, there are also varying strengths from which to choose. Of note, red and orange filters also strongly block UV light. Below are some simplified schematics that illustrate the physics.

With this simplified background on contrast filters set forth, hopefully it will be easier to understand why I chose a red filter to significantly darken the sky. Since the red filter heavily blocks blue light at the *point of contact* with the lens, blue light (in theory) *never* reaches the film plane. Consequently, the black and white film effectively becomes “blind” to blue light. Therefore, anything that is blue in the scene is recorded as – you guessed it – black, because photons of that wavelength from that area of the scene will have never made it to the film plane. It is that simple. Now, why did I add a polarizer to the filtration strategy? The answer is that the use of a polarizer will augment the certainty that the sky prints black. As in any form of photography – film or digital, black and white or color – polarizers can darken the sky if they oriented close to a 90 degree angle from the sun. Yet, the combination of a red #25A and polarizer in and of itself may not guarantee that the sky prints black. This is where the exposure strategy is critical and where the Zone System serves as a powerful tool for the photographer. Since the objective for this exposure is to print the sky black and print a near white façade with just enough detail and texture to appreciate, the negative would ideally have the sky fall in Zone 0 (pure black, no detail or tonality) and the façade on Zone VIII (bright white with some detail and texture). By studying the scene, the deep blue sky fell on Zone V (middle gray, midtone) and the façade between Zone VIII and Zone IX. As a reminder, all Zones in the Zone scale are separated from the adjacent Zone by one exposure stop.

iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/2907, f/2.4

One possible exposure strategy could call for metering the sky to place those values in Zone V followed by normal development of the film; that would likely have made the façade bright white with some detail (Zone VIII) but made the sky print dark grey, not black, as Zone V lies too high in exposure scale. Alternatively, one could meter the façade in Zone VIII and develop the film normally, but that potentially could have resulted in the same suboptimal outcome. For the solution, I followed the masterful exposure strategy employed by Howard Bond in his incomparable work on the Cyclades Islands of Greece, where during a series of trips in the 1980s he made *phenomenal* abstracts of whitewashed Greek buildings. In my humble opinion, Mr. Bond’s work there ranks among the greatest works of photographic art ever made and epitomizes the process of visualization. In his article, “Filters for Black-and-White Photography” in Photo Techniques Magazine, Mr. Bond describes his filtering and exposure strategy on the Cyclades Islands:

“The first time I combined a polarizer with another filter was with a #25 red when photographing a white-washed Greek church against a blue sky. I wanted the sky to be rendered black, since the print might look weak if its darkest value were gray. The sky was a rather pale blue because of the presence of a lot of white light, presumably polarized. The polarizer got rid of that, leaving a strong blue that responded well to the red filter. Even so, the sky would only have been dark gray if I had placed the brightest whitewash on zone VIII and given normal development. Instead, I placed it on Zone VI, which made the blue sky fall low enough to ensure that it would print black. N+2 development brought the highlights back up to Zone VIII.”

Thus, I chose to meter the façade (indicated by the “green” circle in the iPhone illustration) and place that high value in Zone VI and then extend the development of the film by two stops (N+2) to bring up the highlights back into Zone VIII. In theory, the metering strategy will have dropped the exposure of the sky into Zone III (dark to dark-grey), which in the face of drastically reduced blue light transmission by virtue of the red filter in place, combined with the darkening effect of the polarizer, would have ensured that the sky prints black.

As I briefly explained in the first section, the most critical steps in any exposure strategy are for the photographer to correctly assess the luminance values of the metered Zone of interest and then to override the meter in order to properly expose that Zone on the negative. Although I should have provided more clear-cut examples of this on page 1, please allow me to do so briefly here. Again, a spot light meter sees just one thing: Zone V, middle grey, or the middle of the exposure scale. By default, the meter will automatically assign an exposure value in Zone V, regardless of whether the scene is brightly lit or dimly lit. For example, if the photographer meters a brightly lit area of the scene (such as snow in bright light), the meter will want to bring that exposure value *down* to Zone V. Conversely, if the photographer meters a dimly lit area of the scene (such as shadows, or black fur), the meter will want to bring that exposure value *up* to Zone V. Obviously, an assigned luminance of Zone V at the metered region may *not* represent the desired luminance that the photographer wishes to record on the negative. If the photographer does not override the meter, the results can be disastrous. In a brightly lit scene where the photographer wishes to maintain the high values, in the absence of manual override by adding positive exposure compensation, the negative will be *underexposed*. Conversely, in a dimly lit scene where the photographer wishes to maintain the low values, in the absence of manual override by adding minus exposure compensation, the negative will be *overexposed*.

So, with the exposure strategy set, I took my spot meter and dialed into the ISO dial the rated film speed (exposure index 80) and the filter factors for the red filter (+3⅓) and polarizer (+1⅔). I metered the façade, which by default gave an exposure value that lies in Zone V. I adjusted the EV dial to override that value to place the luminance on Zone VI (+1 stop more exposure) and then read off the shutter speed. I sent the film for development at Northcoast Photographic Services. I specifically communicated to my film technician, Scott, the type of film I used, my rated exposure index, and into what Zone I desired my highlights to fall, namely in Zone VIII. Consequently, with that information he extended the development of the film by N+2.

“Gravida”
Cambo SC 4 x 5, Nikkor-M 300mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100

Upon examining the negative on the light table, the exposure and development turned out perfectly – the sky on the negative appeared clear (i.e., pure black) and the façade appeared very dark with enough detail to appreciate (i.e., bright white with some detail). On the light table, the image had an uncanny 3-dimensional appearance such that one could run fingers tips on the façade and feel the textures… I scanned the negative on the Epson V850 flatbed scanner at 3200 dpi. Since the usable area of a 4 x 5” negative is 3.75 x 4.75”, with this output resolution and film dimensions the scan yielded a 182 megapixel image. I made no post-processing adjustments. I cropped the image to a 3:2 aspect ratio. Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome. Aesthetically, I thought the image tells the story exactly as I had envisioned it in my mind: the story of an expectant mother in an abstract manner conveyed with a sense of minimalism. From a technical standpoint, I was pleased with the strong contrast and the detail on the facade. Even though the façade was illuminated with harsh sunlight, the film managed to record and resolve ample detail and texture on Zone VIII.

In a recent correspondence with Mr. Bond, he related that ever since his work on the Cyclades Islands he has found that the Wratten #29 filter, or deep red filter, blocks so much blue light that it obviates the need for a combined Wratten #25 filter and polarizer filter to make the sky print black. Since I made this photograph and my conversation with Mr. Bond, I have added a deep red filter to my camera bag. Thank you, Howard!

Next, continuing with the spirit of exploring architecture and abstraction, I chose the following photograph to share and discuss. One of the most iconic buildings in the city of San Diego, California is the San Diego Innovation center, known locally as the “pyramid building”. It bears a striking resemblance to the renowned and iconic Louvre museum in Paris, France.

San Diego Innovation Center
iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/1972, f/2.4

Before I decided to study this unique structure in depth, I had actually driven passed this building several times over the years and intermittently contemplated making an abstract photograph of it. I had repeatedly deferred this feat because I was neither comfortable nor confident with my creative mindset or with my skill set at the time. As with any potential artistic creation, it goes without saying that the artist has to *feel it* to make it happen. Last month, I was *feeling it*. The geometry, pattern, abstraction, and contrast resonated with me. I began to dream of this structure… To make preparations for an exposure, I made two separate scouting trips to this structure. The principle considerations were the light (sound familiar?), the contrast, and the perspective.

As in the first photo,“Gravida”, in order to create a very high contrast and abstract image, I desired the harshest and most contrasty light Nature could provide: clear blue skies at high noon. The next decision was to choose the proper perspective in order to convey a compelling sense of structure and to emphasize the geometry and abstract nature. As I studied the structure though my composing card at close range, the perspective was predictably distorted, as the spacing of the lines of the lattice and the relationship between the lines and glass walls were widened. Framing with a wide angle lens would have been inordinately difficult. Further away (about 80-90 yards) from the building, the perspective appeared more interesting and pleasant. The spacing of the elements appeared more compressed, which lent itself well to emphasizing the aforementioned attributes. I chose this spot to make the exposure. In order to frame this perspective, the obvious choice was the use of a “long-normal” lens, for which I chose a Goerz Red Dot Apo Artar 16.5” (420mm) f/9.5. In the 8×10” format, this focal length provides an angle of view that is similar to that seen with a 60mm lens in the 35mm format. My other tool choices were the Tachihara 8×10 field view camera and Ilford Delta 100 film.

What I visualized in my mind was an image that revealed high contrast between the high values of the lattice and a very dark sky. Interestingly, the high values of the lattice near the top half were significantly higher (by about 1 to 1 ½ stops) than at the middle and at both lower corners of the structure. With the confluence of a black sky and this gradient of high values, the potential to create a striking abstract was enticing.

As you may already be anticipating, in order to make this photograph a reality, I followed a near identical exposure strategy as with “Gravida”. To briefly summarize, in order to make the sky print black, I employed powerful filtration to block blue light from exposing the film combined with judicious underexposure of the sky. And in order to widen the contrast range (i.e., negative expansion), I extended the development of the film to push the high values up on the exposure scale. Again, with a firm understanding and command of the physics of light filtration, the Zone System, and experience, achieving the goal was straightforward. After I pointed the camera slightly upward to frame the scene, I controlled distortion and the shape of the perspective (i.e., keeping the horizontal lines of the lattice parallel) by applying tilts and swings to both standards. In order to control the place of focus, I applied a modest tilt to the front standard. And to control depth of field, I stopped down the aperture to f/32. At this point, at high noon at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it was getting mighty hot under the dark cloth…

As I did not yet have a Wratten #29 deep red filter in hand, I again used my Wratten #25A red filter and polarizer. For the metering strategy, I carefully chose a tight intersection of the high values near the top of the lattice (illustrated by the “red circle” in the iPhone photo) and placed those values in Zone VI. After entering the filter factors and film exposure index into the ISO dial, the spot light meter (as always) yielded an exposure value that lies in Zone V. In order to override the meter to place the metered spot in Zone VI, I rotated the EV dial to indicate 1 additional stop of exposure and read off the shutter speed. Subsequently, I requested N+2 film development from my film technician, who again did a brilliant job (Bravo, Scott!). Upon examination of the negative on the light table, the exposure and development were on target with strong contrast between the sky and the pyramid and good overall sharpness. The sky was exposed black and the high values fell onto Zone VIII. There were a few small exposure artifacts in the sky, but I was not concerned about those. I scanned the negative on the Epson V850, made no conventional post-processing adjustments, spotted the artifacts, and cropped the photo to a 4:3 aspect ratio. Overall, I was very pleased with the image, which came out exactly as I had visualized it.

“Pyramis”
Tachihara 8 x 10, Goerz Red Dot Apo Artar 16.5” f/9.5, Ilford Delta 100

As with many other aspects in film photography and visualization, the salient principle for me in the construction of “Gravida” and “Pyramis” was being in command and control of the *process*. Simple physical tools (filters) and a thorough understanding of light and exposure gave the photographer the power to translate what he saw in the mind into the final image. It was the photographer – and the photographer alone – that decided what light reached the film plane to create the photographic image. *Command and control* of the light – that is where it all begins. For these reasons, I consider black and white contrast filters, when used selectively and strategically, to be a powerful tool in the visualization process.

As a brief historical note, for many years red filters have been used by both photographers and cinematographers in order to simulate night time and moonlit scenes in broad daylight with judicious underexposure of the sky. Even though that was not my intent with “Gravida” and “Pyramis”, red filters can certainly be used as creative tools to this end in a variety of photographic scenes, such as landscapes.

Although the thought process, approach, and technical considerations – the craft – in the making of these photographs might seem overly complex to the beginning film photographer or even perhaps to an advanced film photographer, actually, they are quite straightforward and based on sound principles and experience that have been validated by photographers for over 80 years. The Zone System and filters are just a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. They are merely tools that empower the photographer to consummate visualization to create good photographs and works of art. As the great Fed Picker espoused, “Don’t be creative when you should be mechanical, and don’t be mechanical when you should be creative”, and “The hardest part of photography is finding the right place to stand.” In the creation of any photograph, artistic vision and creativity reign supreme, yet that is most difficult part of the whole process. Manipulation of the light and applying the craft – once the photographer is in command of it – is the easy part.

I hope you have enjoyed this second article on film photography and visualization. On the next page, I plan to share additional photographs – exclusively in the 35mm format – with a description of select choices of black and white and color negative 35mm films. I will conclude this series on page 4 where I will include a brief discussion and application of film reciprocity, the application of close-up and macro exposure calculations, and concluding remarks. Please, stay tuned.

References:

  1. Filters for Black-and-White Photography”. Howard Bond. Photo Techniques Magazine.
  2. Black and White Filters Tutorial”. B. W. Perovich. Freestyle Photographic Supplies.
  3. White Motif: The Cyclades Islands of Greece”. Howard Bond.
  4. The Negative: The Ansel Adams Photography Series 2”. Ansel Adams.
  5. The Zone VI Workshop”. Fred Picker.
  6. Beyond The Zone System”. Phil Davis.
  7. “Scanning Tips”. Kenneth Lee Gallery
  8. View Camera Magazine
  9. Principles of View Camera Focus”. Harold Merklinger.
  10. View Camera Focus and Depth of Field: Part I”. Harold Merklinger.
  11. Technical Books on Photography”. Harold Merklinger.
  12. Check List for View Camera Users”. Howard Bond.

In this third installment to this series on visualization and film photography, I have selected a sample of photographs (mostly made in the 35mm format) to share and discuss. Although I heavily focused on technical aspects in film photography in previous chapters, my goal with this chapter is to provide a more aesthetic description and simplified approach to the construction of photographs. I thought it would be of interest to beginning 35mm photographers to briefly discuss some of the film choices available. Although the choices of film stocks have dwindled over the years, fortunately there remain a plethora of excellent professional and consumer 35mm films from which to choose and enjoy. Even though I have used many – but not all – of the available film stocks, I cannot possibly discuss all of them here. For one particular film stock, I am delighted to share a pair of interviews with more experienced photographers that readers might find interesting and helpful. Of note, Photography Life contributor Vaibhav Tripathi has previously shared his experiences and beautiful photographs made on 35mm with Fuji’s Velvia 50 and Kodak’s Portra stocks in his inspiring photo essays on Acadia National Park, landscape photography, and Waterfalls of New England series that may also be of interest.

Personally, I use 35mm for capturing the moment, the emotion, and as my “fun format”. I use it less so for technical image quality, for which I rely on other formats. Among the many beauties of film photography, the myriad of formats, cameras, lenses, and films from which to choose and mix and match provide the photographer limitless combinations to explore their creative potential. On days where I wish to carry minimal camera gear, shoot hand held, cover distance quickly, and not be bogged down with mechanical considerations, I have no hesitation to grab one of my 35mm cameras and one (maybe two) lenses to explore and capture the moment, whatever that may be.

So, let’s begin with this photograph, which I made this past spring. As I was navigating a busy, crowded, and noisy courtyard following a ceremony, I called out to this young woman. She quickly turned around, made brief eye contact, and … click! Her attention was immediately diverted and she disappeared into the crowd before I could get in another word…

Nikon F6, 85mm f/1.8D, Kodak Tri-X, center-weighted metering, +1⅔ exposure compensation

It goes without saying that for capturing the moment, 35mm based formats (analog and later digital) have given photographers the upper hand to do just that for over 90 years. Whether the subjects have been events, street photography, journalism, sports, or wildlife, 35mm has proven to be an instrumental, creative, and enjoyable tool. For this photograph, I chose Kodak Tri-X black and white film, which has been a legendary film stock for decades and remains one of the most popular and best selling black and white films to date. Interestingly, it was only this past spring that I decided to experiment with Tri-X. Up to that point, I had been pleased using other 35mm black and white films (Ilford Delta 400 and Kodak T-Max 100, for example). It is not uncommon for a photographer to meet and fall in love with one or two particular film stocks, swear by them, and use those as their “go-to” film until they decide to explore other choices. It is a very interesting (and beautiful) phenomenon, actually. As I began to admire and study the Tri-X work of other photographers, I became inspired to try my hand with this film. Through only my first roll, the aesthetics and the emotion that Tri-X conveys, particularly with people and skin tones, prompted me to switch gears. The overall rendition of the scene and the prominent and beautiful grain of Tri-X have made this film one of my personal favorites for photographing people. Words cannot do it justice. It is simply a beautiful film. For this lovely young woman, in the midst of a busy scene, I did not even think about adjusting camera settings (I just had taken a group photo seconds earlier). I quickly composed and opened the shutter. ”f/8 and be there”, as the saying goes . . . The “feel” that Tri-X evokes in this photo, the soft quality of her skin tones – and that grain – made me fall in love with this film.

Technically, Tri-X is quite versatile and available in all formats. In 35mm, it is a 400-speed film, making it well suited for low light and action; its wide exposure latitude has been highly praised. Although I have not personally tested the exposure and development limits of this film, based on anecdotal accounts and the work from expert and amateur photographers alike, Tri-X can be overexposed by three stops (and perhaps more), or underexposed by as much as one stop and still deliver perfectly natural images, not unlike many other negative films.

Since I have limited experience with Tri-X, I decided to reach out to my fellow photographers to share their thoughts and experiences on using Tri-X in the visualization process. This next photograph, “Lying on the Bed”, was made by Mr. Francesco Carloni, a young and gifted photographer from Bergamo, Italy (and also a medicine and surgery student). What captured my interest in this photograph were the mood that the scene evokes and the prominent and beautiful grain.

“Lying on the Bed”, Yashica FR, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7, Kodak Tri-X, exposure index 2000
© Reproduced with the expressed permission of Francesco Carloni

In a recent interview, Mr. Carloni kindly shared his thoughts on this photograph and on the joys of shooting Tri-X film.

Rick Keller: Francesco, thank you for taking the time to contribute to this article. Can you share with us the story behind this photograph?
Francesco Carloni: This frame was taken in a hotel in Rome where I was on holiday with my girlfriend, just after a shower. I simply wanted to represent an intimate moment of my life and I opened the shutter when she looked at me with her eyes hidden by the hair. I think that this picture perfectly renders her shyness and the gentleness of her glance. She is not a model and I’m not a professional photographer, but the feelings are all real and it’s clearly visible! This isn’t an “artificial portrait”, it’s just our life.
Rick Keller: Why did you choose Tri-X for this photo?
Francesco Carloni: I mainly use Kodak Tri-X for indoor photography in low light conditions. My first choice developer is Rodinal (precisely Adox APH09) and I think that Tri-X pushed until 2000 ASA, or even 3200 ASA, and developed with high dilutions for long time can give a very nice contrast while retaining shadow detail. The recipe I use is Rodinal 1+100 for 120 minutes @19°C, about 20 inversions the first minute and then every 30 minutes I gently swirl the tank for 15 seconds. This photo was taken in a bedroom and the only light sources were the two 40W bulbs at the sides of the bed in this circumstance. Tri-X developed with this recipe is, in my opinion, the best choice ever!
Rick Keller: Are there any unique qualities of Tri-X that appear in this photo?
Francesco Carloni: The first thing that even a blind man would see is grain, HUGE GRAIN. Is this a quality? In indoor low light portraits I think that grain is the icing on the cake, it gives you the mood and the expressiveness that any digital camera can’t yield, especially if you wet print the negative in a darkroom! Another quality of this fantastic film is the shadow detail it can ensure even with a 3 stop push process, without however burning the highlights. This wide tonal range is emphasized by the semi-stand process in Rodinal 1+100 which has a characteristic compensating feature.
Rick Keller: In general, either from an aesthetic or technical standpoint (or both), what does Tri-X mean to your photography?
Francesco Carloni: As I said above, I use Tri-X mainly in indoor circumstances where I shoot intimate moments of my everyday life; they’re basically portraits of my girlfriend with natural light (I don’t like camera flashes for this type of pictures, I think they ruin the mood and the passages between light and shadow). The grain and the contrast enrich the expressiveness of the shot, that’s why pushed Tri-X is my first choice film for these situations. With the diaphragm wide open, this fantastic film makes the bokeh as “creamy” as possible, like a crayon drawing, and that’s awesome for me!
Rick Keller: Francesco, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts for the audience.

This next photograph, “Little Baker Girl”, was made by another young and gifted photographer, Mrs. Ellen Goodman from St. Louis, Missouri, USA, who has been exposed (pardon the pun) to photography since her teenage years. OK, this photograph is actually medium format, but she made it on Tri-X nonetheless and I absolutely *adore* this photo!

“Little Baker Girl”, Hasselblad 500 C/M, Carl Zeiss Planar *T 80mm f/2.8, Kodak Tri-X
© Reproduced with the expressed permission of Ellen Goodman

In a recent interview, Mrs. Goodman kindly shared her thoughts on this photograph and on the joys of shooting Tri-X film.

Rick Keller: Ellen, thank you for taking the time to contribute to this article. Can you share with us the story behind this photograph?
Ellen Goodman: This photo was taken of my daughter at our home in the winter of 2013/14. We had quite a bit of snow and had been stuck inside for a few days. I had been wanting to shoot but also wanted to do something fun with her, so I decided to bake and take photos of that. The lighting was uneven. There was natural light behind and above her and a kitchen light was on. I thought about trying to even the lighting out, but I wasn’t shooting to get a technically great shot, but simply shooting to shoot. I always try to wait until a connection is felt before tripping the shutter, whether it’s an emotional connection between the subject and me or seeing a universal emotion/truth surface. Here that emotion / connection was the joy of having fun. We were talking about what a mess we were making when she decided to throw flour all over the place. She looked at me and said, “Don’t worry Momma, Natalie clean up”, which was heartwarming and hilarious at the same time. I felt the joy of the moment of her having fun and the joy between us and clicked the shutter.
Rick Keller: Why did you choose Tri-X for this photo?
Ellen Goodman: I knew I wanted to shoot 400 speed, I had Tri-X and TMAX. I wanted the grittier / less smooth grain of the two.
Rick Keller: Are there any unique qualities of Tri-X that appear in this photo?
Ellen Goodman: I think so, but I’d be hard pressed to say definitively what those qualities are, especially in this shot where it’s more subtle. Is it the grain structure? The randomness of it? Maybe. Probably. I develop with Xtol quite a bit, which makes it even harder for me to try to figure out. I can say that if this was shot on TMAX it would have had a “cleaner”, more “perfect”, look to it.
Rick Keller: In general, either from an aesthetic or technical standpoint (or both), what does Tri-X mean to your photography?
Ellen Goodman: It gives me the ability to create photographs that feel raw and real. Beauty lies in imperfection and Tri-X mirrors this beautifully. It’s also a wonderfully forgiving film, in the camera and in the darkroom.
Rick Keller: Ellen, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts for the audience.

For the beginning film photographers who might be comparing the above Tri-X prints, you will probably notice a difference in grain structure. Since Mrs. Goodman’s photograph was made on medium format, the grain structure present in her image is less conspicuous than the grain in the previous 35mm exposures. In general, all other things being equal (e.g., same film, exposure, development), grain prominence is inversely proportional to the size of the negative: the larger the format, the less prominent the grain. And faster speed films, all other things being equal, exhibit more prominent grain structure than slower speed films. Again, one of the beauties of film photography is by virtue of the choice of film stock, format, and film speed combined with manipulation of the exposure, development, and the printing process, the aesthetic and emotional qualities that one can attain on the final print are boundless.

Next, I have selected a series of 35mm photographs that I had made over the past year with additional film stocks. I made the following photograph on Ilford Delta 400, another excellent moderate speed black and white film and one of the first black and white films with which I started in 35mm. In contrast to Tri-X, Ilford Delta 400’s grain structure is finer and less conspicuous, but it nevertheless provides a lovely rendition with a forgiving exposure latitude. During a walk in a wooded area near where I live, it was late-morning with clear skies. This modest grove of eucalyptus trees under strong backlighting captured my attention. I desired to capture as much shadow detail in the shade and low values on the bark of the prominent tree in the foreground. After carefully studying the scene, I had no interest in preserving any highlight detail here, so I decided to place the low values of the tree trunk higher on the exposure scale (Zone V) and request normal development for the entire roll. For my camera and lens, I chose my Mamiya ZM Quartz (manufactured in 1977) with a 50mm single-coated lens. I chose this camera system specifically because I have found that the lens provides a low contrast and soft rendition to a scene; those attributes were what I desired in this image. Upon viewing the negative on the light table, there was ample shadow detail to appreciate. After I studied the scanned image and an accompanying 10 x 13” print, I concluded that among the many reasons that I enjoy Ilford Delta 400 are the beautiful tonal range and fine grain that it confers.

Mamiya ZM Quartz, 50mm f/1.7 E, Ilford Delta 400

For the next photo, I chose the same camera and lens system to achieve the same aesthetic effects. For this patch of ranunculus flowers, I desired a soft and natural rendition to the color, so I chose one of my favorite color negative films, Portra 400, which is renowned for providing a beautiful and natural rendition of color (in particular for skin tones). Portra 400’s color saturation is moderate and its grain is fine. The moderate film speed and generous exposure latitude make it a versatile tool with which to photograph in just about any lighting conditions. The image yielded soft colors with low contrast that conveyed a soothing and cheerful mood.

Mamiya ZM Quartz, 50mm f/1.7 E, Kodak Portra 400

Here is another Portra 400 sample, made with a more contrasty lens. In the midst of a splendid hike through Olympic National Park in Washington State, USA, I had stopped briefly to reload film into my camera. As I was shuffling though my pack, this friendly fellow (a black-tailed deer) approached me with curiosity. She held still just enough for me to make this delightful portrait. To my taste, the color palette and saturation of Portra 400 appear natural and neither vivid nor over the top, which is why I enjoy this film for photographing people and animals. The image that you see here is “straight out of the camera”.

Nikon F6, 85mm f/1.8D, Kodak Portra 400

Ahh, I made this next photograph during an uplifting promenade though the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA, where I make at least one visit right around the Spring Equinox to enjoy the vast acres of gorgeous ranunculus flowers. It was late morning on a cool and partly cloudy day. As I came upon this stretch of the fields, this beautiful arrangement of yellow ranunculus resonated me with me. As the sun was high in the sky but intermittently shielded by the clouds, I was treated to a touch of contrasty light on this middle quartet of flowers. The moment just felt right to make an exposure. On this particular day, I did not concern myself with technical consideration and camera settings. I was just there to capture the moment and the ambiance on color negative film – just to shoot in the name of art and nothing else. In order to capture vibrant colors on color negative film, my personal favorite is Kodak Ektar 100, which is a vibrant, high contrast, highly saturated, fine grained, and *sharp* color negative film. Ektar has been a popular choice among many nature and landscape photographers (in small, medium, and large formats) for precisely these attributes. Interestingly, Ektar is sometimes referred to by photographers as the “Velvia 50” of color negative film, to which I find there is some merit to that comparison. I patiently waited for the wind blowing in from the ocean across the highway to attenuate a bit and the clouds to cover the sun just enough to moderate the contrast. With the scene framed through my composing card, Ektar loaded in my camera, and an 81A warming filter attached to filter out blue light, I made the exposure and requested normal development for the entire roll. Here, I was not overly concerned with recording shadow detail, as my goal was to record vibrant yellows and alluring highlights on top of the flowers.

Nikon FM3a, 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5D, Kodak Ektar 100, center-weighted metering, +2 exposure compensation

From an aesthetic and technical standpoint, both the negative and the scanned image came out exactly as I had visualized. The color, vibrance, and contrast were delightful. The shadow detail was ample to appreciate and enjoy. More than anything, I was pleased with the uncanny three-dimensional appearance of the center ranunculus. Upon viewing the negative on the light table, the flowers popped such that you can almost reach out and grab them by their stems. Based on my experience with Ektar in multiple formats, this three-dimensionality is one of the hallmarks of this film (just as it is with Velvia 50) and is more prominent and enjoyable on a print than it is on a computer monitor. I made no post-processing adjustments (straight out of the camera!). I slightly cropped the frame to a 3:2 aspect ratio, printed it, and matted/ framed it.

On a brief technical point, it is worthwhile to mention that many photographers do not believe in using color correction / color conversion filters with color negative film, arguing that the color balance can be appropriately corrected at the scanning and printing stage. Others, however, argue that color correction filters with negative film are instrumental to obtain the desired color balance during the exposure so that photographers need not worry about this issue downstream. Personally, I favor the latter approach and often use warming filters, especially under overcast skies and shade to filter out excessive blue casts, which I find highly undesirable in my prints. It is just my personal style and philosophy to take command and control over the light as much as possible during the exposure. There is no right or wrong with this technical decision; it is just a matter of personal preference in the visualization process.

Next, I made the following photograph during another hike through Olympic National Park. As sunset neared, I was in the midst a dense grove of birch trees. At the moment, I felt inspired to capture the brilliance of the sun bursting through the dense trees and to convey a warm and uplifting emotion. In setting up this shot, there were three challenges in the visualization process. One, there was a wide dynamic range to be captured. Two, the foreground was dimly lit, cold, and visibly blue. Third, there was a lack of compelling structure in the foreground to balance the brilliance of the distant sun. Since I was working with color negative film, I was not overly concerned about the dynamic range to be captured. So, I decided to heavily expose the dimly illuminated foreground, develop the entire roll normally, and let the lights be (potentially) blown out. In the back of my mind, since this is negative film, I knew a priori that the overexposed highlights would might sill turn out beautifully. To correct the cold, blue cast in the heavily shaded foreground (again shadows in open shade are predominantly lit by blue light), I used a stronger warming filter, the 81C. For aesthetic effects, I deliberately pointed the lens where I would introduce flare to create some degree of foreground interest. I stopped down the aperture to f/16 to create a multi-ray “sun burst”. Of course, heavily exposing for the shadows and stopping down the aperture made for a relatively “long” exposure, so I had to put the camera on a tripod.

Nikon F6, 85mm f/1.8D, Kodak Ektar 100

Upon examining the negative on the light table and the scanned negative, there was ample detail in the deep foreground shadows; the 81C filtered out the heavy dosage of blue light; the development yielded a beautiful highlight rendition of the sunburst with ample detail visible around the sun rays; and the flare conferred both a pleasant aesthetic mood and a lead into the scene. I was quite pleased with the moment and the final result.

Finally, during a spring promenade through downtown La Jolla, CA, I fortuitously came across a small, but delightful, rose garden at a street corner. This particular rose caught my attention because of its isolation and its subtle radiance under overcast skies. What I desired here was to make a soft portrait at close range to confer a gentle feeling of beauty. Ideally, I would have preferred a high speed film for hand holding (i.e., Portra 400), but since I still had multiple exposures of Ektar 100 remaining in my camera, I decided to open the aperture up an additional stop, which was OK, since I desired a shallow depth of field for aesthetic effects. To eliminate the subtle, but noticeable, blue light in the deep shadows, I used my 81A warming filter. I composed at a modestly close range (1:8 magnification ratio).

Nikon F6, 60mm f/2.8G, Kodak Ektar 100

As in the earlier photo of the ranunculus field, what Ektar yields even under relatively low contrast light is a lovely and vibrant (yet not over the top) color rendition along with a three-dimensional appearance. On a historical note, some film photographers have lamented that Ektar yields a slight green rendition to the color palette. Personally, I have not noticed this green tint during any of my exposures, perhaps because I tend to give a healthy dose of exposure to capture ample shadow detail. At any rate, if a photographer uses Ektar to photograph landscapes replete with greens, for example, and does underexpose the scene (gasp!), then this green tint might well become inconsequential, in my humble opinion.

To conclude, although there are many reasons that photographers choose 35mm (and bigger formats, too) and negative films in the visualization process, if there is one common denominator to those then I would say that it would be the unique “personalities” of these films, which provide them with a versatile creative platform to explore their vision and creativity. The choices of films today remain plentiful; the applications, diverse; and the creative potential, boundless. If there is one technical challenge to using 35mm (or roll film in general) in visualization that deserves mention and that merits deliberation, then it would be the fact that the entire roll must developed the same for all frames, in contrast to sheet film where individual sheets can be developed differently as desired. But even then, for the seasoned and skilled film photographer, I consider that restriction not as a drawback to the process but actually a strength, since the photographer might hopefully take a more intuitive and astute approach to the lighting and exposure for all of those frames. And a more insightful approach to visualization hopefully will translate into a good final result.

I hope you have enjoyed this third article on film photography and visualization. Special thanks to Francesco Carloni and Ellen Goodman for their superb contributions to this article and to Northcoast Photographic Services in Carlsbad, CA, which provided both the 35mm development and scanning services for my film contributions (great job, Bonnie and Scott!). Perhaps in the near future, when I will have obtained more experience with other popular 35mm film stocks, (e.g., Fuji Superia, Fujicolor Pro 400H, Kodak Portra 160, Kodak Portra 800, Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford HP5 Plus, Kodak T-Max 400, Fuji Velvia 100, Cinestill), I will return to share more thoughts and experiences with these films. In the concluding Part IV to this series, I plan to share additional photographs (more architecture and close-ups) with a brief discussion and application of film reciprocity, the application of exposure calculations in close-up and macro photography, and concluding remarks.

In this fourth installment to this series, I have selected a series of photographs that I made with long exposures on three film stocks to share in the context of a discussion of film reciprocity departure and the use of filters in color film photography. Although I had originally intended to include a discussion of exposure corrections for close-ups in this section, in the interest of brevity I decided to defer this topic to a final part to this series. Of note, reciprocity departure and filtration in color film photography are complex and interesting topics. This article is not meant to be a comprehensive treatment of both topics, but rather an introduction that I may expand upon in future articles.

In order to understand the meaning of reciprocity departure, one must first understand what reciprocity itself means. Reciprocity is the basic law of exposure that governs the relationship between the intensity of light reaching the film plane (as determined by the subject brightness and aperture) and the length of the exposure (as determined by the shutter speed) in producing a given response, or exposure density, on the film.

For example, to maintain the same exposure density at a given light intensity for a given film, allowing more light through the entrance pupil of the lens (i.e., a wider aperture) requires a proportionate decrease in the length of the exposure (i.e., a faster shutter speed). Thus, doubling the light intensity on the film coupled with a full stop increase in the shutter speed results in no change in the exposure density. Analogously, a given result on film that is achieved at f/4 and 1/60 seconds is equivalent to the effect that is achieved at f/2.8 at 1/125 seconds – under the same scene luminance.

The converse holds true: allowing less light through the entrance pupil of the lens (i.e., a smaller aperture) requires a proportionate increase in the length of the exposure (i.e., a slower shutter speed) to create the same density on the film. Thus, a full stop decrease in the size of the aperture requires a full stop decrease in the shutter speed to create the same result.

For the beginning photographer, the law of reciprocity can be summarized as follows: you can achieve the same exposure by inversely and proportionally varying both the quantity of light exposing the film and the duration of the exposure. Simple enough.

The law of reciprocity is valid for both black and white and color film over a broad range of exposures for many different film stocks.

But … at very low light levels requiring longer exposures (i.e., seconds) and at very high light levels requiring very short exposures (i.e., 1/10,000 sec), the reciprocal relationship between the total amount of light intensity striking the film and the duration of the exposure in creating a given density on the film breaks down. Restricting this effect to the scenario involving very low light levels and long exposures (the predominant type applicable to general photography), what happens is that a given film stock becomes less responsive to the available photos of light that is not accounted for by the usual aperture-shutter speed relationship. At very low light levels, a longer exposure than that predicted by the law of reciprocity and indicated by a light meter is now required to achieve the same effect. This phenomenon is called “reciprocity failure” or “reciprocity departure”. As Ansel Adams describes in his book, “The Negative”, the breakdown of reciprocity is not a failure per se but more of an effect, or behavior, of film at the extremes of exposure. Although a full description of reciprocity departure is beyond the scope of this article, the salient concept is that for a given film stock at very low light levels beyond a given shutter speed (typically > 1 sec), the film behaves as if it has an slower ISO; to compensate, the photographer must lend additional exposure beyond what the light meter indicates for the measured luminance.

But wait … there’s more! With color film at low light levels and long exposures, the individual emulsions that are sensitive to the different wavelengths of light react differently and can result in color shifts on the negative or slide. Yikes!

So, the immediate practical questions become: how much additional exposure should the photographer impart for a given film at this extreme? And how should the photographer handle the potential for color shifts on color film? Fortunately, some (but not all) film manufacturers supply data sheets for their film stocks that include recommendations for reciprocity departure correction and color correction. However, some of these recommendations are either limited or not entirely accurate, which unfairly places the burden (in my humble opinion) of determining the appropriate reciprocity departure compensation on the individual photographer.

Some of the data sheets that are supplied by film manufacturers explicitly recommend that for critical work photographers should perform their own tests to determine the appropriate reciprocity correction. The good news for modern day film photographers is that over the years many experienced and professional photographers have worked out the reciprocity corrections for many film stocks, which is a tremendous help. Further, there are a few reasonably good applications for cell phones and tablets that are on the market for calculating reciprocity correction. An important caveat here is how one photographer corrects for reciprocity departure for a given film stock may differ from how other photographers do it, depending on their individual empiric results, lighting conditions, and visualization process.

Common low light scenarios where correction for reciprocity departure is mandatory are early sunrise; late sunset; night time exposures; day time exposures with slow speed film and the need for small apertures for expanded depth of field; the use of high density lens filters (e.g., black and white contrast, neutral density, color correction); and close-up and macro exposures where exposure density is lost at the film plane (much more on this in Part V). In large format photography, in particular, the need for reciprocity compensation is commonplace (especially for landscapes and close-ups) where small apertures (f/22 to f/64) and long exposures are the rule, not the exception.

So, with this background set forth let’s delve into a typical scenario involving reciprocity departure correction for long film exposures. Within the renowned Balboa Park in San Diego, California, there are a plethora of gardens, trees, flowers, and exotic succulent plants to admire and photograph. Among my personal favorite subjects at this park is this iconic fig tree with its enormous and visually stunning root system.

iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/30, f/2.4

The structure and intricate pattern of the roots, their textures and fine detail, and interplay of light and shadows make this a delightful subject to explore. On two separate days (sunset and sunrise), I took several exposures of this tree at varying perspectives, angles, and lenses. Using my composing card to help study and select a composition, I chose the perspective in the iPhone scout shot above, roughly 8 feet away. To frame this perspective, I chose a “normal” lens in the 4×5 format. Due to the low intensity lighting at this time, intuitively I understood that my exposure was going to be long, and thus, compensation for reciprocity departure would be a necessity.

Composing Card

To create a strong visual effect and mood, I desired to keep the pockets of deep shadows between the large roots near the top of the frame very dark (Zone 0 to Zone I) yet preserve detail in the shadows in the foreground. After carefully studying the scene, I decided to meter the shadows indicated by the “red circle” in the above iPhone image and place those low values in Zone IV. As I do with all of my exposures, I apply the Zone System to determine my exposure and film development.

In general, if the photographer desires to preserve optimum shadow detail in the scene with panchromatic black and white film (sensitive to all wavelengths of visible light), then it is best to avoid the use of red, orange, and yellow filters for contrast. Since these filters block blue light (red filters >> orange > yellow), which is predominantly responsible for illuminating shadows via sky light, they actually decrease shadow detail, or “close” shadows. Hence, these filters must be used with caution. Alternatively, the photographer may choose to use an orthochromatic film (sensitive to blue-green light but blind to red light) to capture more shadow detail, or to soften or “open” up shadows. Using a blue filter with panchromatic film to simulate an orthochromatic response is another option. The applications of panchromatic vs orthochromatic film emulsions are a potentially good topic for a future article.

For my camera and lens, I chose the Ikeda Anba 4×5 (one of the lightest view cameras ever made) and the compact and light weight Nikkor-W 150mm f/5.6, respectively. This lens provides an angle of view that is similar to that seen with a 40mm lens in the 35mm format. For film, I chose Ilford Delta 100 (a panchromatic film), with an exposure index of 80. Based on a photographer’s personal experience and objectives for given photograph, it is not uncommon to rate the ISO lower than the box speed in order to obtain more shadow detail during the exposure, especially if he/she intends to reduce development of the film to reduce the contrast range on the negative. I used no filters. After applying movements to the view camera to control the plane of focus and the shape of the perspective, I stopped down the aperture to f/16 to control depth of field. On my meter, I dialed ISO 80 into the ISO dial of my Pentax Digital Spot Meter.

Pentax Digital Spot Meter

As I had described previously in Part I and Part II and which merits reinforcement for the beginning photographer, since a spot light meter automatically renders an exposure value that lies within Zone V (“middle gray”) regardless of the scene’s illumination, the photographer must override this meter reading in order to place that exposure value in the desired Zone (unless, of course, Zone V is desired).

Since I wanted my shadow detail and tonality to fall on Zone IV at this metered spot, I rotated the EV dial to Zone IV (indicating 1 stop less exposure) and read off the shutter speed (4 seconds). For Ilford Delta 100, Ilford recommends the following:

“Making long exposures for exposures between 1/2 and 1/10,000 second, no adjustments are needed for reciprocity law failure. When exposures longer than 1/2 second are given, 100 DELTA Professional along with other films, needs to be given more exposure than indicated by a meter. Use the graph to calculate the increased exposure time which should be given once the measured time is known.”

Although it would seem that the graph Ilford provides is helpful and trustworthy, it turns out that this curve is inaccurate. For the adjusted shutter speed for numerous black and white films, I heavily rely on reciprocity departure tables that have been kindly provided by the impeccable work of Howard Bond in his article, “Black and White Reciprocity Departure Revisited“. At a shutter speed of 4 seconds, the adjusted shutter speed is approximately 5 seconds (+⅓ additional stop).

Another important consequence of reciprocity departure that the photographer must take into account during the development of the film is that during the long exposure the responses of the film to the low and high values in the scene are not equal. The low values are disproportionately underexposed compared to the high values. So, when the film is developed normally, the highlights will become more prominent than otherwise predicted, leading to potentially excessive contrast on the negative. Therefore, based on the scene’s intensity of the high values, the photographer may choose to reduce the development time accordingly to lower the density of the high values (and thus compress the overall contrast range) on the negative, a concept known as negative contraction. On the other hand, the photographer may choose to lend normal development to the film, as he/she may desire a high contrast negative. For this scene, I desired high contrast. The potentially increased density of the high values on the roots of the tree that may result from exposure compensation for reciprocity departure  was precisely what I wanted, so I requested “normal” development from my lab technician. I also made a duplicate exposure destined for N+1 development (extended development of the film) to raise the density of the high values (and thus expand the overall contrast range) on the negative, also known as negative expansion.

Upon examination of the negative on the light table, the overall exposure (with reciprocity departure accounted for) looked very good. The negative had ample shadow detail and tonality where I desired them. There was strong contrast and adequate sharpness. I personally scanned the negative on the Epson V850 Pro. I made no post-processing adjustments, not even sharpening (all film and modern lenses are sharp enough). I cropped the image to a 4:3 aspect ratio. Overall, I think the final image faithfully represented the structure and mood of the scene as I had visualized it in my mind: strong contrast replete with fine detail and texture for the viewer to visually explore. If I had chosen the originally metered shutter speed of 4 seconds (⅓ stop less exposure), then the desired shadow detail would have been inadequate, in my mind.

Ikeda Anba 4×5, Nikkor-W 150mm f/5.6, Ilford Delta 100, no filter, normal development

The next photograph is of the same subject but with a slightly wider angle of view, the same perspective (same subject distance), and a different lens on a different format.

Tachihara 8×10, Fujinon-A 240mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100, no filter, normal development

Although this wider angle of view shows the pillars from the wooden bridge (upper middle right) that provide some degree of scale to this subject, it also shows evidence of the disheartening problem of vandalism of our city, state, and national park systems. The following crop of the upper middle right of the previous photo reveals the willful, senseless, and cruel acts of damage to the tree’s roots. Sadly, the opposite face of the tree is terribly scarred with more carving from vandals. As a nature lover who respects and supports conservation, it makes me angry and heartbroken to see such disrespectful and criminal acts being perpetrated by those who have no regard for nature conservation or public/private property.

Tachihara 8×10, Fujinon-A 240mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100, no filter, normal development

Moving on to another example of reciprocity departure correction, I chose the following sunset photo to share and discuss. Ever since I started my photography exploits six years ago, I continue to gravitate to sunrises and sunsets as subjects. The visual beauty, aesthetics, and psychological effects of these scenes resonate deeply with me. I made this photograph along coastal San Diego at the “second sunset”. With this type of scene, my goal is to capture the quintessence of the intersection of light, land, and sea. Vibrant colors, high contrast, and visual and emotional impact are the attributes that I wish to create on my final print. From an aesthetic standpoint, conveying what you are seeing and feeling at the time that you open the shutter and inviting your viewer into that scene with a print can be a rewarding experience as an artist.

Mamiya 7II, 43mm f/4.5 L, Fujichrome Velvia 50, normal development

A potentially critical step in the visualization process involves what Ansel Adams refers to in his books as the “conscious departure from reality”. That is, after the photographer studies the scene before his/her eyes and reconciles the reality of it with what he visualizes on the print, he may take decisive action to adjust and/or manipulate the exposure (and downstream development and printing manipulations) so that the final print conveys what he saw in his mind and felt in his heart at the time of the exposure. You can read here and here the classic story behind this step in visualization.

To achieve my goals with this sunset scene, I chose Fujichrome Velvia 50 slide, or transparency, film. As I discussed in Part I, Velvia 50 is a high saturation, high contrast, vibrant, and incredibly 3-dimensional and sharp color film that has been a popular tool for landscape photographers for over 25 years. Due to these attributes, Velvia 50 is one of my personal favorite films.

Due to the combination of low light intensity, slow speed film, lens filters, and a small aperture, the need for a long exposure and compensation for reciprocity departure were evident. Under low light conditions, I often rate the exposure index of Velvia 50 at ISO 40 (occasionally at 32). For color film (both slide and negative), adding to the complexity in long exposures is the potential for color shifts, which have been described in the literature and by experienced photographers as varying from green to cyan. Personally, I have yet to see these color shifts with Velvia 50, but I have seen these with Portra 400, for example, with exposures approaching 20 seconds or more. Film manufacturers recommend in their data sheets to use color correction filters (i.e., magenta filters) to counteract green shifts in the exposure (more on these below).

In order to craft my calculated departure from reality to create this photograph, I used two tools of the trade: strong color conversion filters, the 85C, and the FLW filters. The beginning film photographer may ask: why these filters? Traditionally, the 85C filter has been used to help match, or balance, the color temperature of daylight illumination to the color temperature of tungsten balanced film (i.e., white balance), but it can also be used creatively as a strong warming filter with daylight balanced film. With sunsets and sunrises, the 85C can powerfully (and beautifully) accentuate the crimson in skies. The FLW filter, on the other hand, has been used traditionally to balance the color temperature of warm white fluorescent lighting with the color temperature of daylight balanced film; however, the FLW can also be used creatively to impart magenta to a scene using daylight balanced film. Aesthetically and technically, I used these filters to create the image that I had visualized in my mind and to convey the emotion that I felt at that time.

The 85C and the FLW filters carry exposure factors of +⅔ and +1⅓ stops, respectively, meaning that their density causes light loss at the filter plane by these amounts, which must be manually accounted for during the exposure when using an external light meter, as I did in this photograph.

Left: FLW filter. Right: 85C filter

For my camera and lens, I chose my Mamiya 7II and its accompanying 43mm f/4.5 L lens, which provides an angle of view that is similar to that seen with a 21mm lens in the 35mm format. This particular camera system lends itself well to long exposures; because it is a rangefinder system (no mirror) with leaf shutter lenses, these mechanical designs significantly reduce the risk of sharpness-robbing vibrations that are more common with mirrors and focal plane shutters in SLR camera systems.

Although the Mamiya 7II has a functional (and excellent) spot meter, I prefer to use an external hand held spot meter for my exposures. On my meter, I dialed into the ISO dial my rated exposure index for Velvia 50 (EI 40) as well as the filter factors (+⅔ and +1⅓ stops). I closed the aperture down to f/11. As I describe in Part I, due to the tight dynamic range and poor exposure latitude of slide film, I (nearly) always expose for the high values. I chose to meter the strong high values in the center of the frame and place those on Zone VII. With slide film, placement of the high values of interest above Zone VII (even by a half stop) would not be wise, as highlight detail starts to significantly degrade above that point. Again, since spot light meters by default yield an exposure value that automatically lies in Zone V, I rotated the EV dial to indicate two additional stops of exposure (i.e., Zone VII). The meter gave a shutter speed of 8 seconds.

With Velvia 50, Fuji recommends correcting for reciprocity departure for any exposure of ≥ 4 seconds. Based on Fuji’s published recommendations on its data sheet, the experience of other photographers using this film, and my own experience, the reciprocity departure compensation gives an adjusted shutter speed of 12 seconds (+½ additional stop). For a critical shot on slide film, many photographers might well opt to bracket the main exposure with an exposure at (+/-) ⅓ stop or even (+/-) ½ stop.

Transparency on the light box

Upon viewing the transparency on the light table, the exposure turned out exactly as I had envisioned it. The colors were rich and vibrant. The film recorded excellent detail and texture in the strong highlights. In an uncanny manner, the light table / light box transports you to the scene again to re-experience the emotion . . . I personally scanned the slide, made no conventional post-processing adjustments, and cropped the image to a 4:3 aspect ratio. The overall exposure, as determined by the reciprocity departure correction, was on target. In my mind, if I had made this exposure at the original metered shutter speed of 8 seconds (½ stop less), the photo would have been underexposed; yet that is a matter of subjective taste. An exposure that appears “right” for one photographer might well be interpreted differently by another. Perhaps, one of my fellow photographers would have added an additional ⅓ to ½ stop to this main exposure for reciprocity (shutter speed 15-18 seconds instead of 12 seconds). Or ½ stop less? Much like the art of composition, compensation for film reciprocity departure can be individualized according to the photographer’s own experience, lighting conditions, and his/her vision for the final print. It is not uncommon for a film photographer to personally craft his own reciprocity table for a given film based on different lighting conditions and his own rated exposure index for the film.

From a technical and aesthetic standpoint, the beginning film photographer might ask: was it necessary to use an 85C filter for a warming effect? No, of course not. Could I not have been equally satisfied if I had used a weaker warming filter, or satisfied if I had used no filters at all? Certainly, if I had desired and visualized less vibrant colors, or less warmth in the sky, perhaps I would have used a weaker warming filter. And herein lies the beauty of the art of photography: in the end, you have to go with your intuition and what suits your style and your unique process of visualization to achieve the effects that you desire as an artist. The “conscious departure from reality”– or not. It all depends on what the photographer and artist wishes to accomplish.

Light Balancing and Color Conversion filters.
Left to right: 81A, 81B, 81C, 85C, 85B

For this next photo at glorious Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego, CA, I chose color negative film with a relatively weaker warming filter, the 81A, along with a polarizer. Since most of my subjects that I photograph on Kodak Ektar 100 are scenics, I typically will have at least an 81A filter on my lenses to impart modest warmth to the scene and to remove ghastly blue casts within the shadows. Since I scan my negatives and print digitally instead of the traditional way with an optical enlarger and color filter packs, I often use light balancing filters (e.g., 81A, 81B, 82A) and occasionally color correction filters, to help achieve the desired color balance during the exposure. In contrast to a much stronger color conversion filter, which balances the color temperature of light to the color temperature of the film, a light balancing filter is a weaker filter that is designed for creating warming (or cooling) effects during the exposure. For example, the 81A filter, which blocks blue light, can be used to remove blue casts in shadows and under overcast skies or to remove blue casts from an electronic flash unit. Color correction filters (e.g., magenta, cyan) are specialized filters that modify primary colors to achieve a normal color balance in the scene; for example, a CC magenta filter can be used to help balance color in a scene that is illuminated by fluorescent lamps (which tend to create an unsavory green cast ), or to neutralize the cyan/green shifts during long exposures with color film.

For this sunset photo, I visualized a less vibrant and more natural rendition to the colors, as that was congruent with my mood at the time. The 81A filter, as opposed to the stronger 85C, helped me create this rendition. In contrast to the previous sunset exposure on Velvia, I did not pursue a “conscious departure from reality” in my visualization for this photograph. Of note, since the density of the 81A is less than that of the 85C, the former carries a filter factor of +⅓ stop compared to +⅔ stop for the latter.

Ikeda Anba 4×5, Nikkor-SW 90mm f/8, Kodak Ektar 100 (EI 80)
81A filter, normal development

Although Kodak continues to do a phenomenal job in producing and maintaining on the market this vibrant, sharp, and 3-dimensional color negative film for photographers to enjoy, its recommendation for reciprocity departure correction for Ektar 100 leaves much to be desired. Here is what Kodak recommends for Ektar:
“Adjustments for Long and Short Exposures: No filter correction or exposure compensation is required for exposures from 1⁄10,000 second to 1 second. For critical applications with longer exposure times, make tests under your conditions.”

Well, that is not very helpful, is it? Fortunately, many experienced photographers have done formal testing of this film and kindly shared their results. Personally, I use this very good table for reciprocity departure for Ektar 100.

Returning to the photo, after metering the shadows and placing them on the desired Zone, the meter gave a shutter speed of 4 sec, which when adjusted for reciprocity departure yields a shutter speed of approximately 6 seconds (+⅔ additional stop). After studying the negative and subsequent scan, the image was, to my eyes, a faithful representation of what I saw and felt at the time. The image appeared natural with warm (yet not over the top) colors. The exposure and development were nominal. The shadow detail and high value rendition appeared as I had visualized them, and the long exposure provided a subtle and pleasing sense of movement of the clouds. With regards to reciprocity departure compensation, if I had chosen the metered shutter speed of 4 seconds instead of 6 seconds, certainly my shadow detail in the canyons would have suffered. On the other hand, if I had chosen a full extra stop for reciprocity departure compensation (8 seconds), the exposure would still have been excellent, although I would likely have considered reduced development of the film to bring the strong high values in the clouds under control.

Given the generous exposure latitude and beautiful highlight rendition of negative film, as long as the skilled photographer leans on the side of modest overexposure in order to preserve shadow detail, then the final image should turn out just fine. From an aesthetic standpoint, perhaps some of my fellow photographers would have been happy using no color correction filters with this scene; others might have chosen a stronger filter (e.g., 81B, 81C) for more warmth. For the beginning film photographer who may be struggling with the decision to use filters with color negative film, take a deep breath and relax.

Remember, color correction filters are simply tools in the visualization process. As with many other aspects of general photography, my best recommendation is to experiment and discover for yourself what works for your photography and helps to consummate your own visualization process.

Conclusions

Reciprocity departure has been and always will be a routine way of life for the film photographer. Once in command of the rationale for this effect and its compensation during both the exposure and subsequent film development, making long exposure photographs under low light conditions becomes second nature. The salient points are (1) that the photographer be cognizant of when to account for reciprocity departure and (2) that by its very nature compensation for this effect creates high contrast on the negative or slide. If the photographer does not account for reciprocity departure, then the negative will be underexposed (gasp!) with loss of potentially desired shadow detail and a ruined photograph. And if the development of the film is not appropriately reduced (if applicable) for a given scene, then the negative or slide may contain more contrast than originally visualized.

Recommendations from film manufacturers (where applicable) and the empiric work of our colleagues on when and how much to correct for reciprocity departure are instrumental, yet not the final word. Reciprocity departure correction need not be 100% systematic for all scenes and lighting conditions. How a given photographer chooses to correct for it during the exposure and if/when to reduce development of the film to control contrast afterwards are individual decisions that should be predicated on his/her own experience and objectives for a given scene. There is no right or wrong. In future contributions to Photography Life, I envision sharing more photographs made with other popular film stocks (e.g., Tri-X, HP5 Plus, Portra 400) in the context of reciprocity departure.

Filtration in color film photography (slide and negative film) in the visualization process is likewise predicated on individual aesthetic and technical preferences. From a technical standpoint, filtration with slide film has traditionally been viewed as more critical than it is with color negative film. With color negative film, many photographers choose to ignore filters altogether and defer color correction until the printing stage (traditional optical printing workflow) or the scanning stage (digital workflow). Philosophically and technically, I prefer to achieve correct color balance (and avoid undesirable blue casts) as much as possible during the exposure. Aesthetically, filtration can be an effective creative tool in the visualization process. Again, whatever approach works well for you, roll with it. And whatever result that looks and feels right for you *is* right. That is the embodiment of the art of photography, in my humble opinion. My recommendation: experiment . . . discover . . . take good field notes . . . and have fun with it!

I hope you have enjoyed this fourth article on Visualization and Film Photography. Special thanks to Northcoast Photographic Services for providing the film development services for these photographs (great job as always, Scott!). In the final Part V to this series, I will discuss the rationale and technical considerations for exposure compensation in close-up and macro film photography along with concluding remarks. Please, stay tuned.

References

  1. Black and White Reciprocity Departure Revisited”. Howard Bond. Photo Techniques Magazine.
  2. The Negative: The Ansel Adams Photography Series 2”. Ansel Adams.
  3. The The Zone System Revisted Part I”. Popular Photography Magazine. Ansel Adams.
  4. The The Zone System Revisted Part II”. Popular Photography Magazine. Ansel Adams.
  5. Color Photography: A Working Manual”. Henry Horenstein.
  6. Photography and Digital Imaging“. Marvin Rosen and David Devries.
  7. Gimme A Break”. Popular Photography Magazine. Russel Hart.
  8. Zone VI Workshop”. Fred Picker.
  9. Beyond The Zone System”. Phil Davis.
  10. “Scanning Tips”. Kenneth Lee Gallery
  11. View Camera Magazine
  12. Principles of View Camera Focus”. Harold Merklinger.
  13. View Camera Focus and Depth of Field: Part I”. Harold Merklinger.
  14. Technical Books on Photography”. Harold Merklinger.
  15. Check List for View Camera Users”. Howard Bond.

In the final installment to this series, I have chosen to discuss one of my favorite topics in photography: close-ups. My goals with this article are to provide a basic understanding of light and exposure when photographing a subject at high magnification; to present a rationale for exposure density loss during magnification; and to provide guidance on how to correct for this exposure density loss.

To illustrate these principles, I will share my own empiric observations, review the pertinent calculations that govern magnification and exposure density loss compensation, and discuss select photographs that I have made at various magnifications.

Although I crafted this article from the framework of a photographer using traditional close-up and macro equipment (e.g., bellows, extension tubes), the use of an external light meter (i.e., non-TTL metering), and continuous lighting (e.g., natural light, lamps), the tenets and technical considerations presented here are still relevant to those photographers who prefer automation, TTL metering, and electronic flash.

Finally, I will wrap up the discussion by sharing some thoughts on the use of film as a tool for learning the visualization process.

The optics and exposure considerations in close-up photography are an interesting subject. Much has already been written on this topic over the decades. A discussion of the relevant principles may come across to the beginner as dry, cumbersome, and technically heavy-handed. Fortunately, a beginning or an advanced photographer need not understand all the technical details, since a fair amount of it has no bearing on real-world and practical close-up photography.

I have read three different textbooks on close-up and macro photography (published in the 1970s, 1980s, and mid-2000s). While each provides a superb and comprehensive treatment of this topic, I have found that the discussion of the rationale for the loss of exposure density at the image plane to be incomplete. Finding reliable literature on the internet on exposure compensation at high magnification can be disappointing, some of which is fraught with deficiencies, and quite frankly, incorrect interpretations. To date, one of the best books on macro photography that I have read that not only covers the problem of exposure loss at the film plane but also the approach to magnification, depth of field, and lighting is Lester Lefkowitz’s “The Manual of Close-Up Photography”, which I highly recommend.

“Don’t be creative when you should be mechanical, and don’t be mechanical when you should be creative.” – Fred Picker

The Problem

If there is one salient challenge in learning and experimenting with close-up and macro photography, it would be net exposure density loss at the film plane. This phenomenon determines everything from the choice of subjects to the choice of tools (e.g., the format, camera, lens, film, lighting, outdoor/indoor setting). Exposure density loss during the magnification of a subject at close range is inevitable and is based on time honored laws of optics and physics. So, the beginning photographer might ask: why is there net exposure density loss at the image plane in close-up and macro photography? Well, I am glad that you asked!

Let’s consider two simplified scenarios. First, the time honored overhead transparency projector. Have you ever noticed that by pulling the projector (if situated atop a rolling stand) away from the projecting screen causes the transparency to be magnified on the screen, dims the brightness on the screen, and causes the transparency to blur? And have you ever noticed that after moving the projector away that by turning that big plastic knob to lower the lens causes the projected, dimmed, and magnified image to pop into focus? Well, those observations epitomize the behavior of light and exposure in close-up photography.

Secondly, consider a basic SLR camera with an attached macro lens. No doubt, a photographer will have noticed that as he/she rotates the lens ring to set a higher magnification, the viewfinder progressively dims. And if that camera happens to be an advanced model with TTL metering, the astute photographer will also have observed that the LED light meter read-out (or analog meter needle in older models) in the viewfinder indicates a progressively longer exposure (i.e., a longer shutter speed) at the given aperture and ISO under the same scene luminance. Hmm … why a longer exposure?

From a conceptual and technical standpoint, the answer to why is straightforward and predicated on two competing physical properties: (1) light density *loss* due to the magnification effect and (2) light density *gain* due to the close focusing effect. Both effects are governed by the Inverse Square Law, which is the classic law of physics that holds that the intensity of light (energy per unit area) emanating from a point light source is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the light source at that point in space and time.

For example, if you double the distance of a point from the light source, the light intensity per unit area at that point drops by one-fourth; conversely, if you halve the distance to the light source, the light intensity per unit area at that point quadruples. Pure and simple.

Figure 1: The Inverse Square Law

How is an object magnified in the first place? In order to magnify an object at the film plane, the lens plane must be moved away from the film plane (or vice versa). This is where it all starts. Intuitively, based on the physics of the Inverse Square Law, if light is allowed to travel farther from the lens (i.e., via extension) to form the image circle, then the image circle should enlarge, accompanied by a proportional enlargement of the projected subject. With greater distance between the lens and the film planes, the same quantity of light that enters the aperture of the lens is now spread out over a larger image circle (i.e., larger surface area).

Assuming that the scene luminance, aperture, and shutter speed (the three determinants of exposure) remain constant, since the same quantity of light now illuminates a larger image circle, the intensity of light (energy per unit area) at the image plane is diminished.

In essence, there is no absolute exposure loss during magnification, but there is a loss of exposure density (defined as light intensity per unit area per unit time) at the film plane.

Furthermore, once the subject is magnified, in order to maintain focus on the subject and thus obey the thin lens equation, the lens must be moved toward the subject. Intuitively, based on the physics of the Inverse Square Law, if the lens is moved closer to the light source (i.e., the subject), the intensity of light entering the aperture of the lens is now greater due to the decreased distance to the lens. Thus, the intensity of light (per unit area) that is destined to expose the film has increased.

In terms of creating the net exposure density on the film, which exposure effect reigns supreme – magnification or close-focusing? It turns out (both experimentally and mathematically) that the loss of exposure density at the film plane due to magnification exceeds the gain of exposure density due to close focusing, resulting in a net loss of exposure density at the film plane. For the photographer, this means that magnification automatically results in underexposure at the film plane. Pure and simple. If there is one take-away message from this article, this is it!

The ramification of this net loss of exposure density is enormous. If the photographer (using traditional manual equipment) does not take action to nullify this exposure density loss, then the result is disastrous: a guaranteed underexposed negative or transparency (gasp!) and a potentially ruined photograph. For those photographers who use automated cameras with TTL metering, this exposure density loss is never a concern, because the camera’s light meter will automatically adjust for the exposure density loss and render the correct shutter speed based on the set aperture and ISO. But for photographers using cameras with non-automated extension tubes or bellows (or both) where TTL metering is not possible, he/she must use an external light meter and apply an appropriate exposure adjustment (most commonly an adjustment in the shutter speed) in order to properly expose the film.

With this background set forth for the net exposure density loss due to magnification, the immediate practical questions become: (1) how much exposure density is lost and (2) how does the photographer compensate for it?

Consider the following demonstration that is not unlike the transparency projector analogy above. Using a large format view camera, I made a series of test exposures under controlled conditions (Figure 2). I manually extended the bellows of the camera to progressively increasing lengths; adjusted the focus on the subject; made test exposures under identical conditions (e.g., equivalent scene luminance, aperture, and shutter speed); and qualitatively compared the exposures.

I used an 8×10 field camera mounted with a Schneider G-Claron 150 mm f/9 lens. At infinity focus, this lens only covers the 4×5 format; it will heavily vignette when used with larger formats if it is focused at infinity. I chose this lens by design, for reasons that will be apparent. For my test subject, I used a paper template of a circle (16 cm diameter) affixed to a wall.

Test Subject: 16 cm Diameter Circle

I made all exposures using the same light intensity on the wall (EV 11) provided by dual and symmetrical photoflood lamps; the same film (Kodak Ektascan BR/A); the same camera and lens at the same aperture (f/9); and the same shutter speed (¼ second). For all exposures, I spot metered the center of the brightly lit circle on Zone VIII. I developed all four negatives under the same conditions (“normal” development, 7 minute base).

Figure 2: All four negatives viewed together on the light box

  1. Figure 2A: Exposure made with the lens focused at infinity (i.e., bellows extended to 150 mm in length) with a subject distance of approximately 5 feet (10x the focal length).
  2. Figure 2B: Exposure made with the lens moved away from the film plane from infinity (bellows extended to 170 mm length) followed by moving the camera toward the subject to achieve focus.
  3. Figure 2C: Exposure made with the lens moved farther from the film plane from infinity (bellows extended to 225 mm in length) followed by moving the camera more toward the subject to achieve focus.
  4. Figure 2D: Exposure made with the lens moved even farther from the film plane from infinity (bellows extended to 300 mm in length) followed by moving the camera even closer to the subject to achieve focus.

Qualitatively, as I extended the bellows to achieve magnification, the brightness of the focusing screen (i.e., the ground glass) progressively dimmed, as expected. As you closely study all four negatives displayed together on the light box, what do you notice? Here is what has happened: as the lens is progressively moved away from the film plane by extending the bellows, (1) there is less vignetting; (2) the subject enlarges; and (3) the exposure density (per unit area) on the negative spreads out and markedly diminishes. This rough experiment demonstrates that as the lens is extended from the film plane to magnify the subject (followed by moving the camera toward the subject to achieve focus), the image circle enlarges, the subject is magnified, and there is net exposure density loss at the film plane. Again, since all exposures were identical (e.g., equivalent scene luminance, aperture, and shutter speed), there was no absolute exposure loss during magnification.

Furthermore, Figure 2 demonstrates that as the lens is extended, a point emerges where the image circle covers the entire rectangular image plane. An interesting (and practical) corollary is that a lens that does not have sufficient coverage for a given format at infinity may actually cover the format at high magnification (more on this later).

Next, I took the above experiment a step further in an attempt to crudely quantitate the exposure density loss. Just before I made the above exposures, I had taken spot light meter readings from the center of the ground glass focusing screen (the exact plane where the film will be exposed) for each lens extension with the focus adjusted (i.e., the lens-subject distance). The results, including the magnification for each lens extension, are summarized in Table 1:FigureBellows Extension (mm)Subject DistanceGround Glass Center Light Intensity (EV)MagnificationTable 1: Light Intensity at Ground Glass With Lens Extended *and* Subject Focused2A150 (infinity)5.0 feet6.102B1704.2 feet5.213% (1:7.5)2C2251.48 feet (450mm)5.150% (1:2)2D30011.8 inches (300mm)4.1100% (1:1)

Based on this experiment, the Inverse Square Law’s net effect of lens extension from the film plane (magnification) and moving the lens toward the subject (close focusing) is manifest: substantial exposure density loss at the image plane.

But wait… we can draw more conclusions! In the special case of going from zero magnification (i.e., infinity focus) to 1:1 magnification, we see that (1) the requisite bellows extension (i.e., the extension past infinity focus plus the focal length) equals the subject distance; (2) the requisite bellows extension is equal to twice the focal length; and (3) the net exposure density loss appears to be equal to a whopping two stops. The plot thickens . . .

With these empiric observations, can the above conclusions be proven mathematically? I am thrilled that you asked that question! The quantity of exposure density lost at the film plane – and thus that which must be compensated during the exposure – and the interrelationships between magnification, lens extension, and focal length can all be elegantly derived from the Inverse Square Law, the thin lens model, and basic geometric and algebraic manipulations. The net Exposure Factor is simply the product of the two opposing factors – magnification and close focusing – that result in exposure density loss and exposure density gain, respectively, at the film plane. In the interest of brevity, you can view the derivation here. The end result is shown in Equation 1:

Eq 1

where M is the magnification. For those photographers who use bellows as their extension devices, in particular within the large format community, this exposure factor is also referred to as the “bellows factor”.

As this relationship shows, even a small increase in magnification results in an significant loss of exposure density (light intensity per unit area per unit time) at the film plane. In the special case of a life size magnification (1:1), the Exposure Factor becomes 4x, or two stops of light. Intuitively, this means that since the exposure density at 1:1 drops by ¼, the surface area of the image circle must be four times larger than it is at infinity, and the diameter of the image circle must be twice than it is at infinity.

The Exposure Factor equation is valid for any and all camera formats (e.g., film, digital, 35mm, medium format, large format) using any and all types of extension devices. From a practical standpoint, when the photographer wishes to achieve a 100% magnification, the shutter speed indicated by the external light meter must be multiplied by a factor of four to obtain the corrected shutter speed that will compensate for the exposure density loss at the image plane.

Alternatively, the photographer may wish to convert this Exposure Factor into stops of light (see below) and then apply this conversion to the external light meter by adjusting the ISO dial downward (I usually do this) to indicate additional exposure, not unlike how a photographer compensates for lens filter factors by adjusting the ISO dial downward.

There a few additional formulas that are instrumental to the close-up photographer using traditional macro equipment and an external light meter. The derivations may be viewed here. Expressed in terms of the Extension of the lens from the film plane (relative to infinity focus), the formula for magnification becomes:

Eq 2

where EXT is the length that the lens is extended from infinity focus and f is the focal length. Thus, these are the only two variables that dictate magnification: the amount of available lens extension and the focal length in use. Intuitively, what this expression tells us is that by allowing the light to travel farther between the lens and image planes, the projected image circle will enlarge. In practice, this extension may be achieved with the use of extension tubes, bellows, or a combination thereof.

In the case of a camera using solely a bellows attachment directly between the film plane and the lens, when the lens is focused at infinity by definition the bellows length equals the focal length. Subsequently, when the lens is extended from infinity to magnify, the bellows length is the sum of the focal length and the extension of the lens past infinity focus (B = EXT + f). With additional algebra, the magnification becomes:

Eq 3

In the special case of a life size magnification (1:1), Equations 2 and 3 give us the following practical corollaries, as suggested by the above experiments. The lens (which is already focused at infinity) must be extended from the film plane by a distance that is equal to the focal length. And for photographers using bellows alone, this is equivalent to extending the lens by a bellows length that is equal to twice the focal length.

Expressed in terms of the bellows length, with more algebraic manipulations the Exposure Factor correction becomes:

Intuitively, what this expression tells us is that by allowing the light to travel farther between the lens and the image plane to magnify, the exposure density loss to be compensated varies with the square of that distance (i.e., the extension). The Inverse Square Law!

Finally, for those photographers who prefer to use stops of light when compensating for exposure loss, the Exposure Factor can readily be converted as follows:

To summarize, a photographer needs only one (or two) variables to calculate the Exposure Factor: the desired magnification using Equation 1, or the lens extension available and the focal length using Equation 2 or Equation 3. Ordinarily, a close-up photographer does not need to calculate a precise magnification (especially in the field). I usually don’t, unless in the special case where I wish to make a 1:1 reproduction.

If there is one salient take home message from both the empiric observations above and these formulas, it is that lens extension is responsible for both magnification and the loss of exposure density and that the physical rationale for these phenomena is based on the Inverse Square Law.

In numerous other publications on exposure compensation in close-up photography, you will invariably come across a discussion of this problem conceptualized and mathematically expressed in terms of the “effective aperture”, “effective f-stop”, and “effective focal length” followed by a rather boring discussion of pupillary magnification. What these discussions refer to is that due to the loss of exposure at the film plane, the actual physical lens aperture behaves “as if” it has a smaller working aperture during magnification, “allowing less light” to expose the film. Of course, the physical size of the aperture does *NOT* change (although the calculated effective f-stop does), and the quantity of light passing through the aperture is constant (unless the photographer physically changes the intensity of the light source, the aperture, or the shutter speed). If the photographer prefers this approach, then he/she may calculate the “effective f-stop” (see derivation and sample calculation here) and use that value to set the external light meter to obtain the corrected shutter speed for the exposure.

Although the concept of “effective aperture” can be (somewhat) helpful for rationalizing the loss of exposure density at the film plane, potentially it may lead to confusion in understanding the true rationale (it’s the Inverse Square Law!) as well as a pointless fixation on aperture “equivalencies” and is best avoided, in my humble opinion. Remember: the reasons for the loss of exposure density are that light must travel farther to the image plane and the light intensity per unit area falls off precipitously with the square of the lens extension, not because the aperture physically gets smaller.

Furthermore, if the photographer intends to use the Exposure Factor to calculate a new working aperture to compensate for the loss of exposure density (that is, physically opening up the aperture in direct proportion to the Exposure Factor), then two problems readily occur: loss of depth of field with a wider aperture (which is already a problem as it is in close-ups) and complicating the problem of compensating for reciprocity departure for a long exposure. To simplify the conceptualization and approach to compensating for the exposure density loss, I would recommend to avoid the “effective f-stop” in the Exposure Factor calculation and stick to the lens extension/bellows or magnification – real physical properties that are aligned with the Inverse Square Law – to obtain the corrected shutter speed.

The mathematical formulas for exposure correction and magnification notwithstanding, an additional practical consideration is to know in advance the subject-lens distance threshold for which exposure compensation must be given. The practical “rule of thumb” is that for subject distances that are greater than nine times the focal length of the lens, no exposure compensation is needed. For subject distances that are at, or less, than this threshold distance, exposure compensation must be applied. You can view the mathematical derivation of this rule here. Essentially, this rule is based on the need to compensate for at least +⅓ stop additional exposure due to loss of exposure density from magnification and corresponds approximately to a minimum magnification of 12.5%, or a 1:8 reproduction ratio. The renowned and highly accomplished photographer, and one of the contemporary greats, Howard Bond, refers to this threshold distance as the “close-up triggering difference” in his article, “Exposure Corrections for Close-Ups”. Personally, I keep a check-list on hand of these threshold distances for all of my macro lenses for reference. When I am at, or within, this threshold distance, I automatically grab my tape ruler to measure the bellows length to calculate the exposure compensation.

There are other interesting (and practical) corollaries that are beyond the scope of this article but are worthwhile to mention briefly. Based on the thin lens equations for magnification and on real life photography, the choice of focal length can exert a powerful influence on how a photographer can achieve magnification based on his/her working restrictions and available tools on hand.

For example, if the photographer prefers to operate at a set “working distance” (closely approximated by the subject-lens distance) and does not wish to compromise this distance for technical or aesthetic reasons, then more magnification can be attained by simply using a lens of a longer focal length, provided of course, the photographer has the means to increase the lens extension.

Alternatively, if the photographer has a limited amount of lens extension with which to work but does not care about the working distance, then increasing magnification can be achieved by using a lens of a shorter focal length, but this of course would necessitate moving the lens even closer to the subject. For those interested, you can see a mathematical rationale here.

Furthermore, although depth of field in close-up and macro photography merits an article in its own right, many beginning close-up photographers may be surprised to learn that at the same magnification and at the same aperture, depth of field is independent of the focal length. That is, at the same magnification and aperture, a long focal length lens and a short focal length lens have the same depth of field. For real (and superb) examples of these interesting scenarios, I would recommend reading Lester Lefkowitz’s aforementioned text.

“Don’t be creative when you should be mechanical, and don’t be mechanical when you should be creative.”

Ok, enough of the empiric and theoretical discussion, let’s turn to a few examples of exposure compensation in close-up photography. In the scout shot below, I chose this fern to study and photograph at close range. What garnered my attention with this subject were the structure of its leaves, its soft shadows, and the potential for capturing fine detail at high magnification. This garden was enclosed within a shaded area. Under mostly clear skies in the afternoon, the scene was receiving a good amount of reflected light off concrete walls around the enclosure. The low-moderate contrast light lent itself well to capturing the lovely tonality and textures on the leaves.

iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/20, f/2.4

In order to strengthen the contrast between the fern and the background soil, I sought to reduce the detail in the soil and darken it and simultaneously to lighten the tones of the fern leaves. To these ends, I used a relatively mild black and white contrast filter, the yellow Wratten #8. As discussed in Part II, a given color contrast filter strongly passes light whose wavelength lies adjacent to the color of the filter on the “color wheel”, thus allowing more exposure of that wavelength on the film. The yellow filter will pass a fair amount of yellow and green light to the film plane; if the exposure is sufficient, this passage can lighten the tones of the fern leaves. In general, out of all the wavelengths of light, many panchromatic black and white films are least sensitive to green light; if the objective is to lighten green foliage with a yellow filter, then the photographer would be wise to allow for ample exposure under the given lighting conditions. As discussed previously, since yellow filters block a fair amount blue light, which is responsible for illuminating shadows via skylight, they can be used to darken, or close, shadows. The use of a stronger filter, such an orange or a red filter, would have been too harsh; although either would have blocked substantially more blue light and closed the shadow detail in the background soil to a much greater degree, each would have darkened the green values – not lightened them – due of the position of red and orange on the color wheel.

Wratten #8 Yellow filter

For my camera and lens, I chose the Cambo SC 4×5 monorail view camera and my “go-to” lens, the Fujinon-A 240mm f/9, which is a compact, versatile, and sharp lens that can be used as a long-normal lens in the 4×5 format, a wide angle lens in the 8×10 format, and as a macro lens in either format. For film, I chose Ilford Delta 100 panchromatic black and white film.

As I do with all of my photographs, I used a composing card to study and select a composition. After I composed the subject to my liking, the framing suggested a magnification between 1:1 and 1:2 (a precise magnification was not necessary for this shot). To control depth of field, I closed the aperture to f/16⅓.

For metering, I again heavily relied on the Zone System. I spot metered one of the leaves on Zone V. Even though the long exposure would have automatically increased contrast by virtue of the high values receiving more exposure than the low values, I pre-visualized more contrast on the negative. Thus, in order to boost the high values on the leaves to expand the contrast range (i.e., negative expansion), I requested extended development of the film (N+1) from my lab technician.

Based on the subject-lens distance, I was well within nine focal lengths of my lens, meaning that I would need to compensate for exposure loss due to magnification. The bellows extension measured 41 cm, which gave me an Exposure Factor correction of 2.91x, which when converted to stops of light (and slightly rounded up to the nearest one-third stop) gave me approximately +1⅔ additional stops of light loss at the film plane for which to compensate. As a reminder, because negative film has a wide positive exposure latitude, slightly rounding up to the next one-third stop will have no adverse impact whatsoever on the exposure. Incidentally, the magnification was approximately 70%, or a 1 to 1.41 image scale, but I did not need to know this in advance.

With a chosen a film exposure index of 80 and the +⅓ stop filter factor for the Wratten #8, I dialed in these factors into the ISO dial of my spot light meter. The metered spot gave a shutter speed of 2 seconds at f/16⅓. Applying the Exposure Factor of +1⅔ stops to the metered shutter speed gives a corrected shutter speed of 6 seconds. Finally, accounting for the film reciprocity departure, the final shutter speed was 7 seconds (≈ +⅓ additional stop).

Upon studying the negative on the light box, the negative yielded good contrast, adequate sharpness, and good resolution. I personally scanned the negative on the Epson V850 and cropped the image to a 7:5 aspect ratio. The final image yielded exactly what I had visualized in my mind, visualized though my composing card, visualized on the ground glass, and finally on the negative: a pleasant tonal range with interesting structure and fine detail to explore.

Cambo SC 4×5, Fujinon-A 240mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100
1:1.41, Wratten #8 filter, N+1 development

For this next close-up example, I chose this palm tree to study and photograph. At first glance, I thought the subject might be too prosaic to explore, but as I studied it with my composing card, I found that the back-lighting to the right of the tree was creating alluring contrast and revealing interesting textures on the bark, all of which made this scene too good to pass up.

iPhone 4S @ 4.28mm, ISO 50, 1/192, f/2.4

First, I used an SLR camera to make a photo at a conventional range (1:10 image scale) in order to capture more of the length of the subject in a natural perspective. At a 1:10 reproduction ratio, which corresponds to a subject-lens distance of 11x the focal length, the exposure density loss at the film plane is negligible and thus no exposure compensation is needed.

Mamiya 645AF, 120mm f/4 AM, Kodak Tri-X
1:10, No filter, Normal development

For the next photograph, I used a view camera to make a magnified image of the same palm tree. Here, I used the Ikeda Anba 4×5, the Schneider G-Claron 150mm f/9, and a macro focusing rail, which can be an instrumental tool when adjusting fine focus at close-range. After setting up the tripod at the approximate subject distance, selecting a composition on the composing card and refining it on the ground glass, and using the focusing rail to adjust the focus, I selected a metering, exposure, and development strategy to give me that which I visualized on the final image: moderate contrast and tonality, fine detail and texture, and conveyed with an overall sense of abstraction.

I closed the aperture to f/22 to control depth of field. I metered the low values indicated by the “red circle” in the scout shot above and placed those on Zone III. The highest exposure value, indicated by the “white circle”, fell roughly in Zone VI. I desired to expand the contrast range of the scene from Zone III-Zone VI in the actual scene to Zone III-Zone VII on the negative, so I extended the development of the film by N+1.

The subject distance of 2 feet was well within nine focal lengths. The lens extension (bellows length) was 19 cm. The Exposure Factor was 1.6x, or approximately +⅔ stops. Instead of metering first and then applying the Exposure Factor to the shutter speed as I did in the previous example, I decided to dial in this factor into the ISO dial and then meter the scene. I used no filters. The metered spot gave a shutter speed of ⅓ seconds. At this shutter speed, film reciprocity departure is not applicable. I personally scanned the negative, made just a slight adjustment to the contrast in Photoshop, and cropped the image to a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Ikeda Anba 4×5, Schneider G-Claron 150mm f/9, Ilford HP5 Plus 400
1:3.75, No filter, N+1 development

For this next close-up photograph, I chose a handful of rock salt to photograph at 1:1. Here, I chose a much smaller format, a 645 SLR camera, Kodak Tri-X panchromatic black and white film, and a dedicated macro lens. Like many modern SLR macro lenses, this particular lens has engraved magnification ratios on the barrel that allow the photographer to quickly and accurately set a specific magnification. Although this automated camera has TTL metering, I never use it. As I do with all of my cameras, whether manual or automated, I use an external hand held light meter for precise command and control of metering. For the lighting, I used a one photoflood lamp to the left and a silver reflector to the right for modest fill. With the lens barrel extended to 1:1, the focus adjusted with the macro rail, and the lighting set, I applied a two-stop exposure factor correction to my spot light meter, metered the scene, and then adjusted the shutter speed for reciprocity departure.

Mamiya 645AF, 120mm f/4 AM, Kodak Tri-X
1:1, No filter, Normal development

For this next photo, I chose to make a table top close-up of a bouquet of flowers. I chose an 8×10 format with Ilford Delta 100 panchromatic black and white film. As I had demonstrated and briefly discussed earlier (see Figure 2A), the macro lens that I used for this photo, the G-Claron Schneider 150mm f/9, covers the 4×5 format at infinity (format diameter 165 mm, image circle 189 mm at infinity) but does not have enough coverage for the 8×10 format (format diameter 325 mm). However, as discussed above in the empiric and mathematical analyses, as the lens is extended to magnify, the image circle of the lens significantly enlarges. As I alluded to earlier, by definition, at 1:1 the image circle that the lens normally covers at infinity *doubles* in diameter. (See derivation here). Thus, at 1:1 the 150mm G-Claron has an image circle of 378 mm, enough to cover 8×10. For lighting, I used three photoflood lamps and two silver reflectors for fill (soft light from hard light!). Even though my magnification for this particular photograph was only 1:2, the lens still had enough covering power to make the photo, albeit with a tiny amount of vignetting at the corners, which was negligible and easily cropped off (see Figure 2C). Now, whether a given lens can perform well at both infinity and close range is another matter entirely. It just so happens that the G-Claron series represents a lens line-up that is optimized for 1:5 to 5:1, but they can also cover very well at infinity. And as this photo illustrates, the resolution and sharpness of this tiny lens at close range are quite good.

Tachihara 8×10, Schneider G-Claron 150mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100
1:2, no filter, N-1 development

Finally, for this table top photograph of sunflowers, I again chose a smaller format, a 645 SLR camera, to make a modest 1:8 reproduction. At a subject distance of 9x the focal length, the exposure compensation for magnification was +⅓ stop. For the lighting, I used two photoflood tungsten lamps along with two silver reflectors for fill and strategically positioned them to deliberately create high contrast with deep shadows. Even at such a modest close range, what I enjoyed about this image was the strong contrast from this particular light set-up and the fine detail on the leaves and stems. Incidentally, the Mamiya 120mm f/4 Apo Macro manual focus lens is a *wickedly sharp* and contrasty macro lens that I highly recommend for medium format users.

Mamiya 645AF, 120mm f/4 Apo Macro, Ilford Delta 100
1:8, No filter, N-1 development

Conclusions

The approach to compensating for the loss of exposure density at the image plane due to magnification of a close subject is straightforward and is based on time-honored and well understood principles of physics and optics. Magnifying a subject requires extending the lens from the film plane. An increase in magnification inexorably results in a predictable loss of exposure density at the image plane. Both the loss of exposure density (light intensity per unit area) and the increase in magnification are based on the Inverse Square Law, which is the fundamental principle that governs light intensity fall off with distance. Due to the loss of exposure density, in order to achieve a proper exposure density on the film the photographer using manual non-automated equipment must compensate for it by applying an an equivalent amount of additional exposure to that indicated by a light meter. The exposure correction is directly proportional to the square of the lens extension in use and directly proportional to the square of the magnification. That “square” is there for a reason . . .

Regarding the use of film as a tool in learning to visualize and make a good photograph, well, an entire article can surely be dedicated to this. Here are my thoughts. There are a plethora of aesthetic and technical reasons why a photographer would choose film as a tool and artistic medium. Many film photographers cite the emotion that film evokes, the look and feel of film, its color, quality, resolution, the wide variety of tools and formats from which to choose, the unique qualities of film stocks, and so forth, as to why they gravitate toward it. I actually share all of those sentiments, but those are not the reasons why I use film as a canvas for my own style of visualization. If there is one common denominator, one attribute, that epitomizes the beauty of film in visualization, it would be the *process*. As I hope this series of articles illustrated, the process of using film to learn and master visualization encompasses many considerations and behaviors that lend themselves well to constructing a photograph. Chief among these behaviors, shooting film makes the photographer slow down in just about every aspect of making a photograph, from visualizing the image in the mind, to exploring and waiting for the right light and emotion to materialize, to crafting the composition, to making the exposure, to developing the film, and to making a print. Every step along this aesthetic and technical journey involves, if not demands, some degree of forethought. In other words, film hones the photographer to systematically take command and control of every step. Period. I would argue that a more deliberate and contemplative approach to visualization should lead to the creation of stronger and more compelling photographs. Indeed, the contemplative film photographer makes fewer photographs, but those fewer attempts have more purpose in them. Being slow and deliberate is a positive thing for growth as a photographer and as an artist. Why the rush?

Further, in an uncanny manner the closing of the shutter and the wait to see the results immediately divorce the film photographer from the emotion, maybe the bias, of the moment so that when the time arrives for viewing the results on the light table, the photographer should have a clearer mindset to be a more objective critic of his/her work. That delay in seeing the end product is invaluable. The fun, the joy, and the triumphs of shooting film notwithstanding, the mistakes made in shooting film can be humbling, but those, too, are a good thing in the learning process. The permanence of the format, the ability to hold it in your hands and view both the triumphs and flaws in your decisions and technique, exert a powerful impact on this process.

Since I started film photography 4 years ago this month, I have shot dozens of rolls and sheets of film and have kept every single negative and transparency – both the good and the bad. I am not ashamed to admit that I have made a plethora of bad exposures on film – bad light, bad composition, and bad technique. Yet, I am resolute in turning my poor decisions to my advantage. I can make this happen because I never discard my film; and I never discard my bad photographs. The film, as a record, is always there with the photographer. There is no hiding from the truth . . .

Periodically, as an exercise in humility and in the spirit of honing my skill in visualization, I force myself to study my bad negatives all over again to review my mistakes and to refine my process of making a good photograph. Trust me, studying a bad photograph well after the fact – dissecting what was weak about it, questioning what I was feeling and seeing at the time – can be a humbling, unforgiving, and worthwhile experience all in one. More importantly, whether the exposure was good or bad, viewing it after being separated in space and time from the exposure can provide more motivation to ponder the meaning of the photograph and why the photographer made it. And that is what film ultimately does in this whole process: it keeps the photographer honest with himself.

Certainly, as a tool film is not well suited to every photographer’s style, comfort level, patience, or skill set; yet for the photographer who relishes the contemplative and deliberate thought process of constructing a photograph, I believe it is a tool that is worth exploring at least once in his/her life.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on film photography and visualization. Special thanks once again to Northcoast Photographic Services for providing the film development for these images. Great job, Scott! In future contributions to Photography Life in 2016, I envision sharing more experiences with light, composition, and various tools used in general photography (including travel photo essays from Southern California and specific film reviews) to help my colleagues out there, whether novice or advanced, young or old, to learn the art of this wonderful craft.

References

  1. The Manual of Close-Up Photography”. Lester Lefkowitz.
  2. Close-Ups in Nature”. John Shaw.
  3. Close-Ups and Macro”. Robert Thompson.
  4. Black and White Reciprocity Departure Revisited”. Howard Bond. Photo Techniques Magazine.
  5. The Negative: The Ansel Adams Photography Series 2”. Ansel Adams.
  6. The The Zone System Revisted Part I”. Popular Photography Magazine. Ansel Adams.
  7. The Zone System Revisted Part II”. Popular Photography Magazine. Ansel Adams.
  8. Gimme A Break”. Popular Photography Magazine. Russel Hart.
  9. Zone VI Workshop”. Fred Picker.
  10. Beyond The Zone System”. Phil Davis.
  11. “Scanning Tips”. Kenneth Lee Gallery
  12. View Camera Magazine
  13. Principles of View Camera Focus”. Harold Merklinger.
  14. View Camera Focus and Depth of Field: Part I”. Harold Merklinger.
  15. Technical Books on Photography”. Harold Merklinger.
  16. Check List for View Camera Users”. Howard Bond.

#AdvancedPhotographyTips #FilmPhotography #PhotographyTips #Film #Visualization #Composition

The Photograohers
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Welcome to The Photographers, your go-to source for all things photography. We are a team of passionate photographers and enthusiasts who are dedicated to providing you with the latest news, reviews, and educational resources to help you improve and excel in your photography skills.
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