Category Archives: Shooting

Toying Around

I don’t often go for the toy camera aesthetic and I have a beef with those who portray film as being random, fuzzy and unpredictable because they think film photography and toy camera photography are one and the same.

But in the right hands, a toy camera can produce beauty. I’m not those hands, but sometimes it can be fun to go out into the world and shoot with something so basic that almost the only option is to decide on where to point the thing, and even that can be a challenge. A liberating act, a cry of freedom from the tyranny of perfect exposure and razor sharpness.

And once in a while, when the stars converge and the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, some photons in the form of an image which is both good as a composition and technically pleasing will dance upon those silver halides, without being totaled by a random light leak. Magic will happen. I can almost understand why toy cameras are so compelling to some, because when they hit, they really hit, and they’re the absolute antithesis of the pixel-peeping, moar-megapixels, give-me-sharpness-or-give-me-death attitudes so prevalent in photography (particularly of the digital sort) today.

Anyway I took out my old Ansco Goodwin #2 box camera for a spin one morning, to see if I could make something for the FADU “disposable camera” shoot out and APUG’s Jan/Feb challenge. We’ll neatly sidestep the fact that of the 8 frames I shot, 3 were essentially unexposed, 3 more were so badly composed that they might as well have been blank, and only 2 had promise, with one in particular standing out. Such is the way of it when you make photos with toys. I’m grateful I got one really nice one out of the deal, and I had a bit of fun in the process which is never a bad thing.

This was it:

Roanoke RiverThe film was developed in Ansco 130 (yes, my print developer!) at 1 + 43 dilution (compared to normal 1 + 1 for prints), semi stand for 30 minutes with a single inversion at the 10 and 20 minute intervals; this is a topic for a future post but is proving to be a method worth pursuing. This is a scan from the contact sheet, showing the full 6×9 frame with overscan. I plan on making an enlarged print from this negative, cropped in a little and with the horizon leveled.

Some Night Time Shooting with Ilford FP4+

A couple of weeks ago I went out on a night-time photo walk in downtown Roanoke with the Exposure.Roanoke group. It was my first time shooting FP4+ at night and with it being a traditional grain film, reciprocity failure is to be expected.

I didn’t want to bet an entire photography outing on guesswork, so did a lot of hunting around for reciprocity charts. I don’t entirely trust the official Ilford ones, to be honest. It seems a mite suspicious that they show identical charts for all their films, even the modern “core shell technology” Delta line which should have much better reciprocity characteristics.

I had a great set of reciprocity data for HP5+, found in an old Photo Techniques article by Howard Bond, but it did not include any figures for FP4+. Eventually, after much searching, I found a chart online with data for several films and which closely matched the HP5+ figures which I knew to be reliable.


I must confess I can’t remember where I found this, and I didn’t note it down. It was on one of the forums, possibly the Rangefinder Forum or Large Format Forums. Since I’m mostly sticking to traditional grain type Ilford films (Pan F+, FP4+, HP5+) I printed those columns, sized to tape onto the back of my Luna Pro F meter. I exposed at EI100 using the 30 degree reflective averaging metering method. Development was in D76 1:1.5, using the official box speed time for this film in D76 1:1 and inverting once every 30 seconds.

The gallery below shows quick (no spotting done) film scans from the roll.

I’ll be interested to see how they print, but the scans certainly look promising.


Why color print film rocks (sometimes)

I don’t do a whole lot of color shooting, in fact most of what I do in that regard is strictly of the family snapshot variety and occasionally grabbing a shot of something which just suits color better.

In truth, this is the sort of shooting which would be ideally suited to digital but right now I generally use the family SLR (a Minolta Maxxum 5000AF) for it. It’s a lightweight, auto focus, auto exposure, motor driven camera. With a 35-70, 100-200 and a “nifty fifty”, plus both the small flash unit (1800AF) and the recent addition of the big gun of the lineup (4000AF) offering TTL flash exposure it has the bases well covered for that type of shooting.

This lets me keep the Canon F-1 loaded with black and white film, without having to swap around rolls.

The last roll of color film I shot was Fuji Superia Xtra 400, available in all kinds of places. It looks great scanned and should print to huge sizes without much problem.

The thing I like most of all about this film, though (and color neg in general), is the exposure latitude. That last roll had a great many bounce flash shots which were underexposed by 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 stops (Sunpak auto-thyristor flash on Canon F-1 for this roll, not the TTL-equipped Minolta rig). Any number of things could have caused this, but the point is that I was able to get good images even then.

My scanning is standardized for color work. I have preset Vuescan configurations with film base color, exposure etc. locked in so that a well-exposed negative of a sunlit (or electronic flash-lit) scene will render well-exposed and properly color balanced. I scan as 16-bit TIFF to allow plenty of wiggle room for exposure and white balance adjustments.

And wiggle, I can! Take a look at this example, as scanned. Hah, fooled you, auto thyristor flash!

Bennett 1 week old

About a stop and a half underdone, as demonstrated by pushing the ACR exposure slider on the TIFF by about that much, leading to this:

Bennett 1 week old

Yeah, that’ll work. Colors remain where I want them, grain is good too (even on 100% zoom on the original scan). But how far can I push it, how much detail is there hidden away in those dark corners? Let’s goose the exposure all the way over, turn the contrast curve up to 11 and see what emerges out of the shadows!

Bennett 1 week old

Wow, tonal detail in that dark area in bottom left. And green speckly scanner noise. I don’t recommend this. But there is some tonal information hiding in there if you want it.

But wait, there’s more! What if I tackle this specific frame with scanning settings tailored toward an underexposed negative?


Honestly? I don’t see much difference in any way that matters. Either way, I get a very usable result! Yes, cranking the exposure up reveals less scanner noise in the dark areas, but it’s not like I was going digging for detail in those anyway.

More on square portraits

Another way I’ve found square compositions to work with portraiture is in the three-quarters length, where I might want to convey a less-intimate feeling while giving the surroundings some love. A vertical composition would cut much more of the environment out, while switching to a horizontal composition would cause the subject’s surroundings to be emphasized more heavily.

Kelli Riverside

Here, we see a 3/4 length portrait of Kelli in a square composition. There is enough width in the square to be able to show that it’s quite a wintry looking day down by the river; the trees are bare and the sky overcast. Brrr! A vertical crop would have cut much of the surroundings out, which in this case I wanted to keep. A horizontal composition would have given the surroundings too much emphasis, or would have forced me to change to a closer-up portrait, which wasn’t my intent here. The square gave me a perfect balance. Putting Kelli slightly right of the frame helped balance the treeline. Alternatively, I could have moved to my right, filled the background evenly with trees, and positioned my subject dead center for a more symmetrical composition, which also works well in a square.


Square portraits

I tend not to do much portraiture, but occasionally I’ll sit my wife down and make a quick portrait, compelled into doing so by her obvious beauty (which she, apparently, is blind to).

In the course of this I’ve been finding that I quite like black and white, square format head-and-shoulders portraits. There’s something about them which seems to work. As ubiquitous as the 2:3 ratio is it feels terribly confined to me sometimes. I’m looking at a couple of 4×6 prints I have framed and as pleasing as they are, I get a slight uneasy feeling that the sitter is thinking “Help! I’m trapped in a telephone box! Or a small elevator! Get me outta here!”

One of the things I’m enjoying about square format is how it can “breathe” in both horizontal and vertical directions at the same time. This really seems to help where headshots and head-shoulders portraits are concerned, which when you think about it can be “kind of square” subjects.

Kelli, square format portrait

I feel that this head-and-shoulders shot works much better as a square. To fit a typical portrait-oriented composition, I’d have had to include more of the chair, or else retain the vertical coverage at the expense of Kelli’s arms. Except they are an integral part of the pose here.