Long exposures, or why everyone’s talking about… reciprocity!

February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Well, perhaps not ‘everyone’s’ talking about reciprocity


But on Saturday evening, I joined my fellow film photographers from the Melbourne Silver Mine Inc. to be part of a commission from the White Night festival (an all night long event that only half a million folks wandered into the city to see) to document the event from two superb vantage points – the top balcony of Hamer Hall, and the first floor of Transport Hotel – two great views of the Princes Bridge and environs.


The photographic challenge of course, is shooting the city at night – and how to do that, with film, on a large format camera. Specifically, how long to expose the film? Metering of course, but… the exposures will be LONG (Large Format lenses are ‘slow’ – that is, they have small maximum apertures and don’t let in a lot of light), and film goes a bit ‘funny’ when you expose it for longer times than normal. 


This funny behaviour is called reciprocity – and means different types of film start requiring more (and different) amounts of exposure when the times get longer than a few seconds. In the old days, you could puzzle over this with formulae, or by studying the behavioural graphs from the product data sheets provided by each manufacturer for their films, but now, of course, there’s an app (several in fact).

So I set up my trusty 5×4″ field camera, and used a spot meter to make a series of light readings of the highlights and shadows in the frame that I wanted to end up on film, then pressed the magical ‘average’ button to get an mid-tone exposure for the film (in this case, Kodak TXP320, which I expose at ISO200). In daytime, that’s normally all I’d do, then I’d pick an aperture/shutter speed pair accordingly. But for these pictures I then used an app to ‘correct’ the exposure for the reciprocity characteristics of Kodak TXP320. 

This means what was metered as f/22 for 30 seconds, becomes f/22 for 2 minutes and 31 seconds. Quite a difference – but it matters, because otherwise the film is underexposed. It’s all a bit of a nuisance, but the proof is in the pudding (or the developing tank, or something). 

And then, with a steady tripod, and everything on the camera locked down tightly – the resulting snap is a treat, with the unlikely mass of people on the bridge blurred to a ghostly fog (except for select dawdlers), but the bridge and background architecture sharp and immobile (as it should be). Hurrah!

No more tears.

July 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

When I was a young tacker, my dad took umpteen photos of the family with my mum’s trusty Voigtländer Vito II, and dutifully followed the best outdoor photographic advice of the day – ‘put the sun behind your right shoulder’. The rationale for this is sound – the sun is your strongest light source, and thus effectively the Key Light, and so if you have it behind you, it will light your subject, and if you have it behind but off to the side a bit, it will create shadows, and give a better sense of depth – exactly what you would do with studio lighting. However – if you are standing there as the subject for any length of time, staring towards the sun… it’s very bright, and without sunglasses you may start crying. I am sure many in many family photos I look 85% sadder than I am (I had a lovely childhood!) due to the effects of squinting into the sun for photos.

I had always reflected upon this practice, and thought ‘there must be a better way’! Well of course there is, and it’s using artificial lighting – specifically FLASH.

Flash light (whether old school bulbs or electronic strobe) is moreorless instantaneous, which is of benefit in multiple ways:

• You don’t cry, staring into a bright light

• Your pupils remain larger – (people find larger pupils more attractive, like puppies and deer)

• For exposure purposes, the shutter speed of the camera doesn’t really affect the flash light (with caveats for synchronisation) so you can use shutter speed to control the exposure of the ambient light.

The subject of actual lighting technique with little flashguns is well covered by Strobist and other websites and books and everything, but what’s been of extreme interest to me is simply the ‘lack of discomfort’ factor, and super easiness of setup.


Consider this family snap I made at Werribee Mansion for my primary school chum Kate. I knew I wanted the Mansion in shot for context, so I asked them to stand in a spot shaded by a tree, and then shot away with two flashes (one low, camera left, and one higher, camera right, and at one stop higher power than the other). The ambient light of the sun lights the background, and the family is artificially lit, and hopefully smiling at my excellent jokes, rather than crying from the sunshine.


Similarly, this ‘still‘ from a little film shoot a few weeks ago, features my excellent brother pretending to plant a tree with his excellent partner – the lovely backlighting is the winter sun (a bit lower and softer than summer), and the front lighting is again from two flashes on stands. I could have asked them to go in a sunny spot, but even aside from the discomfort, the artificial lighting means almost any spot will do, and the sun becomes just another ‘lantern’. 

It will be a long while before I stop thinking this is all very cool indeed.

Lighting the Bus.

June 24, 2013 § Leave a comment


One thing I seem to have been doing more and more over the last couple of years, is making photographs of art, installations, and exhibitions. Like anything, the more you do, the more experience you get, and the more active you become – but these jobs are extra-interesting because you do get involved with the content of whatever you’re shooting – which often means long, tangential, rambling, very satisfying conversations with artists, curators & others – and this means I’m so busy shooting and talking I forget to document what I’m doing for this blog. Blast!

On Saturday though, I found myself at Bus Projects in Collingwood again, shooting for the gallery’s own documentation of their current exhibition. And this time I DID manage to squeeze in a setup shot so I’d have something to chat about here. 

The brief for these photos was to provide wide (literally wide) shots of the work in the gallery space context, and also some detail shots to augment these.

Bus Projects’s current home is a nice white-walled space that lends itself very well to being artificially lit – which I LOVE doing because I can control the quality of the light: general illumination, white balance, shadows, relative intensity to other/existing sources and so on. 

My standard kit these days is a bag full of little eTTL flashes with eTTL radio triggers. These are very useful because you can dial the power up and down relative to anything, and they sync with the camera shutter at high speeds, so you can balance their output against DAYLIGHT as well (simply by using the shutter). In a space with white walls, the very room is a light-modifier – so I spend my time in these shoots happily bouncing lights off the ceilings and walls, to flood rooms with light in a way that makes sense, and so you can see everything. With gels, you can colour balance them to anything as well, or ADD colour (as per the last post).


In this setup picture, you can see a work called Surface Noise, ‘Featuring albums and audio works by Eugene Carchesio, Alex Cuffe, ∑gg√e|n, Lawrence English, HAPPY COOL, Benjamin Kolaitis, The Histrionics, and Darren Sylvester.’ It’s a large table in a white room with large windows, and video screens on the walls. Without the artificial light (my flashes), the daylight from the windows dominates, making the opposite side of the table quite dark. The flashes bouncing off various surfaces bring up the room light and eliminate difficult shadows, whilst making daylight seem ‘real’, and the video screens still visible (a shutter speed of around 1/15th second, f/6.3 and ISO 100)

This involves a combination of experimentation, knowledge of equipment/experience, careful placement/hiding so your lights/reflections aren’t in the shot, and a good sense of what you actually want to end up with in the end. The more you do, the better you get, but like with hair, everyone has their bad days too. My most annoying practice has to be routinely forgetting to turn the radio triggers OFF at the end of shoots – typically the on-camera radio which of course has the pricey watch battery in it. Grr – I need to put post-it notes on my hands or something…


Book shootin’

June 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

In November last year, back when it was warm and relatively sunny (remember those days?), I was invited to make some photographs for an RMIT book – ‘Designing the Dynamic‘ – a collaboration of various super-clever researchers ‘…from architecture, boat design, industrial design, mathematics, aerospace, structural engineering and computer science to explore the design and representation of dynamic systems’. In short, a satisfyingly weighty tome contributing new ideas to sailboat design (amongst other things). So the brief was to photograph some of the design models used in research for essays in the book, with a view to providing some good illustrative content, if not the cover!
So with that in mind, I trotted up to the shiny new RMIT Design Hub building, to set up a makeshift studio, and photograph some of the work with a view to editorial use – so illustrative rather than documentary.

Designing the dynamic - back
Given something of a free creative rein in this regard, the first thing that struck me about the array of models constructed to test airflow and aerodynamics, was that in operation, with fans blowing, sensors ‘sensing’, and sails responding to airflow – they would be quite dynamic… However, catching the sense of that life and movement in a static two-dimensional picture is another kettle of fish entirely. So I thought to treat them as ‘performance’ instead, and use colour to infuse a theatrical dynamic into the pictures.

Designing the dynamic - setup
The setup was a simple four flashes on stands: a ‘key’ off to my right with my biggest umbrella – for soft detail lighting. A ‘fill’ to my left and further back, to reduce the shadow contrast from the key, and two backlighting flashes with COLOUR. I used a combination of BLUE and YELLOW gels (either gaffer-taped or in a holder) on the flashes to give the blank ‘arctic white’ background a better sense of space, AND to feature light the models. I was sensitive to leaving a bit of negative space in the pictures as well, for text and barcodes and other book-stuff – and I think the colour helps to give those areas a bit of pictorial purpose as well.

Designing the dynamic - front
With the closeup of the sail used for the cover of the book – the blue light gives much better contrast to what is a white sail on a white background. My fancy is that this is how it would look at sea, if the model maker were brave enough to take it out there. The book designer (Sean Walsh Graphic Design) has (hardly cropped at ALL, and) used a BIG YELLOW STRIPE for the subtitle text on the cover too, which is nicely sympathetic to (the big yellow electrical clip on the very frame of the photograph, but also) my lighting. Thank you!!

Designing the dynamic chapter pic
Similarly, as you can see in the last photo (used in the book in a two-page chapter spread), the YELLOW backlighting is placed to stream through the plywood ‘airflow grid’ – which behaves like a photo grid in a fancy photo studio, breaking up the light into directional boxes, and not-at-all-evenly (because there are fans inside blocking some of the light), which makes the object come alive visually, rather than looking like a plywood box (which it is, but it’s also more!) The chair in the setup pic for this was for me to make a series of extreme closeups of the lasercut components of that model, and to my delight, those pictures are used liberally throughout the book as well.

Look at those books!

Best of all, the book is LARGE and coffee-tabley, and there was champagne at the launch. More of this please.

Stomping around Japan… with cameras!

November 1, 2012 § 4 Comments

Torii at the Itsukushima Shrine, Itsukushima

In June/July this year, I used up some long-service leave to go overseas again, and having completed moreorless the ‘Scandinavian set’ (except Greenland.. sorry Greenland!), headed first to Japan, where I’d never been before! Lots of people I know have been to Japan, but I think it’s fair to say that nothing they enthusiastically told me about the country really ‘gelled’ in my head until I actually got there. I’m sure this is a common experience.

In any case, this blog isn’t the place to cut & paste the 48 page ‘travelogue’ I wrote whilst wandering (well, it’s interesting to ME!!), but to chat about photographing in Japan, esp. with film and Large/Medium format cameras.

This year, in a break from the past, I took a Medium Format rangefinder as my day-to-day stomping camera – specifically the Fuji GW680III (circa 1992) – described as being a platform to support one of the sharpest lenses ever, it sports a really nice bright rangefinder and Fuji’s super 90mm f/3.5 EBC lens. My theory was that it would be faster to focus and thus make pictures, had a bigger frame area (for enlarging & cropping later), and looks like a regular camera (from a distance), so it wouldn’t draw much attention. This plus 100 rolls of the strangely inexpensive Fuji Neopan Acros 100 film, and I was all Fuji-ed up (and all Japanese, which seemed appropriate).


The other camera was my standard Wista 5×4″ field camera kit, with 65, 135 & 300mm lenses, for pictures of super quality when there’s more time to pause and ponder. For this I brought along 200 sheets of Kodak TXP320 (my favourite).

In terms of getting all that film there, I squish it all into my carry-on backpack to avoid the ruination of the high-power check-in luggage x-rays. So far I’ve never had a problem with fogging, over-enthusiastic customs or anything). This trip no-one was interested in either camera (although the rangefinder was looked at in Europe later on). In fact, no-one in Japan really noticed either camera until I went into the Fujifilm museum in Roppongi (Tokyo), and the fellow there grinned and said “Nice camera!”, which was an affirming moment, esp. as they had one in their display. But it does say something about Japan’s camera culture because I never get away with that level of unintentional stealth here.


One thing that quickly became apparent was my optimism in bring only 100ISO film for wandering around. It turns out late June is bang in the middle of the rainy season – so a lot of the time it was rainy (but pleasantly warm) and quite dark (from a 100ISO point of view). So, I ‘had to’ periodically visit various camera shops in Kyoto & Tokyo to buy 400ISO film (Kodak T-Max & Tri-X). The two Japanese camera megastores (BIC Camera & Yodabashi Camera) still have very well stocked, large film & paper refrigerators, with the Yodabashi Camera precinct in Shinjuku (Tokyo) dedicating an entire shop to film & paper, with a lab above. They also had a well stocked medium & large format camera section, where I spent some time drooling. Film in Japan is only a little bit cheaper than in Australia, and more expensive than the US, even for Japanese film. They had so much stock and variety though, I felt quite overwhelmed. I didn’t process any film over there, but it struck me it wouldn’t be that hard to do, especially if you were shooting with faster film and were worried about x-rays as above…

Tokyo Sky Tree

Wandering around with a camera was never a problem, with the only restrictions being the inner bits of specific temples. Setting up a tripod was often restricted in temple (and other touristy) areas (but not always). Because of that I made less Large Format pictures and more Medium Format ones – c’est la vie! In addition, I have never specifically set out to be a ‘street photographer’ in the stylised observational sense, but it is rather easy to make observational photos of people going about their every day life in Japan – and I think a number of factors lend themselves to this – camera culture being one, and the sheer volume of people doing interesting/industrious things being another.



Not so quiet… except for here.

October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Well, it’s certainly been a few months since I’ve posted anything – and that’s not for want of activity – with regular photographic adventures, including a six week jaunt overseas (complete with multiple film cameras). So I’d best get back to it!

Starting with a brief ‘hooray’ about having a photo published in (architect & broadcaster) Rory Hyde‘s new book: ‘Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture’. A little b&w reproduction a picture previously published in ‘Landscape Architecture‘ magazine, but possibly the first picture of mine that you can buy (in someone else’s marvellous tome) on Amazon.

This was the previously published version in Landscape Architecture. The photo Rory used is at top right.

It’s the little things.

I have written up a giant blog entry on my experiences stomping around Japan and making pictures – I just need to populate it with hyperlinks and snaps – and then I’ll post it forthwith.

No lens at all – taking the Harman Titan out for a whirl…

April 2, 2012 § 3 Comments

A few weeks ago, I succumbed to the worldwide hysteria surrounding Ilford Photo’s release of their handy dandy new Large Format pinhole camera, and ordered one directly from the manufacturer – Walker Cameras. This is a bit of a technological departure for me – consisting of little more than an ABS plastic box with a tiny hole at one end, and space for a double darkslide at the other. There are no controls for anything, only a lenscap and a bubble level on two sides. How can such a device do anything?
Here’s my first go…

This is a pic of Ballarat’s tram museum, from a few metres out the front. Here’s the workflow:
1. Look at the weather. In this instance, it was ‘kind of sunny’.
2. Spin the pointer on a (supplied, but you have to assemble it) paper wheel to sunny – well, it says I need to expose the film for 8 seconds or so.
3. (with darkslide inserted) Remove lenscap for moreorless 8 seconds
4. The deed is done
So far… I don’t actually feel like I’ve done anything except point a plastic box at a shed and remove the lid. This compared to the faffing around I normally do to make a photo… Then the ‘worst’ thing happens – I get ‘STUCK’ in the tram museum chatting happily to very knowledgeable tram museum folk, who take me out the back to have a squiz at partially restored trams. This isn’t good – it’s like a happy vortex of tram factoids, and I’m not going to make any photos am I? Well, whilst I’m chatting, I vaguely point the tripod at the middle of the tram shed and remove the lenscap for a minute or so, producing this:

Later, when I get home and process the film, I’m astonished to (a) find there’s anything on the film at all, and (b) I’ve actually made two interesting pictures. The tones and exposure are pretty good, and very printable, and even though the pictures are really soft – everything is in focus – which is because the tiny hole (“pin” hole) has an aperture of f/206, which is rather small. I feel less cheated by the experience, but it’s still pretty jolly weird using a Large Format camera that actually doubles in weight when you put the double darkslide in the back.
Next weekend, on a trip to Noojee, I tried making the classic waterfall shot (of the Toorongo Falls), whereupon a long exposure gives the water that milky effect. So I pointed the plastic thing vaguely at the waterfall (in portrait orientation), levelled it, and exposed the film for a minute or so, frowning at the vibrations I could feel under my feet from the wooden platform I was standing on. The result was this:

Again, this is alright, isn’t it? During the same trip, I was making snappy large format pictures with the Wista, and sharp sharp Nikon lenses also – and I just can’t help loving them more… but it is a real eye-opener, and sort of refreshing that you can make decent pictures with something so darn simple. Hooray Ilford, for getting me (and a 1,000 others) enthused about another film photography tangent.