The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

A Fun Project

Posted by Tom Benedict on 28/02/2014

I’m planning out a new photograph I’d like to do. Potentially it’ll lead to a set of photos, depending on where I go with it.

It started years ago when I was down in Waipio Valley with my kids. I’d packed a bunch of camera gear in the hopes of getting some new landscape photos, but I came too late and the light wasn’t all that good. Instead I started playing around with the cameras themselves and came up with this:

Bender 4x5 in Waipio Valley

It had its flaws, and I knew it at the time. But it was fun to make, fun to see coming off the camera, and it served as the source for a humorous demotivational poster I made shortly after:

Old School Poster

Years later I found myself down in Pololu Valley at the other end of the Kohala Coast from Waipio, this time with a Crown Graphic instead of my Bender. As before, I brought my kids. While I was setting up the Crown Graphic, my daughter walked up to ask if she could look through the camera. I was struck by the incongruity of the old camera and the young girl, and grabbed a couple of frames while she was staring at the ground glass.

Live View

The Crown Graphic has a collapsible hood over the ground glass that keeps the sun off the glass as you’re composing a photo. I figured this would make it easier to do something similar to what I’d done with my Bender, but despite several experiments that day I just couldn’t make it work. The more I worked at it, the more I began to wonder why the Bender photo had worked at all.

For starters, the Bender was in the shade when I made the photo in Waipio, and it was pointed at the sunlit landscape. This kept the ground glass from being washed out, but it made for such a wide dynamic range I couldn’t get everything to work as well as I’d liked. I also photographed the Bender at a slight angle. When I made the photos of the Crown Graphic, I was directly behind the camera. So every photo of the ground glass bore a reflection of me and my DSLR. That offset in the Waipio photo, however small, was critical. Along the same lines, the area directly behind the Bender was also in shade, so there were no brightly lit objects to create other reflections. In every photo I did with the Crown Graphic, something behind the camera was reflecting off the front surface of the ground glass. It was a nightmare.

The final piece to the puzzle had to do with the characteristics of the ground glass in the two cameras. They’re quite different. The ground glass in the Crown Graphic suffers from severe “hot spot”: the point on the ground glass directly between your eye and the camera’s lens is brighter than anywhere else on the ground glass. The Bender suffers from it, too, as you can see in the photograph I made in Waipio, but it’s a much more subtle effect.

But I know a fix for that! Years ago when I was actively doing large format photography, I picked up a little Fresnel book magnifier. Cut to fit in front of the ground glass, it helps even out the illumination while composing a photo. It must be removed prior to focusing or exposing the film, of course, but for that first phase of composition it’s useful. So I stuck the Fresnel in my Bender, ran out on my front porch, and tried it again.

Early Concept Test

Better! Better, but not great. As you can see at the top and bottom, the Fresnel I had didn’t quite cover the entire ground glass. Rats! I scrounged around town, trying to find a larger one without success. In the end I wound up ordering some full page magnifiers from Amazon.

While I was waiting for the magnifiers to come in, I started planning out spots to go to make the “real” photo: Pololu Valley Overlook is a good one. Waipio Valley Overlook is good, too. Waialea Bay, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, Onomea Bay, City of Refuge, the list is long. I was like a kid in a candy store! But eventually the excitement wore off and I got back to the business of waiting for the Amazon box. >yawn<

I spent some of that time fishing for additional ideas that would make the final picture pop. As I was rummaging, I came across another experiment I’d done using the photos from Pololu. A couple of weeks after the Pololu trip I looked through the photos of my daughter and the Crown Graphic, and on a whim I tried one of them as a selective color photo, keeping only the purple of her shirt and letting the rest of the frame go gray.

Crown Graphic Selective Color

It was a neat effect, but a couple of things keep it from being what I’d call a really good photo: the tripod bag, the camera bag hanging around my daughter’s neck, and the almost but not quite background. Really, it wasn’t the best application of selective color to begin with. But could I use it with this other idea?

I tried a couple of selective color approaches, but none of them really worked out. Then it hit me: Large format photography is often associated with black and white photography. (I can’t imagine why!) So what if…

Early Concept Test 2

Yup! That’s it.

The selective color approach won’t work with all of the photos I had planned. Sunrises and sunsets, for example, don’t really work all that well in black and white. And unfortunately I don’t have Yosemite or the Sierra Nevada to play in. But I think I can come up with something other than my grill and driveway to photograph this way.

I’m leaving for Victoria tomorrow afternoon, and will be heading over to Maui a couple of days after returning. So it may be another month before I get to try this in the field. But hey, I’ve got the scissors photo to do in the meantime. I love having plans waiting in the wings.

– Tom

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