This is all about using selective focus to emphasize a subject, and use of exaggerated perspective to draw the eye into and through the image. This is one of the things I like extreme wide-angles for – the exaggerated foreground-background relationships that happen when you put them very close to something give you a new non-eye-like point of view on your subject that really forces you to consider it formally, abstractly and within its context.
A street find while walking around with the LC-A 120. This is under the railroad tracks that cross the South Bank pier of London Bridge, just across the street from Southwark Cathedral.
I happened to look down, and then saw this admonition to “Look Right ->”. I found it mildly amusing that traffic flow was considered so confusing that it was necessary to tell people which direction to look before crossing the street. And I love the crunchy texture of the pavement and sidewalk. This is at the corner of Finsbury Square where it abuts City Road in central London.
This is another image from the Lomo LC-A 120. The only real reason I ever mention the cameras I use nowadays is to prove a point about there being little to no correlation between the “quality” of camera you use and the quality of the images you make. I have very little control over the LC-A beyond what I point it at, when I choose to trip the shutter, the film I load in it, and the rough guesstimate of the distance between me and the subject. Everything else is really out of my control. But the decisions that are most important are the ones I do have control over – what to point it at and when to trip the shutter.
Knowing my camera and how it records images is also helpful to getting what I want out of the image, of course. But this image above would have not been any more successful if I shot it with a Hasselblad Superwide, a Rolleiflex TLR, or my Fuji XT-1, each of which offer far more control and precision than the LC-A.
I’m entranced by the range of things happening in this photo. The geometry of the space (especially the grid on the floor) leading your eye back toward a vanishing point, the contrast between the stark modernity of the room structure and the gnarled, organic forms of the ancient Greek temple, the static, permanent nature of the architecture (all the moreso thanks to the twenty-five hundred year old temple in the room) providing backdrop for the hustle-bustle of people circulating the room, and the movement around the people stopped stock still to contemplate the temple. This was probably another 1/2 second exposure, maybe 1/4, hand-held with the Lomo LC-A.
A moment of serendipity as I was photographing the red granite pharaoh’s head in the British Museum caught the face of a passer-by in the lower right corner breaking through a beam of light, an equally enigmatic expression on their face as on the Pharaoh’s. In the far background, a second Pharaoh looks on.
Shot on Kodak Tri-X in a Lomo LC-A.
As many of you who have been following my blog for any period of time are now aware, I’m a camera-toy junkie. My latest foray in camera toy land has been into the world of “toy” cameras. I’ve been working for several years on my Sinister Idyll series using my Lomo Belair X-6/12. Many would call it a “toy” camera because it is a plastic fantastic body, with aperture-preferred automatic exposure only, only two aperture choices, and manual guesstimate focusing only. It’s upgradeable (as I have done) with two Russian-made glass lenses (which are absolutely superb), but beyond that, it’s a glorified point-n-shoot that takes panoramic images on 120 roll film.
Well, I just acquired its spiritual cousin, the Lomo LC-A 120. The LC-A has a super-wide lens, also a Russian glass lens, and a fully automatic shutter and aperture (you have no say whatever in the exposure other than if you game the system by changing the ISO, and no idea which aperture it’s using because there is no indicator in the viewfinder, just a slow-shutter warning light). Focusing is achieved by selecting one of four focus zones via a lever on the side of the body. I’ve been plinking around with it here around Washington DC, and just gave it its first serious workout on the road when I took it with me to London.
One of the most obvious characteristics of the lens is a noticeable vignette in the corners. Applied properly, this is a very effective tool. Thanks to the automatic aperture, it’s not always predictable how much you’re going to get (see comment above about the aperture – with wider apertures and infinity focus, you get more vignetting. With smaller apertures and closer focus, you get little or no vignetting).
As you can see from the people moving around in this scene, the camera is quite sharp even at a larger aperture, and the extreme wide-angle (the same field of view as a Hasselblad Superwide) lets you hand-hold at speeds that would be very difficult with a normal lens on a reflex camera. I’m guessing this was somewhere between 1/8th and 1/2 second.
Even with the lens being so wide, you can achieve selective focus effects with it if you get in close. I highly recommend getting in close!
An extreme example of hand-holding (yes, I know – I have supernaturally steady hands). This was at least a one-second exposure.
The LC-A is a great travel camera because it’s so wide, it allows you to include a near-human-eye field of view, and the extreme light-weight and compact form factor make it very easy to take anywhere and carry all day. Ditto for the minimalist operation technique – you really just point, set focus range, and shoot.
Back here in DC, you can see another example of the vignette effect. I did tweak this a little to amplify it, but this is not a significant manipulation beyond what the camera did.
I like getting multi-layered images with partial reflections in glass. And it’s a bit of a self-portrait too, with my shadow falling in the image. I love how the construction workers have the microwave set up and working in the middle of a kitchen remodel – you have to have your priorities straight and keep the coffee warm!
A demonstration of not only the extreme field of view, but the color rendering of the lens. The camera has a reputation for deep, saturated colors. This was taken with 10+ years out-of-date Fuji Pro 400 H.
Again, you can never really get too close. This was a test of the close-focus/selective focus capability (the minimum focus setting is 1.5 feet).
Nice saturated colors even on decade-old film.
One of the things I’ve been enjoying about these “toy” cameras that give you very little control over your photograph is the way that they in many ways demonstrate the lack of need for that level of control to make good images. The extreme wide-angle of not only the LC-A but also the Belair force you to think very seriously about your composition, use of perspective, and manipulation of forced perspective to emphasize/de-emphasize compositional elements. With the Belair, I do have a “B” setting for the shutter to do long exposures and intentionally play with time, something I don’t have on the LC-A (but wish I did). Time is the one other critical component to a photograph that we do and simultaneously do not have control over – I can control when I open the shutter, and to some extent when I close the shutter (if I want a “correctly” exposed image, I must close it when it needs to be closed, not when I want it to be closed), but beyond that we have no real control over what happens WHILE the shutter is open. Things happen on their own. Movement is never fully predictable. Moving subjects speed up, slow down, change direction, or stop without warning.
I’ve started thinking of these cameras that I’ve been using – the Belair and the LC-A – as “serendipity boxes” because to use them successfully, they require an acceptance of serendipity, chance, and fortune. They’re life-metaphors in a way – just like in my own life, I can point them a certain direction, look at specific things, get closer, and turn away. But if I don’t learn how to see through them, to take in the periphery, work within the uniquely skewed perspectives that they offer, I’ll miss out on things that are presented to me because they didn’t fit in the tightly-controlled box I wanted them to fit into.
I’ve walked past this mural for years, and they re-do it every so often. The primary change from visit to visit is the color palette, but over time, major compositional elements change as well. I’m showing the previous version (circa 2013) and now both in black and white just to keep the comparison visually fair.
The bird’s head on the right is a mosaic, originally including mirror fragments, now painted. I think the fisheye treatment in the first image works well because the mural already has a bit of a fisheye perspective to begin with.
Double-exposures, especially accidental ones, can be so much fun! You never know what you’re going to get, and how it will work out. Here I have two very different images layered one atop the other, both with my Mamiya RZ Fisheye lens. Had they been done with different lenses I don’t think this would have worked out so well.
I decided to treat myself to a lens toy – I got a Mamiya RZ Fisheye lens for my RZ67. It arrived this weekend and I took it on a walkabout in my neighborhood to put it through its paces. I especially wanted to try and do some shots that did not scream “shot with a fisheye” to see if it could be versatile enough to keep in my camera kit, or was it really a one-trick pony.
In this shot, it shows that you CAN use it for street documentary if you want. It’s still a challenge, though, with the distortion it brings to background subjects. And it forces you to get right up on top of your subjects – They were maybe five feet away from me.
Applied sensibly to architecture, it works. You do have to be extra careful that your horizons are level and square, or you will get wild distortion.
This is perhaps my favorite image of the shoot. Leading lines abound and the backlit subject with the sun in the frame create drama.
Selfie with the fisheye – with the sun behind me, it’s impossible to keep yourself out of the photo (or at least your shadow).
I was downtown DC the day of the March For Our Lives gun control protest. I wasn’t actually there to document the march – I was there to see it and experience it, but not even as my primary goal for the day, so I didn’t shoot a ton of film. Regardless, when I arrived at the parade route, the students and parents from Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida were passing the intersection where I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue. It was truly moving to be there amongst them as they marched past. I’ll let the images speak for themselves, and just add that the closing image of the series says it all – Don’t just march, VOTE.
For those interested, I shot the entire series on my Mamiya RZ67 with the 65mm lens, which was really the perfect lens to use for this – I had enough room to get groups and action, but I could still get close up and isolate individual people. Film of choice was the classic documentary film, Kodak Tri-X.