The iPhone has had a major impact on personal photography. While it’s nowhere near as capable as my Fuji X-T1, it is both an exceptionally capable and flexible photographic implement, and the camera you always have with you. One of the very cool built-in features is the panorama function. On my way home from work today I was having fun playing with it, and testing out the low-light quality simultaneously.
As you can see, you achieve a panoramic image by swinging the camera from left to right (or in some cases top to bottom- This can also be reversed and swung the other way). You can do an up to 360-degree image. Because of the rotation of the camera, you get linear distortion.
When used carefully, This can make for some interesting images. The curves really highlight the shapes and the light in the scene. Used poorly, it can drag your eye (and hold it) in an ugly and/or uninteresting part of the image.
Another effect is if you have subjects moving through the scene, they can get stretched or compressed, depending on their speed of motion and direction, relative to the camera’s rotation. You can see that very clearly in this image.
Nighttime exposures present some challenges to image quality, especially when combined with the swinging of the camera to stitch together the exposure.
Well, ok, I actually shot these on the 30th of December, but they got processed today. This is perhaps the best three-frame panorama I’ve shot with the Rollei panorama adapter so far. It’s ALMOST seamless.
This is the ice rink they set up every winter in the fountain of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. The imposing building in the background is the National Archives.
As many of you know, I like walking around my neighborhood with the Rollei on my neck, photographing what I find. I went out this past weekend to put some Ilford Delta 3200 through the camera, to test how it performs as a low-light film. I wanted to shoot some interiors and some street scenes in low light, hand-held. Ilford Delta 3200 is really the last man standing in this game, as Kodak has discontinued their Tmax 3200 in any size, and even when available, it was only available in 35mm.
I was out to meet a customer who was interested in my photography – I made a print sale! (that will be a different blog post). In celebration, I was out exploring the neighborhood and took a different route home and came by this (relatively) new coffee shop, simply named, “The Coffee Bar”. It’s very cute inside, and they serve a really tasty chai. They did a fantastic job renovating the place and gave it a very inviting atmosphere. I love the sayings on the chalkboard menu – “decaf coffee is like a hairless cat – it exists, but that doesn’t make it right”.
One of the things that happens when you test out a new film is that you discover character quirks that help you decide how and when to include it in your palette of options. Delta 3200 is a high-speed yet (at least in 120) relatively fine-grained film. Since my Rollei has a top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, the film’s speed severely curtails my ability to use it in daylight situations. In low light, though, that vice becomes a virtue and I can hand-hold photos that I would ordinarily need a tripod for. That was, as Donald Rumsfeld would have put it, a “known known”. A characteristic I did not know until I actually developed the film was that apparently Delta 3200 does not have an anti-halation coating. Anti-halation coatings prevent ‘blooming’ in highlights that give a “glow” to light sources within a scene. When you don’t want that, having it can be bad. However, in a scene like this, it really works and gives a warm atmosphere to the scene. This is a shot that I think when I make a silver-gelatin enlargement of it, I’ll sepia-tone the print to give it that extra warmth, and give it a real ‘coffee’ atmosphere.
The doors to The Coffee Bar were catching the last blush of sunset in the sky, and the reflection of the street lamp just starting to glow in the twilight. I love this kind of light at this time of day, where the sky is dimming to be just as bright as the landscape below. This is one shot where I wish I had the second Rollei with me and some color film loaded, as I would have liked to capture the deep blue sky, the patina’d green lamppost, and the orange glow of the street lamp globe reflected in the window, the gold leaf of the street number and ‘The Coffee Bar’ on the glass twinkling in the sun’s last rays. Another time – I know where it is, and I can always go back in for a good chai to warm me up on a chilly fall evening.
A while ago a friend of mine asked me to shoot a roll of Tri-X through my Contax G2 so he could see how it performed in low-light situations, as he was thinking about getting one himself. I took a walk around my neighborhood one evening in the spring, put a roll through the camera, and these are some of the results.
One thing I notice about the shots I’ve been taking with the G2 is that my composition has been freer, less formal and less insistent on everything being nice, tidy, plumb and square. I’ve been shooting more off-angle shots and I don’t know if that’s because I’m shooting hand-held, eye-level, or because I’m trying out more ‘grab shots’ where the camera isn’t even really being brought to my eye, I’m just aiming and trusting the auto-focus. I know in the past I would have found a lot of these off-angle ‘grab shots’ objectionable and they’d have gone straight to the reject pile. But I’m reconsidering them now and I’m starting to like them. Well, maybe more appreciate them for what they are, and not reject them out of hand.
Cars at night are interesting. Depending on how you shoot them, they can be sharp, they can be blurred, or they can even disappear, leaving behind only the light trails of their head and tail lamps as proof they were once there.
The BMW was stopped fully at the traffic light when I started the exposure, but the SUV next to it was in the act of stopping, and the car turning onto 14th Street was in continuous motion.
Cars and people have to co-exist on city streets. Here a pedestrian follows a speeding car through the intersection, hoping to make the other side before the change of the light.
People in low light are a similar problem – they don’t ever really sit still. Combine that with needing to use large apertures with shallow depth of field in low light, and the requisite slow shutter speeds, and you have a recipe for blur. This was something else I used to always find objectionable; blurry people. Now, I think of it more as a sign of our humanity and our alive-ness.
This isn’t to say we always need to be in continuous motion – quiet contemplation in a sea of motion is often called for and a needed respite.
Architecture at twilight is in some ways easier to shoot because the subjects aren’t moving. But that still has challenges because the contrast range of dim exteriors and bright interiors, combined with hotspots from outside spot lights, can be just as difficult to balance.
The fun thing about these lighting situations, though, is that it sets up the viewer to make a psychological interrogation of the building- you are literally being pulled into the interior of the space to examine, investigate and interpret something illuminated from within that in daylight is muted if not hidden.
Ok, this one gets its own shot because it’s just too cool for school and doesn’t play well with others. I was up in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend. I rented an apartment on Fort York Boulevard, right down by Lake Ontario. The apartment had a view of the downtown skyline, including the CN Tower, which is the tallest structure in North America, and if I recall correctly, the 15th tallest in the world. As such, it attracts lightning strikes. I was lucky enough to be there for a late-summer thunderstorm, and to photograph it through my apartment window during that storm, and catch a shot of the CN Tower getting struck.
I promise you it was far more impressive in person than it is in the photo.
A long time ago, I saw this interesting little gadget sitting in the used equipment case at my local camera store. It was a panorama adapter for Rolleiflex cameras that enabled you to shoot up to a 360-degree panorama on a single roll. It has a built-in bubble level (which is absolutely critical). You put the camera on top, then focus and compose as normal. Once you have the focus and exposure set, you don’t change them (this is also critical). Take the first exposure, then push in the little locking lever, rotate the camera to the next increment on the dial, and take the next picture, and so on until you have shot as many frames as you want to shoot. It is critical to maintain focus and exposure as set on the original frame because changing focus will mean that things in one frame will not be in exactly the same proportion as they were in the previous frame,therefore they will not blend seamlessly. Ditto for exposure – if you change the exposure from frame to frame, ESPECIALLY if you are shooting color film, you’ll never be able to match the frames.
Done right, you get this:
It isn’t perfect because with the long exposures (45-90 seconds each – I forget which I used, but as you can see they’re all exactly the same) traffic patterns don’t flow through the underpass during all three exposures, and the lens flare from the street light in the middle picture doesn’t carry over to the same degree in the left picture, thanks to the lens hood. But you have to look at it to see the three frames separately.
If things aren’t perfect, then you end up with:
While the alignment is pretty close, the color is off a bit on each frame. This took quite a bit of Photoshoppery to get it to match as well as it does. I kind of expected this outcome when trying this shot because I knew the traffic patterns wouldn’t line up from frame to frame, and wanted to see how it would turn out. I think it worked well enough as an effect, but I’m on the fence as to whether I’d try it again.
If you don’t have everything perfectly level, you get:
Also lots of Photoshoppery went into getting the colors and density to match from frame to frame. This one has been rotated and cropped to get it MORE level, but you can see between the oval of the fountain and the overall tilt, it wasn’t level and square enough.
And last but not least, another experiment with disjointed traffic flow around Dupont Circle.
Another part of this experiment was to see how Kodak Ektar 100 does with long night exposures. My previous (and still) favorite for night photos is Portra 160. While Ektar hasn’t dethroned Portra for this purpose, it proves it can stand on its own and I don’t need to carry multiple emulsions with me when I travel to cover every scenario. I can bring a few rolls of Portra 800 for when I need to shoot hand-held in low light, and the Ektar 100 for everything else.
I have eight of my color night photos up on the wall as part of a group show of large format photographs at the River Road Unitarian Church. The show will be hanging through Sunday May 4, when we (the four of us artists in the show) will have a take-down party from 3-5pm. If you can’t make it to the take-down party, feel free to drop by the church and ask to see the show any time during their operating hours:
In addition to the usual Sunday fellowship hours, the exhibit can be viewed Monday-Friday 10 am-4 pm in the Fellowship Hall, River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 6301 River Road, Bethesda, MD. Please call the RRUUC office (301-229-0400) before going there to check that no conflicting activity is scheduled when you want to view the exhibit.