Tag Archives: Landscape

Using light meters intelligently

First posted 21 April 2011

Looking at an analogue or digital hand meter for the first time can be very confusing, there are many options and often an overload of information. There are multi metering modes on advanced modern digital types which I find confusing even after using meters for thirty years, so I thought I might write a little about how to simplify matters and ensure consistent results.
Firstly, whatever you point a light meter at is read by the meter as a mid grey. It does this so that the whites are white and the blacks are black and to do that, it puts the exposure in the middle. To make this work, there must either be a range of brightness in the scene, or something which is already a mid grey.

Any and all light meters do this, and this is why when shooting in snow the hurried metering method often gives grey and underexposed areas where white should be the predominant tone. Another common mistake amongst beginners is to take shots looking up at trees or buildings without thinking of how bright the sky is. This causes the meter to read far too much brightness in the scene and the subjects end up as silhouettes against a grey sky. Even when a hand meter is used, false readings can arise from simple mistakes, such as having your shadow over the meter.

So let’s look at the different ways of metering; Reflected, Incident, Spot and Average.

Reflected is simply pointing a meter at something and seeing how bright it is, how much light is reflected from it. The problem though, is that if you point it at something rather dark, you will get an overexposed shot and pointing it at something light will give an underexposed shot.

Incident is a method which reads how much light is falling ON THE METER. This avoids the problems above. When using a hand meter, taking an incident reading will produce an excellent negative 99% of the time (it’s not much good with backlit subjects).
An incident reading is when a white plastic cone is fitted over the light cell allowing the meter to read light falling on the meter, rather than light reflected off the subject. The important thing is that the meter should be pointed towards the camera from the position of the subject, not pointed at the light source. If you are unable to stand in the position of the subject then simply point the meter in the same direction, but from a manageable position. As long as the direction of the light is the same where you take the reading and in the scene, the exposure will be the same.

One of the most reliable methods is spot metering. Not for taking a number of readings to average out the exposure as some meters permit you to do, as this can often lead to an incorrect reading (Because the important brightness is always two stops up from deep shadow, not half way between deep shadow and bright white). Finding the all important deep shadow tone, ( Zone III ) takes practice. If you can identify this tone in a scene and read it, you then underexpose that reading by two stops, which gives you zone V – which is two zones along. This may seem confusing, as the explanation is more complicated than the doing.

A simpler method is to set the spot meter to a film speed two stops higher than you are actually using, take a reading from deep shadow, set the camera accordingly and shoot. The film rating is not actually changed, so no alteration of dev time is necessary.

Because the meter is set two stops higher, it reads the shadows brighter than they are, the meter then suggests a faster shutter speed/smaller aperture. Shooting at this exposure causes the deep shadows to be two stops underexposed (from mid grey) which is exactly where you want them.

The explanation as I say often seems complicated, but in practice it is quite easy. give all methods a go and see which works best for you.

5 Comments

  1. Posted 02/05/2011 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for this explanation. Although I’ve been using an old-fashioned hand-held meter for years, I did not really understand all the implications of this, and I guess I’ve just been lucky with my shots (though it does explain a few overexposed anomalies now), or fortunate to have been using film with a wide exposure latitude. My recent move into shooting slide film will probably be more telling!
    As my meter is so old, I’m guessing it’s measuring reflected light rather than incidental light – it doesn’t have one of those cones. Maybe I’ll have to start thinking about an upgrade to my kit.

  2. mark lacey
    Posted 06/07/2011 at 12:49 am

    For black and white your technique of spot meter deep shadow and open two stops is dead right, I’ve been doing that for 30 years and my negs have always been really easy to print, which to me is the point of the exercise. Don’t know anout colour, I don’t use the stuff! All good advice, it’s nice to see it expressed simply, some people turn the zone system into rocket science and I suspect in the process forget to take a good photograph.

  3. Posted 07/10/2011 at 9:35 pm

    I read Mark’s comment, and I had to stop and think about it for a moment. You wouldn’t OPEN two stops from the meter reading if you’re metering a deep shadow. The meter would look at that shadow and (as you explain so succinctly) give a reading to render it a middle gray – which would require either a slower shutter speed or wider aperture. Either way, in order to properly render the deep shadows properly using the spot meter technique described, you would STOP DOWN two stops – not open up… Your explanation of “underexpose that reading by two stops” is the same way of looking at the situation.

    I just wanted to clear it up because I put up a link to this great article, and then some questions as to whether the proper thing to do is OPEN the aperture – or stop down…

  4. Posted 05/04/2012 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you. These are some good insights.

  5. Philp Toal
    Posted 15/08/2012 at 5:29 pm

    I usually take a spot reading of the shadow area and over expose by 1-2 stops and develop N-1/-2 (depending upon the shadow area I want to show up), and then print down to Z3 because Z´s 1 – 3 expose as black on any paper unlike the the wider Zone range of say 1-18 of all films. Paper in general, barely goes beyond Z10 and with N development Z3 would render only black as well.

Snow scenes again – the images

First posted 30 December 2009

I have been out on a number of occasions since writing the last post. Some of the films are processed, but not all. We have had days when I could get to my darkroom and lots of days when I could not. I have had to scan the negatives to show the results here, but intend to print them at some point on high contrast matt FB paper, as I think this will really suit the look of them. Hopefully, they will look like pen and ink drawings.

contact sheet

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 30/12/2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful photos Sandy!

  2. Posted 16/01/2010 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Looks a lot like Giacomelli, I’m curious to know how you achieved this rendering!
    Did you use a specific extremely contrasted film (forgot the name)?
    Or just extreme pushing/long development/very high filters/long exposure when printing?
    probably a combination, but I’d love to know if you’re willing to share :)

    Greets from Belgium

Snow scenes again

First posted 21 December 2009

It’s almost a year since I started this blog and one of the first articles I wrote was about shooting in the snow on Ortho film (See ‘High contrast snow scenes’, Feb ‘09). I also wrote another article on achieving higher contrast by altering the film ISO and increasing the development time (see ‘Flexible film’ October 2009).

After doing the tests on these films I had a result which I was eager to take further, unfortunately the snow went rather suddenly and I could do no more (The images used in the October article were shot at the same time as the ortho tests in Feb). Here in the UK we have had heavy snow again and I’ve been wanting to continue my tests.

I like the effect of having black shapes floating in a white space, the images are abstract, but recognisable. Here’s one from last time;

square field

I prefer overcast days with white skies for this kind of shot, there are no strong shadows to distract from the forms.

To get high contrast the trick is to over process the film so that the heavily exposed areas become black on the film. The exposure is determined by an incident reading to ensure that the large areas of white don’t influence the meter too much.

With the Delta 100 film I rated it at 800 ISO and developed for 24 minutes in Ilfotec DDX diluted one to four. The resulting negatives print well on a normal grade of paper, but will give more tonal separation if printed on a hard grade.

I’ll be going out tomorrow with the Delta 100 loaded, but this time I’m planning on shooting with a long lens so that I can pick out shapes in the distance and reduce the angular distortions that come with wider lenses. This hopefully will add to the abstraction.

We’ve not had great snow here for around twenty years, so this has been a great opportunity to add to my snow scenes. I’m going to continue with the high contrast shots on 35mm Delta 100, but I’ll also be taking other snow landscapes on medium format loaded with HP5 rated at 200 to give a beautiful long tonality.

This is a 35mm shot from 1983 (I think).

210 snowy gate

 

Images on glass

First posted 1 December 2009

In the small town where I live, there used to be a company who became famous for making illustrated postcards. These humorous cards showed cartoon images of seaside holidaymakers and ordinary working people and often had double entendre meanings.

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The company was known as Bamforths and although the cards they produce are famous worldwide, not many people are aware that they also had a photographic studio. In their early days they were leading producers of magic lantern slides on subjects such as romance, tragedy and the temperance movement. They also produced movies which were seen all over the world. According to Wikipedia, the films made here in Holmfirth, surpassed those made by Hollywood at the time!

If the company had not ceased the film making part of their business during the first world war (due to shortages), the place where I live could have been the centre of the worlds film industry. When film making finished they continued with postcard production up to the latter part of the 20th Century.

The company closed in the early 1990’s and the daylight photographic studio of the building was turned into homes. The rest of the building was left to rot and a few years ago plans were put forward to develop the site and build a large new development of flats. These were opposed by locals, but the work seems to be going ahead anyway.

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There are a couple of websites which give a little more detail here; http://www.bamforthpostcards.co.uk/ and http://www.bamforth.0catch.com/

About fifteen years ago I was approached by a local man who had been living behind the derelict Bamforths building and had discovered a pile of old lantern slides covered with pieces of carpet. The slides had suffered some damage from years of weather, but images could still be seen. He gave me the glass positives and I stored them away in my studio. I was reminded of them recently as I walked past the old Bamforths building and noticed workmen knocking down one of the smaller buildings (the little studio where the illustrations were drawn). I approached one of the guys and asked if it would be ok to have a quick search round the back to see if there were any more lantern slides hidden in the undergrowth.

He waved me through and I clambered over rubble and weeds to a little area behind a wall where my friend had located the glass images so many years ago.

behind bamforths

I hadn’t been prepared for the fact that not only had the whole area been left to go wild with creeping plants and nettles, but the nearby houses had used this ‘waste’ ground for years to dump all their grass cuttings, old pushchairs and broken pots. I struggled through and found an old iron bar which I used to dig around and lift rubbish, but all I could find was clear squares of glass and broken pieces of glass which had once held images. The emulsion had completely rotted away from these.

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It was quite depressing to find no trace of the photographic history, so I went back to the studio and dug around in my own collection for the lantern slides that I had been given years previously.

I found some really interesting images, not least of which, are three photographs of the Lusitania in Liverpool docks.

Luisitania

Luisitania (2)jpg

Luisitania (3)

Although the search had come to nothing, it had spurred me on to find the Glass lantern slides I had forgotten I owned. How many other great images had been lost to the damp and cold though? If only I had gone to search after I received this small collection.

Woodland river

Cobweb

 

Night photography

First posted 16 November 2009

Although the weather is turning much colder now here in the UK, I really want to get out and do some more night photography. I’ve not done any serious night stuff for a while now and keep seeing shots while I’m driving or at other inconvenient times. I try to make a mental note of the location with the intent of going back with camera and tripod, but you know how it is, it doesn’t always happen. So I’ve decided I’m definitely going out this week.

prospect road, nottingham

I prefer cool, slightly misty Autumn nights for shooting. This is because it gets darker earlier, giving me longer to work and the misty air separates the tones as they recede into the distance (known as aerial perspective). This gives a better sense of depth and drama to a scene and suppresses the bright highlights of distant lights.

10 night back lane

Autumn also brings a colour change and the orange brown leaves reflect the street lighting better. This year I have missed the best of the Autumn colours as we have had some really windy weather, which has stripped many of the trees bare.

Coming back to night photography after shooting other subjects and styles for a while, I was thinking about approaching it in a different way this time. Previously I had shot mainly on 35mm and medium format. Now I think I would like to shoot on 10×8 using a 300mm 5.6 lens. This would be used at it’s widest aperture to give a very shallow area of focus which I think will accentuate the theatricality of the lighting, making each shot look like a stage set. I’ll post some images when I’ve done them.

copleys bakery

If you are thinking of doing any night photography and the lights where you intend to shoot are the common sodium type, then you might find chart 1 useful. These are the starting point exposures for Ilford HP5 under ordinary sodium lighting (orange lights).

The much brighter high pressure sodium lamps which are seen along motorways and in many city centres are paler in colour and twice as bright.

Use chart number 2 for exposures with such lighting.

As can be seen from the charts, the exposures increase dramatically as you use smaller and smaller apertures, this is down to reciprocity failure. This is a problem with exposures longer than one second, where extra exposure has to be added.

For anyone interested in taking night photography further, I wrote a book on the subject which has now sold out, but you should be able to find used copies on Amazon.

Chart 1

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Chart 2

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star trails

old railway station

night mist

5 Comments

  1. Posted 16/11/2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Firstly I can recommend Andrew’s book on Night Photography – mine came via ebay and I am sure a little patience would pay off there.

    Andrew have you ever used any of the Fuji films where reciprocity failure is said to be negligible and it may be possible to use 100ASA film and still get shorter exposures than HP5+?

  2. Posted 16/11/2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Posted 18/11/2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Amazing as always :)

 

Back from Scotland

First posted 20 April 2009

I’ve just returned from a two week break in the West of Scotland shooting mainly 10×8 landscapes. I shot almost every day and now have a lot of sheets of film which need processing separately. I intend to use the two bath process as this gives me the most even development where there are large areas of even tone, such as skies.

When I first began processing 10×8 film in IDII, I was occasionally getting blotchy, uneven marks in the sky. The two bath process though longer, is superb for smooth tones and I have not found a high contrast situation yet where it couldn’t cope. When I need punchier images I either print on a hard grade from a two bath neg or, – (I hope you are sitting down) I occasionally process in Multigrade paper developer!

I know that many people are going to be horrified by that statement, but with such large negs, the grain increase is not noticable and the quality is actually really good. I will show some Images illustrating the differences in a later post.

When processing for salt printing or other alternative processes, the paper developer method is ideal. You get a bit more contrast and the slight grain increase is of no consequence with these processes. The only time I definitely wouldn’t use paper developer is in high contrast situations, as it tends to be quite vigorous.

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I also took a 35mm kit with a few lenses and a digital compact with me on my trip. The 35mm didn’t get much use, but I did quite a bit on the compact. I used it for comparison shots to use in forthcoming magazine and blog articles and also to take pictures of what I could see on the focusing screen, as a sort of polaroid.