Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to leaf through an original copy of William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1844 book The Pencil of Nature, the first book ever to contain photographs.
These are actual photographic prints made by Talbot himself, the man who invented the calotype negative process. These prints were made on paper coated by Talbot and his assistants, and contact-printed in the sunlight from the calotype paper negatives that he shot in-camera (this was within a few years of what is generally considered the invention of practical photography – at about the same time that Daguerre invented the daguerreotype, which only produced a one-of-a-kind image on glass, while Talbot’s paper negative allowed for multiple prints to be made from the negative – essentially introducing the negative-positive photographic process used for the next 150 years).
I don’t want to go into too much technical detail, but you can easily find all the detail you want online, as this is an important piece of photographic history. I believe these prints are “salted paper prints”, in which the paper is sensitized with silver chloride, requiring long exposures in contact with the negative under sunlight. The negative shot in camera was a calotype (also called talbotype), which required relatively short exposures to produce a latent image on the translucent paper, that would then be chemically developed to bring out the full image.
A London publisher produced this book in six editions, in which Talbot’s actual photographic prints are glued into place on the pages. The six editions were sold separately, and as was apparently the custom at the time, the owner would have the editions bound together into a single book. The Elmer Andersen Library for Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Minnesota has a bound copy of volumes 1 and 2, containing a total of 12 photographs (the 24 total photographs were split into six volumes – it is believed that there are only about 15 complete copies of this book still in existence). It is clear that these two volumes were bound together into one book, although little of the binding remains intact today. The cover for these two volumes is not large enough to accommodate the other volumes, so the original owner must have only purchased the first two, or decided to have them bound separately for some reason.
Thanks to my friend Matt Newberry arranging for us to view this, I got to sit with him and browse through these very fragile pages containing some of the first photographs ever made. It seemed a bit crazy that we were able to be viewing Talbot’s actual prints so close-up and intimately.
Though the prints are severely faded, they are still sharp and show amazing detail. They’re beautiful. It’s surprising that prints from such an early experiment in photography still look this good 172 years later.
My favorite image in these two volumes is probably PLATE X. THE HAYSTACK, shown at the top of this post.
Other personal favorites are PLATE II. VIEW OF THE BOULEVARDS AT PARIS, and PLATE VI. THE OPEN DOOR, below.
Photography was so new to people in 1844 that he included a slipped-in “Notice to the Reader” that reads:
The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.
In the photo below I’m holding an original calotype paper negative (slipped in a plastic sleeve) believed to be taken by Talbot’s assistant Nicolaas Henneman sometime between 1843 and 1848. More info about this negative here
The book is readily available online to read and see scanned images of the photos. I highly recommend you give it a read. Talbot seemed to foresee the future of photography both in it’s many practical uses and as a form of art.
The book can be read in full here:
Today Matt emailed me this photo below, showing Talbot and assistants contact-printing photos in the sun. Perhaps the prints that we just saw were printed in these very frames.
Just a few more snow photos from the second roll of film shot that same day.
Rolleicord III, Acros 100, self-developed, camera-scanned.
A nice snowfall recently gave me the opportunity to take a walk and give my Rolleicord some much-needed exercise.
Not terribly exciting photos, but it was fun shooting them and developing the film at home. I guessed at the metering using the sunny-16 rule, and it worked well. The film did a nice job picking up the subtle detail in the very bright sunlit snow (while remarkably still holding shadow detail as well).
Shot on Fuji Acros 100; home developed in Arista Premium film developer (1:9, 7 min @ 68 deg).
Camera scanned using same setup described in the previous post.
I just developed a second roll shot on this same walk, and that’s now hanging to dry. Will fire up the ‘scanner’ again soon.
I recently posted photos that I had shot on black and white 120 film, home processed, and ‘scanned’ using my Fuji X-T1 camera and an old Nikkor macro lens. I’ll detail a little bit of the process below, because I think this holds great promise of being a quick and easy way to get some really nice quality scans. Below is a screen shot of a detail area from the photo above, to give you some idea of the quality and resolution.
When cropped square, these images are about 3100 x 3100 pixels. The X-T1 has about a 16MP sensor in it, and the full image size is 3264 x 4896 pixels. I didn’t completely fill the frame with the negative, so I’m cropping in a bit (plus cropping square of course in this case, since they’re 6×6 negs). I could make higher-resolution images of 120 film by getting closer to the neg and moving it around to capture several images, then auto-stitching them in Photoshop. I’ve seen examples of this online that are stunning. But for quick scans, these 9+MP images are pretty great.
So, how was this done?
First I bought a small light box to act as a backlight-source. I got a Logan 4″ x 5″ Slim Edge Light Pad, but I’m sure any would work fine. I had read that this model has a nice consistent brightness and color. And I wanted one for some other uses, anyway.
Then I had to figure out a way to hold the camera perfectly parallel to the light box. A tripod could be used, but it would be hard to align it perfectly, and to adjust height and repeat the setup. I tried this with a tripod in the past, and it’s a pain in the a**. An old copy stand would be perfect, but I had a hard time finding one for a reasonable price. So I decided that an old photo enlarger could be converted to a copy stand. I picked up an old Omega enlarger at a thrift store for $16:
It seemed a shame to tear apart such a nice enlarger, but I found that it could easily be dismantled in a way that it could be put back together if I want to return it to it’s intended use.
I added a small platform of plywood, with a hole cut at the perfect size to hold the end of my Nikkor macro lens. This certainly wouldn’t work with all lenses, but the way this lens is built (and since the Fuji X-T1 is a very light camera), it works perfectly. I used a level to carefully align the platform to be near-perfectly level with the base of the enlarger (fortunately, the enlarger had adjustment screws on the base that normally holds the neg-carrier, to make this adjustment easy).
I used a neg carrier that I happened to have from a flatbed scanner to hold the negatives flat against the light box, and inserted the camera and lens into the platform:
It may look a bit unstable, but the camera actually sits very steady, since the camera body is light, and the lens is heavy and has a portion that sticks out with nice straight sides, which slides into the hole in the plywood (I looped the camera strap around the top of the enlarger to keep it out of the way, but it would also catch the camera if it were somehow knocked off the stand). The height of the stand was adjusted so the neg would almost fill the frame, then the lens was focused. The manual focus aid in the X-T1 helps a lot for this — it will zoom in on the center of the frame and show red highlights when edges are in sharp focus, as seen below in the bad iphone photo of the camera’s LCD screen:
The room lights were shut off before shooting the actual photos, to eliminate any reflections off the film.
I tested the camera and lens combo by shooting several images of a couple negs from f/3.5 to f/22, and found that I got the sharpest images at f/3.5 to f/8. Surprisingly, this lens actually seems slightly sharper wide open at f3.5 than stopped down a stop or two. But to get a little bit of depth of field to help ensure the whole neg was in focus, even if it wasn’t completely flat, I shot them at f/8.
Here’s the lens I’m using:
It’s a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 – a great macro lens with extremely little distortion. In these images of square negatives, there was absolutely no bowing of the edges of the images. When cropped square to the image, the edges were perfectly straight. I’m lucky that I just happened to have this lens already, so I only needed a cheap adapter to put it on the Fuji X-T1.
The camera was set to electronic shutter so there’d be no camera movement from the shutter, and set to ISO 200, auto shutter speed, and with a 2-second self-timer to eliminate camera shake from pressing the shutter button. Next time I’ll set the shutter speed manually so that all of the exposures on a roll are consistent, as that will make later Lightroom adjustments easier to apply through the whole roll.
The negs had just been dried after developing, so they were still very clean, so I didn’t even bother blowing dust off of them. The scans picked up a few dust spots, but not bad at all. I slid the negs through by hand, and had to spend a few second on each one making sure it was aligned straight in the viewfinder, and that I wasn’t cutting off any of the image. That’s where this process could really be improved — by building some kind of neg carrier that the negs could slide through and stay aligned in the viewfinder. Even so, it probably only took about 15 minutes to shoot the roll, from setting the camera height and focusing the first neg to shooting all twelve images. (EDIT: Now that I’ve done a few rolls this way, it’s even faster — I have the enlarger marked at the proper height, so setup is faster, and I can get through a roll in a few minutes)
Process updated: See NOTE at end of this post.
Then the negs were brought into Lightroom and adjusted. Here’s what they looked like when first imported to Lightroom:
In Lightroom there’s no easy way to invert the negs into positives (they should really add a simple checkbox in the tone curve panel to invert the image). You have to grab each end of the tone curve and pull the bottom end up to the top, and the top end down to the bottom to invert the image (if you can’t get this to work, click the button in the bottom-right of the Tone Curve box — this change it to a ‘point curve’ and you can move the very ends of the line). So you change this: Simple enough, but now all of your exposure sliders in Lightroom are reversed. Increasing the Exposure slider darkens the image; decreasing the Blacks slider actually increases the Whites. It’s a bit confusing. I did this in Lightroom because I wanted to work with the camera RAW image, thinking that would give me the best quality. But after some experimenting I’ve decided that the JPG images are just as good, so it’s easy to simply invert the images in Photoshop, then make all the normal adjustments in Lightroom. Next time I do this, I’ll quickly invert all the images in Photoshop before importing them into Lightroom. Process updated: See NOTE at end of post.
Another advantage that I discovered in shooting my own scans is that I can get the full frame with no cropping of the image. Here’s the first test image I shot, from an older roll of film. You can see the actual edges of the frame of the film:
And here is an overlay showing the scan that the lab did on top of my scan (tinted red). The red edges are the parts of the image that were cropped out of the lab scan. That’s a pretty big difference.
I’m looking forward to developing more film and experimenting more with this. Next step: build a neg carrier to slide the 120 film through. After that: Build a rig to slide 35mm negs through for the same kind of setup.
I’ve scanned more film using this setup and have changed just a couple things:
1) I’m setting my camera to record a B&W JPG instead of color to simplify it a little. I did some testing of B&W vs Color and JPG vs RAW, and found virtually no difference. The dynamic range is very low, so there’s no need to shoot raw.
Note on dynamic range: I’ve seen some online posts about camera-scanning, and people are concerned about the digital camera’s ability to capture the full dynamic range of the film. Here’s my take: Relax, it’s not an issue at all. The dynamic range of the scene was already captured and compressed in the film. When “scanning” the neg, the dynamic range you’re capturing is only the difference between the blackest part of the film and the brightness of your light pad. Unless your light pad is as bright as the sun, you’re not talking about much dynamic range here. I don’t get any clipping of highlights or shadows.
2) Before importing into Lightroom I do a quick inversion in Photoshop to turn the negs into positives. I created a Photoshop action ‘droplet‘, so all I have to do is drag a folder full of images onto the ‘droplet’ on my Mac, and they will all be opened in Photoshop, inverted and re-saved. It all works automatically and just takes a few seconds. Then when they’re imported into Lightroom I don’t have to mess with inverting the tone curve.
A few weeks ago we spent a nice evening walking around Como Park taking photos as a family. My wife wanted to learn to use our Fuji X-T1, and my son was carrying my old Canon DSLR, so I went old-school and carried my Rolleicord. After our picnic dinner on the lawn, I loaded a roll of Fuji Acros 100 black and white film, and we set off for the Conservatory. We intended to go inside the conservatory and back out to the beautiful Japanese garden, but found that both were closed for the evening, so we just walked around the park. With all of us taking photos, I enjoyed for once not being the one slowing down the rest of the family. I had no trouble finding subjects for my 12 images on my roll of film, and enjoyed the slow process — if I would have been shooting digital I probably would have taken a hundred shots and ended up with about the same number that I liked.
I developed the film myself the night before last, which was quick and easy since I had chemicals premixed and ready to go. This is the first time I’ve developed 120 film, and it’s even easier than 35mm because you don’t have to mess around with opening the film canister — you just unroll the film right off the spool (inside a dark-bag) and onto the developing tank reel. I let the film hang to dry in an unused room where it’d be unlikely that much dust would be flying around in the air, then last night I “scanned” the images. I say “scanned” in quotes because I actually shot photos of the negs using my X-T1 with an old Micro-Nikkor 55mm manual-focus macro lens. The process was quick and easy, and the results are stunning. I’ll be writing a post soon about my process.
Camera: Rolleicord III
Film: Fuji Acros 100
Processing: Arista Premium Liquid Developer, mixed 1:9, 7 min. @ approx. 68 degrees F.
Arista Indicator Stop Bath; Arista Premium Liquid Fixer; Kodak Hypo Clear; Water wash; a couple drops Arista Flow wetting agent; hang to dry with no wiping.
Scan: Fuji X-T1; Nikon Micro-NIKKOR-P.C Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm (at f/8); Logan 4×5 light pad.
Earlier this winter I had the pleasure of handling a Leica M6, and actually using it for a few days. Thank you, Chris!
Like many amateur photographers, I’ve often lusted after Leicas but figure I’ll never actually spend the money to own one. After carrying this one around a little, I can see why people are willing to spend big bucks on these. They are simply beautifully designed and built pieces of machinery. It feels wonderful to hold. A Leica in your hands seems to build confidence. The solid feel, the weight, the smooth focusing lens, the precise feel of everything, the simplicity of it, all come together to make it feel like this is what a camera is supposed to be. I can see why — according to Canon’s own website — when Leica first released the M3, Canon gave up on making rangefinders to focus on SLRs:
It was reported that Canon’s engineers who saw the “Leica M3” for the first time were greatly shocked by the level of perfection in the camera as represented by the brightness and visibility of its viewfinder, as well as by the accuracy of its rangefinder. In spite of the fact that their improved model “IV Sb2” had received good acceptance from its users, Canon engineers realized that, with the debut of the “Leica M3,” the camera world was about to experience great change. This heralded the era of great changes in cameras, leading the company to seek new directions.
Since it was difficult to imitate the “Leica M3” introduced in 1954 in terms of its bright viewfinder and accurate rangefinder, many camera manufacturers, including Canon, were forced to shift their development goals to the camera that would lead the world’s market in the future. What Japanese camera manufacturers, including Canon, decided was to concentrate on the single lens reflex (SLR) camera with system capabilities, which could be developed using Japan’s own technology. This SLR camera was to become the new camera, which would be accepted by the world, capable of overcoming the previous limitations of the rangefinder cameras including the use of telephoto lenses.
There you have it — Canon admits that it was the superior Leica that drove them out of the rangefinder business (though up until the M3, the Canon rangefinders were keeping pace with Leica).
I think maybe what I liked best about this camera was carrying it around. Sounds odd maybe, but the weight and size of it, combined with a really nice strap that Chris has on the camera, makes it just feel right tucked snugly against my side, with the strap slung over my opposite shoulder.
Shooting it was a little difficult for me because of the lens that was on it (35mm f/2 Summicron). The framelines for the 35mm lens are a little wide in the rangefinder for someone wearing glasses, so I had a hard time framing up shots. I’d have to shift my eye around to see the framelines. With a 50mm lens, the framelines would work great for me, but anything wider is tough to view while wearing glasses — at least it was for me.
I didn’t have much time to actually use it while I had it, but I managed to take a couple of walks with it and shot some random stuff just to try it out. The results below aren’t anything too special, partly because I was just shooting some stuff quickly to try the camera out, and partly because the film somehow got fogged. I don’t know if something went wrong with developing (at Dwayne’s Photo, so I doubt they did anything wrong), or something happened in shipping, or what. I’ll never know, but the negs are pretty low in contrast because of the fogging, so I had to adjust them a lot in Lightroom to make anything look decent. This resulted in some super grainy images because the contrast had to be punched up so much.
I also didn’t nail focus on all of my shots, which surprised me, because I thought I was right on. One of the huge advantages Leicas have over other rangefinders is the bright rangefinder spot that makes focusing quick and easy, so I don’t know how I messed that up, but some of my shots were not focused properly.
Overall I really loved using it, and I felt like I could just keep carrying it around forever. I still doubt that I’ll ever own one, but you never know. I guess I can picture myself one day downsizing my arsenal of old cameras to a very small selection of really good useable, practical cameras, and a nice Leica could certainly fit into that small collection.
Though it was a brief affair, I will look back fondly on my days spent with her.
all shot on Kodak Tmax 400
Developed and scanned at Dwayne’s
I haven’t posted in a long, long time, so I thought I’d restart by digging through stuff I shot in the last year. The two images below are the result of my first experiment with photographing star trails. I made four attempts and came out with two nice shots.
Shortly before going to a friend’s cabin last February on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, I had read something online about shooting star trail images. I found that my timing on this trip coincided well with a new moon, so the skies would be dark. I was originally going to shoot with my new-to-me-at-the-time Mamiya 645, because I wanted to shoot in medium format with a good quality lens, but realized that long exposures are a problem with that camera because it relies on the battery to keep the shutter open (even more of a problem since I’d likely be in sub-zero temperatures). So I decided that a totally manual camera was the way to go. The Rolleicord fit the bill for this project, as it’s totally manual, has a very high quality lens, and is medium format. The only problem was that I didn’t have a functioning lockable shutter-release cable (I had several broken ones for some reason) to lock the shutter open on the B setting. So I tossed a couple of rubber bands in my camera bag to wrap around the camera and hold the shutter lever open.
I brought along my very heavy Bogen tripod, even though everything we bring to the cabin has to be hauled on foot across the lake to the cabin. I knew I’d need a very solid support for this to work, though.
I lucked out and had perfectly clear skies, and shot on two nights. I think I set the camera to f/5.6 or f/8 for a moderate depth of field. Focusing a twin-lens reflex (TLR) in the dark is impossible, so I prefocused inside the cabin for just short of infinity using the depth-of-field guide on the lens to make sure the f/8 range went well past infinity. I wanted sharp stars for sure, but also sharp trees in the foreground. Another advantage of using this camera is that it’s hard to accidentally change your focus when setting up the camera on the tripod.
It gets dark early in Minnesota in February, so I don’t really remember what time I started my first exposure, but well past dark, probably close to midnight. I seem to recall trudging out onto the lake and starting one exposure before we gave up on the bottle of scotch for the night, and leaving that one go for about two or three hours.
Framing the photo was very difficult because with the dark skies I could barely see anything in the ground glass of the TLR. I tried shining a flashlight at the trees to help see them, but it wasn’t bright enough. I had to mostly guess at where I was aiming the camera and hope for the best. After the first exposure, I advanced to the next frame, set up a new angle, locked down the tripod ball head, and carefully propped open the shutter lever with the rubber band. I went to bed and set the alarm for about three hours later, I believe. Boots, parka, balaclava, gloves back on and out to the lake to stop the exposure and bring the camera back in from the cold.
Two nights of getting up in the middle of the night to go outside and stop an exposure and/or start another one had my cabin-mates wondering about my sanity, but a long time later when I saw these images, it was well worth it.
I’m surprised by the amount of color in the sky, and the varying colors of the individual star trails. I’ve done no color correction or color changes to these scans. I only adjusted the exposure and contrast a bit, as the exposures weren’t perfect.
These were shot on Kodak Portra 160. I really wish I would have written down exposure info, but I believe they were around three hours at f/5.6 or f/8. Surprisingly, the negs were a little thin, so I could have gone with even longer exposures or wider aperture or faster film. I figure it’s a good idea to use a wide-latitude film like Portra to help forgive exposure errors.
I always look at the thermometer outside the cabin when I get up at night up there, and I recall that it was about minus 15 degrees F (about -26 C). Here’s what my Rolleicord looked like when it came back inside the cabin:
Don’t stick your tongue on that!