I have always been a fan of pinhole photography however on digital cameras it has never really had the same appeal, the reason behind this is focal length. Film based pinhole cameras tend to have a very wide angle of view, my Zero 2000 pinhole camera has a focal length of 25mm and shoots square images on to 120 medium format film which is approx. 14mm in 35mm terms so that is wide to say the least. However with DSLRs you are limited to fitting a pinhole body cap that tends to give you a focal length approaching 50mm or even 75mm on a cropped sensor, that was until now…
Justin Lundquist and Ben Syverson at Wanderlust cameras have come up with a great solution for micro four thirds cameras… the Wanderlust Pinwide. Yes this is essentially a pinhole body cap however there is a difference, as micro four thirds cameras have no mirror assembly the lens cap can recess the pinhole further back into the camera giving you a much wider angle of view. The Wanderlust Pinwide has a focal length of 11mm (22mm in 35mm terms) ok maybe not ultra wide however a nice focal length to work with.
What better place than to take some shots with the Wanderlust Pinwide that Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, England.
It was an early start to get to Lacock around first light with a view to exploring the grounds, there are a number of oak trees that make for great foreground interest. After a bit of wandering I settled on this particular oak tree and its view towards the abbey itself.
The sun was low in the sky shining straight towards the camera from behind the oak tree, this combination is always going to create a very large dynamic range beyond the range of the camera however as pinholes tend to have lower contrast I was confident I would capture the desired effect.
The Wanderlust Pinwide gives some really interesting effects when pointed straight at the sun, there are some strange colour shifts towards pink in the grass area of the picture which I feel really adds to the low-fi look and feel of the photo.
I am always a fan of bold dynamic compositions and that was exactly came to mind when I stepped in to the cloisters within Lacock abbey. Even with the wide angle of the pinhole I had to get the camera positioned on a tripod right up against the wall in order to capture the wonderful architecture.
This photo just screamed to be in black and white as it is far more about shape and texture rather than the colours. When using the Wanderlust Pinwide towards a bright light source you get wonderful softness almost like halos where the light flows around a darker object in this case as it passed through the windows.
With Lacock behind me and the raw files from my GF1 downloaded to my Mac I started looking through the images, my first thought was that the files were a lot softer and more diffused than they looked on the back of the camera monitor. This was a little disconcerting at first however after applying a good healthy amount of definition (clarity or structure depending upon your raw software) the sharpness and micro contrast increased which added a bit more punch to the image while still looking suitably pinhole like. From there on I just processed the files as usual until I got the look I wanted.
Overall I would really recommend the Wanderlust Pinhole and while it can be slightly tricky to find great compositions that translate into pinhole photography with a bit of patience you can create some wonderful low-fi photos. Click here to find out more and order your Wanderlust Pinwide.
While on the Isle of Skye in Scotland last month with some rather long nights I decided I would have a go at capturing some star trails, unfortunately despite having clear weather during the days the cloud cover built as the light fell so in the end I had one really clear night to point my camera at the stars, not wanting to waste this cloudless night I decided to do a spot of experimentation.
Capturing star trails with a digital camera is not as easy as with film, as film doesn’t suffer with digital noise you can simply leave the shutter open for as long a you like however with digital you have to approach this process a little differently. From past experience I have found that once exposures on my Canon 5D MkII start exceeding 4 minutes the noise levels start to increase especially at mid to high ISOs so therefore pointing camera at the stars and taking one single hour long exposure will lead to a very noisy and most likely unusable image.
The solution was to then breakdown the exposure into smaller chunks and re-assemble them in Photoshop after the shoot. I selected a spot just outside the door to the cottage that was sheltered from any wind and composed a simple scene that just had a nearby mountain at the bottom of the frame and a huge expanse of stars above it. I did some initial experiments to using ISO 3200 and 6400 to make sure I was getting a usable file and in the end settled on an exposure of 4 minutes at f4 using ISO640 which gave me a reasonable histogram.
Fortunately I already own an intervalometer which I programmed to take 15 frames, each 4 minutes long with no delay between them but you could do this manually using a standard cable release if required. With the camera all setup and ready to roll I then pressed the start button and went and sat back inside my cottage in front of a log fire and left the camera outside in the cold for an hour.
After the hour had passed I went to retrieve my now rather cold camera, downloaded the 15 images on to my laptop and opened them using Apple Aperture. At first glance everything looked fine the mountain was nice and sharp and the stars were all soft and blurry as you would expect. I didn’t do much in the form of raw processing and just exported the 15 images as full resolution tiff files ready for Photoshop.
You will notice there is a shift in colour as the images sequence goes on which puzzled me a little at first. The camera was set to a fixed exposure, the white balance was fixed and all the files were processed equally I therefore assume that the night sky is not a fixed colour even when it looks black to the naked eye.
In Photoshop it was now time to assemble the 15 photos to make one image with an hours worth of celestial movement. This was quite simple to do all you need to do is stack all 15 images on top each other as separate layers and then change the Blending Mode to Lighten with the exception of the first / bottom image which is left as normal. When you select the Lighten Blending Mode each image is compared to the image below it and only any pixels that are visible are show, this means that only the star trails show up and the background is not included. As you go through the layers changing the Blending Mode you will see the star trail come together.
The one negative with this scene was that as cars came over the distant hill their headlights slightly illuminated the mountain in the foreground, to solve this problem I copied the layer with the darkest mountain and then used a mask to overlay this over the top of the others layers.
With this kind of image I feel you can play around with the colour to your hearts content and even black and white works quite well.
This is the first time I have had a go at this process and can see the potential and how it will work in the future, I am pretty sure that there are no doubt specialist applications to blend star trails together and many ways of capturing the images so if you have any thoughts on this please drop me a comment.
Oh one last thing, regarding intervalometers most camera manufacturers make one however I use a third party one made by a company called Pixel, the benefit with this is that you can get different leads to connect to different cameras they cost around £40 can be found on eBay.
As promised I thought I would share with you a couple of photos I have recently done with my large format camera and good old film.
Forth Road Bridge
Location: North Queensferry, Fife, Scotland
Technical Details: Shen Hao 4×5 with Schneider Apo Symmar 150mm f5.6 – Ilford HP5 – 36minutes @ f16.
This is in fact one of the first sheets of film exposed with my new Shen Hao large format camera, I was in heading up to Scotland and decided I fancied shooting the Forth Bridge (the railway one) at night although little did I know it is covered in scaffolding and isn’t even floodlit at the moment so that brought that idea to a swift halt. Slightly disappointed as I drove away from the Forth Bridge but not detoured I thought about other potential shots and spotted the Forth Road Bridge in the fading light and an idea snapped into my mind.
I was able to drive quite close to the base of the bridge and then a bit of exploring on foot through a small field and around temporary construction site fence allowed me to wander down the foreshore right under the bridge, I looked at various angles and decided the symmetrical view straight under the bridge gave the most pleasing composition. I took a quick shot on my iPhone and decided it was worth wandering back to the car and grabbing my gear.
The light was fading fast so I tried to set up the camera as quickly as possible in the twilight, I decided on a 150mm lens which is equivalent to 50mm in 35mm terms allowing me to concentrate more on the bridge and the distant shore rather than the immediate foreground. I applied lots of front rise which allowed me to effectively raise the viewpoint of the camera, positioning the horizon lower in the frame and helping to emphasise the bridge without getting any converging verticals.
I took a quick spot meter reading from the base of the distant tower which was the darkest point of the scene and calculated I would need an exposure time of about 1:30 minutes at F22 which after reciprocity failure gave me a corrected time of 13 minutes but just for good measure as the light was fading I gave it another stop giving me a result of 36 minutes. I only had time for one exposure and it came out perfectly.
Location: Sidmouth, Devon, England
Technical Details: Shen Hao 4×5 with Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f8 – Ilford FP4 – 2 minutes @ f32.
A week later and at the opposite end of the country (nothing new there) I was in the seaside town of Sidmouth, I have never really explored this area of Devon but will certainly be back again. It was early one morning before breakfast I headed out along the sea front looking for potential subjects to point my lens at and while I try and avoid things like minimalist jettys and rows of posts this one caught my eye. I loved the gentle curve and the way it lead out to sea and the marker post, it was the ideal lead in line.
I looked at the break water in landscape and portrait format and with both 65mm and 90mm lenses trying to decide which option gave the nicest combination. Crouched under the dark cloth squinting at the ground glass in the dull morning light I decided that the landscape orientated shot with the 90mm lens (28mm in 35mm terms) was to be the winner. The camera was setup low to ground and I applied a little bit of front tilt to the lens to ensure that I had good depth of field from closest part of the jetty maybe four to five feet away right through the horizon. I kept checking and rechecking with my loupe making sure everything was sharp.
I took a spot meter reading on the darkest shadows at the end of the breakwater which allowed me to calculate an exposure of 4 seconds, I then added a 0.9 ND (3 stop) ND filter which gave me an exposure of 30 seconds and with reciprocity failure this became 2 minutes. As the light level was increasing as the sun started to rise I kept taking meter readings just to make sure I didn’t over do the exposure. Once developed another nice negative.
Since I first started photography I have always shot both digital and film although in most cases one or the other rather than both at the same time, I feel it it best to concentrate on one camera when taking photos rather than trying to do the same thing with more than one format, it tends to be become to much about the equipment rather than the photograph in that case… anyway I digress already. Many of the photos you will have seen on this blog or on my portfolio website has been shot using digital cameras and the vast majority of those have been shot with my Canon 5D MkII which has been my workhorse for the last couple of years, however I have decided I fancy a change and after looking at various new digital cameras such as the Phase One digital backs and the new Pentax 645D system I decided that the change needs to be in a difference direction…
Ta-da… that new direction can be seen to the right and yes before you say it I appreciate this is a bit of a tangent from my initial mention of medium format digital capture. This is in fact my second voyage into the large format film photography world and since I sold the majority of my film gear a couple of years ago I think deep down part has missed composing photos upside down on a ground glass, developing film and the wonderful feeling when you remove the perfectly exposed film from the developing tank.
So what is it, who makes it I hear you ask. Well despite looking like something from the 1900′s it is in fact and brand new camera made in Shanghai, China by a company called Shen Hao who produce a number of large format cameras including various 4×5 models like this one up to a whopping 8×10 and even panoramic film formats. In fact this is the second Shen Hao camera I have owned and have always been impressed with them, very good build quality at an affordable price.
To add to the camera I have picked up a selection of lenses a Rodenstock Grandigon 65mm f4.5 which is really nice and wide (21mm equivalent in 35mm terms), a Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f8 great wide landscape lens (28mm equiv.) and a Schneider Apo Symmar 150mm f5.6 standard lens (50mm equiv.). One of the great things about large format cameras is that you are not restricted to a single manufacturer of lens, in fact you can mount any lens you want to a large format camera whether made yesterday or back in 1839 at the dawn of photography (ok some creative engineering may be needed in some cases but hey that’s half the fun).
There were two other reasons why I decided to venture down the large format route again (1) movements… with a large format camera you can move the lens and the film independent of each other up down, left right and tilt in any of these directions this means that you can correct distortions and converging verticals as well as create very shallow depth of field. And (2) quality… a 4×5 inch negative holds a huge amount of detail allowing you to make some pretty big prints. I have been scanning my large format black and white negatives using a Epson Perfection V750 film scanner at 2400dpi which results in a file measuring approximately 12000 x 9600 pixels or 115 megapixels, if printed at this size you are looking at 40 x 32 inch print at 300dpi.
In my next post I will share a couple of my photos produced using this new camera
The 10 stop filter is quickly becoming that must have gadget and with recent offerings from Lee with the Big Stopper and Light Craft Workshop with their Fader ND mark II there is even more competition out there, but many of you may not be aware that the humble 10 stop filter has been around a lot longer than the current craze, in fact I have been using a B+W ND110 10 stop filter for the last 3 or 4 years.
Regardless of who makes the filter they all work in a very similar way and generate pretty much the same result, such as dramatic windswept skies and misty water which help to create an almost surreal look to the photograph, it is the truth just maybe not as we perceive it and to be honest I love the effect.
The filters out there on the market fall into two categories… circular screw in filters such as the B+W ND110, Heliopan ND3.0 and Light Craft Fader and square filters to fit into a filter holder such as the Lee Big Stopper and the Hitech 10 stop. From my experience the pros of using the screw in filters such as the B+W ND110 is that they will fit inside a lens hood, this can be useful when shooting in the rain as it helps to keep water off the lens (maybe this is just me who tends to photograph in less than clement weather).
The con with the screw in filters comes when you combine them with a graduated slot in filter like those from Lee, as the screw in ND filter attaches to the lens first you will not be able to position the grad when in place (although the live view systems on the Canon 5D MkII and Nikon D3S can see through the 10 stop filter, but only in bright light). The usual way around this is the position the graduated filter first and then remove the filter assembly without moving the graduated filter in its holder, attach the screw in ND filter and then re-attach the filter holder / graduated filter. When using a square filter such as the Lee Big Stopper you can simply slide it in and and out of the holder as required, making it quicker if you want to recompose a shot or check focus or re-position the graduated filter.
Despite what you may have heard especially about the Lee Big Stopper these 10 stop filters are not pure neutral density, if you take a shot without the filter and then a shot with a 10 stop filter and only change the shutter speed so the white balance remains constant the two photos will look different. The Lee Big Stopper for instance has a cool blue colour cast, the B+W filters have a warm orange colour cast and I am sure the Hitech, Heliopan and Light Craft Workshop filters will have their own colour casts too. Although to be honest this is not too big a deal if you are shooting in raw as you can change the white balance to correct the colour cast.
The final point on these 10 stop filters is that most of these filters are not in fact 10 stops, the documentation that comes with the Lee Big Stopper quotes the actual strength maybe between 9 1/3 and 10 2/3 stops and from testing mine it came out at 10 2/3 stops which incidentally is the same as my B+W ND110 10 stop filter. To determine the exact exposure all you need to do it set the camera up on a tripod and meter the scene in front of you, then apply the filter and add 10 stops (or whatever the filter strength is) and take another exposure so if the initial exposure was 1/30th of a second this should be 30 seconds with a 10 stop filter applied, then compare the two images on the camera. If the second exposure is darker trying adding a 1/3 of a stop with would be 40 seconds, if its still darker add another 1/3, the second image is litter simply deduct a third until the without and with filter match. Knowing the exact strength of the filter make it easier to get exposure spot on when you are racing against the fading light.
N.B. I know the Fader ND Mark II filter from Light Craft Workshop is only 8 stops but for completeness I felt it should be included.
Neutral density filters or ND filters for short are without a doubt one of the most critical accessories I use when photographing the landscape, so much so it is not uncommon for me to carry anywhere between 4 and 10 of them with me at any given time. Neutral density filters are essentially grey coloured filters that reduce the amount of the light entering the camera, there is a vast array of neutral density filters out there and they can be broken down into two main categories, graduated and solid.
Graduated neutral density filters are usually square filters that are half clear and half neutral density with a smooth transition across the centre of the filter. These filters are designed for landscape photographers and help to balance a bright sky against a darker foreground. They are especially useful when photographing sunrise and sunset where you will often have a bright sky and a shaded foreground. These graduated filters are available in various different strengths which control how much they reduce the light by, the most common strengths are 1 stop, 2 stop or 3 stop although depending on the manufacturer these can be expressed as 2x, 4x, 8x for Cokin and Kood and 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 for Lee and Hitech. Not only are graduated filters available in different strengths but some manufacturers offer a choice how quickly the neutral density part of the filter becomes clear. The harder the line the harder the change from dark to light on the photo.
In the example below you can see the effect of using a 2 stop graduated neutral density filter and how it has helped to hold back the sky detail.
Solid neutral density filters are just that, a solid filter that reduces the light equally across the whole photo. As with graduated neutral density filters these solid filters come in an array of different strengths and are available as either square filters for use in filter holders or circular screw in filters that attach straight on to the lens. These filters are available in a broader range of strengths than graduated filters typically from 1 stop to 10 stops. The purpose of these filters is to increase the exposure time which can lead to wonderful effects especially when photographing around water. If the required exposure was 1/30th of a second by using a 3 stop ND filter you would extend this to 1/4 of a second, a 6 stop ND filter would give you an exposure of 2 seconds and a 10 stop filter would give you an exposure of 30 seconds.
The two photos above illustrate the effect of using a 10 stop filter to increase the shutter speed from a 1/15th of a second up to 60 seconds, the pier remains constant in both photos however in the long exposure on the right you can see the soft blurring effect of the sky and the sea. You can read more about Long Exposure Photography here.