Thursday, July 3, 2008

Practicus In The Studio: The Surroundings Of The Studio.

Previous articles of this series, in which the aim of the writer to communicate items of a long experience in studio portraiture, have appeared weekly since the beginning of the present year. It is not thought possible to continue the series to the length of that by the name writer which ran hrough the "British Journal" some years ago, but if any reader among the younger generation of photographers, and particularly those engaged as assistants, has a particular subject which might be dealt with, his or her suggestion will be welcomed. The subjects of the previous articles of the series have been as follows: -
Studio Exposures (May 24).
Artificial Lighting (June 4).
Printing Processes for Portraiture (June 5).
Studio Accessories and Furniture (June 20).
A Talk About Lighting (June 10).
The Camera and the Lens (June 12).
Managing the Sitter (May 14).
Backgrounds (May 20).

          Some writers on lighting in the studio have treated the matter as if all studios were alike, and that a set of rules, which should ensure any desired revolt if they were followed, could be evolved. There could be no greater error, for hardly any two studios are exactly alike; in fact, so great is the difference that an operator who has created quite a reputation for artistic work in one will fail dismally in another. It has been my luck to work in many oddly constructed places, but I have hardly found one where, with a little study and perseverance, decent results could not be obtained, the principal difference being not so mach in the appearance of the negatives as in she length of exposure necessary to obtain then. This, I hope, will be of some comfort to those who have found an otherwise eligible position for a studio, but are doubtful as to its possibilities in the way of lighting.
          There are two main points to be considered, one being the orientation of tile building, or its relation to the cardinal points of the compass, and consequently to the sun, and the other the presence of outside obstructions in the shape of walls, trees, or other objects. Regarding the first, I think that too much stress has been laid upon the necessity for a northern aspect for the glass side; in fact, I have known cases where a photographer has gone to great trouble and expense to secure this or even to reject a position where it could not be obtained. For instance, where it has been a choice between securing a good working length with in eastern aspect or too short s studio for good work, the latter has been chosen, simply from fear of not being able to control the light in the former position. This idea dates back to wet-collodion days, when it was considered essential to have a large amount of open light, and has been handed down from one writer to another, although we must not forget that even in those early days Mr. Valentine Blanchard, whose artistic ability has never been questioned, proved that the finest possible work could be done all the year round in a studio facing due south. I frequently work in a studio with a full western aspect, and find no difficulty in doing so, although I must confess that I should like it muoh better if it were a northern one. The reason for this is, of course, that in the latter one can get the same effect all day without altering the blinds, while in the former modifications are necessary as the light works round.
          To make the best of a studio so situated that the sun shines upon the glass, it is necessary to be able to coyer the whole of the light either with dark or white blinds or curtains as my be needed, but when I say white blinds I do not mean pea-soup colour, which is the normal tint in many studios. These intercept so much light that they are useless as diffusers, which is their real mission. Mr. Blanchard screened his sunlit roof and side with light frames, upon which tissue paper was stretched; but I prefer my favourite white nainsook festoon curtains, as they may be easily pushed aside when not required, end are, moreover, easily washed when soiled. I have worked in a studio glazed with ground glass, but found that there was too much glare, and when white blinds were used in addition the exposures were too long. It is almost needless to say that in a sunlit studio there must be no bare glass, the white blinds being the source of light, when they act much in the same way as if a sky covered with white clouds were seen through dear glass. The simile is, perhaps, not quite good, but that is as nearly as I can put it. In such a studio the inside walls must be rather dark or flatness will result, and the area of white blind used must be no larger than is necessary. If we consider the ease with which good results can be obtained with a single enclosed arc lamp we shall see that a very large area of light is not necessary.
          The second point that of outside obstructions is a more difficult one and every individual case must be dealt with as a special problem. During the past few weeks I have had to deal with two cases in which the trouble arose from the proximity of a high wall a few feet from the side light. In the worst one the wall was higher than the studio, and about nine feet away. It was of dark brick and how the previous occupant of the studio, for whom it was built, managed I cannot imagine. His work was certainly unorthodox, and he abandoned photography for the stage. Then during an interval it was occupied as a workshop, until its excellent business position attracted another photographer who decided to take the chance. The first thing to be done was to visit the owner of the wall and to ask his permission, to have it painted white; this he gave readily enough, and the next to stipple the side light halfway up with very thin zinc white paint. The necessary dark and white blinds were fitted, and even in this dull weather the results obtained are excellent, although, of course, the exposures are not quite as rapid as they would be in a more open position.
          Another studio was even in a worse situation, being located at the bottom of a deep well-hole surrounded by lofty houses. Before it was built I went on to the leads on which it was to stand, and certainly felt some misgivings; still it was there or nowhere, and as the prospective user was a wealthy man we decided to take the risk. There was toplight, and not too much of that, but, with the help of outside silvered reflectors, lighting was quite passable, and many excellent portraits taken in it. All cases are not as bad as this, but there are often obstructions which seriously reduce the value of a studio. Once I built a studio in a garden in the winter, and it was very satisfactory, but what a difference when the leaves came on the trees again! Fortunately, most were on my own ground, and were drastically lopped, and my next-door neighbor helped, bf cutting in one or two which still troubled me. It is wonderful what you can get done if you talk nicely to people. Here, again, I found that stippling the side light was an improvement, as light which would be nearly vertical is intercepted and dispersed in all directions. If rolled plate be used in such circumstances, there is a great gain in light if the ribs be placed horizontally in the side light; every rib becomes a little cylindrical lens, and throws light into the studio.
          In the case of an immovable obstruction which is very near the proposed studio, it is advisable if possible to raise the building, so that it will overlook the obstacle. A friend who found himself in this difficulty said afterwards that it proved a blessing in disguise, for he had to provide himself with an excellent workroom upon which the glasshouse was built, and he found this much more comfortable than the cramped quarters he had proposed using, and the extra cost was not great considering the value of the accommodation provided.
          When building or adapting a studio care should be taken to avoid minor obstructions caused by portions of the building itself; for example, I have seen a single slant studio in which the slant was obtained by throwing back the top behind the general line of the building, thus leaving a triangular piece of wall standing out at each end. This may not be serious in many oases, but if a front lighting is wanted it considerably curtails it, and this is more especially so when the studio is rather a short one, as the angle of light is then necessarily more acute. Great caution must be exercised in erecting a studio near vacant land, as there is no guarantee that another building will not be erected that will shut the light completely out. In order to secure the right to do this, a landowner will often erect a screen on poles so as to block any window on neighboring land in order to prevent any subsequent claim to "ancient lights."
          It is easy to realise that different situations call for differently designed studios. In the commonest case of difficulty, where there is top light only, it is desirable to have as long; a range of glass in the roof as possible, as we can them draw the blinds well over the sitter's head, turn him slightly away from the light, and get the effect of a high side light; such a studio should be built as wide as possible for this reason.
          Studios of moderate height with side light only do not, perhaps, come within our scope, but as they, in common with those with top light only, are capable of being improved by the addition of a supplementary artificial light, we mention, them. A top light may easily be produced under an opaque ceiling by using either the half-watt or an enclosed arc lamp in a metal reflector, which gives a strong though soft reflected light from the ceiling, while similar lamps may be used either to illuminate a white side wall or to give a direct side light through a diffuser. The mixture of lights is not at all objectionable, and, in fact, will hardly be noticed by many sitters.
          Difficulties in lighting will be minimized if the studio be wide enough to allow of considerable latitude in the placing of the sitter; it should be possible to work diagonally or evens quite across the studio, and it should always be arranged, if possible, that either end of the studio can be used.
          When inspecting an empty studio or the site- for building one, a very simple way of judging of its possibilities is to seat oneself in the position likely to be occupied by the sitter, and from there to note how much clear sky is visible, and the nature of any obstructions. This gives a good starting-point, and is better than attempting to judge the lighting, at all events, in the open air.


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