Thursday, June 26, 2008

Assistants' Notes: Sight and the Photographer.

Sight and the Photographer.

           IT goes without saying that sight is the most important bodily function from a photographic point of view. One might imagine an armless, legless, deaf or dumb person performing some job or other connected with the business, and even one with deficiency of intellect might posses some little photographic skill, bat a blind photographer is impossible.
           It follows that a photographer's eyes, good or bad, should not be neglected, but accorded at least a modicum of intelligent consideration. A good many pros. hold the belief that the practice of their craft is in itself sufficient ultimately to damage the sight, and judging by the number of workers one meets whose eyes are not so good as they might be, the belief seems reasonable. On the other hand, there are craftsmen of ripe age whose sight is still perfect in spite of yean of hard work. The fact is that photography can – not must – damage or even destroy the sight of anyone engaged at it, the damage usually being brought about by circumstances many of which are in themselves inconspicuous and therefore unsuspected.
           These circumstances depend on the nature of the work, each branch of the business having its own peculiar sources of possible eye strain. In the studio the eye may suffer from constant straining at a too thick or coarse focusing screen, or focusing with the lens stopped down. This is a small thing, but in a very busy shop when the operator may be behind the camera for bourn at a stretch, the strain will tell. Where roach focusing has to be done, as much light as passable should be allowed through lens and screen, and the work done smartly. Indecision ceases strain, and does not improve the final definition of the picture.
           The continual itching from abort to long focus, occasioned by looking first at the sitter and than at the screen, may tire an eye but if the eyes (and the general health also) are this should prove more of an exercise than a strain.
           Working with artificial light, an operator may damage his sight by allowing the light to fall directly on his face too often; in other words, by looking long or often at the lamp. Continual witching on and off from full light to semi-darkness, as also going in and oat between studio and plate-changing room, will leave its mark on the sight if carried on to a great extent. The moral here is to keep a fair amount of light in the studio all the time, and have an assistant changing. The latter can keep his or her gaze away from the bright end of the studio without any trouble.
           In the dark-room the red or yellow lamp is often blamed for tired or failing eyes. This is not strictly right, though the position and strength of the coloured light is very often to blame. A lamp should never be in a position to sand direct light into the eye when working, and for this reason a hanging lamp, shedding all its light downwards, is to be recommended. The strength of the light should be as great as the sensitive materials will permit. With regard to the printing room, I would say to those who can please themselves: Discard bromide for gaslight, have as much light as you would in your drawing-room, and be comfortable.
           Where yellow or red light is compulsory all walls should be painted vary light: it will obviate much eyestrain in groping about for things which are invisible.
With printing and retouching direct light is mostly used, but in neither case does it – so far as my experience and observation go hart the eye to the same extent as in the case of the dark-room lamp. The difference is this: in one case the eye is working with the image supplied by the direct light and nothing else, in the other the direct rays are worrying the eye and distracting it from its work. This can continue for a long time without the victim being aware of it, even though the eyes and the work may be suffering.
           For retouching, the use of direct light, however, is not compulsory; many workers prefer to work against a white or tinted reflector, and one retoucher I know claims that this practice is repairable for his sight being as good as it was twenty years ago. Retouching with weak light, particularly if the negative is yellow or dense ceases eye strain, while the remarks on dark-room lamps apply also to extraneous light near a retouching desk. Working on very small beads is apt to be trying, and for this a magnifier may lessen the strain, bat it should not be used habitually, otherwise it may become an indispensable crutch.
           Spotting and working-up require sight that if perfectly free from automation, and when done by anyone whose sight is not normal, and not corrected by glasses, this work will greatly aggravate the weakness. At the slightest sign of strain the lighting conditions should be examined, and if not at fault astigmatism should be needed and the eyes tested. Spectacles, however, are not likely to cure bad light; they will correct the vision and so do away with strain, but that is all.
           Before going any further it may be as well to say that this article does not pretend to deal with its subject from any but a purely photographic standpoint. The many defects of vision caused by such things as nerves, bad blood, cigarettes, etc., are not within my scope, and when a photographer's eyes give trouble it rests with him or his doctor to decide whether his craft is to blame or not; it is always possible that some outside influence is causing the mischief. At the same time, a few remarks on the care of the sight may not be out of place. Tired or overworked eyes can be benefited by bathing, and any chemist will make up an eye-bath cheaply. The simplest and safest of these is boric acid.
           Sight can be greatly improved by country walking, particularly in districts where long clear views prevail. In my own experience I find nothing to equal daily gazing at landscape the foreground of which is mostly green, with distant planes stretching to far off mountains. Unfortunately, we cannot always enjoy this kind of cure for tired eyes, but in any case and at all times it pays a photographer to care for his eyes, even if it means a little extra trouble. This applies particularly to young workers. In the vigor of youth details are not so readily noticed as they are in alter years, and a young enthusiast may go on working in conditions which are bad for the sight without worrying until the mischief is done. Years after it may cost a good deal to undo what a little forethought could have prevented. – THERMIT.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

EX CATHEDRA: Complete Development; Colour of Second-hand Lenses; Camouflaging the Camera; Varnishing Negatives.

Complete Development

            The maxim which is rightly emphasized to makers of bromide prints, namely, to develop thoroughly, is one which even now, although it has been repeated over and over again, is largely disregarded. Neglect of it is one of the chief causes of unsatisfactory quality in sepia-toned prints, the results of toning an image which has been rapidly and, therefore, superficially developed being greatly inferior to those in which development has been carried more deeply into the film. One rule which has been given for the guidance of bromide printers is that the time of development should be at leant three minutes, and exposure adjusted accordingly in order that the print at the end of this period of development should not exhibit the effects of over-exposure. But papers and developers having their particular idiosyncrasies, perhaps a more usefully applied rule for discovering whether prints are receiving this "full" development is to immerse half of s print only in the developer, and after the expiration of, say, half a minute to allow the developer to act upon the whole. If, then, development can be continued so as to yield a satisfactory print which does not show a difference between the two halves, the worker may be satisfied that his development u of the required fullness. On the other hand, a difference between the two halves will indicate that exposure can be advantageously cut down.

Colour of Second-hand Lenses.

            Those who are baying secondhand lenses will do well to give the question of colour some consideration. As is well known, long exposure to damp or atmospheric conditions lead to discolor the glass of the lens, or cause the balsam cementing the components to deteriorate with the same result. Some secondhand lenses that we have seen suffer from this very badly, the glass having quite a yellow tinge, in others, though existent, the defect is not so apparent, but if present the marked aperture of the instrument does not represent its actual working speed. We had one inch lens that when examined in a casual way showed little or nothing the matter, but when placed against a sheet of pure white writing paper a slight discoloration was at once noticed Slight though this was, it had a marked slowing action when using ordinary plates, though when orthochromatic emulsions were employed this to a large extent disappeared. Those having such instruments will do well to send them to one of the firms advertising in the advertisement columns of this Journal for repolishing or recementing of the glasses as the case may be, while if buying a secondhand instrument prospective buyers should be on the watch for a defect, which, though it might easily peas unnoticed, reduces the actual value of a lens very considerably. This discoloration is perhaps more frequently met with in the older instruments than in the modern anastigmats, unless these have been very much exposed to bad conditions, but it is a condition of things that all owners of good cemented anastigmats will do well to guard against.

Camouflaging the Camera.

            We commented recently upon the use of the small camera in certain branches of photographic work where its advantages may be turned to good account. A further instance of its value as a supplementary instrument in the studio was told to us the other day by a professional friend. He was commissioned to make a portrait of a child of whom previous experience had taught him that, however pleasing might be the expression on the little sitter's face, it instinctively froze directly the operator made a move towards the camera. The studio instrument was prepared in the usual way, and in front of it was placed a table with piles of books, etc., very carefully arranged to conceal a previously focussed vest-pocket camera, with its shutter set ready for an exposure. The usual attempts were made with the studio instrument and with small hope of obtaining a satisfactory picture. The operator turned away rather disgusted. Almost at once the little sitter was herself again, and casually, as it were, turning to the table the operator pressed down the shutter release of the vest-pocket camera, covering the action as if by taking up a book. As was expected, the exposures made with the studio camera were failures from the point of view of expression, but the small camera yielded a lifelike and pleasing portrait. The negative was carefully enlarged, and the result was an order for some dozens of prints. The idea of camouflaging a small camera should prove of value to those photographers who have to take portraits of nervy sitters, since the exposure may be made at a selected opportunity without the sitter being aware of it. Such a plan should help in overcoming many a difficulty in this respect. Though the negative is small, the quality can be of the best, and the resulting enlargements with a little working-up should give no indication whatever that they are not contact prints from large-sized original negatives.

Varnishing Negatives.

            Few photographers at the present time varnish their negatives, nor when ordinary bromide printing or enlarging is to be the medium is this course really necessary. But when a number of P.O.P. carbon or platinum prints are required from one negative, and the printing is done in the semi-open air for the most part, in damp weather it is a wise precaution to give the negatives a coat of ordinary cold varnish. Many present-day operators, however, find a great difficulty in getting an even coat of varnish over the entire plate by the ordinary method, and if this is not done there is a tendency for the varnish to dry in ridges, which means, of course, corresponding markings on the prints. Varnishing negatives by flowing the varnish on and tilting the plate at various angles until the whole is covered, and then draining the surplus back into the bottle, is an operation that requires a certain amount of skill, which can only be obtained with practice. We have for some time past varnished our negatives with an ordinary camel-hair (or hog-hair) brush. The exact kind is not very important, provided that it is well made and free from loose hairs. For this method, though not strictly orthodox, we may claim that it is comparatively easy to put a light but even coat of varnish on the film. None of the varnish need be got upon the back of the plate, and negatives may be very rapidly treated. Care should be taken not to get the brush too full of the varnish, or uneven coating may result. To those who have had no experience of varnishing negatives this alternative method may be recommended, although the essential feature of it is that a thin coating is rapidly applied.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fog In The Studio.

           IN many localities, notably in the London district, the state of the atmosphere has left much to be desired from the photographer's point of view. Not only has there been an actual deficiency of light through the presence of more or less yellow fogs, but there has been great difficulty in securing brilliant negatives on days when the light was fairly good, because of the general haziness of the atmosphere. Many photographers suffer from this fogginess without quite being aware of the actual cause of it. A simple experiment which will show in a rough way how much fog is present in any room at various distances can be made with the aid of two ordinary black velvet focusing cloths, velvet being chosen because it has leas reflecting power than any other material in ordinary use. One piece of velvet is crumpled up so that some parts produce deep shadow and put on a table in the position usually occupied by the sitter. The operator then stands by the camera at the distance at which a full-length portrait would be taken, and holds up the other about a foot from his eyes so that it half covers the piece on the table. If there is any appreciable amount of haze present he will find that the deep shadows on the distant piece appear quite grey in comparison with those on the piece which he is holding, and at once finds an explanation of the flat negatives which he has been obtaining.
           Having established the existence of the fog, our aim is now to minimise its effects, and there are many methods by which this end may be partially attained which, when put together, result in a substantial improvement in the quality of the negatives. In the first place, the studio windows should be kept clean, so that as small an area of glass as will give the desired lighting will be needed to obtain short exposures. By thus closing out all unnecessary light we reduce the general illumination of the fog and get a much brighter image. This can perhaps better be seen when working with artificial light. If we build the lamps in with screens or backgrounds so that the light falls upon the sitter only and none reaches any other part of the studio, there are only three or four feet of fog to work through, while if the whole of the studio is illuminated the amount is greatly increased.
           In foggy weather the lighting of the sitter may be more concentrated than is usually necessary, as a more vigorous negative will then be obtained, and printing can be carried on until the shadows are of sufficient depth. Windows become coated with smoke in a day or two in the winter and act as undesirable diffusers, so that it is advisable to clean at least the panes which it is intended to leave unscreened.
           A fairly warm temperature and good ventilation tend to reduce fog and to clear it away quickly. We have often noticed that a room or studio has remained foggy long after it has become fairly clear outside. When the necessary power is available, an electric fan will do much to establish a current of air, which should be directed towards an open window or door. A proper exhaust fan fitted near the roof is the best form, but the portable ones are of considerable value.
           We have already pointed out how the effect of fog may be reduced by cutting out all unnecessary illumination. A further improvement may be made by using a lens of as short a focal length as possible, though not so short as to introduce distortion. Where sufficient length of studio is available, it is now common to use sixteen or eighteen-inch lenses for all-round cabinet work, and it is quite good practice in clear weather. But at other times a tea or twelve-inch lens will be found to give much brighter pictures. As a matter of fact, many photographers have found this out without knowing the reason, and attributed the improvement in brilliancy to some other property in the lens than its focal length. Whatever lens is being used, it should be kept clean. Lenses will get as dirty as windows do in a smoky atmosphere, and will then yield flat images in the clearest light. If a lens has not been kept clean it is interesting to take a negative with it before cleaning and one directly afterwards. In most cases the contrast will be striking. Lenses should be cleaned carefully, a vigorous rob with the corner of the focussing cloth is not to be recommended, as such treatment soon "greys" the surface. An old worn handker-chief, kept in a box free from dost and grit, should be used. If there is a greasy deposit from town smoke, a single drop of pure alcohol may be applied on a tuft of cotton wool, and then the surface quickly polished with the handkerchief.
           Although we are opposed to all “tinkering” methods of development, the judicious use of bromide upon exposures which have been made under adverse conditions is quite permissible. To describe the action of bromide in popular language, we may say that, when used upon an over-exposed or foggily lighted plate, it allows the high-lights to get a start before the shadows begin to develop. If the plate be developed right out this advantage is lost, but as most portrait negatives do not reach this stage there is a decided benefit to be obtained by the use of bromide in the cases we have mentioned. It is necessary to add the bromide to the developer before immersing the plate. Once development has started it is of little, if any, effect. The character of the plates used should also be taken into consideration. Some brands tend to give brighter results than others. These should be chosen for foggy weather, as, although the scale of tones may not be so long, the resulting print is more satisfactory.