Saturday, January 28, 2012

That First Roll

There's a lot to be said about the first roll of film that comes out of a new camera. Simultaneously bringing all your experience to bear on a new photographic tool. The feeling of uncertainty that comes with film, followed by the satisfaction of getting that first roll back from the lab. It's completely intertwined with the act of photography itself.

W. Franklin St.

Occasionally it results in disappointment. The first time I went out to shoot with my Xpan, I completely botched the film loading process. After walking all over downtown Baltimore to finish a whole roll, I opened up the back of the camera only to find the film lead just sitting there. In the end, I simply had to write off the whole thing as a "scouting opportunity" and move on. It wasn't until just a couple months ago that I returned to some of those places for a do-over:


Of course, the real reason for this article is my first roll through the Leica M6, which I acquired about a month ago. This thing certainly lives up to the name. The meter only worked for about the first half of the roll before the cold killed the batteries. No matter though, because this is a fully mechanical camera. As long as you can set the shutter speed and aperture, it will gladly keep shooting.

I'll admit, eyeballing the exposure was a bit intimidating at first, growing up in an automatic age. A little practice with a free Exposure-Mat and soon I was memorizing f/8 exposures for all kinds of situations.

I was also afraid that the pictures wouldn't have enough contrast since I didn't have any E39 filters. I almost always use a 49mm Orange(G) filter on my Xpan to add contrast. Lo and behold, the legendary Leica lenses came through, adding their own creamy contrast.

Museum Steps

The sheer simplicity of it really is mind-boggling. And nothing else in photography feels quite like the smooth, manual action of winding the film crank on a quality camera. Just wow. Need a Leica alternative? Fear not, the winding action on the venerable Nikon F3 is extremely impressive as well.

But I digress, this is supposed to be about photography, not mechanics. It's that clean, featureless simplicity that allows the photographer to focus on being a photographer.

Here's to another amazing tool in the toolbox.

Sculpture Court

Monday, January 16, 2012

Camera Porn How To

Product photography is a curious thing. For instance, here's a picture of a Leica M6 with a dual-range 50/2 Summicron with ugly goggles, an uglier strap, and tape all over it. Yet you still want it.

M6 Dual-Range

Sometimes it really is the object itself that you want, and it doesn't matter how good or bad the photo is. However in most cases, people have probably never actually touched the object, so all they have to go on are some pretty pictures and reputation/cache/speculation/marketing (cough X-Pro1). Curious.

Anyway, here's a little how-to for creating your own camera porn for the masses. It's pretty straight forward. All you need is:
  • A semi-long lens (100mm+)
  • A soft light source (indirect light from a large window, or a softened off-camera flash)
  • A clutter-free background (any plain wall will do)
  • Oh yeah, and a camera

Camera Porn Studio

For these shots, I used an old Nikon SB-28DX flash triggered from my 5D with a low-end Pocket Wizard. The flash fired at 1/4 power through a Westcott umbrella, which softened the light.

Initially I tried using my trusty 50/1.8 lens, but quickly discovered that this was not long enough to keep the background clutter out of the lens's perspective. I switched over to the 24-105/4 (at 105mm), which did the trick of narrowing the perspective of the background, removing unwanted junk from the scene.

I also wanted to make the object stand out, so I had to make sure that there was enough light fall-off between the object and the background, so the object would be much lighter. To do this, I had to keep the light source close to the object (about 2 feet), but far from the background (about 12 feet).

In order to kill any ambient light in the shot, I used the fastest shutter speed I could. The 5D syncs at 1/200, so all the pictures were taken at 1/200 at f/11.

For more information on general product photography, I highly recommend you go check out Strobist. And now back to our regularly scheduled camera porn...

Leica M6

Visoflex 400

Visoflex 400

Leica CL