Tag Archives: camera

Photo theme: Quarter Windows & Side Mirrors

Last weekend, I attended the 25th annual SuperNationals Car Show in Albuquerque. It was a sea of chrome and gleaming paint. There were silly low-riders, beautiful antiques, and fine-art automotive sculptures.

So amongst all that overstimulation, I tried to stick to a few themes. And one of them is the subject of this post: Quarter Windows and Side Mirrors. Quarter windows are the small (usually triangular) windows in front of the front windows. On old cars, they could swivel open to allow airflow.

The shining chrome of the quarter window tracing around the silvery side mirror–that’s a theme I will see again and again. There’s a lot to play with. Reflections in the flat glass, warped reflections in the chrome, angles, lines, light. This is what I have for now. To be continued…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

World Pinhole Photography Day

Did you know that a pinhole can focus and project light? A pinhole in an opaque material is the world’s simplest camera! Yesterday was World Pinhole Photography Day.

History

The discovery of pinhole optics massively predates photography (the act of chemically recording a projected image). During the Renaissance, painters traced scenes projected onto a canvas by a pinhole on the opposite wall. The use of a pinhole to project images goes back to 5th century BC China.

A camera obscura uses a pinhole to project an image. Renaissance painters could then trace these images. (image source: Wikipedia)

Why Pinholes?

In an age of digital cameras and high-end optics, the pinhole endures, charming and simple.  In honor of World Pinhole Photography Day, I went on a pinhole outing.

You might ask, what is the point of pinhole photography in this day and age? There are aesthetic and practical reasons. I like knowing exactly how my lens works, for once. Even a prime lens can have upwards of a dozen pieces of glass in it. I have a good science background, and I can’t even touch that level of optics. A hole in black plastic. I get that. Pinholes have interesting properties. True, they don’t focus nearly as sharply as lenses. But because pinholes have such small apertures, they have nearly infinite focal depth.

Brief photography lesson: larger openings (apertures) allow more light and create shallow ranges of focus. This can be desirable in a portrait. Small openings permit less light and increase range of focus. This might be preferable for a landscape. Sufficiently small openings cause softening due to diffraction (physics of light stuff). If you shoot on an SLR, you may have noticed diffraction-caused softening on shots at f/22. The pinhole I use is f/177. This diffraction is what gives pinhole photos their texture.

The upshot: pinhole photos flatten a scene. Something a yard away will look similar to something 100 yards away. This allows a photographer to create interactions between different depths that wouldn’t be possible with a conventional lens. And finally, pinholes can create a really fun old-timey effect.

My setup

My setup is a bit like sticking a horse-drawn carriage on a rocket ship. I use a Lensbaby composer with the pinhole optics kit. My camera is a Sony Alpha 7s. Pinhole photography, due to the tiny amount of light transmitted, has slow exposure time. Exposures are often measured in multiple seconds. The Sony Alpha 7s is one of the fastest consumer cameras in the industry, with a maximum ISO of 409600. Thus, I was able to take decent handheld pinhole images even in low light by using high ISO.

Lenbaby pinhole on Sony Alpha 7s.

Lensbaby pinhole on Sony Alpha 7s.

The Images!

ISO 409,600, 1/6 second exposure. No tripod. Indoor shot on a rainy day.

ISO 409,600, 1/6 second exposure. No tripod. Indoor shot on a rainy day.

ISO 20,000; 1/60 sec.

ISO 20,000; 1/60 sec.

ISO 80,000; 1/60 sec.

ISO 80,000; 1/60 sec.

ISO 12,800; 1/60 sec.

ISO 12,800; 1/60 sec.

ISO 16,000, 1/60 second exposure.

ISO 16,000, 1/60 second exposure.

ISO 160,000, 1/10 second exposure. Indoor shot on a rainy day.

ISO 160,000, 1/10 second exposure. Indoor shot on a rainy day. I love how it looks like a 40s cheesecake shot.

Technology and art in the rail photography of O. Winston Link

If you are interested in rail photography, or if you’re like me and really never gave it a thought, the O Winston Link photography museum in Roanoke, Virginia is a fascinating visit. O (short for Ogle– I think I’d go by the initial too) Winston Link photographed steam locomotives in the 1950s, at the very end of their widespread use. The Norfolk and Western rail lines he snapped ran through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and other parts of the coal belt of Appalachia.

In his photographs, Link captures the end of a powerful technology, but he also captures life in 1950s Appalachian rail towns. People play in a pool twenty feet from a roaring locomotive. People read in their living room with a cat sleeping on their lap as a train passes the window. Folks chat on a porch as the N&W rolls past. In the image below, the train passes a drive-in movie.

Hotshot Eastbound, by O. Winston Link.

Link captured images with such technical precision that they would still be difficult shots today, barely possible without rare equipment until very recently. Link was a civil engineer, hired out of college as a photographer; during World War 2, he used his scientific and photographic backgrounds at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory.

Link’s railway shots rely heavily on both science and photographic techniques– in order to better control the lighting and thus the composition of his photos, he often shot at night. Because, he said, “I can’t move the sun — and it’s always in the wrong place — and I can’t even move the tracks, so I had to create my own environment through lighting.” This required the use of flash bulbs, one-use bulbs that burned metal to produce brief, intense illumination. According to the museum, one of his shots alone used illumination equivalent to 10,000- 100 watt light bulbs, although that light only lasted for a moment. Reading that, I wondered what the experience was like for the train conductor, driving through nearly black rural Virginia, when light so bright it might as well be lightning flashes. His first power source was too unreliable, and so he designed his own power source. Link invested $25,000 into the unpaid project, closer to $125,000 in today’s currency.

As someone who dabbles in photography, the difficulty of Link’s task and the quality of his work (60 years ago!) deeply impressed me. Bear with me as I explain some technical details of modern cameras to convey the awesomeness of Link’s work. Today, we might just be able to reproduce such shots without flashbulbs due to advances in digital photography. Flash bulbs (using combustion) are still brighter than any modern flash (using capacitors). A single flashbulb produced about 1 million lumens (the unit that measures the brightness of light) while a modern camera-mounted flash produces about 100,000. Many flashbulbs may be used at once, so the flashbulb is great for extreme illumination. Only one manufacturer of flash bulbs still exists. Their photo gallery is pretty neat.

Today, we have cameras that are more sensitive to low light, called high-ISO cameras. Camera speed, whether digital or film, is measured in a system called ISO-sensitivity. In this system, a film with double the ISO requires half the exposure time; a two-second exposure with 200 ISO film would take 1 second with 400 ISO film for the same level of exposure. In the 1950s, the fastest film was ISO 400-640. The Sony Alpha 7S, releasing in July, has up to ISO 409,600, 1024 times  faster than ISO 400. A shot requiring 30 seconds of exposure on ISO 400 would require roughly 1/30 of a second on ISO 409,600. This is really new technology; as of 2013, no ISOs above 10,000 existed.

So, in short, Link’s work is a beautiful hybrid of science and art, a testament to their combined power. Link’s scenes of rural 1950’s Appalachian life are beautiful, and remind us of the era of the man behind the lens. New advances behind the lens are happening today. What new wonders will they capture?