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Vacation stress

Schotland in the rain. Holga 120 CFN and Kodak Portra VC 400 film.

Schotland in the rain. Holga 120 CFN and Kodak Portra VC 400 film.

In a shot time I will leave for a vacation. A route has been planned, books are loaded on the e-reader, and further the preparations are well on their way. The only thing I still worry about, is which cameras to bring. Thsi is, of course, an not the first time. Every vacation again, I ponder which cameras I will take along. This time it’s harder to decide, though. The trip is going to Scotland, by bike. This means there are two issues.

First of all, there’s the weather. It can be glorious summer weather in Scotland, but the odds are that this will not be the case. Not all the time, anyway. I can take a bit of rain, I’m not extremely worried about my cameras. They are tools to be used, not just to look pretty. But there’s a limit to how wet I want them to get (not very wet). And I can try to keep them dry, but it will always get a little damp. Okay if you’re only out for a few days but three weeks is a bit much. I don’t know if I want to expose my beloved Horizon to that, for instance. But I would like to make panoramas, so there’s a dilemma.

Additionally, keeping cameras in a bike pack is much less convenient than in a backpack. You might not think so, but in my experience it’s true. You can wrap them carefully, so they are well protected, but then you have to dig deep into bags and wraps every time you want to take a picture. The alternative is to keep them loose at the top of the bike pack, relatively easy to grab, but then they tend to bump into each other and into other things that need to be aesily accesible. And before you know it, you´ll have scratches on the lens or other misery. So they need to be sturdy, or with not too much emotional value.

The best thing is a camera that you can just hang around your neck (weather permitting) or that fits in a (slightly damp) coat pocket. On the wish list of what the cameras should be able to do are:

  • Something with a good (glass) lens, like a SLR.
  • Something capable of close-up shots.
  • Something for panorama’s.
  • Something weatherproof.

For the time being, I’m leaning towards the Holga, the Spinner 360 (as a panoramic compromise), the Olympus OM-1 and maybe the Snapsights for when it’s raining.

Now to worry about the film…

Freelensing

Minolta XG-1 and Fuji Superia 200 film

Minolta XG-1 and Fuji Superia 200 film

Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of freelensing. Freelensing is a technique where you hold the lens of your SLR loosely in front of the camera when taking a picture. The result? Selective focus and a dreamy look.

Surfing the web, I came across this intersting technique: freelensing. Trying it out is simple enough:

  • Take an SLR and unscrew the lens.
  • Hold the lens in your hand, close to the camera body.
  • Tilt or move the lens slightly to see the plane of focus change.
  • Snap the shutter.

The result, in the ideal case: a picture with a distinct tilt-shift look, or a cool macro shot. Or both…

Minolta XG-1 and Kodak Gold 200 film.

Minolta XG-1 and Kodak Gold 200 film.

Now it’s a little more complicated than that of course, if only because it takes some practice to hold your camera body in one hand, the lens in another, and then try to work the focus ring. I regretted using my super heavy metal Praktica for my forst try…

So, to get the tilt shift look, you tilt the lens a bit. Like — you guessed it — a tilt-shift lens does, only with added light leaks and risk of overexposure.

Minolta XG-1 and Fuji Superia 200 film.

Minolta XG-1 and Fuji Superia 200 film.

For macro pics, move the lens away from the body to get really, really close. You’ll want a fast shutter time to compensate a bit for the extra light sneaking in between lens and body.

Minolta XG-1 and Fuji Pro 160 film.

Minolta XG-1 and Fuji Pro 160 film.

Careful, though, if you move your lens too far, you’ll get the edge of it in frame. A little vignetting is fun, but this may be overdoing it…

Minolta XG-1 and Kodak Gold 200 film.

Minolta XG-1 and Kodak Gold 200 film.

For my pictures, I opened up the aperture to its maximum width, and used shutter speeds of 1/250 and faster. As you can see, the results are never quite tack sharp, but the dreamy look is pretty cool I think. This technique works best in scenes with a bit of depth, like my flower garden. I also found food photography works pretty well with freelensing.

Following Berenice Abbott

In lists of famous women photographers, Berenice Abbott is usually somewhere high up. Rightly so, since this American photographer has produced beautiful pictures. Born in 1898, she majored in sculpture at art school. In the 1920’s she travelled to Paris, where she became an assistant to Man Ray, who taught her photography. Initially she was successful as a portrait photographer, and she had a lot of celebrities as customers. In 1929, she returned to America, where she became fascinated by the fast-changing New York. Her series Changing New York is probably her best-known work. They are iconic images of streets like ravines, construction sites, shop windows, station halls… She worked on the series for six years, and you can watch those pictures for hours withoth getting bored.

But, of course, Abbott has done much more in her long career (she lived to be 92 years old). Another major project of her in the 1950s and 60s was scientific photography, partly on behalf of MIT. With much inventiveness, she managed to photograph all kinds of scientific phenomena. There are almost abstract patterns of sound waves, magnetic fields, lightning and much, much more. Nowadays, these kinds of images are probably often computer generated, but at the time Abbott had to set up complicated experiments to capture all sorts of phenomena. The result is not just scientific – Abbott’s pictures have been used in a lot of science textbooks – but also very beautiful.

And not all that easy to do without the necessary purchases and preparations. Following Abbott, I wanted to try my hand at some science pictures as well. But where to get iron filing and a two-pole magnet, or a glass prism? It had to be even simpler experiments. So I shot a bottle of water to capture how light breaks, and a candle going out for lack of oxygen.

The result is fairly mediocre. The camera proved to be prone to light leaks, which gives the photos a red haze. In addition, the black fleece I used as a background was not quite the smooth monochrome surface I was hoping for.

So I tried another attempt at scientific experiments. Oil and water in layers, and dye dissolving in water. For some demented reason, I wanted to capture that with the Holga and close-up filters. An silly idea of course, but the result is actually not all that bad. For a plastic camera with cheap filters, that is. It’s difficult to accurately estimate the correct distance with those filters, because the depth of field is very limited. The pictures didn’t turn out tack sharp, but I think it’s not bad at all.

All in all, I have a renewed admiration for Abbott, who was able to capture so much more complex processes so much more beautifully.