Week 4: Middle Grey and the SpaceTime Continuum

Basic Black and White Photography with Matthew Swarts

Walker Evans. This is a fine example of an exposure made with the aperture stopped down (probably all the way to its maximum number). Everything is in focus and there is a long depth of field from foreground to background. The shutter speed is difficult to tell because in all likelihood the camera (an 8x10" view camera) was on a tripod. Still: there is no evidence of motion so we can assume the shutter speed was relatively fast.

Walker Evans. This is a fine example of an exposure made with the aperture stopped down (probably all the way to its maximum number). Everything is in focus and there is a long depth of field from foreground to background. The shutter speed is difficult to tell because in all likelihood the camera (an 8×10″ view camera) was on a tripod. Still: there is no evidence of motion so we can assume the shutter speed was relatively fast.

Fazal Sheikh. This is a great example of an exposure made with the lens near wide open (a low number aperture): there is narrow depth of field, just enough to describe and touch the edges of the small photograph in the outstretched hand. The shutter speed was fast enough to stop motion, obviously, so if the camera was not on a tripod it is likely faster than 1/60th of a second.

Fazal Sheikh. This is a great example of an exposure made with the lens near wide open (a low number aperture): there is narrow depth of field, just enough to describe and touch the edges of the small photograph in the outstretched hand. The shutter speed was fast enough to stop motion, obviously, so if the camera was not on a tripod it is likely faster than 1/60th of a second.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Because we know this photographer made almost all of his photographs with a small camera while it was in his hands, this is a great example of an exposure made with a relatively slower shutter speed (1/4 or 1/8 of a second?). There is just enough blur to suggest motion. The depth of field extends from the edge of the bed toward the back of the room, so likely a medium to large number (smaller hole) aperture was used.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Because we know this photographer made almost all of his photographs with a small camera while it was in his hands, this is a great example of an exposure made with a relatively slower shutter speed (1/4 or 1/8 of a second?). There is just enough blur to suggest motion. The depth of field extends from the edge of the bed toward the back of the room, so likely a medium to large number (smaller hole) aperture was used.

Roy DeCarava. When we look at this image and try to assemble information about the exposure, a few things are deceiving. First, it was made from a high vantage point relatively far away from the subject, making it difficult to tell whether a large or small aperture was used to create the sense of razor sharp depth of field. The relative darkness of the image is not so much a fact of exposure as it is a choice in how the image was printed. As far as shutter speed goes: in all likelihood a relatively fast shutter (greater than 1/125th of a second) was used to precisely stop the motion in the scene.

Roy DeCarava. When we look at this image and try to assemble information about the exposure, a few things are deceiving. First, it was made from a high vantage point relatively far away from the subject, making it difficult to tell whether a large or small aperture was used to create the sense of razor sharp depth of field. The relative darkness of the image is not so much a fact of exposure as it is a choice in how the image was printed. As far as shutter speed goes: in all likelihood a relatively fast shutter (greater than 1/125th of a second) was used to precisely stop the motion in the scene.

Sally Mann. This is a great example of a relatively wide open to medium aperture, for the depth of field is narrow. The girl with the cigarette is precisely defined and radiantly exposed, while the information in the foreground and background is relatively blurry. Because we know Sally Mann uses a large format view camera on a tripod, it is difficult to determine the exact shutter speed. However, it was obviously fast enough to stop the motion of the boy on stilts!

Sally Mann. This is a great example of a relatively wide open to medium aperture, for the depth of field is narrow. The girl with the cigarette is precisely defined and radiantly exposed, while the information in the foreground and background is relatively blurry. Because we know Sally Mann uses a large format view camera on a tripod, it is difficult to determine the exact shutter speed. However, it was obviously fast enough to stop the motion of the boy on stilts!

Robert Frank. This is an image made with a hand camera, and it reveals interesting facts about exposure by the way that space is described in the frame. The elevator operator is relatively still, but people around her are blurred, leading us to recognize that the photographer was also still and used a shutter speed that was relatively slow (1/15 to 1/30th of a second?). The depth of field is relatively narrow, so a wider (smaller number) aperture was used.

Robert Frank. This is an image made with a hand camera, and it reveals interesting facts about exposure by the way that space is described in the frame. The elevator operator is relatively still, but people around her are blurred, leading us to recognize that the photographer was also still and used a shutter speed that was relatively slow (1/15 to 1/30th of a second?). The depth of field is relatively narrow, so a wider (smaller number) aperture was used.

Middle Gray

Middle Gray

Space-Time.

Space-Time.

For Next Week:

Review the slides from this week’s slide lecture: arts1810 Middle Gray and the SpaceTime Continuum Slides

Review your camera manual and familiarize yourself with ALL operating parts and controls of your 35mm SLR camera.

Read about Camera Exposure, Camera Controls, and operate a DSLR Camera Simulator until you understand the basic principles of exposure.

Labeled parts of a 35mm SLR film camera

Labeled parts of a 35mm SLR film camera

Expose at least 1 roll of film. Thoroughly explore the relationship between your camera’s metering system, the lens aperture, and the shutter speed for a variety of lighting situations.  In other words, make negatives that explore the way the camera sees the relationship between light, time, and space.  Most importantly, you should investigate how the range of exposure choices available to you can radically (or very subtly) effect the way the camera describes the world.  Play, in other words, with aperture, time, and light.

Things to remember before you make pictures:

  1. FILM SPEED: For at least the first half of the semester, you should half-rate your film. This means, in the case of Tri-X, that instead of setting your meter’s ISO/ASA dial at 400, you should set the ISO/ASA of your camera to 200.  By lowering the ASA of the film like this, you will be giving the darker areas of your subject more light than the manufacturer of the film recommends.  This is a common manipulation practiced by most photographers who want the sharpest, most grain-free image possible for a given film speed..  Half-rating increases the shadow details in the negative, and will give you more options to print from later on.  If you are confused, think about how your pinhole camera worked and how useful it was to have a negative that had a lot of information, as opposed to one that was mostly blank. Half-rating ensures that even in situations where you make mistakes in metering, you will be more likely to get something on film.
  2. LOADING FILM: After you thread your film into the take-up spool and close the back of your camera, be certain that the film rewind knob on the left hand side of your camera body turns (counterclockwise) as you advance the first few frames of the film.  (Not visible in automatic cameras) If it doesn’t, you have not loaded the film properly.

Things to consider while making your negatives::

  1. There is a mathematical relationship between the ISO/ASA of your film, and the aperture and shutter speed necessary to reproduce on film any given level of light that exists in the world.   This relationship is inviolable.   It is one of the only things you cannot challenge very effectively as an artist.   So:  what your meter says is very important.  Learn how to read your meter effectively and always set your camera according to what the meter tells you.
  2. Exposure=Intensity x Time.  Implicit in this relationship are a series of choices that correspond to settings for your camera’s shutter speed and aperture.  These choices are some of photography’s most powerful tools. Explore the connection between f-stops and shutter speed as rigorously as possible in these first few rolls of film and think about how profoundly you can change the way something looks by coaxing the camera to see the world from a variety of different exposure choices. Are you aware, for example,  of how radically different your face will appear when it is photographed at close distance with apertures of f2.0 and f22?  How about the difference between how a falling leaf looks at 1/15 and 1 second?
  3. An exposure meter “sees” middle gray.  This means in most cases that your meter will take all of the dark and bright and medium tones in whatever you are photographing and average them in such a way that the overall level of light in whatever you photograph will be reproduced as a medium (18%) gray tone.  (See London and Upton for a more detailed explanation.). Certain situations in the world will thus create exposure “problems” for you.  Make sure if you are photographing something extremely bright or extremely dark that you take this important point into consideration.  Looking at the sunlit sky in the middle of the day, for example, and following what the meter says will in most instances give you the incorrect exposure.  So will looking in a similar way at the moonless night.  Do you understand why?
  4. Film begins to “fail” at exposure times of one second or longer (and at exposures shorter than 1/1000 second).  This is called the reciprocity effect, and you should be familiar with ways to compensate for such situations when making exposures in extremely low or high light conditions. Here is a chart detailing the reciprocity effect for most common films, with corresponding correction information.
Principles of Lens Apertures

Principles of Lens Apertures

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Henri Cartier Bresson

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