Monday, October 6, 2014

Flash Bulb Magic

I shot a wedding last weekend for two dear friends. The days before the wedding were fraught with the anxiety of shooting a wedding and what gear to take. The DSLR went with a short prime telephoto and the bride lent me her better-than-mine DSLR with a medium telephoto. So that covered the "safe" option. I would get all of the photos that I "expect" from myself when shooting a wedding. Now... what to take to get the photos that I "desire"? 35mm format is covered by the digicams, so I left the 35mm film cameras at home. If I was going to carry the weight, I should make it count. Medium format: Yashica Mat 124G (I only took 2 or 3 with that) and Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model (I think I only took one with that). The sanctuary was pretty dim, so the film I generally shoot with was too slow for moving subjects. You think that people getting married are just up front standing still, but they aren't. They are fidgeting and looking at each other and then at the pastor and then they go light candles, etc etc. After the ceremony, I did all of the formal family & friends photos, again mostly digital, but I did keep one surprise in reserve. The Graflex Speed Graphic! I brought this monster out to the enthusiastic "oooh's" and "aaaaah's" of the expectant crowd (okay, that may be a bit hyperbolic). Pose; meter; focus; aperture; focus; meter; aperture; dark slide out; cock shutter; focus; "One-Two-Three---CLICK"; dark slide in.


If Kodak Tri-X 320 was a food, it would be butter. I developed this in Adox Adonal 1:100 for 70min with agitation at 0 and 35min. You might think I did a lot of correcting in post after scanning, but you would be wrong... dead wrong. Now get your things and get off of my blog! Just kidding. You should stay for the rest. It's going to get good. I promise.

I took another just like that one for safety (good thing too). Then it was off to the reception. It was a small room in an Italian restaurant in La Jolla, CA. I did what I could with the DSLR, but the flash was just making me cranky. I had it dialed down to -2.0, with a cup diffuser, bouncing off the walls and ceiling. Everything short of a soft box to get some light but minimize the shadows. They turned out okay, but I am so used to film, the digital rendering of the scene was just missing something. Out comes the Speed Graphic, along with the flash and 7-inch reflector. I loaded up with Tri-X again and popped in a GE #5 bulb. I had done the calculation the day before. Iso 320, Guide Number at 1/100 sec is 300, that makes if f/30 for a subject 10 feet away. I decided to open it half a stop and hoped that the highlights wouldn't get blasted. Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights, right? Now there's something about flashbulbs. First, the 7-inch reflector is mirror polished and makes a BIG cone of light that is hot in the middle and falls off at the edges. Also, it flashes over time. It seems instantaneous, but over the life of the bulg, it is starting out dim and soft, then ramping up to full power, then falling off. Depending on where in that cycle the shutter opens, there will be a dramatic difference in the look of your photo. Generally though, the light is on the soft side (for a direct flash) and hot in the middle. The shadows are there, but they aren't the harsh outlines you are used to seeing. So take a look at these two photos I shot at night in a very dim restaurant and tell me there isn't something magic about this flash and camera.



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