The Largest Photograph Ever.

December 22, 2005

Interesting article in the Chicago Tribune about how the Museum of Contemporary Art is fighting to reclaim a photograph from a bankrupt company’s possessions, before it gets auctioned off. It is apparently the fourth-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history — that of the commodities and futures brokerage Refco Inc.

The photograph, Avenue of the Americas, is by Andreas Gursky, and is a monumental 7ft by 11 ft. It shows an entire office block on the Avenue of the Americas in NYC (previously known as 6th Avenue) at night.

Well, lets see you try to hang THAT in your living room!

So, that brings up a question: how big was the largest single film-based photograph ever taken?

Sure, sure, the largest digital photograph is widely reported to be of the city of Delft, Netherlands, and consists of 2.5 giga-pixels. If printed, the image would be 22 ft by 9 ft. But, that doesn’t really c

ount, IMHO, because it was sewn together from 600 smaller photos. There’s also the QUEST, the world’s largest digital camera . . .but I’m talking about a FILM camera. And there was a 900ft image draped around a British department store. However, I’m not convinced that the image is really a photograph as such.

So, assuming that the world’s largest photograph must have been made with the world’s largest camera, I guess the question is really: what’s the world’s largest camera?

LARGE format

George Lawrence is known to have operated a glass-plate camera that was moved around on a railroad car, and required 15 men to operate and produced images that there 4.5ft by 8ft! He also took a famous photograph of San Francisco — with a camera hanging from a train of KITES! Now, THAT’S some technique – and a darned big camera too!

Compared to that, Polaroid’s Moby C, which can take life-sized pictures of people, is a nit — though the Polaroid film is probably a lot easier to process than a giant wet plate!

So, the question remains: what are the world’s largest film cameras, and photographs? Can anyone answer that question for me?

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Prints are generally tinted with oil-pased paints and such, but watercolors can also be used and quite successfully. Just take a look at Russell Mobely‘s page on the matter.

 The process isn’t terribly complicated but you’ll need to experiment a bit to fine-tune it. Unlike oil-based paints (like Marshall’s Photo Oils) you can’t easily wipe away errors when using watercolors, as some watercolors tend to leave a permanent stain even after they’re washed away.

Basically, start out with either regular fober-based photographic paper, or watercolor papers (like Arches watercolor paper) which is covered with silver gelatin emulsion (“Liquid Light”) over it. Then print your picture as you would normally. Once you have a few completed prints ready to experiment with, you can start with the water coloring.

You may want to sepia tone the prints first, but be carefull since the combination of sepia tone and water colors can lead to some odd colored results. So, its best to mask off areas that you don’t want sepia toned with regular rubber cement glue before toning. The glue can be washed off later, revealing the original bw tones underneath.

Rubber cement can also be used to mask off areas that you don’t want to be watercolored.

You can use watercolors (Winsor & Newton, or Dr. Ph. Martin’s) in combination with color pencils (Berol Prismacolor) and even oil-based paints. The watercolors can be added using a brush, sponge or qtip.

 

 

Larger, digital prints=better?

December 21, 2005

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune on Dec 2, the ease with which art students move between digital and traditional photography means that more of them are scanning negatives and making larger prints, so that the 8×10 print is no longer the standard. 

“Your 24-by-30 inch [picture] or 30-by-40 inch [picture] is now what an 8-by-10 was when I was in school,” some important guy being interviewed said.

According to the article, this has “altered the entire price structure in art photography… since large prints in limited editions by midcareer artists seldom trained in photography now often sell for six figures to collectors who had not previously shown an interest in the work of professional lensmen.”

So, in short, the market prefers BIGGER prints. No mention of quality…

Sheesh.

Here are some interesting tidbits I picked up whilst perusing the photography press:

 From the Dec 15th issue of Electronic Design:

 While one camera-phone image was printed on average per month in 2004, one image is being printed every three months in 2005.

The entry megapixel level of new camera purchases has increased, with about half of all digital cameras sold now in the 5-Mpixel range and higher.

Women are buying most digital cameras. Women purchased 53% of all digital cameras sold from May to July this year. Women are more than tech savvy. They also demand reliable and intuitive products.

Another survey by estimates that 77% of mobile handsets will be camera phones by 2010.

Sales of digital cameras increased 25% from January through July this year compared to the same period in 2004. Also, sales of 35-mm cameras declined 32.9% in the same period this year.

 

Camera formats

December 20, 2005

Cameras come in a variety of forms and there are numerous ways to classify them. We’ll use cameras from my personal collection to go over them, starting with camera formats: 

One way to classify cameras is according to the size of film that they use — also known as the camera “format”. There are three major camera formats, plus a bunch of minor ones which we won’t talk about much:

35mm cameras, like the Voigtlander CLR or the Canon Rebel take film which is 35mm wide. These are the most common form of film cameras, and are what most people instantly recognize as cameras. They use standard 35mm roll film cartridges which can be purchased everywhere as easily as batteries, and are very versatile, used by everyone from professional photojournalists to proud dads who want snapshots of their kids. They can be very fast, are pretty light and easy to carry around. They can have replacable lenses, or fixed lenses, etc. We’ll discuss the details of 35mm cameras later. 

Medium Format cameras, like my Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex, Mamiya 330C or Mamiya RB67 Pro-SD are cameras that take 120 film — film which is 120mm across. Needless to say, medium format cameras tend to be larger than 35mm cameras, but since they produce larger negatives, they can provide much sharper pictures. Some of the more modern medium format cameras have many of the standard features of high-end 35mm cameras (auto-focus, for example) too, though they are generally also somewhat heavier than 35mm cameras. Medium format cameras are popular with photographers who specialize in fashion photography, where image quality is more important than the speed or versatility of the 35mm camera. The film for 120mm cameras is also widely available, though you probably can’t buy it at a local drug store. It comes in a role, covered with a paper sheet.

Large Format cameras, like my Calumet C440 studio view camera, or my Graflex Super Speed Graphic press camera, use much larger sheets of film than either 35mm cameras or the medium format cameras — and so they can be much larger, much heavier, and much harder to use. They’re also generally much more expensive, and the film which they use is much more expensive and harder to find (you’ll need to go to a well-stocked photography store, or use mail order). The film sizes used in large format cameras are in sheet form, measuring either 4×5 inches, 5×7 inches, 8×10 inches, or in very rare cases even 20×24 inches. Large format cameras come in three types: field cameras which can be folded up, and are therefore used outodoors, view cameras which are used in the studio can can’t be folded up, and press cameras which are basically the same as field cameras except that press cameras were designed to be hand-held while large formats cameras in general require to be placed on tripods. You’re probably familiar with old movies where the photographer sticks his head under a black cloth as he’s taking a picture — that’s a large format camera. And yes, they’re still used today, but usually by serious, artistic photographers. They’re not something you can take on a picnic for snapshots!

 In addition to the three format mentioned above, there are a number of different formats which are either obsolete (the film is no longer being made) or are just not commonly used by serious photographers. Disc format cameras, for example, were made in the early 1980’s and abandoned after that since they had tiny negatives and bad optics = bad pictures.

Camera=box + hole + film.

December 20, 2005

I am always asked “What camera should I buy” or “How do I use my camera?”. Cameras can seem very complicated, and a bit scary. Novices also assume that the more modern & expensive the camera, the better it must be. However, a camera is fundamentally nothing more than a box with a hole at one end which allows light to enter in a controlled manner, and a surface at the other end of the box where film (or a digital sensor, in the case of digital cameras) is located. The whole point is to let a controlled amount of light to shine on the film for a controlled amount of time. Then you take out the film, develop it to get a negative, and print the picture. Voila, you have a photograph. That’s all there is to it. Light reflects off of the subject (whatever you’re photographing) and goes through the little hole in the box, and shines on the film. You control how long the light shines on the film simply by covering up the hole with your finger or a little flap. You can also make the little hole larger or smaller, to let more or less light in. If you manage to get the right amount of light on the film, you’ll end up with a picture of the subject. It just may take a few tries to get it right. 

 The “box with a hole in it” camera is called a pinhole camera. And its more than sufficient to make some very interesting photographs.

Pretty simple.

Seriously.

That’s basically all you have to know about cameras.

Everything else is extra.

Since cameras were first invented, nothing else has changed much in this set up.

Oh sure, the little hole in the box can have a lens placed over it, so that the light which reflects off the subject forms a sharper, clearer image on the film. You can also put a shutter over the hole, so that you can control how long the little hole remains open, even if its just for a few tenths of a second. Then you can also make the sheet of film into a roll, so you can take more than a picture at a time simply by cranking out out a new section of film roll for each new picture. Finally, you can put some sort of “aiming” device on the camera, which allows you roughly point the camera at the right direction towards the subject.

Now, you have a slightly more complicated camera, but basically, its still the same box with a hole in it.

Next, you can use much larger boxes with much larger pieces of film that allows you to make great big pictures. You can also use complicated, movable lenses which allow you to take photographs from subjects much farther away, or much closer. You can make the aiming device on the camera more exact, so you can see exactly what you’re photographing.

Congratulations! You’re still using nothing more than a box with a hole in it!

Next, you can add a motor to the camera which automatically rolls out a new section of film as you take each photograph, at a very high rate of speed. You can add another system that automatically adjusts the lenses, so you always have a clear, well-focused picture of your subject, even if its moving at a high rate of speed. Heck, you can also add another system that automatically measures the amount of light available, and adjusts both the size of the hole which lets light into the camera body, as well as the amount of time that the hole stays open.

You can even remove the film entirely, and instead put a digital sensor in the camera which absorbs the light reflected off of the subject, and creates an electronic image instead of a film negative.

But even now, you’re still using a box with a hole in it. But you’ll pay a lot more money for it!

So, the lesson is this: cameras don’t make you a better photographer. Stop worrying so much about the gosh darned camera and pay more attention to your photography! 

OK! You are interested in color photography using digital cameras, so why should you still read this site?

Well, here’s a practical reason: the basics of photography – whether using digital cameras or film cameras –  are the same. You still need to learn about shutter speed, setting apertures, etc. Sure, if you’re using a digital camera, you can always just erase a bad photo and take another shot, or you can try to fix the photo using image-editing software like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro — but wouldn’t it be better to get the picture right the first time? Wouldn’t it also be great to know about things like how to control depth-of-field in order to exercise more creative control over your photography? Anyone can take snap shots – whether using a digital camera or a film camera – but that’s not the same as being a photographer

Ok, so now you’re saying “Fine, I’ll read your stupid site to learn about photography, but why use film? Aren’t digital cameras better?” 

The answer is yes, digital cameras are “better” – for digital photography. However, film photography is simply something else entirely. Just as photography and painting are separate arts which have a visual basis in common, digital and film photography are related and share a lot in common, but are separate art forms.

Some people will tell you that old-fashioned film photographs are better because they last longer than digital prints. This is certainly true — a photograph which has been properly cared for can last for as long as the paper holds together, while many digital photographs will start to fade in a matter of months.  But that’s not really the main reason for film photography. I for one would continue using film even if digitally-printed photographs were perfectly stable.

Film photography is an art in of its own. If the goal was simply to make pictures, then there are cheaper ways — heck, just buy a disposable camera. But black-and-white photographers are drawn into this hobby because they appreciate the art and technical expertise it takes to take some silver mixed with goo and turn it into a work of art. The end result isn’t the point- its the process of getting there!  

Oh, and film photography really impresses the chicks, though you’ll always be broke paying for your hobby!