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THE ANALOG REVOLUTION: Hybrid Photography (Part I) – A somewhat technical excursion into the digital side of my analog photography, by Stephen Smith

While taking a long road trip through France and Spain in our Toyota Auris recently, I got to thinking about the hybridism between analog and digital photography. Although I claim to be an exclusively analog photographer, I paused when reaching for my iPhone to reconsider that claim and made a list of all the ways I use digital technology for my hobby as a “film” photographer.

The most obvious one is for the many photos I found I had taken with my iPhone, documenting my campsites, the labels of wines I wanted to remember, dishes I wanted to recreate, color photos (which I rarely take on film), postcard shots and selfies I wanted to send to my wife back home and to my children traveling in Central America, and three new additions to my iPhone collection of manhole cover designs. You get the idea.

I then looked in my folder of photography apps. There are several light meter apps: myLightMeter, Luxi, and Light Meter. If you have ever used one of the old Gossen light meters like Lunapro or Lunasix, you’ll feel right at home with myLightMeter. Besides the pro view with many features, it has a classic view that mimics those old standards. The app uses an iPhone’s camera to take a reflected light reading. It’s possible to narrow the measured field down to almost spot meter size. You can average readings together and set up presets for camera/lens combinations. If you have a milked dome attachment to cover the iPhone camera, you can also use it to take incident light readings.

Horw, Switzerland / Hasselblad 500 c/m; scan from negative

Related is Pinhole Assist, which helps me calculate exposure times for my pinhole camera. I select my camera from the presets (LeRouge 45, which has an aperture of f150!), my film, and the ISO, then it takes a reading (broad or spot) and gives me the exposure time, factoring in the reciprocity failure of the long exposures and starts a timer to let me know when the exposure is up, so I can cover the pinhole. The app has a large preset database of films (117) and of makes and models of pinhole cameras (309), or you can enter the geometry of your self-made one. There is also a bubble level to help position your camera and note-taking features.

Lucerne, Switzerland / LeRouge 45 pinhole camera; 4×5 sheet film; scan from negative

To help with reciprocity failure, I have several more apps to try to get a handle on that sticky problem, which comes up regularly with the long exposure times that one uses often when working with 4×5 and 8×10 view cameras or with neutral density filters. For those who’ve never had to deal with that phenomenon, here’s a quick primer.

In photography, digital as well as analog, there is, as we all know, an inverse reciprocal relationship between aperture and exposure time. 1/250 at f5.6, 1/125 at f8, 1/60 at f16, 1/30 at f32, etc. all produce the same exposure value. However, at exposures longer than about one second, this reciprocal relationship begins to break down, hence reciprocity failure. The reason has to do with the way the mixture of silver halides in the film’s emulsion reacts to light. Above one second, the potency of this reaction is increasingly diminished, resulting in reduced sensitivity. To compensate for that, one must increase the exposure time beyond that which the normal reciprocal relation would prescribe.

The problem is, different film brands and types all have different curves on the compensation graph, and no linear lines. The producers of films — Ilford, Kodak, Foma, etc. — publish the compensation curves of their films. But keeping the overview of the charts of all the different films I use becomes a tedious task.

Adding to the problem is the fact that overly extended bellows on view cameras cause a drop-off of the amount of light reaching the film, as do, of course, red, orange, green, yellow, or ND (neutral density) filters.

Valley of Peace, Lucerne, Switzerland / Intrepid 4×5 view camera; Symmar 150mm, f 5.6; scan from negative

To the rescue: FilmReciprocity, Reciprocity, Reciprocity+, and the one I use the most, ReciprocityTimer. All of them have a similar method: enter film brand, type, and ISO, bellows extension, any filters, and your metered exposure time, it then factors in the additional exposure time needed due to reciprocity failure, bellows extension and filtering and starts a timer for you.

Another app in my photography folder is Viewfinder Preview, one of my most-loved apps for determining what a scene or subject might ultimately look like on film: I choose camera type, film format, aspect ratio, lens focal length, film type. The app then produces a digital image that gets close to showing what the photo will look like once it is developed and printed. It even takes a light reading to suggest the proper exposure. It’s become indispensable for deciding on the lens and focal length to best match the subject before setting up my camera on the tripod.

Then there are Massive Dev (the one I use) and Dev it! for developing film. They match huge databases of film and developer types and brands to give you the best and recommended developing times, as well as alternates, help with the dilution of the chemicals (how do I mix Rodinal at 1:50 for 1500 ml of developing solution? 29.4 ml Rodinal + 1470.6 ml water. Simple!), start timers that also remind you of agitation times, etc.

And there is Sun Seeker, a fascinating, comprehensive solar tracking and compass app that helps you determine where and when the sun will rise and set and where sunlight will fall at any time of year and day and at any location in the world (also handy for gardeners and real estate buyers). Will the north-facing facade I want to photograph be in sun or shade on March 28th? PhotoPills is a similar app, extending to the moon and the Milky Way, and keeping you informed of when the golden and blue hours are at your location.

Biarritz, France / Hasselblad 500 c/m; Distagon 50mm, f 4; scan from negative

This list is anything but exhaustive. There are dozens and dozens more (also many unused ones on my iPhone…). But without my most-used digital apps, my life as a film photographer would be much more complicated.

The area where my analog photography and that of a digital photographer overlap the most, however, is in the postprocessing of digital files. All the photos on my website, all that I post on Instagram or Facebook, all the portraits I send to my models, have been digitized and finished in photo processing applications. There are two ways that I digitize my photography. Both ultimately involve scanning with an Epson Perfection V850 Pro flatbed scanner.

I’m sure that for many years I’ve been one of the billions of people globally who average around seven hours of screen time per day, or, put another way, 44% of my waking hours — both from my work as an arts organizer, concert presenter, and conductor as well as from my own personal desires and wishes to be on-line, reading the New York Times, communicating with family and friends, or watching videos and movies.

Lucerne, Switzerland / Rollei SL66; Distagon 50mm, f 4; scan from negative

My analog photography, however, has provided me a welcome respite from the excessive screen time I am — as we all are — increasingly burdened with. There are no screens on my cameras, none on my film development canisters, and none in the darkroom, save for the apps mentioned above that help me with the small tasks. It is freeing to have this creative time and these processes practically screen-free.

I love my time in the darkroom. It is always quiet, concentrated, solitary, peaceful. Often, I listen to music or podcasts. The time can fly while working on a print. If I have an image that is especially important to me, it is in the darkroom where I try to make it as beautiful as possible, trying to find the optimum of proper contrast, shadow- and highlight-detail, dodging, burning, vignetting. Only when I’m holding the finished print in my hand that I’m satisfied with do I scan it if it needs to be digitized. All the images I am preparing for a book publication I am working on, for example, are made this way.

Ennetbürgen, Switzerland / Hasselblad 500 c/m; Planar 80mm, f 2.8; scan from print

For the last five years, since getting serious again about photography, I have done all my post processing with Apple Photos. It provided all the processing I needed, especially when working from a file of a scanned print that I had perfected in the darkroom. Some slight adjustment of the luminance or contrast lost in the scanning process, some dust removal, and I was done.

Union Grove, Alabama / Pentax Spotmatic II; Takumar 55mm, f 1.8; scan from print

When I started regularly feeding Instagram and Facebook with daily posts of images, I also started scanning negatives as well. Processing these scans requires a little more work and a few more adjustments than the scans of prints. But the guiding principle is the same: Alter the image digitally only as much as would be possible with photographic paper in the darkroom.

A year ago, I subscribed to Adobe Lightroom, mainly to have access to the dodge and burn and geometry correction features that are not available in Apple Photos, but I still use Apple Photos the most.

That’s my story of hybridity. In the next article, I talk about three successful professional photographers in North America that combine digital and analog in much more consequential and specific ways.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Smith is a professional choral and orchestral conductor and an amateur photographer and linguist. His photographic interests are in analog medium and large formats. Born and raised in the USA, he has lived as a dual-national in Switzerland for 40 years.

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