The Old Calibrated Eyeball

Back in the olden days, when we geezers walked five miles to school, up hill each way in the snow – you know, before digital photography – each roll of film came with an instruction sheet.  That rarely read sheet had tons of useful information, including exposure instructions for daylight photography. Back then, most cameras did not have built in light meters or automatic exposure systems.  For those who had been at the game long enough, outdoor exposures were made mostly by “calibrated eyeball”, and for most of us the process of calibrating our eyeballs started with reading the film instruction sheet and memorizing what is commonly known as the Sunny 16 method of exposure. Basically intended for amateur photographers shooting vacation photographs, Sunny 16 was a table of suggested exposures for a range of daylight conditions:  if you were shooting Kodak Plus X film with an ASA (ISO) of 125, your settings in bright sun would be 1/125th of a second at f/16; slight overcast 1/125 at f/11; overcast 1/125 at f/8; you get the drift. If f/11 was your favorite f/stop, then you would adjust your shutter speed up to 1/250th of a second for exposures in the bright sun.  If you got good at this, you could easily begin to mentally do the compensations to account for the use of Wratten filters in black and white photography.  Which brings us to today’s photograph:

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I took a short drive into Old Town Alexandria to photograph the old Jones Point light house.  I had my multi-megapixel, auto-everything camera with me, but it was set, as usual, to manual, all Auto systems off.  As I walked from the parking lot to the light house I found myself almost subconsciously computing the Sunny 16 exposure:  it was a bright day and I wanted to use ISO 64, giving me an initial exposure of 1/60th second at f/16.  But, I wanted to shoot at f/11 (it is my favorite f/stop, bar none), so my starting shutter speed had to be adjusted to 1/125th instead of 1/60th, meaning I could comfortably shoot handheld if I chose to do so.  Because the light house is white clapboard, and I didn’t want to blow out my highlights, I built in 1/3 stop of underexposure by increasing my shutter speed to 1/160th.  That was it – my exposure settings for the entire session were ISO 64, 1/160, f/11.  I will confess to “chimping” the image histograms on the preview screen from time to time, which is a feature of digital I truly like.  But, all my exposures were pretty much spot on without resorting to a light meter, and the proof is today’s photograph – a full tonal range image with details in both the highlights and the shadows.

Two lessons came out of this exercise for me: that no matter how much our equipment changes or how sophisticated it becomes, for the most part, the actual act of making a photograph really hasn’t changed; and, that as long as we have that big fireball in the sky (without intervening clouds) a perfect daylight exposure will always be the reciprocal of your ISO (1/ISO) at f/16. Or, thereabouts.

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A Dull Sunset?

One evening in Venice, FL, Barb and I went with our hosts to the North Jetty for a casual meal of hot dogs and Cuban sandwiches at the food concession.  After our repast, we walked out on the jetty as sunset time approached.  The sky was generally overcast, but I liked how the sunset seemed to be developing, so I retrieved the camera gear from the car and hiked and rock-hopped to the tip of the jetty and spent the next forty minutes or so photographing a pleasant, but not spectacular sunset._DSC1535 Gallery

I was disappointed with my initial review of the images as the muted sunset appeared even more so in the raw images, and it occurred somewhat to the south (left) of my sightline, which itself was constrained by a very unattractive navigation aid between the North and South Jetties.  Three weeks after returning from Florida I thought I should revisit these images.  I decided that a cropping that raised the horizon line, minimizing the uninteresting sky and emphasizing the foreground rocks and mid-scene water, made for an effective composition. With a stronger and more balanced composition, with virtually no vestiges of color, the next and most natural step to me was to convert the image to black and white.  I am pleased with the outcome … I think it works.

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A Look Back to Tangier Island

It was late August 2013, on a very hot and humid Saturday, that my friend and former work colleague, Charlie Martinez, invited me for a flight in his Cessna to Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay for a lunch of fresh crab cakes.  Of course, I went.  The crab cakes were excellent, but the photography was very labored.  For a small island, Tangier really requires more than a short fly-in for lunch to capture its spirit and atmosphere.  This image was made from a bridge on the walk back to the airport. I spotted this sunken boat, resting in the mud and partially obscured by the swamp grasses.

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When I made the photograph, I immediately envisioned it as a black and white.  My initial interpretation of the image was very dark and I never went any further with preparing it for view.  Three years on, it crossed my mind this morning and I decided to reprocess the image to what you see above.  I am much more pleased with this than its earlier version, and it makes me want to get back to Tangier Island for a couple of days, to have time to explore and come to grips with a small spit of land with a lot of history that may disappear in the not too distant future.

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