Sunday musings: oh, how did photographers cope without super high ISO and electronic flash?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Karim Ghantous, Mar 18, 2017.

  1. From the mid 1950s. Look at the caption at top right:

    Okay so basketball isn't Formula 1. However, this is something to think about, especially if you worry whether or not you have 'enough' or 'up to date' equipment, or whether you're keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. Our craft gives us today an embarrassment of riches as far as tools are concerned.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  2. I thought that looked familiar. I am re-photoshopping the scans I did in 2015.
  3. When I started photographing people in the late 60's with available light, including just living room light in the evening, I used Tri-X (iso 400) developed in D-76 1:1 dilution. I used a Nikon Ftn with the standard 50mm f 1.4 lens. In dim available light I simply shot wide open at 1/30 sec, regardless of what the meter said most of the time. In daylight I would use the meter of course. That look of Tri-X with the wide open lens gave a beautiful soft look. Here's an example, shot in 1969 with that combination with living room light. 16x20 kathy.jpg
    DavidTriplett and marc_bergman|1 like this.
  4. Tri-X pushed to 1600 ASA, which was HIGH speed at the time. High Speed Ektachrome was pushed to ASA 320.
    And we were lucky compared to the earlier guys.
    The guys today don't know how good they have it.

    FAST glass, 50mm/f1.4
    I can tell you that I was crippled with a f/3.5 lens compared to my buddies with a 50mm/f1.4 lens. My f/3.5 lens was 2-1/2 stops slower than a 50mm/f1.4 lens.
    The slow 43-83mm/f3.5 was fine for outdoor work where I had plenty of light, but it sucked indoors in low light. Especially shooting in DIM gyms, like the one we called "the cave." If I could go back in time, I would have gotten the 50mm/f1.4 instead of the 43-83mm/f3.5, just for the low light work.
    People today talk about the FAST f/2.8 zooms. But a f/2.8 zoom is 2 stops slower than a f/1.4 prime lens.
    So when it gets dim/dark, all things being equal, nothing beats FAST glass.

    You also learned to shoot a the peak of the action, where the actions pauses for a fraction of a second.
    Example, with basketball, on the jump ball, the action pauses at the peak of the jump, before the players head back down due to gravity. Just like in your linked pix.
    Similar for many other sports, such as indoor volleyball, and even the outdoor sports, we learned timing to get the peak of the action, to get that ONE shot.

    BTW, we did NOT use a flash to shoot indoor sports. That would get us kicked out of the gym. We were right down on the floor, not up in the bleachers. So a flash would hit the players eyes much harder than a flash up in the bleachers.
    dcstep likes this.
  5. I still shoot old camera's with every photo I take. I am always light challenged it seems. I just do the best I can and usually shoot HP5 at 800. To me it seems to be a versatile speed. One thing I do is use my 50mm f1.8 almost all the time because it's fast.
  6. When I worked for a local newspaper, in the mid 60's, we used Tri-X souped in Dektol (print developer) diluted 1:1, at ISO 1000. It wasn't pretty, but basketball isn't portraiture. I used a Leica, most of my colleagues used a Nikon F, but none were auto focus. Flash would destroy the ambience of the game - chalk on coal effect. We sat under the basket, before it was fashionable for players to crash into photographers, and used a 35mm or 50mm lens.

    Electronic flash? Not! We used M2 flash bulbs, which would put out as much light as a 400 Joule (then called watt-seconds) electronic flash, weighing about 12 pounds.

    The equipment you need depends on what your competition uses.
    Didier Lamy likes this.
  7. This:

  8. Compelling photographs, those that have the ability to stir a viewer's imagination and release narrative, come from the photographer and have very little to do with gear.
  9. mebbe, but i think most people here are (implicitly) discussing commercial photography. i doubt many commercial photographers are using anything other than modern kit.
  10. SCL


    Big flash bulbs then little AG1 bulbs...yes there were st4obes, but they were few and far between. It was generally acknowledge (in the US at least) that Plus-X was the way to go when grain couldn't be objecionable, but Tri-X was more the professional standard. F/1.4 lenses were beyond the reach of most people, there were a few f/2.0 lenses out there which were professional grade (think Leica Summicrons), but most of us were shooting f/2.8 lenses. Panning to stop motion and as mentioned above, prefocusing at the spot and timing the shot to the point of least movement were critical skills learned early. Then Edward Land introduced the Polaroid cameras and the world changed.
  11. Simple, but expensive and grainy:
    Nikkor-S-on-5D + GAF500.jpg

    from an autobiographical account of a famous Christian Science Monitor photographer who was my beaux ideal;
  12. "Sunday musings: oh, how did photographers cope without super high ISO and electronic flash?"

    The thing to keep in mind is that nearly everyone, at least the "pros," were in pretty much the same boat during any era. If the films and lenses were too slow to shoot in some given location without flash, then shooters used flash. Or without flash, there were simply no photos.

    If someone said, "Hey, why didn't you take some pictures at the such and such place," all you had to say was, "It was too dark." And hardly anyone would question this. It was understood that you COULD light it up, if necessary, at substantial cost, but for the most part, people just accepted the limitations.

    Of course there would be a few with special gear or techniques who could produce something with ambient light, albeit grainy and a little blurry, but most people recognized that it was such a difficult feat that there would be few complaints.

    My point is that nobody misses what they never saw or had. To put this in perspective, think about what you're missing today versus what might be fifty years from now. Perhaps handheld cameras will be obsolete. Perhaps surveillance cameras will be everywhere, recording everything in 3D video; when someone wants to see their wedding photos they simply tap into existing "footage" from any vantage point they want, and relive their wedding in 3D. Better yet, perhaps ... Nah! ... I'm gonna quit before I really get going. My point that you don't feel disadvantaged right now because you lack those things. Except maybe you feel cheated that you don't have a flying car.

    Ps, I was taking pictures in the 1950s, as a kid, developing in my pop's rigged-up darkroom.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2017
  13. There was a race for the widest aperture in the late 50's, early 60's. F/2 .8 was practically the standard with f/2 and f/1.4 not far behind. Then there were the f/1.2, f/1.1 even f/0.95 - image quality be d@@@d. The flagship Nikon lens was the 58/1.4, for Leica the Summicron f/2 35 through 90 mm. I don't know when the Summilux 1.4 came out, but nobody I knew had one.

    Those little flash bulbs put out a LOT of light. I forget the type of large, bayonet bulbs, because we used M2 bulbs which pushed in place without turning, later AG1 "peanut" bulbs. The M2's put out 20,000 lumens (daylight is 15,000) and the little AG1 produced 13,000. That's with a burn time of about 25 msec, whereas the light from a high powered electronic flash (Stroboflash IV) lasted only 2 msec or less. With flash bulbs, shutter speed matters. You could put the camera on bulb to gather all the light. We had flash guns in the locker which took screw-in bulbs, popular in the 40's and 50's. There was even a flash powder gun, which could illuminate a city block (or Mammoth Cave, per National Geographic at the time).

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