Old Time Photography

Here is a photo of an old Kodak bellows camera that once belonged to my aunt.  It’s official name is the "Kodak Vigilant Six-16."  I know because I have the original box and, especially interesting, the instruction manual.

IMG_6712Although the top speed is 1/100th of a second, the manual suggests always using 1/25th for best results.  This is very slow and explains why we were told to "Hold still" while the picture was taken.  Even the photographers had to hold their breath to minimize moving the camera.  Kids today are told to say "Cheese," but never to hold still anymore.  The instructions say 1/50th of a second can be used in very bright sunlight, but they do not mention any use at all for the 1/100th speed.

The instructions for taking a flash indoors at night is to first place the camera on a table and set the exposure to time, "T."  (When clicked in that mode, the shutter stays open until clicked again.)  Screw a flash bulb into a floor lamp and turn off all of the other lights.  Click the camera’s shutter release to open it, run back to the floor lamp and turn it on, and, when it flashes, run back to the camera and push the shutter release again to close it—all of this presumably in the dark.  Apparently, not many did this, or the results were so poor none of the photos were kept. 

This camera, like the famous Brownie, was held at waist level and the photographer looked down through the tiny, half-inch viewfinder.  I think this lower angle gives a more pleasing view in those old photos, but they are often understandably misaligned.  It is hard to see much through the viewfinder that far away, and I remember my aunt looking up for a final check right before snapping a picture.

Professional cameras had much better lenses, and this is obvious when the photos are enlarged.  I was able to enlarge the professionally-taken group picture on our Washington, DC, senior trip enough to read the time on Eddie Vetter’s wristwatch (8:30), but the snapshots taken by classmates blur on anything beyond the standard 4 x 6 inches.

Later, my aunt moved up to a 35 mm Leica that disappeared over the years.  It was much handier to carry around, but in those days the negatives were not routinely enlarged, so the finished photo was the same size as the film.  A 35 mm photo is pretty small, about 1 1/2 x 2 inches, and I had overlooked how good many of them were until I scanned them to a common size that fills my computer screen. 


P.S.  "Cheese" is not the best word to say when being photographed.  Professional models say "sh_t," and hold that position. (I know this scatological word is now commonly spelled out in print, but I am old-school.)  Saying "sh_t" slightly opens your mouth and leaves your tongue pressed against the back of your upper teeth, which gives the mouth a natural appearance.  Remember that the next time you admire a glamorous model in Vogue.

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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