Saturday, April 24, 2021

What is it with the Ultra-wide Angle?

Ultra-wide angle is almost a standard in pinhole photography. Among commercial camera sellers the longest I could find with a 6x6cm image was 32mm (86.3°).The widest was 20mm (113°). I’ve occasionally used cameras as wide as 30mm, but most of the time I use narrower angles of view ranging from still-pretty-darn-wide-angle 35mm to quite long 200mm. Last winter I decided to try to find the attraction in these extremely wide cameras, most of it done with 4x5 negatives at 35mm. When I made the 6x6cm Variable Cuboid, I included a 20mm front as an extreme example and I’ve used it occasionally. I loaded it up and set out to further my study.

One thing I’ve always disliked is the extreme vignetting this close to the pinhole. Mr. Pinhole says the image diameter is only 38mm. Working with these negatives I felt like I was slogging through mud to overcome the exposure gradient from center to edge. Scanned the way I normally do, I got a spot of overexposed sky in the middle of a black ring. The only way I found to manage them was to do a very low contrast scan and then, with constant adjustment of the range, size and intensity of the burning and dodging tools, I locally treated the image until I got a relatively uniform contrast across the frame. I think you’ll notice that there’s still significant vignetting with very dark edges and corners. A lot of people feel this is the best feature of ultra wide angle.

In response to a previous post, Tom Miller told me about a method Eric Renner suggested to manage this. During the camera exposure, he would hold a black dodging tool in front of the pinhole and withdraw it away from the camera to expose the edges more than the center. I’d like to see him do that during a one second exposure.

Wide open spaces can be made to look even more wide open, and particularly deep. Another prized feature of ultra wide angle is that optimal diffraction occurs at a significantly lower f ratio, f100 in this case. That, of course is accompanied by short exposures. Just under a second in this case. There are ripples from the wind in the water, you can see a few rocks under the water at the shore and the textures in the clouds are rendered in particularly realistic detail.

This is facing northeast so it’s not the sun behind the clouds that’s making the bright spot, it’s purely the vignetting, but it does draw your eye to the center, doesn’t it?  The rocks at the bottom are of course underexposed so the contrast is pretty jacked. I don’t think they have that great a difference in brightness, it’s just differences in the angle of reflection between the sky and the camera, exaggerated by the high contrast.

This one is pretty much pointed toward the sun so the sky is mostly over exposed across the frame in order to get any detail on this side of the trees. The exaggerated depth allows these two foreground trees to stand out in front of the general pattern of the other trees in this little park next to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute Museum

With the ultra wide angle any deviation from perfectly parallel to the film plane is magnified. I must have been angled slightly to the right because the horizontals are converging toward the left. Tilted very slightly up too. I don’t think there are two truly parallel lines in this. I rotated it to make the top of the door parallel with the top of the picture.

This is really different in color. The new patches of concrete block are grey and the historic wall is kind of a yellowish sepia. Another crooked wall. Again converging toward the left, so the bottom of the wall is angled up from the center, but it’s perfectly compensated for by the plastic pipe coming in from the right!

Putting a white truck in the middle of the composition is not a great way to manage vignetting. When I’m this close to something it’s always surprising to see the picture. I could have reached the bumper from the camera’s position. It’s obviously tilted up quite a bit which makes the verticals so convergent that the tires look like they’re leaning in.

It was a little less tilted for the disk that drives the mixing drum itself and the stack of the big diesel which is only for mixing the cement. I never realized the drum was such an easily interchangeable part.

In Menomonee Park, I thought the view from the pitcher’s rubber would be dramatic. I was surprised to find these giant craters seemingly made by scraping cleats into the infield. Does this have something to do with pitching? Isn’t this a tripping hazard when you’re playing?

The visiting team dugout from the end of the inside. A really utilitarian use of the angle of view to get something in the frame you can’t get any farther away from. Jay Leno always refers to his favorite kind of antique cars: original and unrestored. This is my favorite kind of negative: uncropped and unrotated. With the camera this low, I can get a good look at the viewfinders and the bubble level on top the camera. It looks pretty accurate.

One of the results of all this tonal manipulation is I ended up with some really high contrast images with a quality reminiscent of Bill Brandt’s pinhole work. I wonder if he ended up with that visual style just trying to manage vignetted negatives.

This is an example of what I think of as hey-my-camera-has-a-square-format composition, taking some roughly square shape and putting it into the center of the image. Another interesting accident of pointing is the top of the back and side rails form a line that’s almost parallel to the edge of the frame. 

Another reason ultra wide angle is so prized is that optimal diffraction takes place with a smaller pinhole, ergo it can render smaller features. One might say it was sharper. That is refractionist thinking that needs to be overcome. I admit there is an attraction to an optimally diffracted image. I invite you to zoom in to see how the pinhole renders the chain link on the back rail of the bleachers.

Common advice to artists is to distinguish your work by making it personal. I’m not sure how I can do it at the softball field. Except for Andy’s career in Cub Scout softball, I think I’ve seen three complete softball games in my life, separated by decades. So I put my bicycle at home plate, with some ultra wide pinhole fun with the front wheel.

The 20mm front for the 6x6cm Variable Cuboid has a .20mm Gilder Electron Microscope Aperture. The film is Ilford Delta 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

No comments:

Post a Comment