View Full Version : Composing in low light
01-06-2008, 09:10 AM
As someone who's used to using a Mamiya 7II rangefinder for landscape photography I've found it a struggle to get to grips with a Toyo 45A for the past several months. I've got so I can manage the movements now and in normal lighting conditions everything's fine and I'm feeling quite confident, to the point where I'm using it more than the Mamiya.
However, and it's a big however, most of my landscape work is carried out at dawn. I usually arrive before dawn and spend some time getting my composition spot on in very low light. With the Mamiya and a 50mm lens this is a piece of cake since I use the big, bright external finder and simply focus at the hyperfocal distance. With the Toyo it seems it's nearly impossible to work in this way. The Toyo has a fresnel screen but this doesn't seem to be enough in these circumstances and the fresnel pattern actually makes focusing more difficult.
Having just come back from two weeks holiday where I tried several dawn shots, I'm disappointed to find that several of them have items in the darker foreground and around the edges of the frame, where the focusing screen is at its dimmest, that I simply didn't want included.
Is there an answer? My lenses are all Schneiders (65, 90 and 150) with maximum apertures of f/5.6 and f/8 (the f/8 is noticeably less easy to compose at dawn as you'd expect). I use a good quality dark cloth but do find that I struggle to get edge-to-edge coverage using my Ohnar lupe which isn't deep enough to clear the screen shade on the Toyo which makes it awkward to use.
Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
01-06-2008, 09:17 AM
Barry, you quickly learn to compose mentally, also to watch the edges of the screen carefully even in low light. Admittedly I've been shooting LF for about 30 years but it happens once you get to know your equipment a little better.
01-06-2008, 09:44 AM
As Ian points out, as you internally learn how your lenses 'see', you'll be able to compose before setting up the camera. You are already doing that with your 6x7 rangefinder, but probably haven't noticed.
Admittedly, slower glass in the dark is tougher. Patience. You'll get it.
Peter De Smidt
01-06-2008, 09:46 AM
Use a viewing card. Cut out a 4x5 inch hole in a card, whether spare matte board, cardboard, model aircraft plywood, plastic... Drill a small hole below the openning. Get a string, and knot one end. Put the un-knotted end through the hole. Pull tight. Measure the bellows extension on your camera when focused on the hyperfocal distance at f22 for each of your lenses. Put a knot on the string at each of these extensions. To use, put the knot that corresonds to the lens you'd like to use on your cheek. Hold the frame so the string is lightly taut.
View. Also, if it so dark that you can't see. Use a tape measure to move the standards to the hyper focal distance, maybe use f32 or 45 for this. Or you can take a small flashlight and lay it down at the point of nearest required sharp focus. Use it as a focus guide.
01-06-2008, 09:47 AM
I made a viewing screen (wire frame) to help with initial compositions and lens selection. For focusing, a couple of small flashlights will help when placed in the scene. tim
01-06-2008, 10:00 AM
One little item I have in my camera bag is a $3 laser. Still going strong after 5 years. Shine it on the subject you want to check for focus.
01-06-2008, 10:02 AM
I have liked my good old crown graphic for low light 4x5. Besides GG, there is also a coupled RF (tiny and almost useless but good enough for rough focus) and a wire framing contraption, a top VF, and I adapted a binocular viewer from a polaroid MP copy camera to fit the GG. Also, staying under a dark cloth for a few minutes, I find that I can compose adequately even with ~f/280 pinhole, it just takes a lot of patience to let the eyes adjust.
For quick work, I think an external VF is probably the best way to go, and with hyperfocal markings on your bellows you should be fine for focusing. No it's not perfect for framing but it is quick and easy. I think Horseman makes a fancy universal external VF, and I recall that fotoman makes some VFs and an inexpensive external rangefinder.
01-06-2008, 10:12 AM
One other thought... if in doubt, you could use some of the fuji "super speedy" fp3000b45 ISO3000 instant film to check your composition. It's very useful stuff- the print is good enough to check for critical focus.
01-06-2008, 10:53 AM
Guys, thanks for all the helpful advice, I'll try some or all of your suggestions and keep practising!
01-06-2008, 02:16 PM
I also do a lot of low light photography. Like you dawn being my particular favourite time of day. I use an Ebony camera and find their fresnel lens works very well for this sort of photography. Now I don't know if it will fit your Toyo 45A but it might be worth your while contacting Robert White to see if this is in fact an option.
01-09-2008, 02:06 PM
I use a good quality dark cloth but do find that I struggle to get edge-to-edge coverage using my Ohnar lupe which isn't deep enough to clear the screen shade on the Toyo which makes it awkward to use.
All the above suggestions are great. I found with a Super Graphic, that the screen shade was my biggest enemy. I use it only as a ground glass protector. If there is a way on the Toyo to quickly remove it, do so, then go under the focusing cloth until your eyes adjust and use the loupe all over the GG. I have dozens of negative that prove you can't focus or compose correctly without running the loupe over every sq. in. of the GG. Also, be sure you are alone with your GG. Don't let any light stray in from underneath or around the focusing cloth.
01-10-2008, 06:16 AM
Good point about the screen shade, I'm currently using a Crown Graphic and yesterday was the first time I removed it and used just a darkcloth, it can make a huge difference. I'm used to using LF camera's without one, but then my other cameras also have far better/brighter screens than the Graphic.