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Film Photography classes @ The Smithsonian

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by , 10-21-2008 at 02:55 PM (3437 Views)
I've signed up for TWO photo classes this fall at the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian museum complex has an "adult education" program called the Smithsonian Associates that sponsors a wide range of events, activities, tours and courses, including fine arts courses. They have a full darkroom for black-and-white and color, as well as limited digital services, in the education building, which is underground between the Freer Gallery and the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall.

I've done a couple of the Associates day tours relating to the Civil War (Lincoln's Assassination) and the War of 1812, and I was suitably impressed, so I decided to give their photography classes a try. I've signed up for a Portrait Lighting class and a Night Photography class.

The Portrait Lighting class is more digitally-oriented, but the instructor was suitably enthusiastic about the idea of my shooting large format film and printing platinum/palladium for the class. The first class was last week, and while it was rather basic for me, I got the feeling at the end of the session that there were going to be lots of golden nuggets over the remaining 7 weeks.

The Night Photography class is going to be very darkroom focused, and film-based. They even have a UV exposure unit to support alt-process printing work, which is terrific, since I plan to be doing platinum/palladium prints for class.

There are big advantages to shooting negative film for night photography - you don't blow out your highlights anywhere near the rate you do with digital, which has a compressed contrast range compared to film, and if you blow out a highlight with negative film, you can always put detail back in through burning/dodging. With digital, unless you're shooting multiple exposures and bracketing, then re-compositing in post to create HDR images, you're going to lose those highlights and shadows.

I brought some of my night panoramics with me to class last night and I think the instructor is wondering why I even bothered to take the class- he repeatedly commented on how good my photos were. I'm taking the class because I want something to do to make me get out there and shoot more, process my film in a timely fashion, and get my printing done. He's also going to discuss and demonstrate some alternative techniques for night photography, including light painting with flash and continuous light. We have our first shooting session later tonight, and I'm going to bring along the whole-plate camera and try some shots with this antique Darlot rapid rectilinear lens, in addition to the regular stuff I have. Since the class is focused (pardon the pun) on the Mall, I'll be doing mostly panoramics in the future, but tonight I'm going more square.


  1. Jeremy's Avatar
    Having done some digital night photography I must say that it's quite a bit easier than film photography in there being no reciprocity failure (which is an inherent chemical trait in film).

    I've actually gone back to doing my night photography with film, though, as I just enjoy working with my 4x5 a lot more.
  2. colrehogan's Avatar
    Cool! Sounds like a lot of fun.

    I know what you mean about shooting more, processing film in a timely fashion and even making prints.
  3. TheFlyingCamera's Avatar

    You're right there is no reciprocity with digital, just as there is little reciprocity with C-41 films until you hit something in the order of 30 second exposures. However, shooting digital at night is very much like shooting transparency films - the contrast range of the medium is constricted.

    I too enjoy the challenges and benefits of working large format above and beyond any conveniences working digital might give me. That's why I'm nuts enough to shoot 5x12 and whole plate night stuff. I'm actually thinking about dragging out that 11x14 I got from you for a few night shots some class night. Could be fun to do some stuff with it when we go down to the Jefferson Memorial.
  4. Tusker's Avatar
    SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT IDEA~ Wish they were closer GOOD LUCK!!



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