Back to basics

When I went to the UK in 2002, I was using a very intuitive Minolta film camera, borrowed from a friend, for my urban photography class. Lets just say I was a regular at Snappy Snaps (a chain of film developers/framers). The friend had moved on to a point and shoot digital camera. 3 years later and I had my own Digital SLR which cost a whopping GBP 500. Now 4 years after marriage, bringing together our various photo tech, the DH and I have amassed 5 cameras (not counting the ones on phones and laptops). Is it time we went back to basics?

Both the DH and I like our photography. Our walls do not have paintings and art but photographs we have taken, enlarged and framed reminding us of the experiences we’ve had. For us it’s a more emotional connection than looking at a painting. Admittedly, the DH is much better at the Physics and science of photography than I am and can use his cameras far more creatively. When we got married we each had our own Digital SLR cameras. London, 2005 I had saved up my Christmas bonus and bought myself an Olympus E 500 from Amazon for 500 Pounds. It’s an intermediate 8 megapixel camera that offers a lot of features for its price. My pride and joy. I had never bought and owned such an expensive piece of equipment. The DH had bought a Nikon D40 when he was in Russia in 2007 for 25,000 Roubles, around US$1000. When we joined stuff, we had a DSLR each.

A couple of years ago when we moved close to the beach, we bought a Vivitar 8400, 8.1 Megapixel underwater camera because we go to the beach often and it was the best for our dinghy and has served us quite well. We then bought a Cannon Ixus, one of those snazzy point and shoot numbers for around Rs.9500 which takes good pictures and HD video. It’s a convenient tool and sometimes, it’s all you need.

Just when I thought we couldn’t have any more photography equipment, the DH goes and buys an old (film) SLR- a Nikon FE. Just when the number of places actually developing film is narrowing, he’s decided to switch to film and now has to set up a dark room to continue using the camera. Nikon FE – is a classic camera and has features that only the really high end DSLRs offer, like multiple frame and multiple exposures (explained below)

Cameras and lenses

The Zenith on the left is my father-in-law’s camera which sadly no longer works. My dad’s Chinon with 35mm and a manual zoom lens we sold in Bombay in exchange for cash to fund some lenses. The Nikon FE is in the foreground. The large bazooka lens in the left background is a 500 mm F8 lens from Russia we bought on Ebay and next to it is a Vivitar 200 mm F3.5 telephoto manual lens. The Canon Ixus (bottom right) was not originally in this picture as I had to use something to take this picture with. So I very crudely stuck it in after with Gimp.

I was skeptical at first about the Nikon FE film camera but these are some of his best from the first round of film. However, because I’ve scanned them to show them to you, does it really matter that they were taken on film, the old school way? To you these could be digital photos. But for a second try to imagine that these aren’t and that the light, focus, exposure, ISO, aperture and shutter speeds were not digitally controlled.

Experiments in small depth of field

Rock art

Bird nests


Perhaps it was because i was holding a photograph in my hand after so long that the glossiness of it was striking. I know you can print out your digital photos on photo-paper but do people actually do that in 4 x 6?

So just when the whole world has gone digital, when Samsung and Apple are fighting over the latest patents, even Indian TV viewers now compulsorily (in the metros) have to switch from analog to digital receivers, the DH is reviving the lost art of setting exposures and apertures without knowing whether you got it right till very much after the fact. We are re-living that delayed sense of gratification when you get your pictures back from the processing shop. The excitement of re-living the memories of the places you’ve been and often trying to figure out when we took this and that picture.

So why is the DH going back to basics? He’s doing this because eventually he wants to photograph the Analemma. The Analemma is a closed path, in this case the figure 8 pattern, that the sun’s path makes in one year. Because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical around the sun, the sun’s apparent motion as observed from a fixed point on the Earth at regular intervals, in the period of a year will form a figure 8.

Analemma – courtesy

This is a great experiment to do at home just like these kids at a daycare centre did. Use a fixed point in your garden that will cast a shadow on the ground. Every week or two at 12 noon exactly mark where the end point of the shadow of your fixed object, that falls on the ground. The kids at the daycare would set an alarm and using waterproof paint or makers, outline the shadow.  Also a great way to actually show children and adults that the Earth and the Sun are actually moving. That the sun today is not like the sun yesterday. That today is different from tomorrow.

Surprisingly, the Analemma has only been captured 8 times as a multiple exposure on a single piece of film, in history. It is one of the most grueling astrophotography projects one can undertake. Apart from the interference of weather, it is the precision of the set up of your camera in the same spot for a year and never missing your pre-set interval to take the photograph.

Exposure in photography is the amount of light hitting a photo sensitive area, like film or image sensor. Too much exposure and the picture is washed out with too much light, too little and the image is too dark. You control the exposure with the aperture and shutter speed settings. The bigger the aperture the more amount of light is allowed in. While shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open to let light in. The shutter opens, light hits film for the length of time that the film is exposed to that light, shutter closes, image is captured and the film moves on the spoke to the next part of film on the reel.  So a one second exposure is when the film is exposed to light for a period of one second.

For example, the image below is using a very long exposure to capture the lights of cars on a highway.

Cars on highway-long exposure Courtesy of

multiple exposure is the superimposition or layering of two or more exposures to create a single image. It is a series of relatively brief shutter cycles.  Multiple exposure is a technique in which the camera shutter is opened more than once to expose the same piece of film multiple times, usually to different images. The resulting image contains the subsequent image/s superimposed over the original.

For example, this is a multiple exposure image capturing the phases of a lunar eclipse. So the image photographed (the moon) at each exposure is different but it’s all captured on one piece of film and then layered one on top of the other. You can achieve the same thing with imaging software such as Gimp or Photoshop but doesn’t have the same satisfaction.

Lunar eclipse multiple exposure courtesy Wikipedia

So this is why the Nikon Fe is back in our lives. If you are a photography enthusiast and are thinking of going back to film you must use the Nikon FE. A second hand one on Ebay is only around US$100 so it’s not a huge investment. Here’s a really good website that will tell you the wonders of using a Nikon FE

Once we do start photographing the Analemma, I’ll probably have to get the DH to dedicate his own blog to documenting the experience. He might become the 9th person in the world to capture the Analemma on a multiple exposure film.

In the mean time, Happy Snapping.


About nonsense girl

Galley slave, qualitative researcher working in development, married my best friend, writing about my life, my family, my dog, TV, Indian culture, astronomy and my garden.
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2 Responses to Back to basics

  1. Ganesh Gopalakrishnan says:

    At this time all this is very confusing to a novice like me. All I know is “aim and shoot” and my Canon Power Shot does it admirably

  2. ashreyamom says:

    wow.. that was a great info.. photography is a study.. u need to learns the tricks.. hoping to see the analemma pics and picture blog.. so u have so many camera’s. when we need one,w e will pick it up from u.. :D..

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