Casework: Sailors Warning | Pictorial Planet Blog

Casework: Sailors Warning

What do you do when you come across a scene that's on a bright beach, in bright sun, against a bright sky? You trust in your exposure and your development.

Casework: Sailors Warning

Shipwreck Pyrocathd Print

Sailor’s warning. Pyrocat-HD 1:1:100 12 minutes @ 20c Film: Ilford FP4+ 80ISO (with yellow filter)

Findhorn Bay and the surrounding beaches are some of finest in Scotland. Miles and miles of beautiful sands run along the coast of the Moray Firth. Occasionally, as on many beaches in the UK, the beach is interrupted by old weather-worn World War II tank traps and bunkers that present a fascinating insight into Scotland’s past.

As I walked down the beach I spotted this warning sign. A warning to sailors of a hidden danger near the shore. It stood stark against the sand, the contrast of the sun etching it from reality and pasting it back again, almost as an afterthought.

Setting up the shot

I walked around the scene looking for the best point of view and set up my tripod and camera, fitting a yellow filter to darken the blue sky. I needed the white clouds to give that huge Scottish sky some interest and the yellow filter would set them off against the blue well. I always carry a simple set of filters with me, just Yellow, Orange, Red and Green is all I need. Of course, using a filter means you have to take it into account when setting exposure.

Personal film speed

Running the personal film speed tests from my book have given me very accurate exposure control and adding the compensation for each colour filter is easy, yellow being two thirds of a stop. To compensate I use the exposure meter which can be adjusted in third stop increments.

My personal film speed with Pyrocat-HD is 125 ISO for Ilford FP4+ film and that is what I had on my meter. To adjust for the yellow filter (minus 2/3 stop of light), I set the meter to 80 ISO, 2/3 less that 125 ISO. In effect, this is telling the meter that my film needs two thirds of a stop more light than normal. If the filter takes one stop of light I would have set 64ISO on the meter, and so on. Remember, I am setting this adjustment after setting my personal film ISO on the meter, not from the manufacturers recommended ISO, it just happens, in this case, that Pyrocat gives me full film speed.

Exposing the scene

Exposing, for a scene like this is potentially difficult. I could see that the sky was bright, the sand was bright, pretty much everything is bright in this shot. Any regular meter reading would be too dark and seriously under expose the film. As I've explained before, with black and white film, we need to expose for the shadows and control the highlights through development. "Exposing for the shadows" means placing the shadows correctly in the zone system. I always look for shadows that I want to have detail in and take a meter reading of them. I then close down two stops. In this scene I saw that the left side of the warning is in shadow and so I took a spot meter reading of those shadows, set it onto the camera, and closed the camera down two stops.That places the shadows in just right place! Let your development do the rest.

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