Week 50: Christmas Lights

It has been a while since I did any night photography that didn’t involve star trails, so I thought I’d brave a brisk evening and try to capture some of the Christmas lights on my hometown’s common area.

I brought along my circa 100 year-old large format, a Kodak Empire State No. 2, with a Bausch & Lomb Zeiss Tessar lengs and Volute shutter.  At the time, B&L was the only US manufacturer under license to make Zeiss lens.  It’s an uncoated lens and likely of similar vintage as the camera.  The camera itself is a 5×7 field camera, with dates of manufacture from 1903-1914.  Since I don’t have an easy way to develop 5×7 negatives, I did some McGyver modifications to a couple of the glass plate holders that came with the camera.  Basically they are 4×5 painters tape holders so I can use the smaller negatives in the 5×7 holders.  There are also a lot more emulsions available in 4×5, and I had some Portra 400, and decided to use that for the shoot.  I only had 4 shots. As a backup, I also took my Fujica GW690 medium format rangefinder, also loaded with Kodak Portra 400.

First a few iPhone shots of the lens, and swanky modifications I made.



general comp mod

general 4×5 mod

Glass plate mod

Glass plate mod

Based on Lance Keimig’s book on night photography, I used a few exposures to bracket the shots.  With the Fujica I shot at 1/2 sec, 1 sec and 3 secs.  The Fujica only has shutter settings that go up to 1 sec, so for the 3 sec exposures I just counted “1 Mississippi, 2”. With the Kodak, I just went with the longer exposures of 1 sec and 3 secs, since the Volute shutter has those settings.  The shutter is fairly accurate, but I tested with a stop watch–start the stopwatch, place it in front of the lens, fire at 1 sec, watch the decimal for when it shuts, do the same at 3 secs.  At 1 sec it looked to be about 0.1 long, and at 3 secs about 0.4 long.  But with film, overexposure is better than underexposure, to a point.  All were shot at f8.

So the night was actually colder than I thought, I’m sure I looked goofy with my ‘miner’s light’ wrapped around my head, and taking my jacket off to use as a darkshade cloth when composing and focusing the large format.  As it turns out, I probably needed to pay more attention to my film holder routine as I double-exposed two sheets and didn’t expose the other two sheets.  Doh!

The Fujica was easier and lighter, but the scans were not as good. I had to do a lot of clean up because of strange linear scan artifacts in the .tiff files.  Normally my V700 works great, and I even ran them with the ICE which gets rid of lots of problems.

So the Fujica only gets 8 shots, 1 of which I knew was not of this shoot, so that leaves 7, but with bracketing, really only 3 plus a bonus one.  And since I double exposed my 4 shots from the Kodak, I only got 1 I thought was decent.


This shot I really looked forward to seeing as I liked the leading lines of the arches and the trees.  What I didn’t notice was the ugly trash can till after I held up the negative to the light.


This one the colors are a little funky.


And my personal favorite shot.  There was a group of teens hanging around the gazebo, but they had moved on by the time I setup for this shot.


And lastly my double exposure large format shot.  This one had a lot fewer issues to clean up, so I might reload and try again.  I think the exposure is fine (most likely the 3 sec one).

My next roll will be a local fishing town, Stonington.  I went down there with my Zenit 3M and Helios 40-1.  I am still trying what to do for the last roll of the project.  Maybe another night shoot, but in Hartford.

8 thoughts on “Week 50: Christmas Lights

  1. Fantastic results! I really need to go back to Rochester, the camera store there had a great selection of old single/non-coated large format lenses, I would love to pickup for my Crown Graphic.


  2. Nice. I did a little bit of Christmas lights on film. And, no, my results were not good. But, I tried. And, then, I appreciated my digital a little bit more for having the flexibility to show me how to do a better job on it. 🙂


    • It is a real nice lens. I need to shoot with it more now that I am more comfortable developing sheet film, and also have access to a community darkroom to develop its original 5×7 form factor.


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