Working against the light—Kodakery, 1918 September

Picking up my first camera in the late 1980s, of course you'd be correct in assuming it used film. 110 film to be specific, not that I've seen any of that stuff for sale outside of specialty Hong Kong camera shops in decades. So that being said, I can say that yes, I was a person who learned photography with film, not digital cameras. This being the case however doesn't mean that I ever had any useful for getting good shots. So while I'd experienced film fogging (and continue to do so today, even with much better cameras than my boyhood plastic 110 shooter!), under exposed, over exposed, and just poorly lit shots with film, I at the time had my head so wrapped around learning all the other elements of photography that I rarely sat down to think critically about my shots. I don't recall ever taking the time to sit down and ask myself why my shots looked like crap, or how I could aim to reproduce the ones that looked somewhat acceptable the next time I was out shooting. Reading the following article from a 1918 issue of Kodakery titled Working Against the Light, I can see quite clearly that the information was out there, and maybe not too inaccessible. 

If you search for "learn photography" on Amazon, you'll find you have more than 5,000 results. At this point though, I'm convinced that most of these authors are pretty much just re-inventing the wheel. Read on for another blast from the past. 

Working Against The Light —Kodakery

September, 1918


In making snapshots we ordinarily photograph the side of our subject on which the strongest light falls (or, as may be wiser, choose a pleasing three quarter, if not a cross light), but it sometimes happens that the most pleasing lighting effects can be obtained by picturing the shadow side of subjects that are in bright sunshine. 

In order to photograph the shaded side of a subject we naturally point the lens either directly or obliquely toward the source of light, and when this is done on a cloudless day we must, of course, avoid letting the direct light of the sun strike the surface of the lens, for the sunlight that makes the picture on the film will also fog the film and spoil the picture if the sun's rays shine directly in the lens while the exposure is being made. 

This does not mean that it is difficult to make pictures by pointing the lens directly toward the east when the sun is in the east, or toward the south or west when the sun is in the south or west, but it does mean that when the lens is pointed toward the direction from which the bright sunshine comes we must make sure that it is in the shadow of some object that is outside its field of view, or is by some other means shaded during the exposure. 

We can frequently secure the picture we want from a point of view where the shadow of a tree or a building will fall on the lens, and when no such shadow is available we can always create one by holding a hat or some other object in such a position that it will cast a shadow on the lens. In shading the lens we should make sure that the object that casts the shadow cannot be seen in the finder, so that it will not be shown in the picture. 


Our illustrations show four typical against-the-light pictures. To make clear how pictures with similar lightings can be obtained we will discuss them separately: 


We can often observe such a lighting effect as is shown in Fig. 1 when the overhead sky is obscured by dark clouds while the horizon is brightly illuminated. This kind of lighting is more apt to be seen in the early morning and late afternoon than during other hours of the day, and it offers splendid opportunities for making outdoor silhouettes by photographing subjects with the strong horizon light for a background. As the sun is always hidden by the clouds when this kind of a lightning occurs the lens need not be shaded when the exposure is being made. 

The shadow on the ground in Fig. 2 tells us that the picture was made when the sun was high in the heavens, slightly to the left and slightly behind the group. It is this side and back lighting that put the important details—the lights and shadows on the folds of the dancers' gowns-into the picture. Had the sun been in front instead of behind the group it would have shone directly into, instead of across these folds, and the delicate shadows, which add so much to the rendering of the costumes, would have been on the other side of the group, where they could not be seen from the position of the camera. 


The unique lighting effect shown in Fig. 3 can be observed on any sunny day. The shadows on the 
ground show the direction from which the sunlight came, and the dark tone of the sky suggests that the picture was made through a color filter on a summer's day when the sky was a deep blue. In many parts of the world the sky is a deep blue, in summer, for only a few hours when the temperature has dropped after a rain.

Beautiful pictures of the type of Fig. 4 can be made on every large body of water when the sun is near the horizon and is partly hidden by clouds. Since it is impossible to keep the sunlight out of the lens when the sun is to be included in the picture we must make the exposure for such subjects at times when it is hazy or cloudy enough so that only the sun's position–not the sun itself–can be distinctly seen.

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