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Thread: A question on tonality.

  1. #1

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    A question on tonality.

    Hello! I find myself without an answer to something, and although I shoot a Hassy 500c/m with T* lenses, I knew that this group of photographers would know more than my own.

    I don't understand how many older landscape photographs have the depth of softening tonality into the distant background, even without loss of clarity. It seems fairly common before 1950, and decidedly less so afterwards. For examples of what I mean, I'll turn to Adams due to the availability of his works:

    Mount Clarence King, 1925

    Juniper Trees, Crags Under Mount Clark, 1936

    Mirror Lake, Mount Watkins, Spring, 1935

    Mount Moran, Autumn, 1948

    Obviously, shooting near water and in the desert can present a lot of haze, but in the mountains this frequently isn't the case. Is this effect strictly atmospheric? I was wondering if uncoated lenses, or perhaps older, more blue or red light sensitive film had anything to do with it?

    Many of my favorite works have this pleasing, layered appearance, but it's something I never seem to be able to create myself, regardless of film or filtration used. Any advice would be more than welcome.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Gary Beasley's Avatar
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    Re: A question on tonality.

    Have you tried a green or blue filter? I think the color sensitivity of the film had something to do with it. The old masters may have done some print manipulation too.

  3. #3

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    Indeed, I use filters regularly, and the blue certainly makes a difference, but still doesn't seem to work.

    To be more specific, it's the effect in the receding background that makes each successive layer of hills/trees/rocks appear even more distant, but still sharply rendered. That 3D depth. I notice it was common in Weston's work also. I know what the effects of tilt accomplish, but this is like a steady shift in luminosity.

  4. #4

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    Just the other day, there was dense fog on my road, with light breaking through in great beams. This hasn't happened in at least 5 years. The last time it did, I ran out with the camera and managed to get something. This time, I wasn't able to do so. In another 5 years, my luck may be better.

    Another time, I arrived at a frozen lake to find it blanketed in snow, with sun breaking through the clouds. I've been back every winter, but I've never seen it like that again.

    Perhaps the conditions were ideal when Ansel made those photographs. Had they not been, he might have gone elsewhere - or the images would be among his private collection of "duds".

  5. #5

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    For the sake of discussion, here are 2 4 inch slices of an 8 foot long piece of film shot with a Cirkut camera earlier this weekend. Although I'm struggling with the processing so far, I think the distant mountains may show what you're referring to?



    In this first one the White Mountain range with the snow is at least 65 miles away. The lens was an ancient convertible anastigmat and I used just the single 18 inch component as was common in Adam's day. Uncoated but with only 2 air glass interfaces.



    A second is similar but the mountain in this one is just 14.5 miles distant. If these aren't what you're referring to let me know and I'll take the photos down. No, those aren't birds.
    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949

  6. #6
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: A question on tonality.

    There is no doubt that the air quality has degraded greatly since the early days of Weston and Adams. And there is nowhere on earth that escapes the degradation completely. It might account for some of the difference in how distance mountains are rendered onto film and print.

    Vaughn

  7. #7

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    Mr. Galli,

    Yes! The second photo is very much what I meant! Though near and sharp, the further hill is sort of "highlighted", distinguishing it with extra depth from the closer hill. It's that distinct tonality change between the two that pleases me.

    I had a helpful gentleman write me to say that old lenses (uncoated, fewer elements) help produce this, as it appears yours might have. Is this indeed a more frequent result with earlier optics? If moving to a view camera is something that would help me produce what I enjoy, then I'll certainly try it!

  8. #8

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    I see that effect in my prints occasionally, but I live in the East where the air is always full of water. I'd bet that the effect you desire comes mostly from an uncoated lens.

  9. #9

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    Yeah, I was thinking about uncoated lenses. We'll have to see what Mr. Galli says.

    I'm also wondering if some of the sharpness to which you refer comes from a small degree of, or no enlargement. Maybe it comes from a larger camera, like an 8x10, where the print is a contact print or printed only up to an 11x14 or 16x20 enlargement.

    A very interesting and subtle effect. Jim Galli's photo does an excellent job of illustrating it. It's a neat photograph.

  10. #10

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    Re: A question on tonality.

    As another responder mentioned, the amount of fine particulate matter in the air has changed quantifiably. Much of it is extremely fine dust from China. Apparently the exhaustion of water supplies in northern China has lead to rapid desertification and resultant dust clouds. In the U.S. depletion of the Ogallala aquafer underrlying much of the great plains may result in more of the same effect in the future. There are certain filters that can cut through some of the haze.

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