To "Oldify" or not

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SteveInNZ

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I'm fairly new at this and I'm really enjoying the process of using older cameras. My main camera is a Pony Premo #2 4x5 from around the turn of the century.
However, the results are just too good !!
When I get it right, the images are sharp and evenly exposed. I may as well have taken them with a cellphone.
If I put them into Photoshop and reduce the contrast, add grain, vignetting, etc and generally make them look poor, I get a lot of good feedback.
I recently took some shots with a Box Brownie and the focus was out. I gave them the Photoshop treatment, set on appalling to cover it up and again, lots of wows.

This really doesn't sit well with me. The camera performs well, despite being 120 years old. It seems disingenuous to take what it actually produces and ruin it to match peoples' expectations of an old camera. What's more, I'd be better to take a color (digital) photo so that I can take the reds out and make a more authentic (?) old looking photo.

On the one hand I have a genuine, yet rather boring photo and on the other a (somewhat fake) interpretation that stands out from the rest.

I'd be interested if others feel the same way.

Steve.
 

btaylor

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That’s an interesting situation. I have seen that a lot with old silent motion pictures. For decades these films were projected from worn out duplicate prints at the wrong speed, making people think that silent films were poorly exposed, out of focus and comically jumpy when they were not. Having viewed some excellent restorations from the original negatives at the proper speed those films can be exceptionally beautiful, looking nothing like the awful prints projected incorrectly that circulated for years. I think the same thing happens often with stills. If you look at beautiful prints from a hundred years ago hanging in a museum they can be quite something to behold, and they aren’t “ruined.” Maybe just stick with what you like to see in a photo.
 

nmp

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I'm fairly new at this and I'm really enjoying the process of using older cameras. My main camera is a Pony Premo #2 4x5 from around the turn of the century.
However, the results are just too good !!
When I get it right, the images are sharp and evenly exposed. I may as well have taken them with a cellphone.
If I put them into Photoshop and reduce the contrast, add grain, vignetting, etc and generally make them look poor, I get a lot of good feedback.
I recently took some shots with a Box Brownie and the focus was out. I gave them the Photoshop treatment, set on appalling to cover it up and again, lots of wows.

This really doesn't sit well with me. The camera performs well, despite being 120 years old. It seems disingenuous to take what it actually produces and ruin it to match peoples' expectations of an old camera. What's more, I'd be better to take a color (digital) photo so that I can take the reds out and make a more authentic (?) old looking photo.

On the one hand I have a genuine, yet rather boring photo and on the other a (somewhat fake) interpretation that stands out from the rest.

I'd be interested if others feel the same way.

Steve.

Stop doing what others expect and start doing for you.
 

koraks

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Stop doing what others expect and start doing for you.

First and foremost: this. We all like an 'attaboy' once in a while, but how far does this really get you? Of course, it all depends on where you want to go. If the purpose of your photography is to please a large audience, then evidently follow their preferences. But I'd wager to say that very little truly interesting art has ever been made this way.

Furthermore, and I'm not saying this to troll or to criticize: if it takes all kinds of 'beautification' in Photoshop to make a photograph 'work', then I'd ask myself how interesting the image itself apparently is and what improvement is necessary there. I myself am not in favor of modifying an image to look 'vintage'. I do see the sense in using alternative printing processes for their aesthetic properties such as achieving a certain surface finish, tonal scale or hue etc., but that feels different to me (although it's a bit of a grey area). But in any case, if an image is strong in its composition, the message it conveys, the feelings it conveys etc., it turns out that any modifications added to it to make it look pretty actually form a distraction.

Long story short: I understand your dissatisfaction or uneasy feeling. I personally feel it's justified and a signal to start focusing on your photography. It's the most difficult, but also the most rewarding aspect of our hobby/craft, I think. And it's surprisingly often overlooked.
 

Don Heisz

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Peoples' expectations of "photo from old camera" more closely aligns with the output of box cameras than with genuine large-format-with-a-proper-lens cameras. Not only that, but they are accustomed to seeing those photos after 50-100 years of wear.
The vast majority of people really have nothing to say about a genuinely good photo, beyond "That's great" or similar. Few people can articulate what makes a photo good or worthwhile. It's easy to focus on character, though. There's nothing wrong with "oldifying" your photos, if you want the photos to have that particular character. The fact is, though, that your photos may not need any such character - you might be lacking the proper audience.
 

Alex Benjamin

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You're confusing two things, a photograph made by an old camera and a print that's been lying in a drawer for the last 120 years. If the images taken from the old camera/lens combo look sharp and evenly exposed, it's because they were meant to look that way by the people who built these instruments, using a technical knowledge that was already nearly a century old by the turn of the 20th century. Just look at any print by Atget and you'll see "sharp and evenly exposed".

"I may as well have taken them with a cellphone," you say, but, in fact, a photograph taken with a well-kept 100-year-old lens and 8x10 camera on a modern film/developer combo will actually be sharper than anything you can take on a standard cellphone. Making photographs "look old" is the last reason you'd pick up an old camera, especially if by "looking old" you mean out of focus and grainy, which, as far as "old" is concerned, sounds more like stuff photographers were doing in the 60s and 70s than anything done in the 1920s.

So "oldifying" makes no sense when talking about the camera, and only does when reproducing old printing processes (physically or digitally) or using material other than film. If that interests you, plenty of ressources around on the web. But again, this will also give photos that are sharp and evenly exposed if done right.

All this said, if, in the end, you are, as you say, left with "a rather boring photo", problem lies with the image itself, not with what it looks like. You should then follow koraks' advice and focus—pun intended—on what truly makes a photograph interesting.
 

Tel

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That’s an interesting situation. I have seen that a lot with old silent motion pictures. For decades these films were projected from worn out duplicate prints at the wrong speed, making people think that silent films were poorly exposed, out of focus and comically jumpy when they were not. Having viewed some excellent restorations from the original negatives at the proper speed those films can be exceptionally beautiful, looking nothing like the awful prints projected incorrectly that circulated for years. I think the same thing happens often with stills. If you look at beautiful prints from a hundred years ago hanging in a museum they can be quite something to behold, and they aren’t “ruined.” Maybe just stick with what you like to see in a photo.
+100! The insertion of digitally generated scratches and strange blobs into older footage is enraging. Feeding the myth that everything has improved over time. It hasn't. My LF cameras are capable of producing mind-bogglingly good photos, even with older lenses. The one area in which I see tangible improvement is emulsions.
 

Dali

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"...to match peoples' expectations of an old camera".

This is the whole problem: What are these expectations? Stained, grayish and faded pictures?

I don't want to hijack your thread but I had a kind of similar experience with plastic cameras (like Dianas or Holgas) or box cameras. A lot of pictures posted in the internet are pretty bad technically speaking and people assume that it is a plastic camera feature. Not at all! If these picture are that bad, it is because negatives were poorly developed and prints botched.

If I were you, I would go the other way and show that 100+ year old cameras are very capable tools in good hands. Be positive and stun people with quality work, not crappy Photoshop-generated knockoff.
 
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warden

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Frank Lloyd Wright used to deal in Japanese prints. If the prints that he received were in great condition he would age them by exposing them to to the sun and weather, which made them more vintage looking, and hence more valuable to sell in the US. So this issue you’re struggling with is not new.

I’ll just echo the good advice you’re getting from other posters here and suggest making images that you like (independent of “likes”) including whatever post processing that suits you. And keep using those old cameras! It is amazing how good the quality can be, after all. And please share pics when you can.

Edited to add:
Do you like the vintage look that your camera and post processing are giving you? If you’re using Instagram for sharing your work and want to expand that, you could always have a second account reserved just for the vintage photoshop treatment (which is fun after all) and reserve your main account for “straight” photography, however you define that. You might find the analytics work better when your “brands” are separated and true to themselves rather than mixing them together.
 
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momus

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If I put them into Photoshop and reduce the contrast, add grain, vignetting, etc and generally make them look poor, I get a lot of good feedback.

You would do well to ignore feedback and make the images the way YOU like them. Those other people aren't buying your film, camera, chemicals, paper, etc.

In art, there is no one you should be satisfying but yourself. If you go by other people's opinion, every person may have a different opinion, and that's all that is, someone else's opinion. It isn't the truth.

Asking technical advice from someone that's a very good photographer is another thing. That's fine, one should do that. Most of their knowledge is hard won through actual experience. But make sure you know who you're talking to.

My first art teacher at The University of New Mexico (amazing photographers in the Southwest) was plain wrong about everything. So I dropped the course, and went about making images to suit myself, along w/ the advice of other artists who were making really good stuff.
 
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AZD

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It is difficult to make a good, interesting, memorable photograph. I have done this a couple times, and the ratio of skill to luck is at best 50:50. These few images need no manipulation, yet neither are they entirely consistent in their physical characteristics. Some are sharper, others soft. Some grainy, some smooth. They’re simply the output of the camera and film used at the time, printed to the best of my ability.

The other 99.9% of what I have captured on film, including many adjacent frames, share similar physical characteristics, yet are completely lifeless. Perhaps dressing them up would make them more interesting, but why?

I think you will find that images which rely entirely on tricks of photographic technology to make them “interesting” are actually entirely forgettable. Personally, I wouldn’t bother posting such things, but rather put my time into improving composition AND being out there in the world. My few good pictures are almost all the result of being armed and ready, so to speak, for a situation that developed over seconds to minutes without prior warning.

Just last week my artsy son pointed to my favorite picture hanging on the wall, a shot of Haystack Rock and a seagul in flawless reflection, the best lucky picture I’ve ever taken. “Wow, that looks professional!”

Thanks, I told him.

“That one looks more professional because it has more detail,” he then says, pointing to a lithograph of Adams’ “Clearing Winter Storm.”

Aaaand visions of greatness crushed again…
 

runswithsizzers

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When you say, "I get a lot of good feedback..." that tells me you are not talking about showing your photos on Photrio because almost no one gets very much feedback about their posted photos here. ;-)

I am curious about where people are seeing your photos and how they know the photos are from an old camera? The reason I ask is because I am interested in how people perceive a photo differently based on our different preconceptions.

In general, the photographer has no control over the viewer's preconceptions, but one exception is at the time of presentation. For example, on some photosharing websites, I notice the photographer will present a paragraph or two of text. Sometimes the text must be scrolled through before the image can be seen, or sometimes the caption appears below the photo. Personally, I cannot read text and look at a photo at the same time. And having read the text, my mind may be prejudiced to "see" the photo in a differently way. The text could be either beneficial or detrimental to the viewering experience, depending on the photographer's goal. But either way, the photographer should be aware that any text that is presented with a photo is in direct competition with the image for the viewer's attention.

In an art museum or gallery you can see this same effect whenever there is a little printed tag next to the painting or photo.

So I am wondering if you are creating preconceptions in the minds of your viewing audience by telling them about - or showing them - the old camera before they see the photos?
 

MattKing

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If you are trying to get old looking results from old cameras, one of the challenges you will encounter is that the new films are so good :smile:.
I do a fair amount of toning of black and white darkroom prints. That process results in a change of image tone colour, and a subtle adjustment of the tonal relationships. I like what that does to prints, so I often have that result in mind when I expose the film.
If there are visual effects that appeal to you, learn how to reliably obtain them, and then keep them in mind when you take the photo.
Two versions of a photo taken with a more youthful camera - ~ 55 years old.
The first is a scan from an untoned (postcard) print. The second has been adjusted to mimic the toned 9.5" x 13" enlargement on my wall.
 

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Tel

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On the one hand I have a genuine, yet rather boring photo and on the other a (somewhat fake) interpretation that stands out from the rest.

I'd be interested if others feel the same way.

Steve.
I've had some good luck getting into galleries but I am still puzzled by the stuff that gallery owners and/or show jurors think is good. In the final analysis, I shoot for my own satisfaction and resign myself to the idea that a fairly small percentage will impress others.
 
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SteveInNZ

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Thank you all for your responses. It's been quite enlightening for me and had me considering myself, more than the photographs. I feel like I've spent an hour on the therapists couch.

So I am wondering if you are creating preconceptions in the minds of your viewing audience by telling them about - or showing them - the old camera before they see the photos?

I think you've hit the nail on the head here. I show very few people my photos and almost never post them online. But if I attend something historical, using a period correct camera seems appropriate. The people involved will be curious to see the result and I've set myself up to share something that matches the preconception.
Then so be it. I think I'm comfortable with that, in that context.

I get my own satisfaction from going through the process and making a technically good image - Exposure, framing, pulling the dark slide, etc. If I get an image that meets those criteria, then I have been true to the camera.
Also, if there isn't a historical context, I see no reason to mess with the output. So I should get out and do more landscapes, etc.

Thanks again.

Steve.
 

Tel

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Personally, I like to extend the bellows and go in close. I find that playing with shallow depth of field can be more enjoyable than shooting landscapes and rarely looks like a cellphone photograph.
 

runswithsizzers

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I think your "oldify" treatment gets favorable responses because it triggers a nostalgic response in viewers, expecially when they associate that look with your old camera.
Mirriam Webster defines nostalgia as: "a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition"

Almost from the beginning, I think, nostalgia has been a photographic sub-genre. And before photography, nostalgia was a common theme in paintings, as well. The portraits of Native Americans by Ed Curtis function on several levels, but even when those portraits were new, viewers probably felt some nostalgia when viewing them - feelings for a way of life that was fading into the past. Roman aquaducts, Egyptian ruins, falling down barns - old stuff - have always been popular subjects for photographers.

Many people get a bit of a warm and fuzzy feeling from old stuff. So including a nostalgic element in a photo may make it more appealing to the viewer. I am not sure how desirable that is from a philosophical/ethical/artistic point of view. Many will tell you Norman Rockwell was a very good artist; many others will say he was competent illustrator who was skillful in packaging and delivering nostalgia - but he was no artist.

If the photo below had been taken in 1967, it would have been only moderately nostalgic. At that time, Route 66 was in the process of being replaced by an Interstate highway (I-44). In 1967, Route 66 was somewhat historic for the role it played in westward migration of Americans during the dust bowl days (as in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath). But until it was imortalized by the TV series of the same name, Route 66 was a rather ordinary road, and the fieldstone gas station/cafe was a common sight in middle America. In 1967 this Chevelle was a new car. Buz and Tod drove current model Corvettes in the TV show, and their adventures on The Mother Road mostly dealt with then-current American culture. (BTW the TV show was filmed just about everywhere except Route 66).

I took this photo in August of this year. I guess that makes me guilty of making a nostalgic photo. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, I cannot say. BTW, I felt the subject matter was sufficent to convey the time and place. Aside from a slight warming, and the natural photographic grain supplied by the negative (Arista EDU Ultra 400), I did not feel the need for any further "oldify" treatment.

spencer+car-t2937.jpg
Edit: I have no idea how many non-Americans may have seen the Route 66 TV show or read Grapes of Wrath, so my post may be incomprehensible to the international community. Apologies.
 
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SteveInNZ

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I attended my first (for photography) war reenactment event in the weekend. It's quite a small affair here which gave a lot of time to work at my pace and talk with the people involved. I definitely got my satisfaction from using the Speed Graphic for the WW2 stuff and the Premo for Boer and WW1. But the NZ Land Wars were c1840-1870 so Daguerreotype would have been appropriate. That's a bit too far for me but I think I'd be happy shooting that through a blue filter, rather than shooting in color/digital and photoshopping the effect. Of course, if I follow that line of thinking, I'd have to do a tapestry for the medieval battle.

I don't know the TV show but know the significance of Route 66. I'd love to drive it in my '37 Ford or T-Bucket. Very nostalgic. :smile:

Steve.
 
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