Secret Dockyard was a photographic project during 2011 to 2012 documenting the conservation areas of Boathouse No4 in the Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth. A historical structure in its own right, Boathouse No4 was a key part in preparations for D-Day and other aspects of World War Two.
The aim of the project was to show these otherwise unseen areas so they could be accessible to the public through photography. The photographs themselves serve as a preservation of the areas, documenting them for generations to come. The series was shot using large format 10×8″ black and white film and a series of fibre based contact prints which were treated using selenium. The process of the fibre based prints and the selenium helps to preserve the photographs for as long as possible.
Through exhibition, Secret Dockyard was presented in cabinets with a glass lid. The cabinet serving as the walls of the museum with the artifacts inside. A large print of an overview of Boathouse No4 featured above the cabinets as the facade to a museum does from the street it is on.
Recently after a load of ‘Smoke Photography’ images I said I would write a blog post of a guide to what I had done and how I had done it. Below is an image of the whole set up and I will discuss this in detail.
My set up is possibly overkill but it’s kit that I own and use so why the heck not. One of the most important parts (apart from the incense stick to make the smoke) is the black backdrop. Creating the negative space behind the image enables use to be very flexible in post production. All I use is a black piece of material bought from a fabric store and then tailored to hang from a backdrop stand kit.
The incense I have used is very cheap, 60 sticks for £1 at Poundland, and does the trick perfectly!
I used my camera on a tripod, this isn’t essential as the settings used can make fast speed shooting very easy and dramatically reduce shake and blur. However I found it very useful for having a spare hand to manipulate the smoke.
A light source is very important, I used a Nikon SB700 speedlight but a simple desk lamp can be sufficient. This was fired using a basic radio remote trigger.
I used a reflector to balance out the light in the image, this isn’t needed but it’s what I wanted.
For my images I used the flashgun at 1/16th power and had the camera set to:
The f 8 helped to keep the depth of field enough to not get massively out of focus areas of the smoke. Focussing can be a big issue, I framed the shot so the tip of the incense was just visible in the bottom of the viewfinder and manually focused on that. Cropping this out in post is simple.
To take it a step up I added coloured filters to the flashgun to change the cast of the light. This colours the smoke and gives us more possibilities when we edit.
The editing I’ve kept really simple for the most part where I’ve cropped out the tip of the incense stick, deepened the black and raised the shadows on the a tonal curve. With a colour filter over the flashgun we can also adjust the hue to create entirely different sets of colours! If we wanted to take it a step further we could invert the colours to make the background white, the smoke negative and adjust the hue. Below are a couple of my examples…
During my adventures on Saturday I made a beeline for the Henry Fox Talbot show at the Science Museum in London. One of the great pioneers of photography, Fox Talbot is responsible for the invention of the photographic negative, undoubtably one of the great leaps forward in photographic practice. The invention of the negative mechanised photography and lead it down the path of being able to reproduce an image multiple times from the one same original.
In France in 1827, French photographic pioneer Nicéphore Niépce, after years of experimenting, achieves a photographic image on an unetched tin plate. This image known as ‘Point du vue du Gras’ becomes the worlds first photographic image and survives to this day although out of sight.
From these initial experiments came a whole host of photographs showing the world how it had never been captured before. What we see could be put down in detail not yet achieved by pencil or paint This was great but the images were not lasting for a long time, after a while they would fade and the process meant that only one image could be produced and no reproductions could be made of it (using methods of the time of course).
This lead Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot to conceive and idea. What if we could produce a photograph and then produce further copies of it, each one looking like the last and with great accuracy? This lead Fox Talbot, over many years of experimenting to create the calotype negative process which laid the foundations for how we know traditional photography today. A negative image would be produced using the camera, and that negative would then be used to produce multiple prints by exposing light through it on to photosensitive paper!
The exhibition contains a whole host of images by multiple photographers of the period, each one following in the footsteps of their predecessor. The two rooms contain digital recreations of images, these are okay but not as exciting as the contents of room three! We enter through automatic glass doors in to a ‘sealed’ room where light and temperature can be carefully monitored, it is here where we see the original calotype prints from negative made by Fox Talbot and his associates.
When we consider this against 21st Century photography it seems quite silly really. I can produce hundreds of copies of images within minutes and with little effort. Those same images can then be sent to the other side of the globe within seconds. If we take ourselves down to 19th Century thinking, a process completely unseen before. A process which opened the doors of possibility in to the use of images. In a chateau just south of Dijon in France, or in the out buildings of Laycock Abbey, Wiltshire, this amazing thing called photography was born!
Calotype Negative of a Haystack – William Henry Fox Talbot
Positive print from Calotype Negative – William Henry Fox Talbot