Shooting With Reflecting Camera
( Originally Published 1910 )
THE reflecting camera is a crowning triumph of inventive skill which greatly enlarges the possibilities of hunting with the camera. The great need is to be able to focus with speed and certainty on live game with the camera in hand, and to be able to make a sufficiently rapid exposure to catch it sharply, despite any sort of movement. All this is realized in the modern reflecting camera, whose predecessor was a twin-lens or double camera, cumbersome and disappointing. In this new device there is a mirror arrangement by which one can see the image of the game, full size and right side up, until the instant of exposure. By means of a curtain or " focal-plane " shutter at the back of the camera, just in front of the plate, one can secure a fully timed exposure, in bright light, in an interval of one one-thousandth of a second, or even less. With this a bird can be photographed in the most rapid flight, fluttering, running, or in any activity.
The first camera of this sort to be made was the " Reflex " camera. The Graflex followed with improvements, notably in being able to arrange the curtain-shutter from the outside, which were matched in the new long-focus Reflex. Both are excellent in instruments, though of necessity rather heavy and high in price. The Naturalist's Graflex, 4X5 size, costs $190 without lens, and the corresponding Reflex model $100. I am still using an old model 5X7 long-focus Reflex camera which is about the weight of the 4x5 styles of both of the above, enabling me to use the larger plates when I need to for special work, though I use mostly the 4x5 plates in " kits " or frames inserted in the plate-holder.
For a long time I have been looking for a cheap, long-focus reflecting camera which I could recommend to young people and to those who cannot afford the expensive instruments. The nearest approach to my ideal which thus far I have been able to discover is a reflecting instrument made by the Hall Camera Co., of Brooklyn, N. Y. The price for the 4x5-inch size is $30 — without lens, a remarkable drop in price. The maximum focal length at present is 12 3/4 inches, which is not quite enough to allow the use of a single member of the doublet. How-ever, it can employ a 5X7 doublet, which makes it practicable for much work without using the single lens.
The firm think that at an additional charge of not over $5 they can provide a cone-extension arrangement which will add several inches, and they are working on a model of longer focus. The camera is comparatively light, weighing hardly six pounds. It begins to look as though the long-focus reflecting camera were at last coming within the reach of the many.
It might be feared that the very rapid exposures of which the curtain shutter is capable would not have been sufficient to allow of successful development. Such fear is groundless, for, though the exposure is indeed brief, while it lasts it is at full opening throughout, instead of for a small fraction of the exposure as with the shutters used at the lens, which must gradually open and close. In exposures in open sunshine, over water, or alongshore, the light is so bright that with a slit in the curtain one-eighth of an inch wide and the spring wound to full tension, representing one one-thousandth of a second exposure, by using strong metol-hydro, or edinolhydro developer, I secure full-timed negatives. Under ordinary conditions of sunshine, if the picture is to be of a bird flying with moderate rapidity, I suggest an opening in the curtain of a quarter of an inch. If the bird is a slow flier, like the gull, the tension of the spring may be relaxed somewhat. The lens, of course, is always to be used wide open for all this snapshot work.
At this aperture, in the case of birds flying against the sky or over the water the single lens may often be used effectually, thus securing twice as large an image of the game as with the doublet. Flight pictures of birds against dark backgrounds should only be tried with the doublet. When the bird is at rest, the single lens may be used, with a curtain-opening of about an inch and with only a slight tension of the curtain-spring. This is about the right speed for a landscape picture, with the doublet, especially if there be green grass or foliage.
The above will serve as a suggestion for those who are beginning to hunt with the reflecting camera, but it is best, as soon as possible, to become thoroughly familiar by experience with one's own instrument. The tension of the spring will vary, tending to grow weaker as time elapses, and the speed of lenses is different. When one has learned by experience what his own camera under differing conditions will do, he will seldom make a mistake and will secure a high percentage of successful exposures.
The first thing that one will probably try to do with the, reflecting camera is to attempt to walk up to birds and snap them before they fly. Even with a large single lens most birds will not wait for one to approach near enough to secure an appreciably large image. Yet there will be opportunities. Bird near their nests will sometimes boldly berate the intruder and give him some good shots. The king-bird is usually a good subject in this way, and so at times are the robin, catbird, brown thrasher, blue jay, and others. Yet individuals vary in disposition, and of the same species some will be shy, others bold.
During the spring and summer especially, if one will wander around with the reflecting camera ready, various opportunities present themselves. A robin a lights on a fence-post nearby, and various birds are always liable to come upon one suddenly, or we upon them. A few days before this writing I was standing in the road watching some migrant warblers, in October, when suddenly a Cooper's hawk flew up over the brow of a hill, and, not noticing me, alighted on an open limb a dozen feet from me. If I had been carrying a camera and had had it ready for action, I had plenty of time for a shot before the bird flew.
The warblers in spring often afford chances, if one will follow them up. For these small birds the single lens should be used, the curtain open at least half an inch and at moderate tension. Do not try the shot when the bird is in the shade unless it is still, and one can open up a very wide aperture. Ordinarily it is best to watch for a chance when it moves out into direct sunlight. Winter birds, though comparatively scarce, are apt to be rather tame and permit quite near approach. I have photographed pine grosbeaks by walking right up to them, and also the birds which come to feed at the " lunch-counter."
In a region where there are more of the larger species, especially swimming and wading birds, some very fascinating sport can be had with the reflecting camera. Either we may try to sneak up to them., or else we may hide in bushes or blind and let the birds themselves approach us. On the Florida coast I have had good success with shore-birds by hiding among the mangroves conveniently close to the water's edge and letting the birds feed along past me. Herons feed on the margin, and can sometimes be closely approached under cover, as can wild ducks. In these cases the shutter should be prepared for a rapid exposure, in case the subjects should take towing. The single lens may be used if the subjects are to be on or over the water. Unfortunately all curtain shutters are rather noisy, and the first shot is liable to frighten away the game. Sometimes, though, especially if the wind is blowing or waves are breaking, birds do not notice the sound of the curtain, and in this way I have secured shot after shot at shore-birds.
On certain off-shore fishing-grounds very exciting sport may be had at times by baiting up the sea-birds around a sail or power-boat and photographing them. The best accessible places that I know of are about five miles southeast of Chatham, Massachusetts, and about the same distance off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. If one should be on a fishing schooner on the Georges or Newfoundland Banks it would be even better. Various ocean birds such as petrels, shearwaters, and jaegers are often flying about searching for food. One should be provided with fish-livers, which can be crumbled and dropped astern, with the boat under slow headway. The birds soon follow up the greasy trail, and there will be splendid sport and probably results worth while.
One must not be discouraged if fog, wind, rough sea, or the drawing of the birds elsewhere after schools of fish render many days' efforts unavailing.
The trophies would become too common if everyone could secure them without effort. Midwinter is also an excellent time to do this, for the auks, guillemots, puffin, kittiwake, sea ducks, and other hardy fowl. In the Christmas holidays I have seen the ocean off Chatham fairly alive with these varieties, but it is hard to get outside the dangerous harbor-bar.
In visiting colonies of water-birds, the reflecting camera is indispensable. The ordinary shutter is too slow for the fluttering multitudes, but with the mirror arrangement and the curtain shutter wonderful results can be obtained. In such resorts one needs both cameras — the reflecting one for flight pictures, and the other for studies from the tent, though in some cases the first can also be used there, if the birds do not mind the sound of the curtain. The single lens will 'be found very effective for picking out individual flying birds from a flock, or small groupings of them, for wing studies.
It is somewhat bewildering to watch the ground-glass and see the images passing and repassing so rapidly over its surface. One should first look around for subjects approaching, then quickly get them on the ground glass, keep them in focus as they draw near, and snap the instant they are right. To hesitate is to be lost. Anticipate their advance over the plate just a little, yet not much, for the curtain is released very swiftly, under strong pressure of the lever. Still using the single lens, we may walk toward birds alighted or on their nests and take them so, or as they fly up. In a colony one needs many plates. I find that I can use as many as sixty in a day, under favorable conditions, and all carefully ex-posed. The time is golden, and one must not keep the birds off their nests in any one place very long, for, if the sun is hot, it will result in the destruction of all the eggs and young.
Pictures of birds in flight are always of great interest, and one should study every possible means of securing these. Swallows flying to their nests make possible subjects, also chimney swifts entering or leaving a chimney, ospreys near their nests, ducks or herons flushed in a marsh or from the shore, gulls hovering about docks, terns over schools of fish, shore-birds flying along the beach, wild-fowl flying over promontories, and so on. The more one studies to find opportunities, the more will various ways and means be thought out. The artistic possibilities of this sort of work are very great. One or more flying birds in an attractive combination of landscape, shore, or wave may make a wonderfully effective picture.
Even when there are no birds to be photographed, the reflecting camera is a very useful instrument to have. Merely by looking at various scenes through the large view-finder as one walks out, many artistic possibilities may be noticed, which otherwise would pass unrecognized. It is the instrument, above all others, with which to take pictures of children, domestic animals, people in action, sporting or athletic events, and anything of interest where there is movement, though it can also be used on the tripod for timed exposures.
Some may wonder why one might not as well have a reflecting camera only, and use it for all, purposes. This can be done, though there are some drawbacks. For one thing, the curtain shutter cannot readily be released by string or thread from a distance. Yet one could obviate this difficulty by adding a lens shutter. It is also heavy to rig up in trees, and inconveniently large to hide by nests, though these obstacles are not insuperable. Often it would be convenient on an excursion to be able to do everything with one camera. Yet on the whole it is better to have beside the reflecting instrument a small, Tight, ordinary camera, as previously described, weighing only a couple of pounds, using the same lens and plate holders interchangeably with the other, so that both can be carried conveniently when there is any likelihood that both will be needed. This makes a very effective battery, complete for every possible needs.