I’ve had this shell for around 30 years. I was inspired to buy it by the wonderful images by Edward Weston, hoping that maybe I could make a photo of such a subject that conveyed something of the same feeling as his. I haven’t of course – and still don’t think I have with this latest attempt.
The nautilus photographed by Edward Weston in 1927 has been called “one of the most famous photographs ever made” and “a benchmark of modernism in the history of photography”. On April 13, 2010, a print of this image made by Weston in the year it was taken sold for $1,082,500 at an auction in New York. As of January, 2013, it was the fourteenth most expensive photograph ever sold. Weston originally sold it for $10.
Mine was photographed on Adox CHS100 8″x10″ sheet film using my Sinar and a 300mm f5.6 Symmar-S lens.
Exposure was 32 seconds at f45 and extensive camera movements were used. It was more of a technical exercise than anything else as I’m still familiarising myself with the monster that is a Sinar 8×10.
The actual negative renders the subject at approximately 1.25x life-size. At such a scale, use of camera movements is essential to achieve sufficient depth of field.
The shell was tilted slightly to catch the backlight of the setting sun reflected from it’s surface. The camera back and front standards were tilted to shift the plane of focus across the shell’s upper surface and the focus point judged to allow both the upper and lower top surfaces to be within focus range when stopped down to f45. I could have achieved more by using f64, but the lens sharpness falls off slightly more at that aperture. The hardest part of the process was reaching the focussing knob whilst trying to examine the image on the ground glass – impossible! A certain amount of trial and error was required.
The background is an old plastic sheet, well weathered, and rendered out of focus by the lens movements.
Incident light meter reading indicated 4s at f45 at 100 ISO. The extension meant that a lot more exposure needed to be given and reciprocity characteristics of the film needed consideration. I opted for an additional three stops (x8 exp. time) as I’ve found the Adox film does not seem to exhibit any marked reciprocity failure at exposures up to one minute – plus, using PMK developer tends to compensate for any over-exposure of highlights and holds everything well within printing range. The developed negative had good detail in both shadows and highlights.
As mentioned, development was in home-mixed PMK developer diluted 1+2+100 (10ml+20ml+1000ml), dish developed for 10 minutes at 22°C with 1 minute continuous agitation and then 10 seconds every minute.
I have yet to print this conventionally, but find that scanning the negative and examining it in Adobe Lightroom is a good precursor to conventional printing as it gives an indication of where shading and dodging will be required. Those adjustments have been made in Lightroom for the image shown.
Using equipment and techniques like this take you into a different realm to that occupied by modern-day photography. Care, precision and time are needed. That said, I had an inkjet print in my hands about 90 minutes after starting to photograph, thanks to the proximity of the darkroom and scanning/printing equipment.