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Article first published in The Organ, No. 14, Vol IV, October, 1924, p.p. 118-120

Organs and their Successful Photography




So many people who are interested in organs possess cameras (of varying merits) with which they endeavour to take organ photographs. One or two men I know have taken up this fascinating - and therefore extremely difficult - branch of photography more or less seriously. I have been asked so many questions -particularly regarding lenses and exposure - that I feel a few brief untechnical notes will interest a large number of readers. The study of organs and photography are only hobbies of mine, - and probably that accounts for my great enthusiasm !

To begin with, it must be clearly understood that for this type of photography only the very best of everything is good enough,- and this includes skill and thought quite as much as the outfit. Some consoles I have taken have meant about two hours spent in focussing, selecting the best viewpoint, &c. I admit results of a sort are easily obtained with single lenses and with the most primitive cameras. I have myself used a 3in. Kodak single lens (the best single lens there is) on a 3 1/2in. by 2 1/2in. plate at a wide angle, and every stop is sharp; but obviously the lens has faults that are apparent. However, it shows what can be done if proper materials are not at the moment available. Most organ photography is distinctly of the wide angle type, therefore an absolutely first-rate wide angle anastigmat is imperative; and the Zeiss Protars of F 9 or F 18 series are above all others, excepting possibly the new series VII B Cooke, which so far I have not tested. The smallest size plate to be effective is half-plate (6 1/2in. by 4 3/4in.); and the first lens to buy is a 4 3/4in. or 5in. As this lens used on the halfplate will not give too violent a perspective, and if the F9 series III A Protar is chosen, as it should be, it will be invaluable for summer snapshots on quarter-plates as well as purely wide angle work, - a consideration.

The next most important lens to obtain is one of about 7in. or 8in., and if at all possible, an anastigmat of good quality, working at F 8. It would be useful ( occasionally) if it is convertible, so that double the complete focal length may be available for home portraiture, because, always, the longer the focal length the better the perspective.

The third lens to buy - and the most difficult to meet with - is a 3in. for use in very unusually cramped situations, like Westminster Cathedral console. It is not a lens to be used when it is at all possible to use the 5in., because the angular view is very acute, and stops at the sides must therefore appear oval. Very, very few 3-in. lenses will illuminate a half-plate, let alone cover it to the corners, and I am very fortunate to possess my 3 1/8in. Hugo Meyer which at F36 does cover the half-plate sharply all over. It has one fault in being a 4 uncemented lens system, so that I have to guard against facing powerful lights, but I have never met any other lens to cover like the Meyer aristostigmat. If I do, I shall sell it in favour of a cemented lens. The Thornton Pickard Imperial Field Camera, with side swing to the back, cannot be beaten for this exacting work. A hand or stand type of camera is hopeless. Unless the right kind of outfit is obtained, there certainly will be scores of organs that will be too difficult to take. Extreme rise and fall of front is of utmost importance. As with most hobbies, money plays its part; but it need not be costly after once the outfit has been bought. No rapid rectilinear lens is good enough for the best console work; every letter obviously requires a lens corrected for astigmatism. But a really good R. R. is infinitely better than several anastigmats I know of,notably the Beck Isostigmar and Neosostigmar. The best R. R.'s are the old Ross and Dallmeyer lenses, which give excellent results if well stopped down. Console work is far more exacting than cases, because definition is absolutely everything. Avoid every lens that gives flare, ghost, or fog.

Generally speaking, a lens of cemented (or joined together) elements is far preferable to the uncemented type. The latter naturally causes the transmitted light to reflect back, and so cause all manner of troubles, - varying with different lenses. On the other hand, an uncemented, - e.g., Cooke, Dallmeyer, &c.- lens of the highest quality will give practically no trouble; whereas some apparently perfect lenses in most respects, of the cemented type, give flare so much that they are utterly useless for even general photography. I have got local fog pretty badly under considerable provocation with a Cooke primoplane and a Dallmeyer stigmatic, therefore I sold them, but they were in most respects wonderful lenses. Taking them all round, you cannot beat a Zeiss Protar of any of the three series. I have tested so many lenses of various fame, and have come to the conclusion that it is the Zeiss-Protar every time. The Ross compound Homocentric, and the newer Combinable, are both very fine. The Aldis is an excellent inexpensive lens but requires considerable stopping down to cover its own plate, quite to F 16 in series I. and II. and astigmatism is not corrected anywhere near the limits of its field. The Goerz Dagor is also excellent. As regards speed, F 8 is ample; the faster the lens the less will be its covering power, no matter whose make it is. Taken all round, the Zeiss F9 is by far the best lens for organ photography I know of, and I want eventually to have all my lenses of this series, or the F 18 for my 7in., which, when I use my whole plate (8tin. by 6tin.) camera with extreme rise of front, will have to cover at least a 15in. circle.

With cheap lenses, distortion is present, but with every lens acute perspective is possible. These two effects are so often mixed up together. Acute perspective is really the angle of view. Distortion is when (say), in a column of stops, two or three will be larger than others in the same column,-one piston larger than the others, and so on. None of my lenses gives any trace of distortion, but when I can scarcely walk behind the bench, and I take a console "full on" view, I do get extreme perspective towards the corners. But it is often that or not taking the organ at all, thereby joining the army of those who tell me that "that organ cannot be photographed," because they do not possess a lens capable of such extreme angle work.

Regarding developing, plates, and so on. Very obviously only backed plates are permissible; and it is far better to let the makers back them properly. Only self-screen plates are fit for this work, as thereby the better rendering of grain in the wood and stops is easily obtained. I use Wellington anti-screen 300 H. and D. and find nothing to equal them. My photograph of Shepherd's Bush Pavilion console shows distinct values for the red, yellow, and black stop keys,-which is remarkable. As regards developing, I use pyro soda of the Wellington formula. Aim at soft results and if necessary intensify later on. I am convinced soft results are the only way to be able to read every knob. Blank, chalky stop-knobs are of no interest to anyone. Two or three times during development it is wise to let the plate soak for five minutes to give the shadows a chance and to keep down harshness. I have quite recently, more or less "mastered" exposing by magnesium ribbon. It is perfectly easy and absolutely safe. Often flash powder is highly dangerous in cramped situations. Using magnesium ribbon has removed for ever all the lighting difficulties for me. These, sometimes, were very considerable,-as at Westminster Cathedral. I have had to study so many obstacles in taking all sorts of organs that to overcome lighting trouble is a decided advance. and so long as the light is kept constantly moving in all directions no harshness will arise. Magnesium ribbon is 2s. 3d. an ounce, so the cost is negligible; and if a tin saucepan lid or shallow cake tin is used as a reflector and to catch any falling bits, the value of the light is doubled. Daylight printing, on Seltona, is about the best method for the vast majority of negatives. Often the stops require more printing than the pedals, which, being darker, are printed enough, and daylight papers are more "governable," although more liable to one or two trifling drawbacks which do not matter much. They stain very easily.

Details of my outfit, as it is at present, may be a guide to others.

At any time I shall be only too happy to reply to any questions sent me by anyone interested.



HALF-PLATE: T.P. Imperial Field; side swing to back.

WHOLE-PLATE: Midland Camera Co.'s best quality; side swing to back.



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