Colour Photographs

5  Photography

Old cameras
Old cameras
This is where I started with what would become my future hobby: photography! My father had a small Zeiss Ikon box camera with a very basic lens, which required operating a handle when one wanted to take a picture. In order to get a rough idea of what would be included in the photo, one had to look through a double framework consisting of two iron wires, which had to be pulled out first from the top of the camera. The front square was larger than the one at the back, so when looking through them, from back to front, one could roughly determine which part would be included in the picture. For many years after World War II, I still owned such ‘biscuit tins’, however, by then they no longer had the iron wires but a ‘viewfinder hole’ instead.

‘Biscuit tin’

 Every couple of years I used to buy the latest model ‘biscuit tin’, which allowed me to only take pictures using a lens opening of 8 or 11 at a shutter speed of 1/125th second, or, with an ‘open lens’, of one second or longer. The last ‘old-fashioned’ camera I had was an Adox, for those days a fairly flat, rectangular modern gadget when closed, which I’ve used a lot. To take a picture, the camera had to be opened up first and the bellows, which had the lens attached to it, opened simultaneously. I still have that camera now.

Photos taken with an old camera Photos taken with an old camera

Slowly but surely, the rolls of film and lenses became more light sensitive and the cameras came equipped with a button with which one could make a picture at a speed of less than 1/125th second. The camera also had a button to select various lens openings at one’s own discretion. However, this still didn’t solve the problem of determining what exposure time was needed to get a perfect photo. For that, a separate light meter was bought, which was set at, let’s say 1/250th second, and used to measure for instance, at close range, the light on a group of people to be photographed. The reading on the light meter would indicate in that case that a lens opening of 5.6 was required.

Separate Flashlights

Around the same time, quite a while after 1945, the first separate flashlights came on the market, which could be attached to the camera and had to be connected via a cable to enable automatic flash. The single use bulbs were of the same size as old-fashioned light bulbs and had the same Edison screw fitting. The ‘content’ of the bulb consisted of a kind of white ‘spider web’ with a blue coloured spot in the centre; once the flashlight had been used the ‘spider web’ was gone. Unfortunately these flash lights didn’t keep very well. If the blue spot had turned pink they could just as well be thrown out as they could no longer be relied on. It was a good thing that, back then, not many pictures were taken one after the other. When making photos in a party room, only two flash shots could be taken at a time because one could only fit one flash light in each of the pockets of one’s jacket! You then had to go and get two new flash lights from your stock.


Photos, which were still exclusively black & white, could only be taken in broad daylight, because in the early days the rolls of film were ‘slow’, i.e. if there was insufficient light, it was impossible to take a picture by hand since the lens needed to be open for almost half a second. I do say black & white photographs, but in those early days they were actually printed in sepia brown and always came with a zigzag edge.

Breathtaking beauty of flora and fauna
 Breathtaking beauty of flora and fauna

Time-consuming Preparations

Until long after 1945 photos under less optimal light conditions could only be made indoors. For this, a ‘flash light’ was required which one had to make oneself and operation of the device involved a lot of work. A shiny piece of tin was bent into an L-shape, and next a handle was placed under the horizontal part and a lighter was mounted next to the horizontal part. To take the flash photo, the camera had to be positioned on a tripod first while a small pile of magnesium powder had to be placed on the level part of the piece of tin. The procedure was as follows: ‘lens open’ came first, then ignition of the magnesium powder with the lighter (which resulted in a flash and a huge cloud of smoke), followed by ‘lens closed’ and tada: the result was a reasonable photo, hopefully with an acceptable exposure, made in poor light conditions or in the dark.

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