Pictures Too Pale

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, August 29, 1913:  Five of my pictures are finished. They are most too pale to be good but better than what I expected.

Pictures of the Tower at Madison School Garden (New York City). Here's an illustration from a hundred-year-old book called Practical Suggestions Regarding the Selection and Use of a Photographic Equipment that shows how F stops on a camera should be set for different magnification levels.

Here’s an illustration from a hundred-year-old book called Practical Suggestions Regarding the Selection and Use of a Photographic Equipment. It shows how F stops on a camera should be set for different magnification levels. Pictures are of the Tower at Madison School Garden (New York City).

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Yeah! Grandma got some more pictures finished. She got the camera earlier in the summer, took a roll of pictures, and was now developing them.

Grandma began developing the pictures on August 26 when she and her sister Ruth made a negative. On the 27th she printed three of them, and made another negative. . . now she had five finished.

I’m sure that Grandma was having lots of fun using “modern technology,” but by today’s standards it sure seems like a long drawn-out process.

Why were the pictures too pale?  . . Were they overexposed?

Here’s what a 1910 book said about how to get the correct exposure:

We cannot impress upon you the all-importance of exposing for the shadow or dense portions. For general all-round out-of-door work, in the open, street scenes, etc., with very good light between 10:30 A.M. and 2 P.M. from 1/100 to 1/200 second at F. 8. Reasonably earlier or later in the day than the time specified, full aperture, F. 6.3, 1/50 to 1/100 second. As a general rule, 1/100 second is sufficient speed, but there are occasions when it is necessary to give 1/150 to 1/200 seconds, but these highest speeds should only be given when required.

On gray or clouded days or during November, December and January, when the actinic quality of the light is at its weakest, then invariably use full open lens (F. 6.3) and from 1/25 to 1/100 sec. exposure . . .

The telephoto attachment is neither difficult to use or to compute the correct exposure.  To make an exposure with the telephoto we first calculate or rather determine the correct exposure for the subject at hand, with the positive lens along at a given stop, and then simply multiply that exposure by the magnification which we desire, using the same stop in the positive lens. . .

Practical Suggestions Regarding the Selection and Use of a Photographic Equipment by by Austin K. Hanks

(I’m a “point and shoot” photographer. . .and am clueless what half of the recommendations in the book mean. )

29 Responses

  1. Our modern digital cameras are a ‘doddle’ I admire Grandma’s adventurous initiative, here.😃

  2. I haven’t a clue either but this reminds me that years and years ago, it was common for amateur photographers to use a light meter when taking photos. At least I think that is what the little piece of equipment was.

  3. Wow! Sounds complicated. Thank goodness for that “auto” setting on cameras today!

  4. Too detailed for me!

  5. There’s a title for a memoir or poem or some literary-something in there: “Too pale to be food.” I love that!

  6. Love keeping up with your grandmother, Sheryl. I just mentioned you and added a link to your blog in my latest post! http://wp.me/36w0d

  7. Yeah I’m proud of Helena. I wouldn’t take any photos at all if I couldn’t just point and click – gotta love that auto feature!

    • Due to the challenges involved in taking and developing photos, the few pictures they had must have been so much more precious back then.

  8. I’m an “auto” girl myself so I greatly admire your grandma for her eagerness to learn all those settings.

  9. The advice given in the magazine seems correct and would result in good photos :)

  10. Man are we spoilt now. Photoshop, iPhoto and many other tricks up our sleeves.

  11. Sheryl,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/08/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-august-30.html

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks for letting me know. I’m honored that you think this post is worthy of inclusion in Fab Finds.

      And, I hope that you also have a wonderful week-end!

  12. I am so taking the advice for exposure from your post, lol… Learnt something today even though it was 100 years. Thank you :D

  13. I wonder if Helena had a book like this or if she had to figure out most things for herself.
    I got a fancy camera this past Christmas and am still learning how to use it. I took it to a cave over the summer and researched cave photography. Some pictures turned out well, but most didn’t. I can definitely relate to Helena in this entry. :-)

    • If I had to guess, I’d guess that she didn’t have a book about photography, but that she may have had a small brochure that came with the camera.

      Cave photography sounds challenging, but fun. Were you spelunking in caves that didn’t have electricity?

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