Tips on Hot Country Photography
The author relates his experiences in the tropics, while covering an assignment to photograph President Roosevelt's recent visit to Brazil.
AT ELEVEN o’clock one Monday morning last November, my office informed me that I was leaving at six that night to cover President Roosevelt’s visit to Brazil where he would attend the Pan American Conference.
Up to that moment I had had absolutely no experience with photography in hot, humid countries, unless you count Washington, where it gets warmer in summer time than many a jungle.
The day was spent in dashing around getting passports, visas, bills of health, police clearance records, tickets, and last but not least, films and chemicals.
Frankly, I didn’t know what to take with me. I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. Of course I had my two Leicas. I knew they would be the thing for Brazil since they are sealed so tightly, film would be protected from the moist conditions encountered in hot countries. And you must remember that although it was November, seasons are reversed in that part of South America. Our winter is their summer.
I chose the following lenses: an ƒ 2., ƒ 1.5, ƒ 3.5 wide angle, and ƒ 4.5 telephoto. I also took four magazines; a changing bag—a very necessary article on a long job; one hundred feet of Eastman Super X film; four daylight loading rolls of DuPont Superior—for emergencies if unable to get time for reloading; and an Eastman Graphic camera with Zeiss 4.5 lens, eight plateholders, and eight dozen 4x5 cut film. This latter material for Presidential shots, as candid cameras are now barred from use in photographing the Chief Executive.
Never having been in Brazil, I was worried about what would happen to my film down there. Therefore I took the top off of the can of Super X and placed a small piece of blotter in it. Whenever I had occasion to open the tin after leaving the States, I would heat the piece of blotter slightly and pop it back in the can while it was still warm, figuring that this would pick up any moisture that had gotten in while the top was off.
This simple procedure worked splendidly and I had no trouble.
The cut film I wrapped with a blotter, placing waxed paper around it, and found that it was always in excellent condition.
This took care of the unexposed film but the exposed material was another problem about which I shall speak later.
My first port of call was Charleston, S.C., where I stopped first to take pictures of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, on which the President was to travel. Then I continued my trip to Rio de Janeiro by plane.
The photograph of the Indianapolis (see illustration) was taken as it entered the harbor at Rio. I used an Eastman 4x5 Graphic, with Super Pan Film Pack, at shutter speed of 1/110 second. The stop was ƒ 8, with K-2 filter. In this picture you will note the typical Brazilian haze hanging in the distance— which brings me to one of the problems of picture taking in humid climates.
The moisture in hot countries is the Number One public enemy of all nhotographers. It will ruin the film in a short time unless sensible precautions are taken to keep the camera hermetically sealed and the negatives protected in every way.
THOMAS D. McAVOY
Washington Correspondent for LIVE and TIME
Such tropical spots as Brazil are characterized by bright sunshine and dense shadows, but there is always that haze— that humidity which causes the light to become sufficiently diffused by water vapor to make the shadows more luminous.
Therefore these circumstances should be well considered before selection of the film emulsion to be used. Where lighting conditions are hard with much contrast, I should advise choosing a long scale, soft gradation negative material. This contrast can be further controlled by exposure and development.
After I had covered the President’s visit to the Conference, I had several days to wait for the next plane back to Washington. Naturally I wanted to see all I could of the magnificent city of Rio and photograph it from its most interesting angles.
Two friends of mine from a press service joined me. We hired a Cadillac car, and set out to photograph the city.
Many of you who are planning vacations to Rio during the summer and fall will find various spots of photographic interest such as the National Library, the Municipal Theatre, the Naval Club, the Copa Cabana Hotel, and the building where the famous newspaper A Noite is housed.
However, I sincerely believe that to get the true feel of a city you must photograph the native people as they live their daily lives— not merely cover the routine buildings which may be seen on any Cook’s tour. For this i'eason I avoided the obvious and went through the city on a search for the real native habitats.
My first shot, however, was made from the window of a plane—I was on a Panair plane just as it came in over the Rio harbor for a landing. The window was covered with salt water spray. Note the pattei'n of the water, the foam designs, the wooded shore.
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For this I used my Leica, Super X film, a shutter speed of 1/200 second, the stop ƒ 6.3, with a K-2 filter.
I would advise travellers to Rio not to attempt aerial pictures since they are taboo because of the fort guarding the harbor. The air traveller will have his camera taken away from him and locked up by the plane steward, as mine was, but I held out one which I carried under my coat.
Any one attempting to make unauthorized air shots over Brazil is apt to wake up and find himself a guest of the local hoosegow!
This is a good place to tell you that because the light in South America is very strong—about three times as much as there would be in the New England States, for instance—I got out my K-2 filter and practically locked it on the lens for the duration of the trip.
In this connection, it is difficult to keep yourself from jacking up the shutter speed or closing down the lens. But with this light, the thing to remember is that the shadows are very much blacker. So to get a well-timed negative, I boosted my shutter speed about 50% instead of 200% and got well-timed negatives with shadow detail.
About this filter situation: slight color correction will be needed in the tropics. Some of my colleagues consider the best all around filter to be the Leitz No. 0 or No. 1 Yellow filters. Both of these are handy with either orthochromatic or panchromatic films. Some photographers feel that heavier filters will provide too much correction. But, as I have stated before, I clung to my K-2 throughout the Brazilian trip.
As my friends and I started out to view Rio, we suddenly saw an automobile which intrigued our fancy. And so we stopped to shoot it. It was a Brazilian wedding car. Young couples save up their money a long time before the big day so that they may hire this ornate limousine for the ride to the church. After the ceremony they drive around the city for hours—to the envy of all their friends. The car is elaborately upholstered in pink satin, with needlework cushions, and lace wreaths at the windows.
This picture was made on an overcast day, at 1/30 second, stop ƒ 18, no filter, on Super X film, with a Leica.
After visiting the palace of Dorn Pedro", a former Brazilian Emperor, we suddenly came to a sordid section of the city. It comprised an area of ten tawdry blocks, with many one-roomed houses to each square. It is termed the Mangue district, and is where the courtesans of the district ply their trade.
There seemed to be at least fifty women to each block. They leaned out of windows and doors in provocative attitudes.
This section gave a curious slant on Brazilian life so I took several pictures. The first shot was made to the right, with the Leica shooting at 1/500 second because of the bouncing of the moving c;. \ The film was Super X, and the lens stop ƒ 4.5.
There were women of many races congregated in this narrow locale: white, black, Portuguese, French, Chinese, and Eurasian. Approximately half of them seemed to be good looking. The other half were so heavily made-up they had lost any human, any feminine quality.
The filles de joie posed for the sum of five milreis—approximately thirty cents in American money—which was the amount they would normally receive for their professional services.
Shortly after visiting the Mangue vicinity, I went to the Port of Trinidad and took the accompanying picture of a native hut after a heavy tropical storm. This was shot from the window of a car. The heavy foliage surrounding the shack necessitated a speed of 1/20 second, at stop ƒ 4.5, with the Leica and Super X film.
Another bit of native life which interested me was the Brazilian peddling water cans. This is typical of Brazil where the average man or woman likes to have his hands free to talk with. They have thus learned to balance most anything perfectly on their heads, which also helps to give them a marvelous posture.
The day I made this picture was overcast, so I took the shot at 1/100 second, K-2 filter, stop ƒ 6.3.
Now that I had my pictures, the difficulty was in developing them. Because of climatic conditions, I didn’t dare wait until I had reached Washington. I had taken along my own developer and other chemicals but the problem was to procure ice. The bellboy at my heitel could not understand why I wanted ice since I had not ordered the usual beverages which accompany it.
After some dickering, the ice was brought to my bathroom. But before I proceed, let me emphasize that a black cloth changing bag—the kind that is used for moving pictures—is a requisite in travelling. This bag does away with the necessity for a dark room and all Leica operations can be performed in it. I took the film which I had previously loaded into a tank in the privacy of my changing bag and started it going.
As most all drinking water in South America has to be filtered before using, I hoped the filter had also taken out any injurious chemicals. I thereupon dragged j out one of my four cans of Edwal 12, ! which I had brought along, mixed and cooled it, and poured it into the tank, | crossed my fingers, took the temperature I of the solution, and finding it 68 degrees, j rejoiced!
While the film was cooking, I went ahead and mixed up a hardening bath of a spoonful of Chrome Alum and a spoonful of Sodium Bisulphite. Then I cooled that and the Hypo, and awaited results.
Imagine my amazement after a wait of j eighteen minutes for the development and five minutes for hardening and fixing, to discover that the films had turned out excellently. I was disappointed. I couldn’t j find a streak or a pinhole to make me ! feel that I hadn’t won a complete battle ; over nature and the elements.
When developing Leica films in the tropics or semi-tropics, remember that j this must be done at a low temperature, j No matter how good your hardener is, the grain of the film can be ruined in the first few minutes if the solution is too warm. Get ice—no matter what you have to dö to get it. To be on the safe side, maintain all your solutions at a temperature of 65 degrees or less. No matter what you do, the temperature will rise during the time of development.
Dry your film thoroughly with a soft bit of old cotton.
As to exposure: a photo-electric cell exposure meter is a good thing to have around, for conditions will be entirely different from those you are accustomed to at home. The reading from the meter should be taken as near to the important j part of the scene as possible, so as to keep out light from the sky and surrounding areas which might have a tendency to give false exposure settings.
I am sure it is unnecessary to add the ! advice that to get the pictures you want on vacation, you should have your camera j with you at all times. It should be kept fully loaded, and shots should be made with due care and thought.