Forgotten tools, the Viewing filter

Forgotten tools, the Viewing filter

  • 6th September 2015
  • Blog

Throughout Ansel Adams series of Books, The Camera, Negative, Print; he mentions the use of a Wratten #90 dark amber filter for pre-visualising the scene into the tones of a print. This isn’t to be used on the camera lens but as an actual viewing aid held up to the eye. With the advent of digital cameras which would provide instant feedback, such a niche little filter of the film days is almost extinct today.

The  Wratten #90 filter is essentially a dark amber filter that handicaps the eye. It removes all colour information and leaves you with an image of just one colour. This enables you to easily judge the effects of light and dark tonality within a scene. It is not foolproof by any means, different films act very differently. It is essentially a training aid to pre-visualising black and white images.

I found Tiffen still produced a nice little product with a metal monocle frame and neck strap. I played with it briefly and then forgot about it. Essentially there is so much to think about when Im out with a large format camera, this is just another stage of an already over complex process.

Back in June I had a workshop on Wetplate collodion, we where talking about pre-visualising the scene with collodion. Collodion is a special case as it is only responsive to the blue end of the spectrum. Collodion is almost colour blind to Reds, Greens and Yellows. Collodion can also pull out remarkable shadow detail if there is some blue light reflected in the shadow areas. It turns out the use of a Dark Blue filter is an excellent aid to pre-visualising a collodion scene.
Viewing filter 2
After some research I found Tiffen do produce a dark blue viewing aid and I have just placed an order. In the meantime I’ve been playing with my dark amber filter. Im starting to find it very useful for judging good quality lighting hitting a model. I have been using my mannequin and observing how light falls upon her. Observed by the eye, the results of the light seem much more subtle, however with the filter everything is exaggerated, which *may* be more accurate to how film or collodion would react.

The quality of light falling on a model is starting to become a big focus in my work. There is always a fine line, back in the collodion days some described it “Between Scylla and Charybdis” The two evils. On one extreme you have flat even lighting that many found to make people look stupid and unnatural. The Victorians never minced their words.

At the other end of the spectrum you had too much contrast of lighting that people found too harsh and vulgar. The aim of course was to find the delicate balance in-between. Like Ansel Adams the Victorian portrait photographers made negatives and then prints, good highlight and shadow detail would of been the goal not only for technical perfection but also for the ideal aesthetic.

As for as working with my mannequin is concerned this tool is proving really useful, its got to the stage I don’t bother looking at the scene without my filter. It remains to be tested just if I manage to find it useful whilst working with a live model, I doubt the models I use could find me much more eccentric.