IF YOU DON'T TRY...


Sometimes the odds are stacked against you, as they were against me when I took this picture at Kelvinhall Circus in Glasgow in about 1971. My 1936 Leica IIIa was loaded with ISO 50 slide film, and the lens was a very early (c. 1932) 90mm f/4 "fat barrel" Elmar. Uncoated, of course. The light was harsh, and changed rapidly in both colour and intensity, as it usually does in circuses. I didn't own a monopod in those days, and besides, I'm not sure they would have let it in unless it looked like a walking stick. Oh: and I had no reliable way of metering, though I'm not sure that with lighting like this there can be any such thing as a reliable way of metering. There was clearly no way I was going to get a picture. 



Not unless I tried, anyway. If I didn't try, I certainly wouldn't get a picture. If I did try, I'd probably fail, but I didn't have much to lose. It was cheap process-it-yourself film, Ferrania sold in the UK under the unlikely own-brand name of Barfen. Honestly.

So: lens wide open at f/4, and as long an exposure as I dared. I think it was 1/20 second, but I can't remember because it was well over 40 years ago. Nor can I remember whether I braced my elbows on the arms of the seat. That's always a way to get a little more stability, but equally, you usually have to slouch down and you may not be able to see over the head of the person in front. The rule of thumb for a "safe" speed is of course one-over-focal-length, so I should have been using 1/90 and preferably 1/125. Imagine this shot with at least 2 stops less exposure.

Anyway, you can see what I got: subject movement, but not enough camera shake to matter. I got one other decent shot that day, of an elephant under red light, but I can't find it any more. This one is scanned from a Cibachrome I made maybe 30 years ago. For me it still sums up the spirit of circus, and I don't think it's just from the memories of that day. The spirit and nature of the circus is blurred and hectic and vivid and unexpected, and that's what this picture is. Today I could put a 135/2.3 on my Df  (a stop and a half faster) and crank the ISO up to 2500 (50x faster, or near enough 5 stops), but I'm still not convinced I'd get a better shot. 


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016