“Thanks For Choosing Us!”: Making Someone’s Day with a Portrait

Tim Gilbert

I enjoy using a camera to meet people as I have written about numerous times. Yesterday was no different. A photographer friend of mine, Tim Gilbert, who is the mastermind behind Stearman Press and the SP-445 developing tank in which you can develop four sheets of 4×5 film, handed me a prototype of a new tank called the SP-645, which can process six sheets.

He asked me to do a test photo for him to check and see if the film is developing evenly in the new slightly tighter though almost the same size tank. (The SP445 uses 500ml of chemicals, and the SP645 uses 600ml.)

Auto Graflex

So, I loaded up a film holder with two sheets of Fomapan 400 and off I went. I chose to use a Folmer & Schwing Auto Graflex SLR 4×5 camera with a Taylor Hobson Cooke-Luxor 5 3/4″ f4.5 lens as it’s hand-holdable and very quick to shoot in the street.

I drove out of my neighborhood with two choices, right for downtown or left for the lake. I turned left. In my mind, there is no such thing as a test photo. If I’m making photographs, I want to make ones that count for something.

I want a real subject to photograph. And for me, that means a person, not a parking lot or a brick wall.

At the lake, I saw two women sitting on a bench facing the lake. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon in Colorado with temperatures in the 50s. Warm and nice for December. I parked behind them. Pulled the beast of a camera out and I walked next to them, figuring they’d notice me. Which they did.

One said, “Hey, are you going to take photos with that thing?”

I answered, “Yes, I just need a subject. You’d be perfect. May I make your portrait?”

I stepped behind them and asked them to turn around to face me so I could have the lake behind them.

I focused the camera, set the shutter speed and aperture at 1/440 at f5.6, pulled the dark slide, and told them to hold still.

They held still and I fired the 100-year-old cloth focal plane shutter to make the exposure.

I told them I’d do another one, replaced the dark slide, flipped the film holder over, and got ready for the next frame.

This time, I focused and pulled the dark slide, and said, “One of you poke the other one so I can get a different expression.” That worked to make them laugh, at which time I fired the shutter.

They asked if I could get them a copy and I said, “Of course.”. One of them said, “Thanks for choosing to take a photo of us. That’s really wonderful.”

I went home and souped the film. The tank worked great. No leaks, no uneven development. For me, I prefer the SP-445 as I never need to process so many sheets at once and the SP-445 feels roomier since it only has to fit two holders, not three in the tank like in the SP-645.

Thanks to Tim and his need for a test photo, these two will have a printed photograph of themselves to keep and always remember those days at the lake.

And that makes my day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: