PHOTOGRAPHY AS A HOBBY:
Cynthia’s Advice to Beginners
“Around the Table,” Halifax Daily Echo,
Monday, May 12, 1902.
by
Lucy Maud Montgomery

Amateur photographers have to suffer a good deal of equally amateur joking, but when all is said and done there is really no “hobby” which has such a fascination or out of which more pleasure can be extracted. Of course one must be in earnest about it and not be a mere dabbler.

Montgomery's "Weird Friend" picture

There is nothing beautiful about a weird snapshot of your friends or a slap-dash exposure where the houses come out slanted at an angle that surpasses the leaning tower of Pisa. But a really pretty bit of scenery, nicely furnished and properly mounted, reminiscent of a pleasant summer day’s walk or outing is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Several friends of mine have recently invested in cameras and have asked me for some advice regarding the use and abuse of them. So I will give a few pointers from experience.

In amateur photography, even more than anything else, the golden rule is “carefulness.” You simply can’t be careless if you would succeed in producing photos worth having. The most trifling oversight will sometimes spoil a good picture. If you make your exposures in a slap-dash style, if your darkroom leaks light, if your hypo solution is not kept religiously apart from your developer, if you do or leave undone a hundred other things you will fail to obtain good results.

Collection of Montgomery's landscape shots

In starting out, don’t attempt too much at first and recklessly expose half a dozen plates before developing one. Make haste slowly. A 4 by 5 camera is large enough for a beginner. Get all the supplies necessary, for, of course, you will not be content to be a “button pusher,” but will do your own developing and finishing. Above all, get a good darkroom lantern. Misplaced economy here will result in worry and disappointment. In spite of some opinions to the contrary, I think a beginner would do well to commence with a slow brand of plates. Indeed I like the slow plates best at any time. I consider that they yield more artistic results.

In your darkroom have a place for everything and keep everything rigidly in its place. Dust your plates before putting them in the holders. A camel’s hair brush is used for this, but, if some time you can’t find it, draw the palm of your hand softly over the plate, taking care that it-your hand-is quite dry. If you are ever where you cannot gain access to a darkroom and yet want to change plates, here is a plan I have followed with success. Get into a windowless closet, sit on the floor and get somebody to put right over your head a heavy quilt-a red one if possible. Then have the door shut tightly and change your plate. In summer this is a fearfully warm job, but it is better than getting your plates light-struck.
Choose your view carefully with an eye to light and shade effects. You will always get better results by using a tripod and taking time exposures, although of course this requires more skill. In regard to exposures no cut-and-dried formulas are of any use. The time is regulated by the strength of light and the kind of plates used. In this you must simply learn by making mistakes. Do not take pictures between eleven and three o’clock. The results are never so good.

In developing don’t under-develop. A beginner is fatally apt to, getting alarmed when the picture begins to fade and whisking it out of the solution. Leave it until very dim and indistinct. Wash well before putting in hypo. The use of an alum solution will prevent “frilling”-which means that the film curls up around the edges of the plate. In cold weather you will have no trouble with this. After your plate is taken out of the hypo, soak it in water for half an hour. If not in running water, change the water six times. This is very important as the least bit of hypo left on the film will eventually spoil it. Above all things, be thorough. Don’t be content with “good enough.” Aim at the best.
A pretty effect may sometimes be obtained in a landscape picture by cutting out of white paper a tiny new moon and pasting it properly on the glass side of the negative. The result is a “summer moonlight scene”. You can take pictures by moonlight, by the way. The exposure calls for hours instead of seconds. Generally the result looks more or less like a foggy plate exposed in the usual way, but very beautiful effects have been obtained in this way. However, I do not advise beginners to attempt it.

If you want to take a “winter moonlight scene,” here is how you go about it. Take an ordinary negative of some landscape. Don’t have leaf trees in it. Evergreen trees and an old farm house or so make the best picture for this. Place it in the printing frame, film upward. On top of this place a fresh plate, the two film sides together and back them with a bit of black cloth for greater security. Then hold frame about 18 or 20 inches from gas jet and turn up gas quickly. Time of exposure will vary from 2 to 20 seconds, according to character of light, plate, and negative used. After exposure develop the plate as usual. It is called a positive. Paste a full moon in proper position on its back and print off. The sky will come out black while the ground and trees will be white with-apparently-snow. The effect will be very pretty. I may add that your “positive” is also a magic lantern slide.

Montgomery self-portrait

Sometimes your camera will play you very odd tricks. I have had some curious pictures result from accidentally exposing the same plate twice. This is how “ghost” pictures are made. Once I took a picture of two girlfriends of mine standing side by side. Later on I happened to re-expose the same plate on a landscape view. The latter came out very well. The girls were also there, wan, transparent figures with all the background clearly visible through them. It was apparently a perfect picture, which, of course, does not often result by chance.

Well, I hope you will get a great deal of pleasure out of your cameras this summer. It will be your own fault if you don’t, be sure of that.

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