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A photogaphy question. Worker maybe?

White Fox

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We've a lot of photo experts here. It got me to thinking that some of you might know the answer to this question.


I've often watched amateur videos of reenactments. The people involved have been dressed properly. There are often few things around to give away that it is not a professional film. But one very quick look and immediately you know it is a reenactment and amateur. The exposure is right. The dress is right. The surroundings are right. The focus is right.


I've often looked at these wondering why they do not look more like professional productions. Everything is right. Yet they don't look at all like a professional. That Western reenactment for instance just looks like a bunch of reenactors getting together. It does not look at all like a Western movie etc.



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The first thing that comes to mind is that the pioneers of photography didn't have the film that we have, nowadays.


Modern film is faster, finer grained, has a different spectral response and has different tonal characteristics.


Old time photographs shot with period film must use longer exposures due to the fact that it was so slow. The first photographs needed exposures of as much as a minute or even more under bright sunlight to get the proper image. Exposures of 10 to 30 seconds were the norm. Therefore, people had to sit still for extended periods of time. Their poses look stiffer. In extreme cases, photographers would put the subject's head in a makeshift vice to hold it steady for the length of the exposure.


Grain and spectral/tonal response will create an image that just looks different than modern film. It would take a long time to explain why but, once you see the difference, it is easy to spot.


However, one thing that was common back then which was not common today was the size of the film negative. Vintage cameras used film or glass plates that were as large as 8 x 10 inches and even larger. 5 x 7 inch plates were common. The visual quality of those images are substantially different than our small 35 mm film can produce.


Lenses and camera technology was quite different than today, as well. Sharpness, astigmatism, fringing and light aberrations were common in old photos. These problems have all been solved in modern cameras.


Finally, I would add that people back then just LOOKED different than contemporary people do. There is better nutrition, better health care and better living conditions. You just don't see too many people, today, who are missing half their teeth and who are skinny as a rail. That was common in the old days. Beards were common, too.


Did you know that the last man to run for the President of the United States who had a facial hair was Thomas E. Dewey? Every president or presidential candidate since 1948 has been clean shaven.


Even if you had authentic vintage clothing in mint condition but on a contemporary model, I wonder whether you could get an authentic looking photo of a reenacted situation.


Maybe if you used a Daguerreotype camera, you might get awfully close but not 100%.

But, then, again, the Daguerrotype process is highly toxic. Modern photochemistry is relatively nontoxic except for a few specialized solutions such as selenium toner.

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Actually I guess I didn't explain properly here. Your answer I found interesting with info I will remember. However...


I am thinking modern films here. i.e. shows. The movie theaters.


For instance, if you could find a long scene of a John Wayne movie like - man I can't remember the name - that last one with Kathryn Hepburn. If you could find a five minute segment in there with no scenes of anyone that you know like John and/or Kathryn. If I played that to anyone here they would know instantly that it was professional and about 99% for certain it was part of a movie or at least maybe something that ended up on the cutting room floor as they say.


If you used reenactors and recreated that short segment that way, and presented it to someone in probably about 10 seconds of watching it they would know that it is a reenactment and not a professional movie. You could even turn the sound down. and watching only the video and likely in 10 seconds you would know about 99% certain is is amateur. Camera focus is exactly right. Both probably shot on a tripod. Both probably by people who understand exposure etc. You could for instance use exactly the same clothing for both productions and you would likely still know INSTANTLY which was professional and which was amateur. So, the question is how would you know? What are the production secrets that we don't have here?


And by the way this is not some silly competition to put people on the spot to answer the question. It is an honest question that I just do not know the answer to. And I've always thought that I would like to know it.


Why can we as amateurs (or even those paid semi professionals among us) not recreate the techniques used by film makers. If we knew the general area that we are missing experience we could fool around with that more. Is it exposure for instance? Is it something about movement of the actors? Is it the way they aim the camera? For instance do they do a different combination of close ups and distance shots that we don't think of doing?



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