On the negative side 9

long exposure of night sky over Indian River Lagoon
It’s been a while since the last dedicated negative post – just hadn’t found too much to scan and/or comment about, but then I ran across this old scan and decided to post it. Of course, if you’re seeing this in the slow winter months, that means I realized I’d need more post fodder for then/now and shelved it until then (it’s August as I type this initial bit.)

Obviously, what we have here is a long exposure of the night sky, but this dates from back about 2003-2004, the Florida days, and some cheap-ass film that someone unloaded on me for experiments, so this was one of them. Lots of negative films don’t handle night exposures very well, and this was no exception, as can be ascertained by the grainy appearance, but there’s an overriding reason behind that. Night exposures tend to be mostly blue in tone, and weakly at that, but negative films capture things in inverse colors – thus, “negative” (it does not mean they’re pessimistic, necessarily.) So when the primary light is blue, this is being captured in the yellow layer of the film emulsion, the inverse of blue, and largely not at all in the other color layers.

But wait, there’s more. Light is, of course, not perfectly ‘blue,’ and there really is no such thing. There’s also no such thing as emulsions that will only capture a specific wavelength; mostly, it’s silver halide that’s sensitive to any light, embedded in a gelatin layer that filters out everything but blue (but then, when developed into a negative, will be rendered yellow anyway.) Below this on the film sits a layer that blocks blue light, so it will not try to expose the green or red layers beneath. The exact color registers of each of these (as well as sometimes, the number of each) is what gives each film its inherent color registers.

And since this yellow layer sits on top, it is the one most easily damaged by handling, not at all helped by commercial film processing which, more often than not, doesn’t bother with any hardeners that will make the negatives tougher. I could easily have taken this particular roll to a pro lab in town, which probably would have done a better job than the local drugstore, but the local drugstore charged $1.98 to develop into negatives without prints, and as I said this was an experimental roll.

Overall, the experiment came out worse than intended. The humidity was just a little too high, the haze blocking out the stars near the horizon and reflecting too much of the city lights – actually, multiple cities, or at least mid-size towns. A couple of stray aircraft left extraneous trails in the sky. And the ghost on the bench was barely captured on film at all.

Oh, you didn’t see it? Yeah, it’s there, just barely, if you look close. Legend has it that the ghost appeared only on certain nights near midnight, so I locked open the shutter and let the camera sit there recording.

Okay, you know that’s me on the bench – I just didn’t stay put long enough for the exposure time. This was, in fact, one of the experiments that helped me pin down how long it really should be, to leave a distinct but still transparent human-shaped shadow. Rough guideline: about 3/4 of the exposure time. It’s admittedly a lot easier to experiment in digital – just, not exactly accurately, because the LCD on the back of the camera won’t give you a viable idea of the relative exposure, especially when viewed in the dark.

By the way, the string of lights on the left side is the causeway bridge across the Indian River Lagoon, which is the body of water in the foreground, the sound between the barrier islands (background) and the mainland (where the bench is.) The bright rectangle to the right is some hotel.

Were I more motivated, I’d use those star trails to get a rough idea of what season it was, or at least determine what constellations are visible; I don’t know what time the photo was taken, so I could only get a rough idea from the constellations, even though I know what direction I was aiming. The planes were still active, so I’m supposing not too late (likely before ten PM, certainly before eleven,) but it was dark enough so I’m pretty certain it wasn’t summer. Hmmm…

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