Half Frame Hero - Shooting With A Half Frame Camera

Half The Size, Twice The Fun

What is a half frame camera and why might you want one? Well, you may not want one (yet), but you've come this far, you may as well see what the fuss is about!

Molly East / Molly West, shot with Olympus Pen D3.

What is Half Frame?

Apologies for teaching you how to suck eggs if you already know this, but your common or garden 35mm camera shoots landscape frames 35x24mm in size (this is also referred to as full frame in the world of digital cameras), but today we're talking about film.

A half frame camera, unsurprisingly, shoots portrait images half that size; 24x18mm frames on the same 35mm film. This means you get portrait images instead of landscape when the camera is held in the normal orientation and you get twice as many images per roll i.e. a 24 frame roll will give 48 half frames.

You also get half the resolution per image and grain can be more prominent as it's larger in relation to the image, don't let this put you off, the fun factor outweighs these weaknesses.

My Olympus Pen D3 

Olympus was the first to release a half frame camera, back in 1959, with their PEN line aimed at frugal photographers, who wanted to make film a roll of film go further meaning a 24 / 36 exposure roll of film would make 48 / 72 half frames on a roll.

This idea eventually spawned a whole series of half frame cameras culminating with the Pen F interchangeable lens SLR. I will own a Pen F one day but for the moment I make do with the humble Pen D3, fixed lens viewfinder camera. 

The Olympus Pen D3 

The D3 is limited, in that it is scale focus only, you need to be pretty good at estimating distance and shoot fast enough film to stop down to F8 for a buffer. It took me a long time to learn this and I was constantly frustrated with trying to shoot at F1.7 and missing the focus.

Learn from my mistakes and shoot faster film at smaller apertures if you want to get close!

Kate, shot with Olympus Pen D3

Shooting Half Frame

Half frame is a great way to tell a story in a pair of frames, sometimes referred to as a diptych.

There are loads of ways to pair the frames; a close up and a wide shot, flip the camera 180 between frames, same subject / different time, different details of a structure, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Skate and create, shot with Olympus Pen D3

Tay Rail Bridge, shot with Olympus Pen D3

Panoramas 

Now, this is one of my absolute favorite ways to shoot half frame, easier with a manual camera like the D3 but also do-able with an automatic camera (like the Canon Multi Tele, another half frame hero in my collection, more about it in a while)

My first half frame panorama was shot on Fuji film in Berries Den estate, Newport-on-Tay and it took me until month afterwards to stich it into the panorama, when I finished putting them together I was so pleased with the results, I had to shoot more like this!

Berries Den Pond Panorama, shot on Olympus Pen D3

Berries Den Pond Panorama, shot on Olympus Pen D3

Dunottar Castle Panorama, shot on Canon Multi Tele

Aberdeen Beach Panorama, shot on Canon Multi Tele

Inspiration

One of my favorite places for photographic inspiration is Instagram, check out @halfframeclub to see a great selection of half frame work and get a feel for whats possible when you work with half frames.

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Another of my favorite half frame shooters is @2.alfs, doing some really interesting half frame video work / animation. 

Who are your favorite photographers shooting half frame? I'd love to hear about your top photographers working with half frames.


Pictures


For Sale

If you want to jump in and try this fun format I am currently selling my Canon Multi Tele compact 35mm camera, I'm looking for around £60. Please get in touch if you are interested. I'm only selling so I can buy back my beloved Pen D3, I never should have sold it!

Skateboarding

I've been skateboarding since I was about 14 and I'm still rolling at 32.

Skateboarding has influenced every aspect of my life.

I made friends skateboarding, heard new music, visited weird places and learned to see things differently.

I practised for hours and fell more times than I can count.

I was constantly covered in cuts and bruises.

I skateboarded everywhere.

I even met my wife, Kate, at the skate park and we've been together ever since!

I don't plan on stopping skating until my old bones can't handle the pain but when I do eventually hang up my Vans, I have another obsession to keep me occupied: photography.

Skateboarding is fun

My love for photography stems from skateboarding: magazines, videos and websites filled with images of amazing skaters were the fuel that kept me pushing my skateboard and pushing myself to improve. 

Jack has pop!

Jack has pop!

I tried to take pictures to emulate what I saw in the magazines and generally failed, I had no idea about photographic technique or equipment. I just wanted a fish eye lens.

A fish eye lens was the holy grail of skateboarding photography (as far I was concerned), it allowed the photographer to get close and low; making tricks look more dramatic and exaggerating the size of objects.

When I eventually got a fish eye lens and my photos were still mediocre, as it happens learning about photography takes just about as long as learning to skateboard. Thankfully it doesn't involve as many sprained ankles, smashed up shins or grazed elbows!

Now it doesn't matter if I'm shooting with an old Rolleicord or my Olympus OM-D E-M1, I can get the shot's I want. No fish eye required!

Skate and create!

Long Exposure Photography

Grab your camera, your tripod, a jacket and if you're feeling saucy, a neutral density (ND) filter and remote release; let's make some long exposures!

Train crossing the Tay at night.

Long exposures don't tend to result in a 'realistic' photograph unless you are shooting at night, but instead allow you to play with motion, time and light interesting ways; clouds blur, lights and stars turn to trails, people disappear and water appears smooth as your exposure time ticks from fractions of a second to seconds and minutes.

Strathpuffer 24hr mountain bike racers light up the forest in the middle of the night.

To make this type of shot work you are going to need to prevent the camera from moving for as long as the shutter is open; any small movement will ruin the sharpness of the shot. A nice stable tripod is ideal but if you don't have one you can sit your camera on a flat wall or on a bunched up jacket, you can even brace the camera against a wall or post for a few seconds with the right technique.

Now you have a stable location for your camera on the tripod you need to trigger it without causing unintended movement. Ideally you should use a remote release to trigger the shutter, if you don't have one then use the camera's built in timer to trigger the shot, even the movement from pressing the shutter button is enough to shake the camera. If your camera is an SLR lock the mirror, if it has noise reduction switch it on and if it has built in image stabilisation switch it off.

Tiree beach, sheltered from the wind down in the rocks.

Your next issue to contend with is focusing, if it's a dark scene you may struggle to focus due to lack of contrast and if you're using a strong ND filter you might not be able to use the camera's autofocus; there are a few techniques to get around these issues. Whatever technique you use, once you have the focus you want for the image you should switch your camera to manual focus and watch you don't knock it as you handle the camera.

If you are trying to take pictures of the stars or moon you will want to focus to infinity, do do this you either need to focus on a distant light or manually focus and take a test shot to see that the stars are in sharp focus. 

If it's dark you might need to focus manually but if there is still some daylight and you are using a ND filter you can focus without the filter, switch to manual focus and then drop / screw in your filter into position. 

A powerful torch in another useful aid to focusing, you can light up a section a building to aid focus and also use it for light painting during your exposure as seen in the image of Airlie Monument below.

This photo of Airlie Monument was actually 180 30 second long exposures layered together in a special bit of software to create the star trails, a similar effect could be achieved by taking one long exposure but the sensor noise would become more prominent.

 

How long you want to make your exposure comes down to what you are trying to achieve and the limitations of your camera, but whatever you do you will find new creative ways of taking pictures and see things in a different way. 

Now get out there and report back with your long exposures!