Why did you need to hide under a blanket like object when taking pictures using an old school camera?

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Why did you need to hide under a blanket like object when taking pictures using an old school camera?

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The camera was exposing very sensitive material to the light and you had to keep it dark. This was before shutters could isolate the light quickly, and before films that needed less light to create an image.

To block stray light from the plate. The old cameras weren’t all closed like modern cameras and stray light would wash out the photo.

Nope to these “answers”.

View cameras (which still exist – I own one) have lightight plate holders to protect the plate (or “plan film” nowadays) from light. The problem is composing the shot on a ground glass: the objective gives only a dim image which would be swamped by ambient light.

So the photographer hides, with the ground glass, under a kind of dark “tent” to be able to see the image on the glass, orienting the camera, setting the focus, &c.

Once this is done he removes the veil, removes the ground glass and replaces the latter with a plate holder. The objective gets closed with a cap (or just a hat in ancient times, or an inbuilt shutter) and the plate holder opened – it’s either a sliding piece of metal or a kind of blind you have to move.

Now the plate can be exposed just by removing the objective cap (or hat, or triggering the shutter). Once this is done the shutter is closed, the plate holder is closed too, removed from the camera and stored in the bag you have to drag along with all that gear. Most holders have a place where you can write a pencil mark so you don’t mix up exposed and fresh plates.

It’s all a bit technical, but here’s a picture of a plate/film holder: https://www.chamonixviewcamera.com/accessories/filmholders

And here’s a view camera from the back where you see the ground glass and the projected image on it: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:View_Camera_001.jpg

When you look at the back of an old school camera, the image of what you’re looking at through the camera lens is projected onto a piece of opaque glass (it’s not clear like a window, but white), and that image is not very bright. It’s not very bright because the only light you’re seeing is what’s allowed to shine through the small opening of your lens.

Covering the camera and shielding it from the outside light makes the image easier to see for composing your shot and getting it into focus.

You can see how this works yourself by turning down the brightness of your phone and reading it while out in bright sunlight, then cover yourself and your screen with a dark cloth to get the same effect.

TL;DR: It’s how you turn up the brightness on an old school camera by blocking out the sun.

So like, on your old style point-and-shoot camera, when you composed your photo, you’d look through the viewfinder which was a separate lense than the main lense, kind of like a scope on a telescope. This has no bearing on the question at all; I’m only including it so you know that that’s NOT what I’m talking about when I talk about proper viewfinding.

So with that design above, you can get pretty close to the photo you composed but that viewfinder uses a different lense and is at a different location than the lense which exposes the film or digital sensor. It’s fine for a point-and-shoot where you can’t swap out lenses.

On fancier cameras, they have an arrangement called SLR (single lense reflex). When you look through the viewfinder on an SLR camera, you’re looking through two mirrors and then through the main camera lense. Slap a telephoto lense on there and the viewfinder is now composing a photo of something a mile a way. (This is the kind of camera where the viewfinder blanks out when you take a picture since one of the mirrors has to jump out of the way real quick.) Using the actual lense to compose a photo is the absolute ideal because the slight difference on location of a scope-style viewfinder and the main lense can cause a professional photo to be shit since what you thought you were shooting ended up being different from what you DID shoot.

So why am I going on about viewfinders? View cameras (those big accordion looking cameras) don’t have a tiny little viewfinder like an SLR. No mirror, no eyepiece. They also don’t have a secondary lense for a scope-style viewfinder.

So how do you know if the photo is composed correctly or the lense is in focus or zoomed or you backplane and front plane are aligned how you like?

The whole back of the camera is the viewfinder. There’s a 8×10 (or larger) piece of ground glass on the back right where the film would normally go. The lense on the front of the camera projects an image onto it. The two problems are: a) the image is super faint, hence the blanket to block out the light, and b) the image is rotated 180 degrees (inverted, not flipped or mirrored) which has no fix.

The camera workflow: (This is from memory when I was like 10)

1. Set up the camera. These are always on a tripod. Candid, unplanned shots are not a thing in the view camera world.
2. Select and install the lense and aperture/shutter assembly. (Most have multiple interchangeable parts for both. Modern lenses will work.)
3. Install the ground glass viewfinder and blanket.
4. Remove lense cap and set the aperture/shutter assembly to viewfinder mode (this opens the aperture/shutter all the way to fully open and leaves it there).
5. Go under the cape and compose your photo moving the camera, subjects, lense settings, lighting, etc as necessary.
6. Remove the ground glass. (On some cameras, this isn’t removed. There’s a lever which moves it away from the camera body leaving a gap.)
7. Insert the film holder and lock it in place.
8. Close the aperture/shutter and prime it if necessary.
9. Insert a film sheet into the film holder. (View cameras shoot large format film. You’re familiar with 35mm film. Some may even be familiar with 70mm large format. A common size for a view camera is 8″x10″.)
10. Slide out the film cover exposing the film inside the camera.
11. Trigger the aperture/shutter to take the photo.
12. If you’re doing a manual/long exposure, start the timer and close the aperture/shutter after the timer expires.
13. Slide the film cover back in to cover the film so it can be removed from the camera.
14. Steps 10, 11, 12, and 13 can be repeated for double/multiple exposures.
15. Remove the 8×10 from the film holder and mark a note on it as to what the photo is or that the very least that the film’s has already been used so you don’t try to use it again.
16. Take the film to Wal*Mart to get it developed. (I’m speculating on this one here since my dad used Polaroid self-developing film for his view camera rather than developing it in a darkroom. Yes, Polaroid made 8×10 self-developing film for view cameras.)

Source: My dad had a view camera and we used to mess around with it back in the early 90s. I say ‘had’ because he had it loaded in a saddlebag on his motorcycle. He hit a bump and it came out and exploded on contact with the freeway. Wasn’t antique or anything, but yeah.

Basically, your head isn’t fat enough.

The optical viewfinder on professional cameras (including SLRs/DLSRs and medium-/large-format view cameras) uses a ground glass panel to show a preview of what will be captured by the camera.

On SLRs/DSLRs, the rubber eyecup and your eye socket blocks light from coming into the back of viewfinder, leaving only the light coming in from the front via the lens.

View cameras project onto a much larger surface, so the curtain is needed to block light coming from the rear around your head. Without it, you’d barely be able to see the image on the viewfinder if you had a bright scene above or behind you. Also, the larger the surface, the fainter the image becomes since more light is spread over a wider area.

(Unless your view camera has a separate viewfinder, you probably have to replace the viewfinding screen with the actual film/imaging plate, which only opens to the front side when mounted. So it’s unlikely that you’d have your head under the blanket while shooting the shot. On a (D)SLR, the internal mirror flips out of the way, allowing the image to reach the film/sensor instead of reflecting toward the viewfinder—the mirror should also prevent stray light coming in through the viewfinder while the film/sensor is exposed.)

With a traditional SLR style camera, the photographer composes the image by looking through the viewfinder of the camera, where they see the image as seen through the cameras lens.

Traditional view cameras don’t have a viewfinder, what they use instead is a ground glass plate – this is slotted into the camera where it forms the back of the body. The cameras lens then projects the image it sees onto this glass plate which the photographer can look say to frame and focus the camera correctly.
To take a photo, the ground glass plate is removed and a holder containing a piece of film is put in its place and a photo can be taken.

The reason for the cloth covering is that the images you see on the ground glass is very dim and quite hard to see in bright light. By covering yourself with the cloth you block out the light behind you which makes it easier to see the image.

The flashpowder was extremely bright and hot. The photographer used a blanket to protect themselves because they were right next to it. The person being photographed was usually rar enough away that it wasn’t harmful

There was no light up screen in old cameras. To see what the photo you’re taking was going to look like you had to be in the dark, because the image was very dim. This is why photographers put a blanket over their heads so it would be dark.