Yesterday afternoon, I
spent an entertaining hour rummaging through one of the drawers in my study
desk, for no other reason that rummaging through a drawer is a pleasing, if
a slightly time-wasting diversion. Drawers are often full of memories.
I found a rusting pair
of scissors which belonged to my grandmother who once told me that she’d had
the scissors since she was a teenager. She was born in 1878. Then I
discovered a letter opener with a stainless steel blade and a wooden handle,
which was made by my cousin at least sixty years ago as a birthday present
for my mother.
Near the bottom of the
drawer I found a white box with the word “Philatoscope” printed on the
front. You may not have come across one of these, but it’s a large convex
lens affixed to a small stand just high enough to slide a postage stamp
underneath. It used to belong to my father who was an enthusiastic stamp
collector. On the back of the box it says “ten shillings and sixpence” which
must have been a lot of money in the 1950s. It’s in pristine condition and I
tried it out on a two baht stamp. It still works perfectly.
But among all these
priceless treasure, one item from the darkest recesses of the drawer
captivated my attention and I’ve added a photograph of it. If you are a
regular reader of this column, you’ll know what it is and you might even
have one. It is of course an exposure meter, and a pretty famous one at
that. It was named after its English inventor Edward Weston. His first
photographic exposure meter appeared in the 1930s and didn’t look much
different to the one in the photo, except that it was black. These meters
have been used for years by professionals and serious amateurs and I bought
mine in the late 1960s.
It looks a complicated
thing but they were actually quite easy to use once you’d grasped the idea.
Without becoming embroiled in too much technical detail the “exposure” is
the amount of light that reaches the photographic film or the image sensor
and it’s determined by the shutter speed, the lens aperture and the
brightness of the image itself. Before the appearance of Mr. Weston’s
exposure meter, it was largely guesswork. Some people became quite skilled
at estimating the exposure but it could be an unreliable method especially
in unfamiliar surroundings. And of course in the days of film, you couldn’t
see your photograph until the film was processed and prints had been made.
If your guess had been wrong, nothing much could be done about it. However,
black-and-white photographic film was much less sensitive back in those days
and rather more forgiving.
I suppose the vast
majority of people who rely on their Smartphone for taking photographs have
any idea of what the word “exposure” means. But their Smartphone does, and
it attempts to work out the correct exposure for every photo they take,
often with surprisingly accurate results. This confirms my lingering
suspicion that Smartphones are often smarter than the people who use them.
Anyway, if you don’t mind, I am going to spend a bit more time with my
ancient Weston Master V and see if I can remember how it works.