The Daily Tofu

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Photography: Broken Camera, Creative Fun - Light Leaks and Shutter Lag

PhotographyTrey TakahashiComment

Image 1: Firework shot with a Canon AE-1 w/ a light leak. The blue color shift and overexposure comes from a leaking seal. 

For years I used a beloved Canon AE-1 as the main film workhorse camera. It had carried me through my first photography class, and through many adventures and plenty rolls of film. Unfortunately something dreadful happened, as with any old cameras age and wear the seals slowly fall apart and the shutter timers sometimes do not always sync up as they should. It is normal wear and tear and with any camera, requires routine maintained to make sure that everything is in impeccable shape. However, by the time the AE-1 began to show its age, it was set aside for other film SLR cameras, leaving it a non-priority for repair. While it was sitting off to the side, I wondered about what sort of shots could be achieved with a broken camera. And more importantly, could this camera have potential to still be something fun to experiment with in her current state?

Image 2: A light leak on the lower right of the image in full sun.

Each and every camera has a set of seals around the outer layer of the camera to prevent light from leaking onto the film, keeping the film in its light-free box with only the shutter’s opening allowing light to strike the film for a brief moment. The shutter itself needs to be quick, and timed appropriately to ensure that it opens and closes quickly to prevent a picture from being over/under exposed in different spots. It also must be timed correctly to make sure that the film is exposed at the exact time displayed on the dials giving you the correct exposure time on your light meter. Without these two essentials in complete working order, interesting results can come about.

With one roll of color Fujifilm run through it, the camera produced some interesting results--all unpredictable and ever changing. The most prominent feature of a light leak is a color shift and over exposure happening on images with strong light coming in the direction of the leaking light on the camera itself. As observed in Image 1, we see a color shit in the upper right corner which is also over-exposed from a rotted seal on that section of the camera. I found, however, that the light leak only really presented itself in cases of very bright light sources in a dimly light area. Accessories such as flashes helped extenuate it, but it would not always appear in the daylight, as demonstrated in Image 2 and Image 5.

Image 3: Shot with an AE-1 with a pronounced shutter lag. On both the right and left of the image, there is over exposure due to the shutter lagging.

Image 4:Shot with a Canon AE-1 with a shutter lag. Using a triple exposure, the shutter hangs on the upper third of the image, and a light leak appears on the upper left corner.

Much like the light leak issue, the camera's shutter did not always lag or hang on every shot, rather it would only appear on certain shutter speed settings making it very unpredictable unless well documented. Shutter hang and lag are characterized by an identifiable line cutting across the image where the shutter hangs for a moment leaving the exposure across the image inconsistently.

As shown in Image 3, the shutter is misplaced on two sides of the image, on both the very left and right of the picture. Hanging on the right, the image is overexposed on the corner creating a solid line of overexposure.  Combining this problem with the light leak, we have images like Image 4 where both issues are present creating an interesting effect in an abstract image. And to make things interesting, sometimes images such as Image 5, do not suffer from any issues whatsoever, being exposed as desired from the camera

The real pleasure to this is this idea that some of these images come across as very old and dated, and in some ways give an expired film look. Creating negatives that look warn and perhaps were taken on equipment that had been beaten and worn. While the camera is not something I would use for documenting precious memories or for professional shots, it remains as a fun tool to experiment with. For everything that can go wrong with a camera, there are often things that can be done to bend the image into something that is workable or at least has appeal. From dismounting lenses and using them freely in front of a camera, or playing with light leaks for a certain aesthetic, photography has been and always will be a medium that thrives on experimentation.

Image 5: Sometimes in the right settings, the shutter does not lag and light does not always leak in.

-Trey Takahashi