I love both old cars and old cameras, and when I’m among the former, I usually bring one of the latter loaded with film. I made no exception on our visit to the museums in Auburn, Indiana, earlier this month. I got a number of delightful black-and-white photos that day with one of my old film cameras, including the snout of this Auburn 654, which rests upstairs in the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg museum.
We take for granted that our smartphones can take usable photographs in every lighting condition except darkness. Getting good available-light photos with film takes some finesse, however. That’s why I chose my 1968 Yashica Lynx 14e. Its super-fast f/1.4 lens lets in gobs and gobs of light. I also chose a moderately fast film: Arista Premium 400, a 400 ISO black-and-white film rumored to be repackaged Kodak Tri-X. I’ve used this combination successfully in available light before.
And then the light in these museums moved frequently and quickly between bright areas and deep shadows. That’s what photographers publicly call “difficult light” — and privately curse. I knew getting good exposure would be tricky. All day, I framed shots and hoped for the best. This photograph of an Auburn wheel, taken in the National Auto & Truck Museum, escaped Photoshop retouching; none others did.
Light blasting in from intermittent skylights left deep dark areas in what had once been the Auburn factory really confused my poor Lynx. It did the best it could with a pair of step-down Hudsons.
Despite the difficult light hiding many of this Hudson’s details, I like the mood that lighting creates here.
Dim, even lights in the National Auto & Truck Museum basement meant wide-open exposures and difficult focusing, but with care I made some of the photos work. Here’s a 1952 Chevrolet.
The light cooperated in some parts of the old factory, as in this shot of a Dodge Charger’s chrome teeth.
I lingered over this wine-colored Nash Healey, the first one built. It captivated my girlfriend, too; she brought it up again and again the rest of the day.
Inside the neighboring Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg museum, shooting away from the enormous plate-glass windows gave the best chance for good exposure. Always a contrarian, I tried a few shots facing them. This was the best of them; the rest could not be salvaged.
Getting down and close worked a lot better.
As did shooting with the windows at my back.
I knew I’d be getting shallow depth of field when I moved in close. Sometimes I missed. I tried to focus on the hood ornament, but it fell just behind the in-focus patch.
Sometimes I take a photo with both my digital camera and my film camera to see how they compare. This Cord prototype’s nose got that treatment. If you look back in this post, you’ll find the digital version in color.
I took about a hundred photos with my digital camera in the museums. I’d love to share them with you, too, but I don’t want to hog the Auburn storytelling. So I uploaded the best of my Auburn photos to Flickr and created an album of them. Click here to see the photos.