van Monckhoven, Désiré van.
A Popular Treatise on Photography. Translated By W.H.
Thornthwaite. London, 1863.
On the Glass Room in which the Sitter is Placed and the Rules to be
Observed in Taking Portrait and Landscapes
To take an artistic portrait, or to choose the most favour
able point of view for a landscape, requires an artistic taste not
to be acquired by reading, but allied in its character to a natural
instinct, of which instruction only develops the germ, while
practice simply modifies any perfects the details. The remarks on
the subject-matte of this chapter will therefore be of an
essentially practical nature.
The general detail and arrangement of an operating room suitable
for photographic purposes, is represented in the cut on succeeding
page. It should be in some elevated position, either on the roof of
the house or on platform specially erected for the purpose. The side
next the south should be entirely closed, whilst the other
towards the north, is glazed. The sheets of glass employed
should be of moderate thickness, as a protection from storms of
hail, &c., and as white as possible-rather o a bluish tint than
approaching at all to a green or yellow colour. It is of importance
to attend to the colour of the glass used for the operating
room., for, should it be of a green or yellow tint, a
considerable amount of actinic rays*****
The glass rooms should be furnished with curtain; having cords
attached to them, by means of which the too energetic action of the
light play be moderated, and proper direction given. to it.
In the figure it will be seen that three sets of squares are
shown-the upper one (of ground glass), which is parallel with the
floor or ceiling; the lower one, which replaces the wall; and the
middle one, which is on the slope.
Fig. 55. The Glass, or Operating Room.
If now, with the object of producing an artistic effect, it be
desired to inundate the front, of the model or sitter with light,
the lower and middle set of curtains should be snore or less closed.
If a lateral lighting be desired, the curtains of the upper window
should, on the contrary, be closed. The good taste of the operator
must, however, guide him as to the best disposition of the
On the right of the engraving, Fig. 55, is represented the shaft
of a column, against which the model may lean; also a balustrade,
with a landscape painted in distemper; and near the middle a white
marble chimney-piece of the style of Louis XV.; all of which
accessories, or others of a similar character, will be found to aid
in imparting a general appearance of elegance to the resulting
The colour of the walls exercises a marked influence on the
result. They should not be painted either red, yellow, or green, for
these colours have a very weak photographic action, and throwing
around them, as they do, tints of their own colour, tend to prolong
very materially the time of exposure. Violet and blue colours are
preferable, but as they produce whites in the print, and as a wall
painted either deep blue or violet produces a result exactly similar
to a white wall, they should not be used for the background, or that
portion behind the sitter. Bluish grey is a mixed tint which, on the
whole, yields the best results, and is a colour with which the whole
of the glass room may be painted, except that, according to taste,
some parts may be more or less deep than others.
It will be found very convenient to have several moveable
backgrounds, each painted with a different depth of colour, so as to
be used according to the colour of the dress, &c., of the
sitter, and thus produce the most effective contrast.
Oil colour is very disagreeable on account of its reflection. It
will be found best to employ a mixture of slaked lime, litmus, and
lamp-black with which the whole. of the room may be painted, simply
varying the proportion of black. The same colour will serve to paint
the floor of the room; but if a carpet be employed instead of paint,
it is equally important that it should be of a greyish tint.
In reference to the best colour for dresses to be worn by
sitters, the same remarks apply as have been made respecting that of
the glass room; that is to say-neutral tints, analogous to grey,
violet, and blue, come out well, while red, yellow, and green, yield
results of an opposite character. By increasing the exposure,
however, in some cases, and diminishing it in others, the undue
predominance of any particular tint can be materially
When one or more persons are to be taken, they should be allowed,
in the first place, to assume an easy, natural position, and then,
by placing behind each a head-rest, in such a way as to
retain them in the position chosen, the required steadiness of the
upper portion of the body is secured.
It is not necessary that the sitter should press the head too
strongly against the head-rest, but on the contrary, it should only
lightly touch; because too great a pressure restrains the
respiration, thus imparting to the sitter an appearance of
constraint and uneasiness.
There are two kinds of head-rests. One in iron, or of iron and
wood, is represented in Fig. 55. The lower part consists of a tripod
and tube of brass weighing about 40 lbs., which serves to prevent
vibration in the upper portion, which is applied to the head. This
consists of an iron tube having one piece forked, and capable of
being adjusted and fixed by a screw in any desired position.
Fig. 56 Head-rest.
These head-rests are made to stand on the ground; but Fig. 56
shows one constructed so as to be attached to a chair.
This form of head-rest is generally made of hard wood:--e
is a flat piece of wood, to be adapted to the back of a chair; two
clamping screws, f f, are attached to it; i i a
grooved board which comes behind the chair. It may be easily raised
and depressed, and is fixed in any desired position by turning the
screws f f. b b, a double-jointed piece for adapting to the
position of the head, and capable of being fixed by means of the
screws shown in the figure. The whole of this piece may be raised
and lowered, and fixed at d. a is a moveable forked piece, against
which the sitter leans. It will be easily perceived that the back of
the chair must come between the pieces e and i i.
Figure 55 shows also the manner of obtaining a focus, in
connection with which may be observed that too great an inclination
should never be given to the camera; as a rule it is best to have
the lens about the height of the chest. A very slight inclination of
the camera will then be sufficient to get a correct, image of the
sitter from head to foot.
In taking a portrait from a sitting position, it is best to lower
the camera-stand a little, and thus avoid too great distortion.
The nearer the camera is brought to the sitter the longer the
exposure; and inversely, the further the camera is removed, the
shorter the exposure. And it is in this way that the time of
exposure may be varied from one second to three hundred. But as a
general rule, in taking a full-length figure in summer, the plate
should be exposed twenty seconds, while a sitting position will
require thirty seconds. In winter these times of exposure should be
The following is a general summary of the operations involved in
taking a portrait. The direction and amount of light are the first
'things which claim attention, then the attitude of the sitter.
Focussing is the next operation, during which the sitter should be
requested to keep still, though not maintaining perfect immobility.
The plate should now be prepared in the dark room, on returning from
which any alteration which may have taken place in the pose of the
sitter during the absence of the operator is corrected, and efforts
made, by cheerful conversation, to induce an agreeable expression.
Then. when everything seems in order and ready, a final and rapid
adjustment of the focus is made; the focussing-glass is withdrawn
and replaced by the camera-back, containing the sensitive plate. The
lens is now uncovered and the plate exposed, the necessity of
complete stillness having been previously enjoined on the sitter,
explaining, however, at the same time, that he may breathe in the
ordinary way, and if necessary wink, but not move his
eyes from the spot where first directed. The time of exposure having
expired, the lens is covered and the slide of the camera-back
closed, and the development proceeded with in the dark room.
With reference to the means to be employed to estimate the time
of exposure in seconds, it will be found best to read the time from
a good watch with a second-hand, though the same object may be
attained by suspending a leaden or wooden ball by means of a cord 39
1/5 inches long. If the pendulum so constructed be made to
oscillate, it will be found to mark seconds of time with sufficient
It has been already mentioned in chapter seven, that lenses of a
different construction are necessary for landscapes from those which
are used for portraits. For views and architectural subjects a
single achromatic lens is sufficient, but for portraits a double
combination is necessary. It has also been stated that the form of
camera-stand, Fig. 46, and cameras, Figs. 47 and 48, are those most
applicable for landscape photography.
The rules which can be given for taking views are much more
simple than those for portraits. In point of fact, success depends
mainly on the taste of the operator in selecting the landscape which
he desires to reproduce, and the particular point of view from which
it is seen. The focussing is accomplished in the ordinary
It is only necessary to add, that views are taken by the wet as
well as the dry collodion process: With the latter all that is
required is a grooved plate-box, containing some prepared plates, a
camera-stand, and a large black cloth with which to cover the legs
of the camera-stand, when it becomes necessary to replace an exposed
plate by one which has not received the luminous impression. With
the wet collodion process, a photographic tent, or a light tent
carriage, is indispensable; and the operator must also take with him
all the paraphernalia of dishes, baths, bottles, &c., which form
the necessary furniture of a dark room.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, the wet. collodion process is
to be preferred for the reproduction of architectural subjects and
landscapes near great cities. But for a long voyage, the dry
collodion process is certainly the best.
In the wet collodion process, the nature of the result (good or
bad) is known at once on the ground; while with dry plates the
character of the picture is not ascertained until the development is
effected, which almost invariably takes place at a great distance
from the locality in which the view was taken.
In large cities and flat countries it is very easy to have a tent
or light carriage of waterproof cloth, carried, or drawn if need be,
by a porter or guide-an arrangement which offers the advantage of
allowing the operator to stop wherever he pleases, and conduct the
work with great facility.
Fig. 57. Iconometer.
Generally, before taking views, a preliminary visit is made, with
the object of ascertaining the best points of view, and on such
occasions the iconometer, or view meter, Fig. 57, is found very
convenient. It requires to be expressly constructed for each focus
of lens and size of camera, and resembles very much in appearance an
opera-glass. It consists of a small lens, a camera, of the shape of
an opera-glass, and a square focussing glass. By turning the lens
towards the view it is represented reversed on the ground glass; and
in this way the operator can judge whether his large camera will
take in the whole or what portion of the required view.
Instead of the iconometer with lens and ground glass, a more
simple one may be employed, which in many respects, however, is
similar to that indicated in Fig. 57. The observation is made
through the front opening, and on the large circle behind (to the
left in the figure) a rectangle is described equal to that which is
yielded by the lens attached to the camera. It is then only
necessary to observe what objects are included in the field of
vision, in order to ascertain what will be reproduced on the ground
glass. The iconometer with lenses is, however, the most convenient
for general use, as it affords an opportunity of knowing whether in
the case of taking an architectural subject, for example, the
operator is or is not too close, for then the vertical lines incline
towards a point, like the furrows in a horizontal field.