Photographing "the lean" : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I hope I get this link loaded correctly...

The image is the speeding racecar by Lartigue, and was taken in the early part of the 20th century.

I know that the "leaning" spectators and the oval shaped wheels are the result of panning the camera while using a foacl-plane shutter set at slow speed.

I'm going to try this with my trusty old Speed Graphic. Does anyone have any experience with this technique? Can you give me advice on where to start with shutter speeds? Does the panning have to follow the same direction as the shutters motion? What else do I need to take into consideration?

Thanks for any and all thoughts... -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, May 19, 2000


Isn't it a great shot! Made by a ten year old kid. And the damnest thing is that he always claimed it was planned, not serendipitious. I've always wanted to duplicate the effect, but I get confused thinking about it, what with the image upside down on the film, and does the focal plane shutter move vertically up or down? I don't think it could be done with a modern SLR, as the shutter travels too quickly across the film aperture. The actual FP time on a 4x5 Speed Graphic is about 1/60 second, so you'll have to pan pretty quickly. Lartigue's film must have been very slow, so the actual exposure couldn't have been more than 1/100 tops, probably shot on a tripod with a pan head or the men couldn't appear so sharp, and panned slower than the car was moving which accounts for the elliptical wheels, (but why doesn't the car body appear to lean forward?). I think my first try would be with the Speed held normally, and shutter speed of 1/100 sec. Good luck Dave, and please let me hear by email how you come out. Mitch.

-- Bill Mitchell (, May 19, 2000.

It's a shot made with tremendous skill. Lartigue is a puzzling figure and really quite an astonishing genius with the camera. I have never been able to figure out why the wheels are elliptical but the round cover with the number "6" is not. Perhaps because it is smaller, and it is slightly off round. The above comment is correct, he was panning slower than the automobile. Are you sure the speed graphic curtain will travel all the way in a 1/100th though? I think it's closer to half that. Mine is anyway.

-- Erik Ryberg (, May 19, 2000.

I mean twice that. I think. What I am trying to say, is my shutter curtain takes about 1/50th to travel it's course . . .

-- Erik Ryberg (, May 19, 2000.

I said 1/60, but you may be right about 1/50. I think it depends on the spring tension as well as the slit size. In the "drop-curtain" mode it's actually about 1/5 sec.

-- Bill Mitchell (, May 19, 2000.

There were some othr photos of that type back a few years. I think they might have been in the Speed Graphic book where it dealth with the back shutter. One of the topics was just this leaning effect, caused by the image of the moving object shifting laterally as the shutter travelled vertically.

If he had held the camera stationary, the car would still be leaning, but the people would be vertical. So this photo is indeed the result of panning the camera combined with the travel time of the shutter.

To get the same thing in a 35mm you would have to have one of the shutters that travels the short way of the film. Even then as the others said, it moves much faster than the Speed Graphic shutter.

The theory will probably drive you bonkers if you try to analyse it. Just go out to the race track and shoot some holders and see what you get.

-- Tony Brent (, May 19, 2000.

You guys are all wrong.

This was made with the proto-type of the justly famous and very rare ACME Camera. Although somewhat tempermental and prone to occassional violations of Newtonian physics, it was adapted and made famous by the staff at Warner Brothers.

Tex Avery was perhaps it's most justly famous proponant.

-- Sean yates (, May 20, 2000.


I might be wrong here, but if I recall correctly, Lartigue's camera had a horizontally travelling focal plane shutter. The SpeedGraphics have a vertically travelling one.

You could of course tilt your SpeedGraphic to its side.

-- K H Tan (, May 20, 2000.

Bill: The wheels are oval because the wheel does not spin in relation to the ground. The wheel actually pivots around the point that is in contact with the ground. The action is continuous, but the top of the wheel moves faster than the bottom. The shutter slit on the camera had to be moving vertically to get this effect. The 35mm shutters travel horizontally and have a back curtain, so this effect would be difficult except at very high speeds where the slit is very narrow and the camera would have to be on its side for a vertical shot and panned rapidly.

-- Doug Paramore (, May 20, 2000.

I like Rowdy's answer best.

-- Trib (, May 20, 2000.

The shutter has to travel vertically while the camera is panned horizontally to get the effect. It's pretty obvious that the bottom of the image was exposed first, and the top last. It doesn't matter what shutter speed you set within reason, the amount of leaning is governed by the panning speed and the speed of travel of the blinds, which is constant, not by the slit width. You could probably get the same effect with an old rangefinder Contax, or a russian copy, especially if the shutter was in the state that they usually turn up in.

Lartigue was given his first camera at the age of six, so he already had 4 years experience under his belt by the time this shot was taken.

-- photoscientia (, May 20, 2000.

The interesting question here is why doesn't the gas tank (with the number 6) appear as out-of-round as the wheel. I think I was wrong, and he must have actually panned at car speed. Neat-o!

-- Bill Mitchell (, May 20, 2000.

Ah, I am wrong after all! Yes, a vertically travelling shutter it is!

-- K H Tan (, May 20, 2000.

Thanks to all for the thoughts. Uncle Ansel discusses this picture and the use of the focal plane shutter in his book "The Camera". It is just a general discussion with no specifics.

According to AA, when the shutter slides the same direction as the moving object it "stretches" the image. When the shutter slides in the opposite direction it "compresses" the image. When the shutter is travelling from top to bottom the bottom of the tire is recorded first because the image is projected upside down.

But, as some of you have pointed out, that extremely distorted wheel next to such a sharp image of the driver is a real puzzle.

Guess I'll have to load some film and go play in traffic... -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, May 20, 2000.

It's hard to tell without seeing the negative (which would reveal uneven exposure), but the shutter could accelerate a bit as it comes down. More likely, the panning speed and/or the speed of the car could be uneven, so that the camera and the car might have been more in synch at the top of the picture (the end of the exposure) than they were at the beginning of the exposure. Since the poles or trees in the background are fairly straight, I would guess the panning and shutter speeds were even, and the car slowed down slightly to the panning speed.

-- David Goldfarb (, May 20, 2000.

The distorted wheel is not oval: the bottom half is much more distorted than the top half; and for that matter, the bottom of the wheel on the far side of the car is also less distorted than the one closest to us.

The panning speed therefore more closely matched the apparent motion of the car when the shutter slit was in the middle of the image than when exposing the road at the start of the curtain travel. If you draw some circles on the image you will see that in fact the very top of the distorted wheel is a pretty good circular arc, which agrees with the undistorted image of the body of the car and its occupants.

Assuming that no darkroom tricks have been employed, the car must have slowed down or the panning rate must have sped up. Since the trees and people are so uniformly distorted, I'd guess it's the former, but it's common for people trying to track a moving object to pan too slowly at first and then catch up, so it's possible that's what happened.

Panning at exactly the car's speed will give circular, blurred wheels, not ovals. Pan a little too slowly and the wheels lean forward if your shutter travels from top to bottom of the focal plane (bottom to top of the image). Pan a little too fast and they lean the other way. In both cases the car body will also distort, so you need an uneven pan speed (or car speed) to get the effect shown here.

-- Struan Gray (, May 21, 2000.

The car is photographed at an angle (right rear quarter view) which, even in a still picture, would produce oval appearing wheels and gas tank. Since the car was actually moving they would be less oval (more circular) when the angle is smaller and the FP slit was near the bottom, and more oval progressivly as the car got at a bigger angle to the viewer. This partially explains the "lumpy" shape of the wheel. I don't think it answers the whole question. Go to it Dave!

-- Bill Mitchell (, May 21, 2000.

I just got a Contax IIA with a vertical shutter. I need to go try this.

Some modern 35mm cameras have vertically-travelling shutters - particularly the Copal square metal shutter. The Minolta XD-11, I believe, has this shutter, and this weekend I was looking at a friend's Nikon EM which also had this shutter. The new Voightlaender Bessa-R and Bessa-L also use this shutter.

-- John H. Henderson (, May 23, 2000.

I suspect that while Lartigue was panning with the car the shutter was moving in the opposite direction and also it wasn't running smoothly at a constant speed, hence some parts of the image are more distorted than others. It is very unlikely that any fancy tricks were being played and that the image is at least partially,a "happy accident".

-- Ellis Vener (, May 23, 2000.

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