PhotoForum's IMPlausible Photo Stories

This is a compilation of real or imaginary stories connected in some way with photography. They were contributed by several members of the PhotoForum list as well as colleagues from near and far. Contributors retain rights of authorship over each of them. Instructions for adding to this collection appear at the bottom of this file.

True story of Out-of-Focus Film
By: Sandy Barrie

(The name of the film manufacturer is witheld to save any embarresment)

The importance of "getting each shot" to a wedding photographer is paramount. Trying to explain why a photo did not turn out to an angry bride is not a pleasant sight, I can assure you. So keeping cameras in good working condition as important as the right film on a wedding. Actually I always carry two, and change them at the slightest hint of anything amiss.

So when a camera need to be repaired, it has to be thoroughly tested when it comes back from the repair technician, if only for sanity's sake, so that you know when you press the button, all will be well.

In this case, A flash sync connector had failed on a Hasselblad and when the camera came back it was my job to put it "through the hoops", to test all aspects so that its use would be assured.

As an "all colour studio" with our own in-house colour lab, I normally chose to shoot the tests on B&W, which would be a quick 6min dip, and examine the negs while wet. First shot at infinity lock outdoors, aiming at cranes at the end of the street, 2 miles away, Next visually focused at infinity,(any difference would indicate focusing screen alignment) next focused at 10 feet (parking sign), next at extreme closeup. (difference between these will show mirror, lens, screen or film plane problems.) next a blank frame with a Metz flash gun, 'popped' at all the corners of the film magazine. (to show any light trap & magazine problems)

All exposures are made at full aperture, and what ever the shutter speed will suite’, after all we are not looking for award winning shots or even correct exposures, and the negs normally go in the rubbish bin straight after. Focus is all that is being checked...!!

7 mins later, dripping fixer on the light box, I was looking at a roll of slightly soft shots of everything. All out by the slightest and same amount. this screamed a lens alignment problems, and back I flew to the repairman. who checks it all out immediatly, puts the camera and lens on a collimator, and pronounces it all correctly anligned. Back to the studio for another test, again all ever so slightly soft. (This was a 20 Mile round trip, as he lived out of the city)

Worrying that it was a magazine problem, tried different mags, same result. Now I am worried that I am going blind. With a 20x loup, and a ground glass back I check every shot, and boss does also, looking over my shoulder, and then checking my focus. same ever so slightly soft shots. Hoping that this is only a single lens element moved problem, and questioning my sanity, I grab another camera and lens, again ever so slightly soft shots. by now I am totally bereft.

At this time, I loaded a roll of colour film into the original problem camera, and this time wait the 21 mins for the C-41 dip and dunk to do it work, in total anticipation of “the end of the world”. the neg shots was so sharp I could have cut myself.

And then the penny drops. I had used a new pack of B&W film, properly refrigerated, and opened an hour before use. So I got straight on the phone to Technical Sales Rep of the Films company. And with the immortal words "Dave, I think I got some out of focus films..." I announced the series of events.

Normally when i repeat this tale, it is not long into it, that most photographers are giving me sideways glances of softly whispering to each other. I expected that sort of snigger to come from the other end of the phone. Not even a giggle from Dave.

With a quick reply Dave said he would be down to examine the results in a tick. He infact sent his offsider, a new Technical Sales Rep, who quickly whisked up all the negs, and took them away for examination. Next morning Dave appeared with a swag of telexes. We indeed had a "problem batch" of film.

What had happened was the roll film, when manufactured had been wound at the wrong tension (they actualy measure the “pull” tension when it is being wound on the spool) , and sealed (in England) at the wrong humidity settings for Australia. So that when the film was put in the camera magazine, the backing paper, ever so slightly 'popped' it forward into the film gate, by amounts so minuscule that it would be impossible to visually notice, but enough that showed up when the lens was used at full aperture. I could have let the film stand for months after openeing from refrigeration, and it would not have helped.(I have had films go misty on me when opened too soon after being taken out of the studio freezer, due to condensation on the surface ofthe film. But experience now won't let me make the same mistake)

Had I stopped down by one stop It would never have shown up, but I often took wedding photos at full aperture in many situations for the the narrow depth.

No doubt that film company has not allowed the slip in manufacturing tollerences to happen again, but the humour of the thing in hindsight leaves me with a tale that almost no one will ever believe....
Now if only Ripley was there.

Sandy Barrie.
Photographic Historian.
Honorary Life Member, Australian Institue pf Professional Photographers.
PO Box A 488, Sydney South, NSW, 1235, Australia.
(at the Time I was working Ranald Simmonds Studios, Elizabeth St, Brisbane.)

Potpourri - in the field and in the darkroom
By: Les Newcomer

  • Photographs of distant objects-- mountains, valleys, etc. must be made with slow shutter speeds because light travels only 186 miles in 1/1000 of a second, anything beyond 186 miles will be black.

  • The owner of the lab I use now told me of a not very bright guy he hired. At one point he convinced this assistant that the enlarger had an 'audible' timer on it. He would yell "expose!" (and then hit the foot switch). The assistant fell for it hook line sinker, dock and part of the beach. At one point the assistant tried to fool the enlarger and yelled "Repose!" Tim, the owner didn't budge "Wow!" what will they think of next!", replied the amazed assistant.

  • I was in my last year at Community College and was in the darkroom when the teacher brought in some green freshman and showed them how to process film. I was still there when one of these new recruits came in to the film processing area with a 4 roll tank and proceeded to measure the stock developer, pour this in full strength, then tried to fill the tank with water from a hose. The tank got air bound and "overflowed", so he stopped, getting about 8 ounces of water in the tank to mix with the straight HC 110.

    "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" I asked
    "Oh Yeah, I did it just like the teacher showed!" he replied.

    I went to the staff person that oversees the darkroom area and told her that in a few minutes there will be a scream from the film area and a bewildered freshman will appear with tears in his eyes and a look of disbelief on his face. Then I told her why. The next day she told me that I have to be psychic since I pegged the scene to a T even though I wasn't there.

    Silver migration in unprocessed film
    By: Jack Karpen

    It should be noted that photographic emulsion consists of silver suspended in gelatin.

    This is very similar to those holiday jello molds (so popular this time of year) where odd bits of various fruits are suspended in colored (usually  green) and flavored gelatin.

    The similarity continues in that we know what occurs when the jello mold is dropped or treated in a rough manner. The bits of fruit are displaced to a greater or lesser degree. This same phenomena can be witnessed when viewing student work. When viewing fuzzy pictures be sure to question students on how the film was handled before processing (when film is most susceptible to jarring). Film that has been dropped is seldom worth processing due to the severe migration of silver. Film that has been jarred (this usually occurs from the camera jostling on a neckstrap) will always show a loss of edge sharpness.

    Jack Karpen - School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT
    Reference: U.S. Navy manual of photography, vol. 1 & 2, 1947 edition.

    Moon Shine Over Hernandez
    By: Alan Zinn

    A bus load of Ansel Adams impersonators were stopped along the highway, their big wooden cameras all pointed east towards the glowing snow peaks of the Sangre de Christo mountains. In the fading light a state police cruiser pulled up in a cloud of dust and an officer stepped out.
    "Evening gentlemen, is there a problem with your vehicle? "Only emergency parking is allowed here."
    "But this is an emergency officer" one of the portly, grey-beards shouted."We are waiting for Moon Rise."
    "Sorry you'll have to move on - only vehicle emergencies allowed," the officer replied.
    A quick thinking Ansel raised the engine shroud and peered at the motor while another lay down beneath the bus.
    The officer, not fooled by this ruse, spoke into his radio.
    "Hernandez here, I have a four fifteen at mile post ninety six, please send back-up."
    He raised his pepper spray.
    "All of you. Get out from under those dark cloths and put your hands on the bus. Pronto!"
    At his command, the full moon rising above his head, a volley of shutters fired.

    Lookaround Panoramic Cameras and Gallery:

    Three short stories
    From:  Alberto Tirado

    1. 25 years ago, a friend of mine was given a camera as a gift for his birthday, but he was never photo-inclined, so he dumped the camera in a box without ever shoting a single frame.

    He recently found the old camera and gave it to me. It still had the original roll inside, so I just proceeded to finish it, shooting some
    portraits of my baby son. When I developed the film, I was astonished to find a young man with a familiar look instead of my baby. After further research, which involved the authoritative opinions of relatives and a certain Madame La Conga, of a passing Gipsy community, we found out it was not other than my baby himself. The aged film had inflicted 25 years in the looks of the portraits, and it projected the image of my son as he will be seen in two and a half decades from now!

    2. When I was in school, a religious community requested a photographer to volunteer for a catalog they were doing of all churches in town, and I went for it. Since the job included photographing interiors, I decided to use a simple flash mounted in the camera. To my dismay, all of the vitrals and statues came out with red eyes.

    But they were so kind to give me another chance, and so I was requested to photograph a group of priests attending their "First Centennial World Meeting", taking place that year at the cathedral.

    The chance to gather them all came on the last day of the event. I arranged the 105 people in a pre-selected spot under one of the gothic towers. I checked twice and again in the viewfinder for the slightest flaw. I shot many frames in each of several separate rolls. Nothing could go wrong this time. Remembering the red-eye effect, I was bouncing the flash on the ceiling...

    Boy, were their eyes red when they saw the results!

    They know nothing about photography but, nonetheless, they requested to check my equipment. Strangely enough, whenever I make a self-portrait, it always comes out with a "dunce" hat.

    3. Once, I was assigned to photograph a rock concert of a famous band that was in town. I hired an assistant and on the client's request I used color reversal film (transparencies). The concert was great, but there was a hurry, so we went directly to the lab and worked overnight to have the photos ready before they left town the next morning.

    The photos came out well exposed, but when I inspected the rolls I noticed that, while all of the musicians were standing in their correct positions, they were looking the other way, their bodies seen from the rear!

    Only after a long time of searching in vain for an explanation, my assistant admited that he was a dyslexic and couldn't keep up with the sequence of the E6 process, always using the reversal bath twice.

    Fortunately, I had shot an entire roll from behind of the stage, looking in the direction of the audience, and that saved the day.

    Alberto Tirado

    A matter of proportions
    By: Jerry Harmen

    A local engineer owns and advertises his own ISO 9000 mini lab retail outlet. He called me on one occasion when he was having troubles creating copy negatives from 4x6 inch prints. He was doing fine on all the horizontally composed shots, but ran into snags with the verticals. Seems they cropped out the top or bottom (or both) of the picture, and you could see the copy board on either side. He tried correcting this problem, but became so frustrated after 10 rolls of attempts that he called and asked for help.

    I explained that cameras are really very stupid, and that he should rotate the verticals 90 degrees and then copy them. He then said that his customers probably wouldn't be very happy with the results. I told him that most customers I've known wouldn't be phased, but would automatically rotate the prints back to their original orientation.

    It is good to have such competition.

    Serendipity and the Prepared Mind
    By:  Alan Zinn

    Dr. Edmund Land had taken a picture of his young daughter and her friends at her birthday party when she said "I wish there were an instant picture camera daddy. We could see the pictures right now." "Well honey, I have to take the film down to the drug store and they will make it into pictures and then we can look at them."

    "But daddy, we'll have to wait until the rest of the roll is used and that won't be until maybe Christmas or Easter. Our trip to the beach last summer is on it too.

    Chagrined, Dr. Land admitted that he had been very lax in getting latent images to the drug store. "Alright dear, I'll work in my lab tonight and see what develops." "Daddy, your so funny."

    Dawn just breaking, Dr. Land ,frustrated and exhausted mutters to himself as he spreads the last of many batches of developer on an exposed image "Darn kids now-a-days, always want everything right now, no patience at all.  I should be working on something useful like polarized  lingerie."

    The lab is a mess of gooey chemicals, the floor littered with test strips. Land peels apart the last test picture and finds nothing - just the pale yellow scrap paper he was using for film. "Drat! Who the heck but kids wants instant pictures anyway? It's nice to go down to the drug store now and then, see people, get out of the house."

    Later at breakfast an astonished Dr. land finds some of his yellow test strips stuck to the refrigerator. Notes are written on them: "pick up laundry," "call for hair appointment," and "take film to drug store." "What the...!"

    His wife pours him coffee and says "I found these little sticky papers all over the lab floor dear. They stick well but come right off again - great for posting notes."

    Lookaround Panoramic Cameras and Gallery:

    Photographia Obsessivus
    By:  Palma Allen © 1998 Palma Allen

    General Description:  Photographia Obsessivus
    This observant, solar and tungsten powered creature can be found generating images at any time with an attached box-like contraption(s). It feeds on a plethora of film, paper, chemicals, contracts and goodies. It prefers currency. The Obsessivius is considered friendly but it has been known to shoot flames when its path is intercepted. Although it is usually seen during daylight it can slump into hiding. Some varieties have been discovered playing with their food, especially currency.

    Zoomclickerus Stockum
    This is the most versatile and worldly of the Obsessivus varieties. It can be quite friendly and will usually share its food when approached. However, since currency is rare, it prefers to save it for later (usually under rocks).Image-generating abilities are remarkably high.  When conditions are prime, the popular Stockum can produce an abundance of images. This is the best time to approach the Stockum.
    Artimoodinus Finus
    This unpredictable variety of Photographia Obsessivus prefers to be alone but it can be lured by Stockum contracts and goodies. It's high quality image generating capabilities are sporadic. Avoids Clipartisucia. It is believed to hoard toy cameras and currency in dark rooms, but this has yet to be determined. Flames are deadly.

    The most unpopular variety of Photographia Obessivus is the Clipartisucia. It's young are especially vulnerable. When left unchecked
    this menace can be found scavenging under rocks for currency. The result of this behavior has caused the Clipartisucia to have evolved with extremely low dietary requirements, triggering allergic reactions to staples such as fixer and contracts. Unless rocks are guarded, this
    gnarled variety of Photographia Obsessivus will continue to thrive even if only as an outcast.

    Technifixalotuphus Rex
    The proud Technofixalotuphus Rex roams the central vicinity of all varieties of Photographia Obsessivus favoring the company of the generous Zoomclickerus Stockum. This giant has been observed feasting on Clipartisucia, making note of overturned rocks. During hunting season the Rex makes sport of luring Artimoodinus Finas with toy cameras and goodies with hopes of acquiring extra currency.
    First published on my website
    Palma Allen, 2206 Regina Drive, Clarksburg, MD  20871, 301-865-3229, Copyright 1997

    True Tales from a University Photo Service
    By: Don Roberts

    Many years ago when I was working in the darkroom of the University of Iowa Photo Service, we used to hire and train students who were interested in learning photography.Usually we all very helpful and tried to make them valuable employees and people who became fired up about photography as a career.

    Occassionaly, we would have to have a little fun with some of these folks to keep ourselves sane. On one occassion a student, while printing one of his own images which wasn't quite sharp, asked if there was a paper that would make images sharper.

    It just happened to be a day when I was feeling somewhat ornery and needed some levity. My reply to him was "Sure, Kodak makes a paper called Hypoprismatic Paper which has small glass particles imbedded in the emulsion to make the image look sharper". He naturally said he would like to try some. I told him we had some somewhere but couldnít locate it right now but would have it tomorrow when he came to work.

    After he left we started looking around and found a box of Kodak Kodabromide with the E surface which had a very rough texture. A little careful surgery on some chemical boxes and pasting on the paper box gave us a box of Hypoprismatic Paper which passed inspection easily in the darkroom.

    The next day he came to work, tried the paper and exclaimed over the improvement in sharpness. He left us shortly thereafter and went to Rochester and hired on as a trainee there. The first time he came back to visist us he complimented us for our knowledge because we knew about products that the people at Kodak weren't even aware of. Seems he had told some of his coworkers about Hypoprismatic Paper and felt very superior that he knew about it and they didn't. We never had the heart, or nerve, to tell him it was all a put on.

    Later in my career there I was being constantly bothered by a friend's son who was trying to be a professional photographer and color printer. This particular young man was really not very bright and not well schooled in the photo arts and sciences. He called one day to ask if I could help him because he was plagued by inconsistent results print color. I agreed to give him what assistance I could.

    I began by asking him if he was maintaining the proper temperatures for the chemicals. He said he was and that he had found a great way to get the solutions to the right temperature. He said he would mix the developer with tap water and then add hot or cold water to it until it was the right temperature. My jaw dropped and I croaked "You are joking right?" He said no. I mentioned the fact that he had altered the strength of the developer by diluting it and he asked "Is that important?" At that point I advised him to find another career, preferably one that wouldnít put peoples lives at risk and gave up trying to help him.

    Over the years we also had people ask if we could turn a negative over and print from the back side so we could see someone's face instead of their back. We also had a Physics grad student ask us to print a graph twice as wide without changing the height and still maintain the same proportions. None of us were capable of either understanding how that was possible or convincing him that it wasn't.

    Life in an academic enivironment was seldom dull and often surprisingly bizarre. I lasted 31 years and can probably remember a few more chuckles.

    Many thanks to the authors who shared their ulikely stories with us. Additional stories are always welcome. Send them to: making sure to state the word:  STORY  in the subject line of the message placing your story in the body of the message

    If you have comments or suggestions, email Andrew Davidhazy at

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