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The exciting world of rear-projection photography

The exciting world of rear-projection photography – photograph altering technique

Fred Lewis

Have you ever dreamed that your slides would look like an oil painting? Are your slides scoring low this season because the judge says your slides lack impact and imagination? Are you bored with long winter days and nights? Rear-projection photography might be your answer.

Drag out those old slides you have been hiding in your closet for years and enter the exciting world of rear-projection. With very little equipment and expense, you can make that old dull slide you shot years ago look like a renaissance painting. Rear-projection photography is a simple way of projecting a slide onto a coated material which has been specially treated. The image can be viewed and rephotographed from the other side of the rear-projection screen.

Years ago, my wife, Barbara, and I attended one of those one-day workshops. We saw a husband and wife team give a lecture and slide show on rear-projection. We were really amazed at the simplicity of turning an ordinary slide into a photographic masterpiece.

First, you will need a rear-projection screen. Daylite Screen Company will give you the name of the nearest distributor in your area. Daylite’s telephone number is 1 (800) 622-3737. Their glass screens are specially made for rear-projection photography.

The second piece of equipment you will need is a single-lens reflex with a cable release. If you don’t have a cable release handy and your camera has a self-timer, you may use the self-timer. Next, you will need a good, sturdy tripod and a slide projector. The lens that I use most on my camera for rear-projection photography is a 105mm macro lens, but you can use lenses from 85mm to 135mm depending on the size of your rear-projection screen.

To complete your rear-projection setup, you will need to construct a wooden frame to protect the sides of your screen from chipping, because the screen is very delicate. I asked my friend Marty to construct a wooden frame to hold my screen securely in place. Marty built me a frame that has one slot on each side. These slots are located inside the frame on the right, left and bottom of the frame. The are built from strips of solid wood found in almost any hobby store. The length of the slots should be determined by the height and length of your frame. The slots on the sides do not have to be joined with the bottom slots; leave about 2 inches between them. The top part of the frame is open. With this type of frame, the screen is not permanently mounted within the frame and the screen can be taken out of the frame at any time.

If you can’t construct a frame yourself or don’t have a friend to help you, you may want to take your new rear-projection screen to the nearest lumberyard in your area. They probably can make a frame for you to hold your screen. Don’t forget to tell them you also need them to put legs on the frame, so the screen can stand in an upright position.

I prefer to use a frame, especially if I am working with a large glass screen; but if you don’t want to spend the time and money to construct a frame, you can go to a lumberyard and buy 2×2 inch pieces of hardwood lumber and cut slots in the wood 3 inches apart and 2 inches deep. The slots should be 1/4 inch wide (check the thickness of your rear-projection screen and also your texture screens before you start cutting the slots). To cut the slots in the wood, use a small saw such as a jigsaw.

Texture screens are not specially treated and are used in conjunction with rear-projection screens to create different artistic effects. For example you can make a country scene look like an oil painting. This technique is described in detail later in this article.

Now that you have built a frame for your rear-projection screen, it’s time to get started. Your 35mm projector is placed on a table along with the rear-projection screen. Make sure, when you re setting up your screen, to center your camera in the middle of your rear-projection screen. Also make sure that the projector is parallel to the screen. Place your single-lens mounted on your tripod on the opposite side of the rear-projection screen. Next, load your camera with color slide film. I use Kodachrome 64. You can use other slide films, including Tungsten, but I like the sharpness and contrast of Kodachrome. If you decide to use Kodachrome, you will need an 80B conversion filter to covert the film to Tungsten. You will also need a CC30R filter. The CC30R eliminates the bluish cast created by the slide projector’s bulb. The CC30R comes in glass or gel form. I prefer the glass filter. Many filter companies such as Tiffen make this filter.

There are two methods of obtaining the correct exposure for rear-projection photography. One way is to use a single-lens reflex with a built-in meter. The other way is to use a hand-held incident light meter. You cannot get perfectly exposed slides with one exposure, you will have to bracket your exposures. I usually take as many as five exposures, depending on the subject matter. For example, if the meter reads 1/60 at f8, I then bracket 1/60 at f5.6, then 1/60 between f5.6 and f8, 1/60 at f8, 1/60 between f8 and f11 and finally 1/60 at f11. Also, if you are using a hand-held meter, don’t forget to compensate for the CC30R filter and the 80B filter. Refer to the instruction sheets that accompany these filters. I have found out by experience that the best slides for rear-projection photography should be half-stop overexposed because when you use a texture screen in front of the rear-projection screen, the details in your original slide will not be lost. Also, let a little light fall on the rear-projection screen, either from the sides or from above. This will cut down on the contrast of our slide.

Rear-projection photography can create many interesting effects. I primarily use my rear-projection screen in conjunction with texture screens. Look in the yellow pages for a place that sells glass. Before you go, call them and find out if they have different types of textured glass or plastic screens and also if they will cut some pieces for you. If the answer is yes, make sure you measure your rear-projection screen before you go. Have the textured glass or plastic cut a little larger than four screen. After you have had the textured glass cut, place it into the slots of the 2x2s. You then can move the textured glass away from the rear-projection screen, creating many interesting images. Remember, the farther you move the textured glass or plastic from the screen the more distorted the image becomes, so don’t get carried away. I usually lay the textured glass against my rear-projection screen. You can also look in department stores and specialty shops for different textures.

You cannot use your fear-projection screen for making dupes of your slides – you can achieve much better results with a slide duplicator – but you can use the screen for backgrounds, still life setups, portraits, silhouettes and many other endeavors. Have fun on those cold winter evenings by creating new and interesting images with rear-projection photography.

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