The Aperture Artisan: Peter Atwood


Talented metal artist Peter Atwood, known in the Lomography community as clickiemcpete, talks to us about his wonderful custom made aperture plates and tips on how to get the best bokeh with the Petzval Lens.

Aperture plates, designed and manufactured by clickiemcpete

You may know Peter Atwood or clickiemcpete for the stunning photos of his home in western Massachusetts, candid shots of his lovely cat and most recently, his beautiful experimentation with the New Petzval Lens, in particular using custom aperture plates to produce fantastic bokeh, as seen in a recent interview here.

As an expert metal artist, product designer, knife and tool maker, Peter is certainly the best person to ask about making custom apertures. And we wanted to discover exactly how Peter achieved such fantastic results!

Making the custom apertures

I didn’t have plans to make the custom apertures at first. But I was working on another project this winter using titanium that happened to be the same thickness as the Petzval aperture plates. Years ago I had made some custom aperture shapes for a Lensbaby lens so when I saw the special shapes for the Petzval I started thinking about the possibility of making some of my own custom shapes. So one very snowy day I sat down with a CAD program and drew up the basic plate shape. Then over the next week I came up with a few different designs for the aperture openings.

I have connections in the metal industry already so I was able to have the plates cut out by the waterjet process. There are no doubt less expensive ways to do this, such as by 3D printer for instance, but since I’m into making metal objects this was the best way for me to go about doing the project. Besides, titanium is a great material for the apertures because it’s so light and strong and obviously very durable. Anyway, after the aperture plates were cut I sanded them and then gave them a long tumble in ceramic media to smooth the edges.

Tips and tricks for great bokeh with the New Petzval Lens

I think the regular round apertures are wonderful all by themselves and produce some of the most pleasing bokeh I have seen so far. Shooting with as large of an aperture as your ISO and shutter speeds will allow definitely gives the most dramatic bokeh effect so I generally use the 2.2 or 4 if possible. Stopping down to 8 or 11, your images will be very sharp but the bokeh will be much less pronounced.

Choose your background

The custom shapes do allow you to create some unique images. Shooting into the light or towards busy surfaces with tiny points of light such as water droplets or through the leaves of a tree will give you a repeating image of your aperture shape. The stronger the light that stronger your aperture image. And the busier the background the better! My custom shapes are very fun and some of the designs give a more linear feel to the bokeh instead of the usual round. The floating triangle and lightning bolt in particular make for some very interesting looking background effects.

Think about distance

If you want the strong swirling background effect definitely shoot with a large aperture and make sure your subject and the background have some separation. So if your subject is standing in front of a busy background have them step forward a little bit and then move in a bit closer yourself to decrease the depth of field and accentuate the bokeh.

Experiment with digital and film

Shooting digitally will give a much different feel than shooting with film. Digital images will tend to be much smoother and slicker looking and the aperture shapes will be more defined and recognizable. Film is generally grainier and yields a more painterly feel in my opinion. Film also allows for some specific colors and looks that are hard to replicate with digital. I generally am a film shooter but it’s nice to have other options available as well.

Play closeup!

I have had some fun trying out closeups with this lens. The Petzval takes 58mm filters and I happened to have an old 58mm Canon closeup lens which screws right on. This makes the minimum focal distance about 18 inches, so roughly half of the normal minimum focal length. It works well for getting some basic macro images although you have to be careful because the depth of field starts to get very narrow. You really need a tripod for that kind of work.

Photo by clickiemcpete

For the love of Petzval

As an obsessed Lomographer and avid antique camera collector, the Petzval was a must have item for me. I was lucky enough to be in on the first wave of Kickstarter orders so I received my Petzval with Canon mount this winter. It was love at first sight for me! The beautiful brass barrel and knurled focus knob have a wonderful steampunk feel and it certainly looks like no other lens out there. The lens attracts a great deal of attention wherever I go and people are constantly asking about it and marveling at it.

I really have only just begun to scratch the surface of this fantastic instrument. I’m looking forward to taking it on my travels this summer and trying more films. In fact I am so smitten with it that I couldn’t resist picking up a second lens to use with my Nikons and this turns out to be my favorite combination as I am able to have complete manual control over every aspect of my shots.

I also love the Petzvals simply as objects. They are really beautiful and I am not babying mine or keeping them polished. I look forward to seeing them darken and eventually develop a nice deep patina. So for me, bumps, scratches and finger oils will only make these fine instruments better over the years to come.

What will Lomography bring us in the future? I don’t know if it’s possible but I’d love to see a wide angle version of this lens!

Many thanks Peter!

Find out more about the New Petzval lens here.

Pre-order your lens in time for July delivery today!

written by hembot on 2014-05-19 in #lifestyle #bokeh #metal-work #peter-atwood #apertures #custom

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