I was asked to photograph a photograph taken about a hundred years ago held in front of the same spot today, Dear Photograph-style. I checked out the website and thought that looked easy enough. But on my first trip out to the location – luckily, only a few steps from where I work – I realized there is a lot more to succeeding than I’d originally anticipated.

 

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Four more trips out to the spot, and I think I finally amassed some tips that should help others accomplish the same task.

  1. I use a full-frame DSLR camera. I didn’t try getting the shot with my iPhone, but there might be some advantages to doing so.
  1. Use a prime lens or choose a spot on your zoom lens and then leave it be. You don’t need to add zooming in and out to the mix. For the pictured photo, a 50 mm worked for me, probably because it mimics the angle of view of our eyesight, at least on a full frame body. It also focuses close to the lens and isn’t as bulky. And there is little distortion of the old photo at that focal length.
  1. Use a tripod and frame up the overall shot. Again, this just helps you minimize the number of variables, and since you’ll be using a very narrow aperture, you’ll need the protection against camera shake that will come with the accompanying slow shutter speed. You’re trying to find the angle from which the original was taken, but you’ll probably stand further back. Tighten the knobs and lock in the shot.
  1. Use aperture priority mode and set a small aperture so you can get the background as sharp as possible. Looking at the Dear Photograph website, I notice that the background is never fully sharp, and that is fine. Still, you wouldn’t want it to go full bokeh or what’s the point?
  1. Get to know your depth of field preview button. When I held the photo in front of my lens, the background was so blurry that I couldn’t line up the shot. But when I pressed the DOF preview button I could see the whole thing much better. I have a Live View option, but that didn’t work for me. Not only did that make the background look very bright and washed out, it also meant my face was too far away from the camera, limiting my ability to hold the old photograph in the right spot.
  1. So you’ll just hold the old picture in front of the camera, look through the viewfinder of the camera on the tripod while pressing the DOF preview button and adjust until the two photos are lined up. Remember you can adjust the photo by slanting it with one side or another tilted toward or away from the camera.
  1. When you think you have it right, snap a series of photos because your hand will shake.
  1. A little adjustment of lighting and contrast in Lightroom can help make the whole thing pop.
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