The Barracks (Part 1)

“The entire world could end and we wouldn’t even know.”

Justin Lowery said that once.  Or maybe it was me.  Honestly it’s tough to remember at this point as it happened over two years ago.  What I do know is that he and I once socially distanced at a truly epic level.  That word gets thrown around a lot in reference to photography, but in this case it was true.  So here’s the story about how he and I once went 5 days without seeing another human.  The world really could have ended and we would not have known.  We were socially distancing long before it was mandatory!

Prologue

A little background first though.  I’m a thorough researcher.  When getting into large format, I bought all the books on the subject that I could find.  When I read through those (thanks Ansel Adams for posthumously teaching me the fundamentals!) I went to YouTube.  It was there I discovered some guy named Ben Horne (maybe you’ve heard of him) and learned of his penchant for this collection of canyons called Zion.  All it took was seeing one video of the Virgin River Narrows and I was hooked.  I simply HAD to visit this place!  It sounds strange to say now, but at that point in my life (circa 2011) I had no idea rivers could be next to vertical canyon walls.  Growing up in the rolling hills of Tennessee, this was completely foreign to me.  So, as with all things, before I visited, I had to research Zion.  Following a similar pattern I bought up all the hiking guide books I could find and then, once those were exhausted, I turned to the internet.

Subway, the Narrows, Angels Landing…they were all covered very thoroughly.  I started to mentally map out all of the iconic shots I wanted to take on my first trip.  Once familiar with those, I started to research the more obscure locations: Clear Creek, Northgate Peaks, The Kolob Canyons…I knew it all like the back of my hand.  And then there was the Barracks.  Ever heard of it?  Probably not, because even in my YouTube journals and when discussing it on the Large Format Photography Podcast I never mentioned the name.  That’s by design as I didn’t want it to become overrun.  So I’m letting you into the Large Format Circle of Trust here.  If you go there, don’t ruin it!!

So back to the Barracks.  It was a hike that promised Narrows like scenery, epic (that word again) adventure, and at least a multi-day backpacking trip.  That was a minor issue because at that point I had approximately zero backpacking experience.  So for the time being, I stored the Barracks in the back of my mind and concentrated on exploring Zion through day hikes.  As I progressed in my large format experience, I gradually started to want to branch out further than just day hiking.  I had my fill of the icons; I wanted to explore areas where most people don’t take cameras, and that meant hiking further than I could make it in a single day.  Backpacking was the answer.

Again, books and the internet told me everything I needed to know about backpacking.  Even though the chapters about backpacking with large format gear were strangely missing, I was confident I could adapt; the Barracks were starting to almost, kind of, possibly be doable!!

Until I made my first trip.  In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have made my first backpacking-with-LF-gear a 3-day experience when rain was predicted for days 2 and 3.  With thunder rumbling through the Smoky Mountains, I did manage to stay dry (and even took one of my favorite images of the Smokies) but my morale was shot.  I returned to my truck with my tail tucked between my legs, exhausted after only one night on a relatively flat trail.  I had a MAJOR problem…weight.  My pack was just too heavy.  How was I supposed to hike nearly 30 miles spanning multiple days in unforgiving terrain when I could barely make it one night on a flat trail.  The Barracks once again faded into the back of my mind.

And it promptly returned to the forefront the day I met Justin Lowery.  As with most in the large format community, Justin and I knew each other through social media.  After finding out our time in Zion one year would overlap, we met up, and as most photographers do, we compared gear!  He was shooting a generation 1 Intrepid 4×5 at the time.  Back then I was only vaguely aware of Intrepid.  I seemed to remember seeing a startup company on GoFundMe.  It was encouraging to see some new developments in LF, but that prototype was UGLY!  Do you guys remember seeing the front standard supports made out of plywood?!  Anyway, I dismissed the camera based on looks alone.  In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t judge a camera based on its prototype, because Justin showed me the Intrepid, and to my surprise, it was a sharp-looking camera.  But even more importantly, it weighed nothing.  I returned from Zion and immediately placed an order.  With my gen 2 camera in hand, the Barracks was now a distinct possibility!

I ran the idea by Justin and he was crazy enough to join me.  We spent the next year trying gear, refining our systems, and planning the hike.  From what little we found in guide books and online, we mapped out potential photography hotspots, places to overnight, and areas we could bail out if we needed to.  We settled on a 5 day, four-night adventure; carrying enough food was the limiting factor.  With packs loaded, and waypoints saved into a handheld GPS, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Day 1

The Barracks is a through-hike meaning we needed to arrange a shuttle for drop-off and have a car parked for pickup.  I arranged the shuttle through a local outdoor outfitter, and we arrived at Zion Outfitters at 6 a.m. on a brisk October day.  Justin left his truck at the Checkerboard Mesa parking lot with a note about our expected arrival date and time.  We had notified park rangers of our plans and they wished us luck…and told us not to get lost or hurt.  Rescues in the area would be difficult and could potentially take several days.  What a confidence boost!!  With temps hovering in the low 30s, our shuttle made its way to the Barracks trailhead.  I use that term loosely as there is no official beginning to the trail; you just drive as far downriver as possible and then start hiking.

Speaking of a river, I guess now is as good a time as any to paint a picture of exactly what the Barracks hike is.  The Barracks (disappointing named, I discovered, after a family ranch and not an ominous prison) is a canyon system along the East Fork of the Virgin River (as opposed to the North Fork that makes up the more famous Narrows).  Starting in the widely spaced white sandstone cliffs to the east of Zion National Park, the river gradually carves a deep East/West canyon along its course.  Along the way, several slot canyons branch off offering potentially breathtaking photographic opportunities.  These canyons, and the deeper chasm further down the main river, were what we were after, but it was going to take effort to get there.

(Sunlight on the white cliffs and the meandering East Fork of the Virgin River.)

Well before the sun made an appearance, we stepped out of our offroad shuttle to begin our adventure.  Let me tell you, the cold hits differently when you step out of the vehicle and have a river crossing in the first 100 yards of your hike!  At this stage, the East Fork is more of a meandering creek, with heavy emphasis on the word meandering.  With no trail to follow, it was a constant judgment call of when to cross the river, when to hike in the river, and when to stay on dry ground.  This was actually not that easy as getting in and out of the river required quite a bit of effort.  The banks were quite tall and mostly sand or overgrown.  Travel was slow and arduous, but as the sun crested the white cliffs behind us, team morale took a noticeable turn for the better!

(As you can see, getting out of the river was no easy task!)

And then I stepped in quicksand.  Through reading what little I could find on this hike, the word quicksand continuously made an appearance.  Not saying I brushed it off, but it didn’t concern me too much until I stepped in it.  At this point I should mention that the river is quite silty; so silty in fact that you cannot see what you are walking in.  As we were hiking in the river, I took one step that was ankle deep and the next unknowingly went mid-thigh.  If you’ve never hiked in quicksand before, it’s best to imagine walking on jello.  If you walk quickly you can stay on top of it, but if one-foot plants too firmly you’ll sink.  This is the predicament I found myself in.  To be clear, this was in no way dangerous.  However, my options were limited.  The current was too strong for me to step out of the pothole and backtrack.  A quick depth check with my trekking pole told me that another step down river would’ve placed the water at chest level.  This was not an option as I was carrying all my camera gear (and everything I needed to stay warm on this trip) on my back.  In order to save weight we decided to forego any type of dry bag; if I got soaked, the gear got soaked.  Thankfully, Justin was behind me.  He shed his pack to the bank, and then extended a trekking pole.  I grabbed hold and extricated my leg from the predicament.  Disaster averted!

Again, that wasn’t dangerous, but from then on, the seed of doubt was planted.  Was the next step I took going to plunge me even deeper?  We developed a method of tapping our trekking poles in front of us to test depth.  This helped, but I can’t lie…I enjoyed the hike much more for the portions when Justin was leading! :) I brought along the full video kit for this trip as I wanted to document as much as possible.  However, the hiking was so difficult that I was not able to capture much of the hike itself.  We did take occasional breaks whenever we found a freshwater spring; the silty, animal carcass (true story; multiple dead deer) filled East Fork just wasn’t going to cut it as a water source.  During these times I would grab some video to hopefully tell our story.  As an aside, this is some of my all-time favorite drone footage; not being in a National Park has its benefits!

After taking 5 hours to hike 6 miles, we arrived at the confluence of the Barracks and Mineral Gulch.  Mineral Gulch is a series of extremely narrow slot canyons and a source of freshwater.  Thankfully, at the mouth of this canyon was a little peninsula of land that made the perfect spot to set up camp.  There was a flat area relatively close to the river where I could pitch my tent and Justin his tarp.  We had to be a little careful here as we were on sand and not compacted dirt.  Driving a tent stake and then applying too much pressure would’ve caused the sand to separate and fall into the river; picture a glacier cracking and falling into the ocean.  Difficulties aside, we got camp set up and still had enough daylight to explore and photograph Mineral Gulch.

(The best campsite we could’ve hoped for…just as long as the sand didn’t cave in! Notice how silty the East Fork is.)

With camping gear offloaded, my backpack now barely even registered as being on my back.  Also, Mineral Gulch is mostly dry and flat so covering terrain was much easier now.  We traversed the north/south canyon several times searching for the best reflected light.  At one point, I found an intense glow, but by the time I had my camera up and focused, it was too late.  It was becoming apparent that we had missed the best light.  Not a huge worry as we had designated another full day to explore this slice of photography paradise.  One highlight of the day was coming across a brilliant cottonwood in front of a bright reflected light wall.  This was extremely lucky as most trees had unfortunately already shed their leaves; so much for capturing fall color on this trip.  Justin and I both photographed this tree and then returned to our campsite for dinner and some rest.

(Beautiful reflected light in one of the narrows of Mineral Gulch.)

(The only tree on the entire trip that showed any color…and it just happened to be in front on an orange wall!)

It turns out our little peninsula of land was just about the perfect campsite (the risk of the sand caving in and falling in the river notwithstanding of course).  Flash floods had eroded some areas at just the perfect sitting height.  I can’t tell you how great it felt to get in some dry clothes and sit down after a long day!  We even had time to build a campfire.  Once the sunset, I changed out film.  This was a real exercise in organization as I only brought two boxes.  One contained packets of Ektar, Velvia, and Delta 100 and the other was for unloading sheets from my four film holders.  I carefully recorded the order which I unloaded the film, and then reloaded everything for the following day.  With nothing left to down, I got in my tent and went to sleep to the sounds of the Virgin River.

(Forbidden Temple 4×5 Kodak Ektar 100)

(Fading 4×5 Fuji Velvia 50)

(Yin and Yang 4×5 Fuji Velvia 50)

Be sure and come back for Part 2 of this trip as Justin and I explore more of this beautiful canyon system.

 

Wilderness Medicine

I think I can speak for most landscape photographers, the majority of us got into the art of making photos because of the love of nature and wilderness. Most activities in nature have a degree of risks. Landscape photography is no exception.

You are probably taking steps to reduce some of the risks, such as packing warm clothing, flashlights for the dark, and carrying water for those long hikes.

Fortunately, most of the locations we visit aren’t too far from civilization, and given the popularity of these locations, we often aren’t alone. If an emergency were to occur, chances are we would be helped. However, one can never be over-prepared for an emergency, especially when backpacking into remote locations. Being prepared and knowing what to do in an emergency or even urgency, could mean the difference between reducing risks of further harm, even death.

In case of a medical emergency, you could be a first responder to a person in your group or anyone you encounter. If you are alone, You must rely on your knowledge and abilities.

This article is not a substitute for proper training in wilderness medicine or first aid. Rather it is meant to function as a starter guide into basic wilderness first aid, more importantly, to get photographers thinking about what essentials are needed for each trip and what the risks are.

I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about wilderness first aid, to visit the following websites for courses and resources

https://www.nols.edu/en/courses/

https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/atg/PDFs/ Take_a_Class/WRFA_ERG_9781584806295.pdf

https://www.backpacker.com/skills/first-aid

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/wilderness-first-aid- basics.html

Due to the depth of the topic, this article will be divided into two sections, the second part will be posted at a future date.

in the first section, we will cover the following:

  1. Basic Essentials
  2. Hydration
  3. Tick Bites
  4. Spider bites
  5. Poison plants
  6. Snake Bites

In part 2 of the article, we will cover the rest of the topics:

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Blisters
Burns
Wounds and Infections knee and ankle injuries Hypothermia
Altitude sickness

Basic Essentials of hiking in wilderness other than your camera and tripod!

The basic essentials may differ from one trip to the other, based on the location, environment, temperature extremes, and terrain. The essentials for most environments are the following:

– hat
– sunscreen

– insect repellent
– boots
– long pants and sleeves, extra clothing – rain gear
– Map of the area

– https://www.gaiagps.com/
– Compass
– flashlight with extra batteries
– sunglasses
– pocket knife
– matches in a waterproof container or fire starter (or both)
– First Aid kit.
– water and water filtration systems. these can be purchased

through REI or Amazon.
– Duct tape
– Ground insulation for overnight stays.

Hydration

If you are thirsty, you are partially already dehydrated. You should drink to prevent thirst, not to quench it. Proper hydration is essential for the function of your joints, muscles, gastrointestinal system, circulation, kidney function, and mentation, all of which are crucial when hiking. Proper hydration can prevent electrolyte imbalances, such as low or high sodium (both can occur), also known as hyponatremia and hypernatremia respectively. Sodium irregularities can lead to neurological and cardiac conditions, which can be life-threatening.

Mild dehydration is something that most of us have experienced, dry lips and mild thirst. More severe dehydration can lead to fatigue, muscle aches and cramps, irritability, frustration, and brain fog, which all can lead to poor decision making.

– Heat cramps: brief but painful involuntary muscle spasms. they usually occur in the muscles being used during the exercise and are the result of insufficient fluid intake.

– Heat Exhaustion: difficulty breathing, headache, feeling hot on the head and neck, dizziness, heat cramps, chills, nausea, irritability, vomiting, extreme weakness or fatigue

– Heatstroke: Rapid and shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, unusually high or low blood pressure, lack of sweating, mental confusion and disorientation, unconsciousness, physical collapse

In the event of heat exhaustion, stop the activity, move into a cool environment under a shade, remove excess clothing and drink hydrating liquids slowly, to prevent rapid electrolyte shifts, which can lead to nausea and vomiting and further neurological conditions. Avoid using medications such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen to reduce temperature. Seek immediate medical care when possible this is a medical emergency. The above measures canoe life-saving. It is always a great idea to have snacks that also contain potassium, such as nuts, banana, dried fruits. Potassium can also be lost through heavy sweating, which is also essential in cardiac and musculoskeletal function. Low potassium (hypokalemia) can lead to heart rhythm problems, as well as muscle cramps. Always avoid caffeinated and sugary drinks as they can actually lead to further dehydration. Sugary drinks such as Gatorade can lead to diarrhea through osmotic effect. If that is all you have available, it can be life-saving, but if you have a choice between water and Gatorade, always pick water.

Tick Bite

Although most tick bites are harmless, Proper handling of tick bites can prevent complications such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), now reported under a new category called Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis (SFR). Lyme disease is endemic to the north-east and parts of California’s central coast. SFR is endemic to south-eastern states. The peak months for both are in the warmer months of the year, May through August. Before you go out, know where to expect ticks. Ticks generally live in grassy, brushy and wooded areas, on animals, such as deer. Key is prevention. You can reduce your risks of tick bites by treating your clothing with Permethrin 0.5%. It can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear. You can also purchase clothing items previously treated with permethrin. When possible, avoid contact with ticks by walking gin the center of trails. After returning from the hikes, checking your clothing items, remove all clothing items and check your body. Examine gear and pets. The longer the tick stays on your body, the higher the risk of transmitting the disease. Generally, 24 hours or more of the tick embedded in the skin is required to transmit the disease, therefore it is essential to find the tick and remove properly.

In the event of finding an attached tick, remove the tick as soon as you notice it by grasping it with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, pulling it straight out. If you aren’t sure how long the tick has been attached, seek medical care. Avoid applying petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, r a hot match to the end of the tick. These home remedies do not work, they also are likely to kill the tick while it’s embedded in the skin, increasing the risk of transmitting the infection. Avoid twisting the tweezer, as this will break off the body of the tick, leaning the head behind, making it much more difficult to remove. Wash the bite area and your hand with soap and water after removing the bug. Save the tick by placing it in a small container filled with rubbing alcohol, this way

your doctor can send this to a lab for assessment and identification of the tick. Watch for early signs of infection, such as rash, fever, body aches in the days and weeks following the bite.

For more information, visit the links below.

RMSF https://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/index.html

Lyme disease https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html

Preventing tick bites https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html

Spider Bites

  • –  2 Central punctums (as opposed to one with an insect bite)
  • –  Seek medical care if pain is severe, difficulty breathing, upset stomach.
  • –  Although rare in nature, it is important to identify them for

proper treatment
– Two common poisonous spiders in the US

– Brown Recluse: Most commonly found in the midwestern and southern states of the US; Bite causes a stinging sensation with localized pain, small white blister develops.

– Black widow: Found throughout North America, more common in southern and western states. It usually causes two puncture sites. The venom is a neurotoxin and produces pain at the bite area, then spreads to the chest, abdomen and entire body. It can cause body aches and gastrointestinal upset.

– Possible spider bite symptoms:

– itching, rash, pain, muscle cramps, reddish to purple color or blister, sweating, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, fever, chills, restlessness.

– In case of a bite, stay calm. Identify the type of spider if possible.

  • –  wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • –  Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the

bite area to reduce the swelling.

  • –  Elevate bite area if possible
  • –  Do not attempt to remove the venom
  • –  Immediately seek professional medical carePoisonous PlantsThey grow in wooded or marshy areas throughout North America. The plants aren’t really poisonous. They have a sticky, long-lasting oil called urushiol that causes an itchy, blistering rash after it comes into contact with skin. The reaction is delayed, often hours to one day after exposure. This is called delayed hypersensitivity reaction. The rash can peak within a week but can last as long as 3 weeks. The three main poisonous plants that you may encounter are Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac.

Poison Ivy

– Two types of Poison Ivy: Western Poison Ivy (ground vine only) and Eastern Poison Ivy ( ground and climbing vines)

  • –  Leaves are always grouped in threes
  • –  Pointed leaves
  • –  Staggered stems

Poison Ivy in the summer

Poison Ivy in the fall

Variation of Poison Ivy

Poison Oak

– Two types: Atlantic Poison Oak (ground vine and small shrub) and Pacific Poison Oak (ground and climbing vine and shrub)

  • –  Leaves are always grouped in threes
  • –  Rounded leaves
  • –  Staggered stems

Poison Sumac

– One type, found only in very wet environments, in the east coast

  • –  Pointed leaves
  • –  Small trees, not in vines
  • –  Leaves grouped up to 13
  • –  Rare in the mountains
  • –  Often grow near lower-lying wetlands

Exposure Prevention is key. Once the oil is exposed to skin, it causes a delayed hypersensitivity reaction, resulting in rash and blisters at the sites of exposure within hours to 24 hours later. The rash doesn’t usually spread unless urushiol is still in contact with your skin.

Clothes can keep you safe. Keep your skin covered. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, gloves, and closed shoes if you’re in an area where these plants grow. If you think you’ve come into contact with these plants, be sure to handle the clothing items with care, with gloves, and wash them at the hottest temperature.

If you think you’ve been exposed to the plants on your skin, wash the area as soon as possible with warm water and soap, apply calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream. If water and soap

aren’t available, alcohol wipes can remove the oils. Keep the areas cool, dry and clean to prevent secondary skin infections. Antihistamine tablets and creams will NOT help with the itching, so be sure to carry Hydrocortisone cream if you travel in these areas. Severe reactions may require much stronger steroid creams and even oral steroids. Seek medical care if your rash is moderate to severe.

A Path to Consistent Results

A Path to Consistent Results

By: Ryan Gillespie

Some time ago, I thought I would try some different developers for my black and white film. I knew there would be some differences in the chemistry and developing times, but I figured “As long as my exposure was correct, I should have a nice negative to work with.”
How wrong I was.

This is not a report on what developer is the best. I truly feel that all the developers on the market today are excellent developers to use and will give excellent results. Hell, for many months I only used a homebrew developer concoction called Caffenol made up of Washing soda, Vitamin C, and Instant coffee. Caffenol surprisingly worked very well but when I plunged into Large Format Photography, I thought I should also get more serious about the developer I was using to process my film.

I had heard some great things recently regarding a film from ADOX, their CHS 100 II black and white film and I wanted to give it a try. I went out on location to a scene I walk past multiple times during the week and thought it was interesting enough subject to photograph, as well as a perfect time to do a film test. I loaded up my film holders with ADOX CHS 100 II black and white film and hit the road. Luckily for me I had a nice completely overcast sky giving soft even light over the subject allowing me to keep the same exposure for all sheets of film being exposed, 4 sheets to be exact. My exposure for each sheet of film was f/11 @ 1/30 second at box speed. I then returned home and developed each sheet of film individually in four different developers that I have used over the years. My process for developing is as follows, a water bath/rinse prior to the developer. I keep bathing and rinsing the film until the water runs clear again from the anti-halation layer. Once the water runs clear it’s onto the developer. Each developer was used at 68oF/20oC for the recommended standard times from manufacture. After developer I used a water rinse to stop the development process and then a Fixer bath for 6 minutes.

The developers being used and tested with the CHS 100 film are as follows: Pyrocat HD mixed one part A to one part B to 100 parts water.
Kodak HC-110 mixed 1:7 (Dilution B)
Clayton F-76 mixed 1:9

R09 One Shot mixed 1:100 (one-hour stand development)

I was expecting all the negatives to be fairly close in density range, but I ended up with a very large range of negative densities as seen in the image below.

After a visual inspection, a scan inspection, and a physical print inspection, I decided that I preferred the results from both the Pyrocat HD Developer and the Clayton F-76 Developer. Both negatives did not quite have the density that I prefer to see and the other two negatives were too dense.

When printing for Platinum Palladium, I found that a staining developer works best with prints made from ultraviolet exposures. With this in mind, I settled on using Pyrocat HD as my preferred developer with this ADOX CHS 100 II film.

Hoops

I then decided to take an additional step and try to determine my preferred film speed and Developer combination with the Pyrocat HD, one that would give me a negative density that works for me and my printing methods. I set up a target to photograph under consistent lighting in a studio setting and began making an exposure of the target at different ISO settings on my meter.

After a visual inspection, a scan inspection, and a test print of all the negatives printed together on the same sheet of paper, my personal preference of ISO rating for ADOX CHS 100 II film in combination with Pyrocat HD Developer was an ISO rating of 80. Keep in mind that this is my personal preference and yours may be different.

My recommendation is to do a similar film test with your choice of film, your choice of developer, and whatever meter you use in order to determine your preferred ISO for the film and developer you are using, in doing so you will greatly increase the consistency in printing and or scanning of your images.

If for any reason along your photographic journey you decide to change one or more of the following in the process:

the film, the developer, the temperature of your chemistry, or your light meter. I would suggest doing another film test.

Here’s to more consistent results in your photography!

8×10″ vs. 4×5″ – Which is for you?

When you decide to try large format photography, perhaps the very next question that will arise is which of the large formats to work with. Large format encompasses everything from 2×3″ to 16×20″ and beyond, but for practical purposes, the vast majority of large format photography centers around 8×10″ and 4×5.” For the sake of simplicity, we will be looking at these two formats specifically today.

Each format has its advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll explore in some depth one area at a time,  beginning with physical size.

Size

8×10″ film is 4x the surface area of 4×5.” Therefore, everything must of necessity be four times larger.

Your lenses will each need to cover 8×10″ with enough additional coverage to provide adequate coverage when movements such as front or rear rise, tilt, shift, and swing are applied to the camera’s standards. For this reason, you cannot necessarily use 4×5″ lenses with your 8×10.” If you plan to shoot both formats, however, you can simply purchase lenses that you know will cover 8×10,” and use them with both 8×10″ and 4×5.” This is because all lenses that cover 8×10″ will cover 4×5″ with a lot of room to spare, but many 4×5″ lenses will not provide sufficient coverage for 8×10.”

Dark cloths will also need to be larger to accommodate 8×10.” Many dark cloths have adjustable collars that can be adjusted to fit the rear standards of either format. Fellow Darkslides member Ryan Gillespie makes excellent dark cloths through his Wanderer brand which do just this and are among the best in the industry.

You will also need to invest in a way to change 8×10″ film if you size up to 8×10.” Many changing bags and tents made for 4×5″ and smaller formats will not work with 8×10.” Like the other accessories, a changing tent that works with 8×10″ will be an absolute palace for 4×5,” so if you think you may ever work with 8×10″ in the future, keep this in mind when shopping for a changing tent or bag. Changing tents tend to be easier to work with than bags, but bags offer much more portability when traveling.

Tripods are another area where you may need to make further investments in order to accommodate 8×10.” All 8×10″ cameras are far larger than other cameras out of sheer necessity, regardless of how light or heavy they are, and all of them likewise benefit from a very stable tripod. The cameras are so large (mostly due to the size of the bellows) that they effectively become a sail during windy conditions, and the tripod plays a major role in making photography possible when the winds pick up. If you utilize compositions that require the camera to be tipped forward or backward, having a stable tripod becomes even more important. As with each of the other categories, investing in a stable tripod will benefit your other camera systems and formats as well.

It probably goes without saying, but you will need to invest in a collection of 8×10″ film holders as well. While this is not a “difference” per se, the larger film holders cost a great deal more (disproportionately so) than their 4×5″ counterparts, so the added expense, weight, and bulk of these larger film holders is something you’ll want to consider when evaluating whether to size up or not.

Lens boards are another area of consideration when thinking about upsizing to 8×10.” You will likely want to invest in an adapter board that will allow you to mount your 4×5″ lens boards on your new 8×10.” For example, I use a Sinar to Linhof adapter board that lets me mount standard Linhof boards onto my 8×10,” despite the Linhof standard being designed for 4×5″ cameras. This means I can use all my lenses on both my 4×5″ and 8×10″ view cameras without the hassle of changing lens boards, which requires disassembling the lens with a spanner wrench – not something you want to do every day if you can avoid it.

Weight

As a general rule, 8×10″ cameras tend to weigh at least twice as much as their 4×5 counterparts. This is obviously better than the 4x increase that would seem to be in order considering the increase in surface area, but it is still a major jump in the weight you have to carry to every photo location. Some of the newer 8×10″ field cameras have come down quite a bit in weight, with the Intrepid 8×10″ clocking in at just over 5 pounds and the Chamonix Alpine (landscape orientation only) 8×10″ coming in at just under 6. Most of the other cameras tend to weigh quite a bit more, often in the 11-13 pound range.

Cost

The cost of the cameras, lenses, film holders and other accessories tends to go up quite substantially with 8×10.” This is not only due to the sheer size but also due to the economics of supply and demand. Large format photography of any kind is already a very small niche within photography, and 8×10″ is a much smaller niche than 4×5.” For this reason, cameras and accessories created to serve the 8×10″ market need to cost a lot more because far fewer copies will ever be sold, while the overhead costs of production tend to be higher. This effect compounds in the used market, with far fewer used copies of any given camera or lens being available. This tends to drive values up over time as used cameras and lenses wear out and the available supply of functioning units contracts further.

Image Quality

If we are honest with ourselves, we all know that 4×5″ provides far more than enough detail resolution than any of us will likely ever need, especially with access to drum scanning services like those provided by Alex Burke and Michael Strickland. Even a simple flatbed scan can provide around 186MP of resolution on the Epson V700 & 800 series scanners, for example. (I use megapixels rather than megabytes as a measure of resolution because these are the units used by the digital camera industry and those we all understand.)

However, for those of us who demand only the best or are simply gluttons for punishment, the 8×10″ format can provide over 700MP of file resolution, blowing away everything else available.

Keep in mind, film resolution does not work the same way as digital, as most digital cameras use Bayer array sensors, which consist of separate red, green, blue, and brightness photosites for each pixel, whereas film contains an organic grain blend of color and luminosity values at every spot on the film, with much finer gradations of color and tone throughout. For this reason, even small film formats can often look subjectively better than digital formats of much higher resolutions when scanned.

In summary, almost no one needs the detail provided by 8×10″ film, but it sure is nice to experience! One application where the added detail of 8×10″ does come in handy is that of printing large murals and wall-sized art installations many feet wide or tall. Because 8×10″ provides more resolution, you can print these large sizes at a much higher DPI which looks much better when viewed close up.

Depth of Field

Most of you are probably familiar with the rather silly debates about the decreased depth of field when moving from APS-C to 35mm “full-frame” digital sensors. It should be obvious why I use quotation marks to say that when we consider these tiny sizes in light of all the medium and large format sizes that are far larger and therefore have a far shallower depth of field. With large format, we find that the depth of field plane is so thin that it makes camera movements and very narrow apertures a necessity in order to get anything substantial in focus in a scene. It is for this reason that most large format cameras use a bellows design that allows for extensive camera movements to be applied in order to manipulate that thin depth of field plane in 3-dimensional space. It is also why large format lenses tend to stop down much farther than their small and medium format counterparts. Minimum apertures ranging from f/32 to as small as f/256 are not uncommon with large format lenses.

8×10″ film cameras have a much thinner depth of field plane than their 4×5″ counterparts. This can make getting a scene in focus from front to back and edge to edge very challenging. Because of this, it may take longer to adjust camera movements to just the exact right configuration required to obtain the maximum possible depth of field for any given scene with 8×10.” You may also need to stop down further in some cases.

The good news is, the procedure for setting up camera movements is exactly the same with 8×10″ as with 4×5,” and with a little practice, you can become familiar enough with focusing an 8×10″ camera that you can comfortably switch back and forth between the large formats without much if any difficulty.

Ground Glass and Composition

One tremendous benefit of 8×10″ film cameras is their massive ground glass, which makes composing absolutely delightful and much easier and more pleasant than it is already with 4×5.” While composing with a 4×5″ ground glass feels like a magical experience, 8×10″ is even more so, and even could be described as sublime.

Conclusion

8×10″ film essentially has all of the aspects of 4×5″ photography but multiplied by 4. If you love 4×5″ you will probably love 8×10″ even more. However, you must consider all the tradeoffs involved, such as the increases in size, weight, and cost. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, 4×5″ tends to be much easier and lighter to carry on backpacking trips and when traveling by airplane or other public transportation. 8×10″ tends to be nicer for studio work and landscape work that happens close to the car. Only the pure diehards will be willing to take an 8×10″ view camera deep into the backcountry or on a long flight. However, for those of us who are willing to put in the work and accept the compromises involved in 8×10″ photography, the rewards are equally substantial.

Best of 2019

The Ultimate App: A Photographer’s Notebook

View cameras are simple, do not require batteries, and working with this medium allows the photographer to step outside the obsolescence cycle of digital imaging. That’s one of the things I love about large format.

This isn’t to say that I’m opposed to technology — a look at my video kit will show how I enjoy the benefits of the latest and greatest — but when it comes to landscape photography, there is something very rewarding about working with a mature technology. The photo I produce today will be the same quality as a photo produced 10 years in the past, or 10 years in the future.

Nevertheless, technology has worked its way into large format photography in the form of apps. What once took math and memorization can be calculated with an app. This includes reciprocity failure, bellows extension, and even timing the length of an exposure itself. I’m not against all of this, but what if you lose your phone? What if the battery dies? How easy is it to operate your phone with gloves in inclement weather? The time spent creating a very simple notebook will save you a lot of time in the field.

In a previous post, Alan Brock mentioned the possibility of paper cuts when operating a notebook — a valid concern. This is why I use a Moleskine notebook with rounded safety corners.

Here’s a peak inside the contents of the notebook that I use. In a twist of wicked irony, I used the Reciprocity Timer app to create these handwritten tables for reciprocity failure. I have a page for each film I use, Velvia 50, Provia 100, and Ektar 100.

You might notice that the pages seem a bit warped. That’s because the notebook has been subjected to rain. Despite the elements, I was able to access the information in a timely manner, often times while wearing gloves. Need your hands free? Simply activate hands-free mode by placing the notebook on the ground with a rock to hold it in place. You might lose your oak leaf bookmark, but those things literally grow on trees.

Another page I commonly refer to is the bellows extension guide. This has a simple equation for the (E) measured extension and the (F) focal length of the lens. Just do a bit of math, and refer to the table below to calculate bellows over extension for closeups. I carry a tiny tape measure and a tiny calculator with me in addition to the one that’s on my phone.

There is a side benefit of creating a notebook like this. The mere act of writing down this information will help commit some of it to memory. So in short, go ahead and use those apps, but it is in your best interest to back it up with a notebook for those times when the technology lets you down, or your phone is wedged in that french fry graveyard between your drivers seat and the center console.

Metering Color Negative Film

Over the last few years color negative film has become a major part of my portfolio, being used to capture both delicate subtleties as well as landscape scenes with nearly endless dynamic range. The film can be incredibly flexible and adaptive to many situations which makes it quite appealing when you don’t know what the light is going to be like, or when you have a specific look that you are going for. A lot of people get mystified by color negatives, so let’s take a look at a few pointers to help you get the most out of them.

“Boat House Sunrise” – A great example showing how negative film can capture both subtleties in the sky as well as a wide dynamic range from deep shadows to sunrise colors. Ektar 100, 135mm lens, 2 seconds at f32, 2 stop soft GND filter.

Color Negative Film – The Jack of All Trades

One of the biggest things to know about color negatives is how capable they are at handling a wide variety of subject matter and light. Nearly anything you throw at them can be captured if you expose accordingly and nurse the film just right during the scanning or printing process. If your goal is to capture the extreme dynamic range of a backlit forest, no problem. The same goes if you desire a softer color palette of a scene without much in the way of contrast. A general rule to know as far as color saturation goes is that if you underexpose the film, you tend to get stronger and sometimes a bit inaccurate saturation. If you overexpose the film, you get softer colors and lighter contrast.

“Shrine Paintbrush” – An example of a half stop underexposed sheet of Portra 160, resulting in colors that resemble the saturation of a slide. 90mm Lens, 3 seconds at f22, 2 stop soft GND filter.

Underexposed = Thin negative, saturated colors, strong contrast. Colors can become rather inaccurate if severely underexposed (more than a stop or two).

Exposed at Box Speed = Natural to somewhat strong colors depending on film stock. Good for general-purpose landscape shooting when moderate contrast and color is desired, though a little extra exposure typically won’t hurt.

Overexposed = Dense negative, soft colors, subtle contrast. This is often used for portraits to keep soft skin tones. Nearly endless details can be pulled out of the highlights.

“Homestead Sunset” – Example of an overexposed negative. I typically meter Portra 160 at ISO 100, resulting in an automatic 2/3rds stop overexposure. I then also overexpose further for most of my prairie scenes by an additional 2/3rds stop. The sky was held back with a 1 stop soft GND, though it was two to three stops brighter than the ground. Too much filter would have resulted in a darkening of the tree. The foreground was metered at 100 with an additional 2/3rds stop added, meaning the sky was about three stops overexposed even with the filter. The result is a softer color palette for a sunset that had rather strong colors in person. 135mm lens, 4 seconds at f32, 1 stop soft GND filter.

Expose for the Shadows

This is just about the only thing you’ll really need to know about negative film. A polar opposite to slides which can’t retain much detail at all if overexposed, negatives give you ample room to really reach into the brightest highlights. So long as the darker tones in a scene are exposed somewhat close to neutral the film will take care of the rest. This isn’t to say that it’s best to expose deep shadows as neutral, you still want subjects such as black rocks or pine trees in the shade to look properly dark. If you want to spot meter your scene you will likely want to consider placing these sorts of objects at -1 to -½ stop. More realistically, it works well to find the most important object (often the subject) in a scene and meter for that. Think about how you want the luminance of that object to be rendered. If a red barn is your subject, that is usually a good neutral tone and should be exposed as such. If it’s the white bark of aspen trees you’ll want to add a stop, perhaps more depending on how the light is hitting them. If you focus on getting your most important object exposed properly, chances are the rest of the scene can be handled by negative film and you won’t have underexposed shadows.

A daylight scene with a wide range of tones can easily be captured on negative film. The lower half of the frame was the area I average metered as I didn’t want the rocks on the bottom right to get lost in the mud of underexposure. The sky was a bit more than a stop brighter, but a filter would have been awkward and noticeable on this image. Ektar 100, 135mm lens, ⅛ second at f22, no filters.

Personally, I’m an average metering person. Anyone who has read some of my blog posts in the past knows that I use a small digital camera and simply point it at the scene I want to photograph to get a meter reading. With color negatives I mostly focus on the foreground reading, which is usually the darker part of the frame. When I’m working with a shaded foreground and a bright sky, I’ll take a reading of both and use a GND filter to split the difference. If possible, it’s still best to use a GND filter with color negative film. While the film can handle a lot of highlight abuse, the colors in the sky will be more rich if you bring down the exposure with a GND filter. When a filter can’t be used because you’re shooting in the forest, have tall mountains or structures jutting up into the sky, etc then meter for the foreground and let the film handle the sky.

Image showing how I meter and work with most of my scenes that have extreme contrast. Light changes quickly in the last few minutes of the day, so time is short to spend on metering. So long as you get your important parts of the frames metered properly the film can handle the rest. Ektar 100, 300mm lens, 15 seconds at f64, no filters.

Average metering works very well for a portion of a frame that is either in the same light, or has reasonable contrast. In the foreground of the image above, using a modern camera that has center-weighted average or matrix metering will get you reliable results. The light hitting the ground was softened by both the forest canopy and the distant atmosphere as the sun was about to set. There was only a few stops of variation between the shaded ground and lit ground, and averaging the two will give you a proper exposure of that region. That is the approach you could take with a handheld spot meter. The sun and brightly lit forest canopy was not something that can be average metered along with the foreground by any camera; there is just too much variation between the two and slight repositioning of the meter will give wildly different results. It also could not be filtered with a GND so it was simply ignored when making the meter reading. One could argue that such an exposure would be impossible on slide film, it was up to Ektar to handle the range.

“Sunflower Sunset” – Negatives excel at backlit scenes, pleasantly balancing the glowing flowers with the actual sun. Ektar 100, 210mm lens, 2 seconds at f45, no filters (to avoid glare).

While it seems that negatives can handle endless range, there are some practical limits so don’t just go shooting into the sun all day long. Once the exposure gets several stops beyond reason, the tones get so smashed together in the highlights (densest part of the negative) that you can’t extract them to make a usable image. Color will get lost before detail, so you can expect desaturated highlights followed by indecipherable details as exposure reaches the extremes. It’s hard to know exactly when this happens, but in the above image you can see that you reach the limits somewhere around the sun itself. This is acceptable most of the time as you don’t really expect to resolve the ball of the sun together with a landscape in a single exposure. Again, for this scene I average metered the foreground. The dark green petals were a few stops darker than the sunlit flowers so an average reading was perfect. Using my small digital camera I pointed the lens down to see only the flowers and no sky, holding my hand over the lens to shade the sun so that flare didn’t cause any erroneous readings. I then shot for the meter reading supplied by the camera’s meter.

Conclusion

For the most part with negatives just err on the side of overexposure, quite a bit if you need to. As with slide film make sure that your most important subject will be exposed the way you want it to be rendered, but remember that you have a lot of room to reach into the highlights if needed. If in doubt, expose it a little bit more!

 


Name: Alex Burke

Location:

Description:  I’m a large format landscape photographer from Greeley, Colorado.  Working with a 4×5″ view camera, I photograph the majestic beauty of the off-the-beaten-path wilderness areas as well as the subtleties of the Great Plains.  At home in places far and remote, the best images are created by taking the time to really get to know a place and growing a deeper connection with the landscape.

For educational tips on film landscape photography, check out my blog posts and ebooks here: http://www.alexburkephoto.com/educational-blog-posts/

Gallery: Alex Burke

Website: http://www.alexburkephoto.com/
FaceBook: @alexburkephoto
Twitter:
Instagram: @alexburkephoto
YouTube:

Film Drying

Developing Film at Home

Developing Film at Home

Developing your own film at home isn’t as difficult as some people seem to think. I was hesitant to start but after dipping my toe in Black and White I quickly moved to C-41 and even E6. The motivation to start the process of developing film at home started when the Postal Service lost track of my film in route to the lab. This went on for a few days but luckily they found the package and it was delivered successfully. Even though the lab was able to develop my film and sent it back to me without any issues it got me thinking about the risk of sending off my film and relying on others instead of owning the entire process from beginning to end.

Development Tanks and Trays

Let’s start with the equipment you will need. For 4×5 film, there are a few options available, less for 8×10 and larger. The first thing you will need is a tank or tray to develop your film in. The benefit of having a tank is the fact that it only requires complete darkness during the film loading. Once loaded the film is in a light sealed container so you can do the actual development anywhere. Trays, on the other hand, require the entire process to be completed in the dark making this a bit more difficult way to process your film. Because of this, I prefer to use a tank to develop my film but if you shoot larger than 8×10 you may not have any choice in the matter. There are a few different tank styles available for 4×5 film, some of the more popular options are the Paterson MOD54, Stearman Press SP-445, BZTS Tubes, the B’s 4x5reel, and Jobo Expert Drums. Of these, I have only tried the Stearman Press SP-445 and Jobo Drums but any of them will do the job. For larger sized film BTZS has an 8×10 version of their tubes and Jobo has an Expert Drum for developing 8×10 film. I have also heard that Stearman Press is working on a solution for developing 8×10 film as well so other options may soon be available.

Jobo 3010 Drum

I started with the Stearman Press SP-445 and it worked great. The only reason I decided to move up to the Jobo was due to scale. Last year when I came home from my fall trip I had around 40 sheets to develop. That means 10 full runs to complete all 40 sheets. By contrast, the Jobo Expert 3010 processes 10 sheets at a time so that the same amount of film could be completed in 4 runs. The more times you use your chemicals the longer the runs need to be to correctly process your film. A second reason I like the Jobo better is the fact that nothing covers the emulsion side so there is less chance of anything damaging the film. Using the Stearman SP-445 I have had sheets come out with clear spots where the film holder covered the emulsion. For this reason, I prefer the holders that require bending the film so the back of the film is the only thing touching the holder rather than sliding them into a flat holder that wraps around the film.

Chemicals

Black and White Film

Black and White film is by far the easiest film to develop yourself. To develop Black and White film at home you will need 1) Developer, 2) Stop Bath, 3) Fixer and finally 4) PhotoFlo. The only part of the process that is temperature-sensitive is that the Developer needs to be at a specific temperature. Please consult the chemical manufacturers’ website or find the information in one of the Apps listed below. I have been using Kodak HC-110 developer with no issues at all. The best part about this developer is that it lasts a long time. I have had the same bottle of HC-110 for 2 years now and even though it has expired and it needs to be replaced it still works fine and I have a quarter of the bottle left. This is after developing hundreds of sheets of film. Along with the developer, you will need a Stop Bath. Stop Bath is used to halt the development process. I have been using IlfoStop from Ilford. Again this stuff goes a long way. Next, you will need a Fixer, this “fixes” or allows the film to be safely exposed to light. You will use this chemical the most but again is relatively cheap. I use Ilford Rapid Fixer and see no reason to change. Lastly, I use Kodak Photo-Flo to keep water spots from the film while it is drying. There is some debate about using this and others say using a drop of dish soap is just as effective. My thoughts are it costs less than $10 for a 16 oz bottle and you only need a drop at a time so it will last a very long time.

C-41

When it comes to color negative film processing I use Tetenal Colortec C-41 Rapid 2 Bath Color Negative Developing Kit. It comes with all of the chemicals you need to develop your color negative films like Kodak Portra or Ektar. The kit includes 6 bottles of chemicals and when mixed comes out to a 3 step process, 1) Color Developer, 2) Bleach/Fix and 3) Stabilizer. The main change when moving from developing black and white to color is all of the chemicals need to be held to a consistent temperature throughout the process. Because I am using a rotary tank I keep the chemicals at 68° Celcius or 100° Fahrenheit but the manual that comes with the chemicals has all of the details you need. Unlike black and white chemicals, C-41 chemicals expire 12-24 weeks after opening the bottles depending on the chemical.

E6

Finally, there is E6 film processing for slide film or transparencies. Films like Velvia 50, Velvia 100 and Provia 100F all use this developing process. Just like with C-41 processing temperature is extremely important throughout the process with E6 development. For E6 I use Tetenal Colortec E-6 Developing Kit – 2.5 Liters which has proved to be a very good product. With this kit you also get 6 bottles but end up with a 4 step process, 1) First Developer, 2) Color Developer, 3) Bleach/Fix and 4) Stabilizer. Also, like the C-41 chemicals, E6 expires 24 weeks after opening.

Please dispose of all used chemicals according to local environmental regulations. There is a great article on this here.

Apps

To help keep track of your processing times I use a couple of App with built-in timers. Anything to simplify the process at a relatively low cost is going to be beneficial.

Massive Dev App

Massive Dev

This App is a must-have for Black and White Developing. Included in the App is a massive database of films using different developers so it will more than likely have your film and developer combination. Even if it doesn’t have what you need there is an associated website https://digitaltruth.com/devchart.php where you can look up even more. The main site https://digitaltruth.com/ has lots of useful information on film developing as well so be sure to check it out. There is also a built-in timer so you have everything you need to keep track of your development in one location.

Lab Timer AppLab Timer

This App is created by the same people that created the Massive Dev App but it is focused more on Color Development. It has quite a few built-in Templates to at least get you started. Also like the Massive Dev App, there is a built-in timer to make things even easier.

Drying

After the developing has been completed you will need to allow the sheets of film to dry. I typically leave film hanging in my bathroom overnight with the door closed to minimize dust. The film should be dry in 2-3 hours but as long there isn’t a lot of dust flying around there is no reason to rush the process. Until it is fully dry it is quite easy to create scratches or marks on the emulsion.

Film Drying


Name: Martin Quinn

Location: Phoenix Arizona

Description: I purchased my first and so far only large format (4×5) camera in 2005.  Living in Phoenix Arizona I spend the majority of my time photographing in and around the southwest.

Gallery: Martin Quinn

Website: http://www.QuinnImages.com
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/QuinnImages/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/quinnimages
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/quinnimages/
Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnimages/

 

What Ansel Didn’t Teach Us

As large format landscape photographers, it is of course a requirement to have shrines in our homes to the late Ansel Adams.  Stories of his images are the stuff of literal legend.  What would you do if you forgot your light meter and were so rushed that you only had time to expose a single sheet?  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t even bother unpacking the camera!  Instead, I would pull my phone out of my pocket, grab a quick snapshot, and then post it to the ‘gram (with appropriate hashtags of course) for maximum social media engagement.  Ansel on the other hand, nailed his composition, set the exposure based on some obscure lumen value of the moon, exposed a single sheet, and Moonrise Over Hernandez was created.  Like I said, the stuff of legend!

As great a photographer as Ansel was, he was perhaps an almost equal teacher.  For those getting into large format or film in general (especially black and white film) his books remain must-reads, even if they are a bit heavy on obscure math in places.  Personally, I learned how to use a camera by reading The Camera and learned to develop using The Negative…with a dash of YouTube teaching thrown in for good measure.  I have not read The Print because I do not traditional print yet and am therefore not a real photographer.  Maybe one day.

However, Adams didn’t quite teach us EVERYTHING that we need to know, and that’s why I’m here.  We are going to fill in the holes he left so that now you can be a complete large format photographer creating your own Moonrise Over Hernandez.  After reading this, I of course expect a portion of all of the sales from your award-winning prints…

IS THAT A HASSELBLAD?

In a world where essentially a super computer combined with a camera can fit in the pockets of even the skinniest of skinny jeans, why would anyone shoot with something as bulky as a wooden film camera?  It’s a valid question, and one that you’ll be asked.  A lot!  These cameras will draw a crowd.  For the most part, the crowds are just curious passers by genuinely wanting to know exactly what sort of contraption you are using and why.

The Hasselblad phenomenon was first brought to my attention by our own Ben Horne.  In the early parts of my large format journey, he let me know of the attention the camera would garner and that people would almost always assume it was a Hasselblad.  I don’t know quite what the big H did in their marketing past, but companies today would be well served to copy it.  Anything that isn’t a typical DSLR is a Hasselblad; end of story.  It matters not that Hasselblad does not make large format cameras, it’s the name that has stood the test of time.

Being that large format cameras were more common in Adams’ time, it is doubtful that he had to deal with such questions.  So how do you handle them?  It’s a timing issue really.  Are you still in the composing, focusing, calculating exposure stage of the image?  If so, then the answer to the Hasselblad question is a quick “yes” followed by a quick dive underneath the dark cloth.  That’s your safe-zone there.  You don’t have to actually look through the camera; just hide here until your audience moves on, bored with the tedium of film.  Have you already taken the image and are relatively certain that you didn’t screw it up too badly?  If so, you may take the time to (politely) educate your questioners that, yes, film does still exist, but this is not actually a Hasselblad.  No, the picture doesn’t show up on the ground glass after I’ve taken it…the whole having to develop the film thing prevents that.  No, after hearing my accent, I’m not actually from Texas.  This last question might be exclusive to me though.

Also, take the time to make sure they’re following you on social media…

MEASURE 15 TIMES, CUT TWICE (BECAUSE WE ALWAYS SHOOT DOUBLES)

I don’t think Ansel Adams or anyone else could have possibly prepared me for all of the creative ways I would mess up sheets of film.  Just when I think I’ve made every possible mistake, a new one sneaks in there.  Maybe he simply didn’t make those kinds of mistakes being the absolute legend that he was.  I’m somewhat less of a legend so here is a list of mistakes that I’ve made and how to remedy them.

Mistake – Pulling the dark slide with the shutter open.
Solution – Going off the wisdom of Ben Horne here.  Before you ever even think of pulling the dark slide, fire off a test exposure.  Large format shutters won’t fire unless the lens is closed.  If your shutter fires, you know the lens is closed.  This test “exposure” also lets you know if you have a sticky shutter, an intermittent issue on these decades-old lenses; staring straight at you 90mm Fujinon…

Mistake – Pulling the wrong dark slide
Solution – Just don’t be an idiot.  This is self-explanatory.  Also, you know those almost always useless rotate lock tabs on film holders?  Those do actually serve one purpose, to keep you from pulling the dark slide on the ground glass side of the camera.  As soon as I slide the film holder in place, I’ll rotate those to the back of the camera.  That has saved me some money on several occasions.

Mistake – “Exposing” film without pulling the dark slide.
Solution  – Again, just don’t be an idiot.  This is one of my favorite mistakes.  I can say that now because the image did eventually turn out.  Deep in the heart of the Narrows one morning I calculated a 14 minute exposure on Velvia 50.  Tripped the shutter, started the timer, then got bored at about the 7 minute mark.  Another LF photographer was making his way through, so we talked a bit until my exposure was almost finished.  I closed the shutter and then to my horror, could NOT find the dark slide.  I searched everywhere before realizing that the reason I couldn’t find it was because I never pulled it.  On a 14 minute exposure.  Thankfully I had a peer close by to witness my idiocy so that was nice.

Mistake – Forgetting to stop down.
Solution – At the risk of sounding like a broken record, don’t be an idiot.  Look, I realize that the bright and airy images can be all the rage, exposing an image at f/5.6 when the exposure was calculated for f/45 is not the best way to make images.  Having done this on multiple occasions, I’ve developed a little mnemonic that I say before every exposure. “Stop down, lock down.”  Seriously, I say it every time.  Stop the aperture down, and then close (lock down) the shutter.  Sounds silly, but it has worked!

As you can see, most mistakes can be solved by simply not being an idiot.  (On an unrelated note, this applies nicely to life in general.)  Having an aviation background, I’ll draw from that and say make a checklist.  Especially when you are just beginning, having a list so that you don’t have to rely on memory for these steps is an invaluable tool.  Once you have gained some experience you can leave the list behind…so that you can make the same mistakes again at a later date.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE…IT’S ALSO A NECESSITY

Ansel Adams did talk about diligence while making images, but I’m not sure he prepared me for quite the level of patience that would be needed to make a successful large format image.  Keep in mind we are talking about a man who, despite appearances, did actually make a large percentage of his images from the top of his car.  Wind is now your ultimate nemesis and you’ll spend sometimes hours waiting for a few leaves or blades of grass to just hold still.  Clouds can be equally frustrating as, when you need them they’re never there, and when you want clear skies they inevitably return.  A story from the Narrows comes to mind here.  When I was in the middle of a 4-minute exposure once, the light suddenly disappeared.  I looked upward to see the tiniest of clouds occluding the sun that I so desperately needed.  I closed the shutter, tried to restart it once that cloud passed, but the film was ruined.  That’s ok though.  It’s only wasted money.  And soon to be (probably) discontinued Velvia.

Another time, as I was envisioning an image that required fog, I waited months for the optimum conditions.  I by necessity became an expert on East Tennessee meteorological patterns.  I now possess the completely useless ability to accurately predict heavy fog in my hometown.  It’s completely worth it though as it resulted in one of my favorite images.  Not to start a film vs digital war as of course you can be as patient as you want while holding your (actual) Hasselblad H6D behemoth digital back, but it’s simply not an option with large format.  Sooner or later you’ll have to fall in love with the waiting game.

VISIT THE APP STORE

Once upon a time, I put out a video on YouTube about apps for large format photography.  You can click for completeness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swxX_nn4VzU) but I really don’t recommend it.  It’s dreadfully boring, and horribly shot.  So naturally, it’s one of my most-viewed videos.

Anyway, it’s odd that Ansel never included any apps in his books.  Perhaps he was an Android fan, or it could have had something to do with the fact that apps were about half a century away from existing whenever he wrote his books.  Either way, I do firmly believe that he would’ve firmly embraced technology to make photography easier, more efficient, and more fun!  This was a man who was predicting the rise of digital cameras before the technology actually existed.  Make no mistake, even though the get off my lawn crowd digitally yelled at me for my App video, technology will make you a better large format photographer.  Need to check a composition?  Aim your phone at it to frame without having to take the time to break out your camera.  Need reciprocity info for every film in existence?  Sure, you could bring along a notebook with its inherent risk on paper cuts.  OR, you could make a few clicks on your phone and discover that your one-second image on Velvia will actually need 4 years of exposure time to complete.

Yes, your phone could break and that would put a real damper on your afternoon, but you could just as easily lose a notebook full of data and charts.  Purists will scream at the use of technology…while also using a light meter and film instead of a wet plate.  The irony is as amazing as these apps on my phone.  I guarantee if you use them you’ll agree!  Probably.

It’s become somewhat cliche to say that Ansel Adams is one of your favorite landscape photographers, but he really produced amazing work.  This is especially true when you take into account the time period that he was producing this work.  His teachings were every bit as good as his images as well.  It’s a testament to his brilliance that his books are still relevant today in the 21st century.  Follow his advice and mine (but mostly his) and you’ll become an award-winning photographer in no time.

 

Name: Alan Brock

Location: Athens, TN

Description: I’ve been shooting large format since 2013.  I use a 4×5 camera and frequently bring it along on backpacking and extended hiking trips.  While I enjoy the high-quality images that this format produces, it’s the entire process of creating an image that appeals to me most.  Most of my work is from the mountains close to home in East Tennessee or in the desert Southwest.

Gallery: Alan Brock

Website: http://www.alanbrockimages.com
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/alan.brock.94
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Alan_Brock
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alanbrock/
YouTube: https://goo.gl/xTL5n2

 

Using calculators in large format photography

Part I: Depth of field

Correct focusing, as trivial as it may seem to users of small cameras like an SLR or even an autofocus camera, can become – and more often than not actually does become – a challenge when working with a large-format camera, in particular when the term “focusing” is meant to encompass all the correct camera adjustments needed to obtain a flawless, throughout sharp image with sufficient depth of field (DOF). Given that the superior technical quality of the final print is one of the major reasons for using a large format camera, it is clear that the LF photographer needs to understand and master proper focusing.

Figure 1: Silver and Gold. Stand of old Cottonwood trees in Colorado; Sinar 5×7´´, Apo-Ronar 9/300, RVP 100, 1 sec @ f/22 +2/3. This is an example of a shot which would seriously suffer from an insufficient depth of field – had both the branches close to the camera and those in the background not appeared tack sharp, this shot wouldn´t have made it into my portfolio. The moderately long lens required stopping down to a bit less than f/32 – needless to say that this was determined using the technique described in this blog post.

The reason for the difficulty to perfectly focus a LF camera simply is the fact that in large format everything is – well: larger. Among others this means that the focal lengths in the LF world are much longer than for small cameras – for example, the normal lens for a 4×5″ camera has a focal length of 150 mm, and the normal lens for an 8×10″ camera is 300 mm. Unfortunately, the depth of field of a lens decreases with increasing focal length, and it is exactly this theme of limited DoF which is a large format photographer´s steady companion. While in smaller format photography long lenses are often used to isolate an in-focus main subject from an out-of-focus blurry foreground and/or background, this is not often done in large format photography. Rather, here one normally tries to bring all elements of a composition into focus (or, more precisely, into the DoF zone within which everything appears if not perfectly, then at least sufficiently sharp). But how can this be accomplished with an average three-dimensional scenery when even a super wide-angle lens for an 8×10″ camera, equivalent to a 20 mm lens for 35 mm cameras, still has a focal length of 120 mm?

Stopping down is the first thing which comes to mind, and in LF photography this is absolutely essential: in practice you will never shoot wide open, both because of the minute DoF at open aperture and because traditional LF lenses, other than some modern digital lenses, are designed to be really sharp only when stopped down. Typically an LF lens´ “sweet spot” (the aperture where sharpness is at its maximum) lies somewhere between f/16 and f/22, regardless of its speed. Having a close look at how LF lenses perform, it often can be observed that a lens shows its highest performance in the center around f/16, with the corners being noticeably less (but still acceptably) sharp. Stopping down to f/22 then allows the corners to catch up, while sharpness in the center already begins to slightly degrade due to diffraction. So as a rule of thumb one may say that for many if not most LF lenses f/22 provides the best overall sharpness, with resolution in the corners being not much behind the performance in the center – of course always provided everything is in focus. While theoretically DoF can be increased by stopping down further – some LF lenses allow to stop down to f/90 or even f/128 – for formats of 8×10 and smaller stopping down a large format lens to beyond about f/32 is no good practice, because then diffraction kicks in and will start to visibly degrade image quality. It is often overlooked how dramatic this effect is: while diffraction limits the theoretical maximum resolution of a lens at f/22 to 68 lpm (= line pairs per millimeter), stopping down to f/45 cuts the achievable resolution down to only half of this value, 34 lpm. At f/64, only 24 lpm is left, and now even two thirds or more of the lenses resolving power are being wasted – that´s not why you decided to go for an LF setup.

On the other hand it needs to be seen that picture elements which are clearly out of focus are even worse than an overall somewhat “soft” image suffering from diffraction. Accordingly the goal will be to make sure that all parts of a subject will be within DoF, and at the same time to achieve this without stopping down too much. Camera movements (which are not part of this blog post) are often absolutely indispensable for obtaining sufficient overall sharpness of an image, but even with perfect adjustments of the camera it often remains a challenge to find the best possible compromise between sufficient DoF and limited diffraction.

I believe it´s fair to say that in the practice of LF landscape photography you´ll almost never be in the situation where you have any DoF to waste. Rather, DoF has to be seen as an invaluable and limited resource you have to be very considerate about, and more often than not to fight for – every carelessness will almost inevitably result in a loss of sharpness somewhere (or everywhere) in your image. If you locate your focus point at the wrong distance, too close or too distant parts of your subject will appear out of focus. If you don´t close the aperture far enough, DoF won´t suffice, and both too close and too distant picture elements will look blurry. If you close the aperture too far, diffraction will degrade resolution across the entire image. This situation might remind some people of thermodynamics, where the first law says that you can´t win, while the second law then informs you that you can´t even break even, and in any case means that proper focusing requires all your attention and skill.

From this it becomes clear that for a rational approach to focussing it will be indispensable to know exactly, once the camera has been set up and all movements made, from where to where DoF needs to extend, and which focus setting and which aperture will be needed to provide exactly this DoF, not more and not less.

What comes in extremely handy here is a DoF calculator like the one Rodenstock used to make (Fig. 2). The concept behind this calculator is strikingly simple so that it´s very easy to use: you just have to determine the extension difference between the near and the far focus points on your camera, which directly translates to the aperture needed for your shot. This sets the Rodenstock calculator apart from the numerous electronic DoF calculators available today, some of which are web-based (which doesn´t help much anyway when you´re out in the middle of nowhere) while others come in the form of smartphone apps. Unfortunately most if not all of these electronic calculators, and in any case all which I have seen so far, require you to enter the near point and the far point as measured as the distance between your camera and selected elements of your subject, not as extensions of your camera. This renders them virtually useless for outdoor use unless you find a way to reliably determine these distances in the field.

Figure 2: Rodenstock´s depth of field calculator

For determination of the extension difference it´s ideal if your camera has a scale like many monorail cameras have (Fig. 3). If your camera is not equipped with a scale, you can use a millimeter scale ruler which for this purpose could be removably attached to your focussing standard, e.g. using velcro. Once the two focus points have been determined, you´re almost done: just position the focusing standard at the exact middle between the near and the far focus point and close the aperture to the value required by

Figure 3: The millimeter scale on a focussing standard. The example shown here is the front standard of a Sinar Norma camera. Sinar´s monorail cameras allow choosing from either the front or the back standard to be used for focusing, depending on the situation.

the distance between the two extreme focus points. This value can either be read from your calculator (Fig. 4; read: with an extension difference of 4.0 mm, the calculator suggests f/16) or be taken from one of the tables below. The beauty of this approach is that the effect of the focal length on DoF is already factored into the extension difference itself and does not need to be further considered or corrected for. For example, an extension difference of 4.0 mm will always require stopping down to the same aperture, regardless of whether obtained with a 47 mm superwide lens or a 300 mm long lens. Also, forget about the “one third / two thirds rule” – using the focusing method presented here, the correct focus point is at the middle between the near and the far focusing point, nowhere else.

Figure 4: Reading the Rodenstock calculator

While the Rodenstock calculator works for essentially every LF camera, its use is particularly straightforward with cameras which allow both the front and the rear standard to be used for focusing, and which have fine drives with an engraved millimeter scale. These features in this combination won´t be available for most flatbed cameras (in which case you´ll have to improvise a bit), but they are pretty common in case of monorail cameras (e.g., Sinar). For these the workflow is as follows:

  1. Coarse focusing by adjusting the distance of the standards on the rail. While doing so, make sure that the fine drives of both standards stay in the “0” position.
  2. Fine focusing using the drive of one of the standards to the far point – the drive of the other standard remains in the “0” position.
  3. Fine focusing using the drive of the other standard to the near point – don´t touch the first standard in this step anymore.
  4. Reading the additional extension (in millimeters) needed to shift the focus from the far point to the near point.
  5. Determining the appropriate aperture corresponding to the additional extension using the calculator; stop down accordingly. Don´t forget the correction for an appropriate circle of confusion, as described below.
  6. Moving the second standard back to the exact middle between the near and the far focusing adjustments (i.e., to 50% of the additional extension) – and you´re ready to shoot.

While this description may sound a bit lengthy and complicated, in practice it´s absolutely easy to follow, and in the time needed for reading this paragraph you could have focussed your camera according to this technique two or three times.

Unfortunately Rodenstock has not only discontinued their line of outstanding LF lenses, but they also don´t make this fantastic tool anymore, so you´ll have to look for one of the places where they still have a couple of these calculators remaining on their shelves, to spot some forgotten stock which may show up from time to time, or get a used one. As of July 2019, you can still buy the calculator from the following sources: US  B&H (USD 79.95), Badgergraphic (USD 44.99); UK  Linhofstudio (GBP 34.00); Germany  Foto Mueller (EUR 37.20), W. E. Schoen (who actually designed the Rodenstock calculator; EUR 42.00). Alternatively you can laminate either a photocopy of the calculator (or a small number of photocopies with the calculator being adjusted to different scales of reproduction and to different front tilt angles, if that is relevant for your photographic style) or simply a printout of a table with the most important numbers (see tables 1-3). For those who are frequently working at reproduction ratios in the 1:1 to 1:20 range, Linhof has published a depth-of-field chart which also works on the basis of extension differences.

Finally, there is still one more interesting variation of the theme: DoF scales on the focussing knobs of some monorails which you can find, e.g., on Sinar´s f2 and P2 cameras. For those with the necessary patience and skills, instructions of how to make such a scale for other cameras (e.g., an Arca Swiss F-line) have been published on QT Luong´s Large Format Photography page.

Table 1: f-numbers for 1:∞ scale and zero front tilt. In deviation from the Rodenstock calculator, f-numbers already have been corrected for a smaller circle of confusion (see main text) and can be directly used without further correction. The (corrected) numbers in the table are based on those indicated by the calculator and thus depend on the shooting format. As explained in more detail in the main text, I nevertheless recommend using the values determined for 4×5 also for 5×7 and 8×10. Depending on the lens you are using, working at f/32 (fields shaded in grey) typically does not provide optimal resolution due to diffraction and tends to soften what actually should be tack sharp. Yellow fields indicate the onset of clearly visible image degradation due to diffraction. I cannot recommend stopping down to f/45 or beyond regardless of the format you´re using; this is nothing but an emergency solution if nothing else helps. Orange fields mean that you should seriously consider further refining your camera movements or even to change your composition since diffraction will seriously limit image quality. An alternative, although very time-consuming at the post-processing stage, would be focus stacking of images shot at a bigger aperture (of course only feasible if you use a hybrid workflow via scanning your film). A dash indicates situations in which stopping down beyond f/64 inevitably would cause such a loss of image quality due to diffraction that using a large format camera probably is not a good choice here. Finally, those rare situations in which a very small extension difference would allow to work with an aperture larger than f/16 (which would be out of most LF lenses´ “sweet spot” of sharpness) are indicated by an “o”. Here, in practice an aperture in the classic f/16…f/22 range is recommended.

However you implement this all in practice: working with precise focus adjustments and carefully determining the optimal aperture for each of your subjects will eliminate a lot of guesswork from your LF photography, and can lead immediately and effortless to technically significantly improved images.

In practice, a number of points need to be kept in mind though.

First, a correction factor has to be considered if you either use front tilt and/or are shooting a close-up subject, with a scale of reproduction of more than 1:20 or so. A nice thing about the Rodenstock calculator is that such parameters can be factored in very easily by making appropriate adjustments to the calculator; when working with a table, a little bit of guesswork may come in again. Table 2 provides the f-numbers for a reproduction scale of 1:10, table 3 the f-numbers for a tilt angle of 30°.

Table 2: f-numbers for 1:10 scale and zero front tilt. Like in table 1, f-numbers are corrected for a smaller circle of confusion.

Second, to my experience the circle of confusion used for these DoF calculations (which corresponds to the international standard circle of confusion of 0.03 mm for the 35 mm format) is too optimistic and does not fit today´s expectations regarding the sharpness of a somewhat larger print. I experienced this already many years ago on when using the DoF scales of my manual 35 mm Nikon lenses and bumped into the very same problem again after moving to Large Format. In order to overcome this, I recommend closing the aperture by one more stop than the calculator (or the DoF scale on a 35 mm lens) suggests. In the example of Fig. 4 above, I´d use f/22 instead of f/16 as the working aperture. In my hands this correction by one-stop provides highly satisfactory results, but the necessary correction will depend on your particular requirements, first of all the size at which you intend to print and the viewing distance from which your prints are expected to look flawless.

Table 3: f-numbers for 1:∞ scale and 30° front tilt. Correction like in tables 1 and 2.

Third, the logic behind these calculators assumes different scales of reproduction for different film formats. For example, it is assumed that because an 8×10″ negative needs to be enlarged only half as much as a 4×5″ negative for obtaining a print of the same final size, the allowable circle of confusion is twice as big for an 8×10″ camera. With this concept I do not agree, because I don´t want to pay four times as much for an 8×10″ sheet of film and its development and carry three times the weight in the field, only for obtaining essentially the same image quality which I can easily get out of a 4×5″ negative. While theoretically these numbers of course are correct, they suggest using the larger formats (5×7″ and 8×10″) in a way which I deem pointless. Instead I personally think that whenever possible the values determined for 4×5″ should be used regardless of whether shooting 4×5″ or larger, even if that means that in practice an 8×10″ camera will only provide superior results in comparison to smaller cameras with subjects which have not much depth and thus allow to work at f/22…f/32. Due to the deleterious and inescapable effect of diffraction, an 8×10″ negative shot at f/45 won´t contain more detail than a 4×5″ negative of exactly the same subject shot at f/22 from the same distance with a lens having half the focal length. It thus is just more expensive, without providing any advantage in image quality (except maybe looking more impressive on the lightbox).

One last thing: I absolutely don´t advocate focus stacking in large format photography, since it can be extremely tedious and cumbersome to perfectly combine the scans of two or even more differently focussed images to one flawless image file. One reason for my reluctance to do focus stacking is that in my experience for unclear reasons the scans to be combined tend to show distortions which prevent them from fitting perfectly. This effect renders their combination an editing nightmare which can cost you many hours if not days of work until everything is perfect. And don´t even think of letting the software do this for you – dismay would be guaranteed. That being said, unfortunately there are occasions where there simply is no real alternative to focus stacking, namely when in order to obtain the required DoF for an image you´d need to stop down so seriously that diffraction would essentially eat up all the advance large format has over smaller formats. In such cases, and they come up from time to time, I definitely prefer to combine two images shot at f/32 over one single image shot at f/64 which would be guaranteed to lack overall sharpness. In such instances you need a tool to set your two (or more) focus points as precisely as you can, and for this again a DoF calculator is simply indispensable. Fig. 5 is an example of a successful focus stacking project, but this took me more than two days of not very pleasant computer work until the two 400 MB scans had been seamlessly merged into one file.

Figure 5: Carboniferous. Hoodoos and coal bed in New Mexico; Sinar 5×7´´, Nikkor T-ED 9/360 mm, RVP 100, focus stacking of two exposures taken at 1/4 sec and f/32. Due to the difficult topology of the location there was no way to switch to a different composition which could have alleviated my focussing problems. I thus decided to apply focus stacking and to “split” the shot (which otherwise would have required stopping down to f/64) into two separate exposures at f/32.

Taking all these aspects into account, DoF calculators are a reliable, inexpensive and easy-to-use means to replace all the guesswork otherwise needed by a rational approach to focussing and stopping down. In order to get the highest technical quality out of large format photography you need to work as precisely as possible, and these calculators provide you with exactly the information you need to reach that goal. I´m using mine for practically every single shot, and I know that I´d be way less satisfied with the sharpness of my images if I didn´t.


Name: Frank Sirona

Location: Germany

Description: I´ve been interested in landscape photography since I saw for the first time a number of dye transfer prints made by the pioneer of color landscape photography, Eliot Porter. After my Nikon years I had a brief affair with a Mamiya 7, until in 2004 I finally upgraded to large format. Since then I´m shooting film using my swiss made 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 Sinar cameras. Of these, the 5×7 has by far become my favorite, since weight and bulk of a 5×7 are still somehow manageable when air traveling (flying with a 8×10 monorail is a pain, believe me!), while the big groundglass is just a joy and makes composing easier than with a 4×5 camera. Also I personally do like the 5:7 side ratio much more than the 4:5 ratio of the other two standard large formats. The majority of my work has been done in the Desert Southwest, and I continue returning there whenever I can.

Website: www.franksirona.com

Instagram: @franksirona