Interview in On Landscape (Part I)

This is the first part of an interview that first appeared in On Landscape, the online magazine for landscape photographers, No. 212. The questions were asked by Tim Parkin.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your education, childhood passions, early exposure to photography etc.?

A: As a kid I always loved to spend as much time as possible outdoors, and landscape photography is a fantastic excuse for continuing that. My interest in photography though was sparked by a cousin who had pioneered a new approach to simulating architecture photographs. He used modified endoscopes which had originally been designed for medical purposes for photographing architectural models, simulating the pedestrian´s view of buildings not existing yet. This all was done long before computer simulations came up, and back then revolutionized urban development because for the first time it was possible to view planned buildings in form of models not just from a bird´s eye view, but from street level. But in the end it was a book from the Time Life series on photography in my father´s library which became life-changing for me. In that book there were two Eliot Porter images taken down in Glen Canyon before its tragic flooding which just struck me like lightning. Never had I seen before such a beauty in a photograph, and I immediately knew that I just had to visit that land of the canyons myself – and bring a camera. From there it still took me many years until my first expedition to the Desert Southwest, and even longer until I started to fancy large format photography. In the meantime I studied natural sciences, and at a glance one might think that a scientific perspective distracts from an artistic point of view. To my own surprise I realized that the contrary is the case: with a background in life sciences you inevitably have a different view on the natural world surrounding us, and this opens one´s eyes for structures and phenomena which one otherwise might have overlooked. Actually it turned out that this perspective is a steady source of inspiration, and it´s a perfect complement to a perspective primarily driven by aesthetics.

Q: Is that the “Approach of the Painter and the Scientist” you´re alluding to in your Artist´s Statement? Could you explain this approach in a little more detail?

A: Exactly, that´s how I called this confluence of scientific and artistic perception. The starting point here is the existence of two very different and ostensibly incompatible ways to perceive nature, represented by the perspectives of the painter and the scientist, and which in Robert Pirsig´s words one could call the “romantic” versus the “classic” perspective. The landscape painter is interested in a scenery as a whole, while the scientist will rather have a close look at the details, in order to understand what´s going on under the surface. For example, when seeing a dune, the painter will perceive its harmoniously curved, female forms and the play of light and shadow when the sun is low on the horizon. Were someone to hand him a camera, he would shoot images that capture the beauty, power or evanescence of what is seen. In contrast, the scientist’s interest is focused much more upon detail. He is preoccupied with causality, determinism, and natural forces and their interaction with one another. In seeking to explain why things are the way they are, he strives to trace natural phenomena back to the laws governing them. When investigating the same dune, he would examine a single grain of sand and would attribute the dune’s form, the angle of its slope, and the continual changes in shape caused by the wind to the physical properties of the grain. Through a camera lens he would concentrate on structures, patterns, and surface qualities by taking close-up shots, which would then in turn bear witness to the play of natural forces and their formative effect on animate and inanimate nature. By doing this, the researcher would render the reasons for the surface texture of the natural world visible. What fascinates me is the possibility to combine both perspectives in a single image, and to create photographs that evince two very distinct, and yet inseparably interwoven, levels: an aesthetic level (the effect of nature on the viewer) and a purely analytic level (the effect of formative forces on nature). As these levels are often located on very different scales of magnitude, an extremely high optical resolution is required for the fusion of both in one picture, and that´s where large format photography comes into play: the unequaled resolution of large format film allows to simultaneously record an almost infinite number of tiny details within a scenery, while still grasping the whole picture. Thus, a sufficiently large print – I prefer a final enlargement format of 70 x 100 cm / 30 x 40˝ at the least – allows the viewer to zoom in and out again and to switch between beholding the entire composition and viewing some of its countless details. This way, probably in most cases without realizing it, viewers switch back and forth between the perspective of the painter and the perspective of the scientist. I´m observing this frequently on the occasion of my exhibitions, and it´s interesting to see that people who hadn´t been in touch with the concept behind my images nevertheless follow exactly the path I had taken before upon creating the photographs.

Q: In most photographers´ lives there are ‘epiphanic’ moments where things become clear, or new directions are formed. What were your two main moments and how did they change your photography?

A: Yes, there are such moments, and in my case there actually were three which really changed a lot for me. I mentioned one already – my first encounter with Eliot Porter´s photographs of Glen Canyon. The other two relate more to technical qualities, one of them being the moment when I saw the first print made from a large format photograph. This happened to be a landscape photo, printed to Cibachrome material and hanging perfectly lit in a gallery. Before that I had seen countless large format photos printed in magazines already, and they always had some sort of difficult-to-describe appeal photos made with small cameras were lacking, but that print was just amazing. Having had fancied large format photography for quite a while, this was the moment when I decided to go for it and give it a try. The other moment was when I saw my first Diasec print on an art fair – must have been the Art Cologne I think. The brilliance and perfection of that print was so far beyond anything I had seen before that I simply couldn´t believe it. Back then I had been looking for a while for a way to present my images such that they would provide an immersive experience to the beholder, and I immediately realized that facemounting would be it.

Q: What are you most proud of in photography?

A: This question fits well to what you asked before, since the achievement I´m probably most proud of is my contribution to the development of the “UltraSec M” technology, or the face mounting of prints to anti-reflective glass. I mentioned my spontaneous fascination with Diasec, and for a while I couldn´t imagine anything of higher quality than prints face mounted to acrylic. However, I realized soon that the Diasec technology has two limitations: first, acrylic is extremely sensitive to scratches. Just wipe some dust off (which Diasec prints happily attract due to acrylic´s electrostatic properties), and you already introduced a host of micro scratches you´ll never get rid of again. Second, the reflections on acrylic are highly distracting, which is almost always a nuisance except under perfect lighting conditions. You may have such conditions in a gallery or a well-made exhibition, but almost nowhere else. Hang a Diasec print opposite to a window, and you´ll have difficulties to see anything but just a bright reflecting square on the wall. Using frosted acrylic was no alternative though, since the frosting takes away from a face mounted print all the brilliance which makes Diasec so special. I then realized that the ideal material for face mounting would be anti-reflective mineral glass used for architectural purposes (the very thin anti-reflective glass used for premium-quality framing would be too thin for providing the sense of depth face mounting is aiming at). The only problem was that apparently this wasn´t offered by any lab worldwide. So I decided to push the lab which I was working with to give it a try. They were not convinced, and in the end it took me two years of regularly following up on this until they realized that their only chance to re-gain their peace would be to just follow my request. And then the – for them – unexpected happened: the result of their first experiments blew our mind – no-one of us had ever seen such a brilliance, depth, three-dimensionality and vibrancy in a print like there right in front of us. All skepticism was blown away, and they instantaneously started a project to develop a routine manufacturing process of what became known later as “UltraSec M” prints. This was an extremely exciting time – I remember countless discussions of all the technical hurdles which needed to be overcome, but we all were absolutely confident that in the end this project would become a success. It took about two more years to optimize all those tiny little steps and tricks needed to manufacture immaculate prints at an acceptably low scrap rate, but I believe that what was achieved by the lab´s staff during this time was nothing short of the creation of a new gold standard for print quality. Since then I never looked back, and all of my exhibition prints and most prints sold to my customers are made using this technology. It´s also great to see that well-known artists such as Michael Wesely, Tom Fecht or Bernhard Edmaier quickly adopted this technology for presenting their awesome work.

Q: Talking about exhibitions – you´ve been quite active exhibiting your work, and had exhibitions among others on Photokina, in a museum, and on numerous festivals. Tell me about the experience of publicly displaying your work.

A: A well-made exhibition is just a wonderful way of getting in touch with people who are interested in your work, and at the same time it allows to create an immersive experience to visitors which can´t be created by any other setup – not by a box of prints, not by a book, not by a website and certainly not by an appearance on social media. I had countless wonderful conversations with people whom I otherwise would never have met, and it´s very gratifying to experience how one´s own work seems to speak to others, reaching them in a way words couldn´t. Sometimes I observe some sort of silent dialogue going on between a visitor and a photograph. When I approach these people and ask them what they like about a particular image, most aren´t able to explain their experience. They just feel attracted in a way which escapes verbalization – quite fascinating! It must be said though that, in order to create an atmosphere in which this sort of magic can happen, some efforts are needed. Prints must be of the best possible quality, they must be large enough (my exhibition prints are between 85 x 120 cm / 34 x 48´´ and 100 x 280 cm / 40 x 110´´), they need to be well lit, and everything must be arranged such that the visitors really focus their attention on the prints and forget the environment. I believe that, for creating a really good exhibition, there is no way around shooting large format and printing big. I have seen countless exhibitions of excellent work as such, but made with small cameras, and most of the time I was disappointed. Either prints are no bigger than the size permitted by the red face test when printing 35 mm negatives or DSLR files (somewhere around 30 x 40 cm, maybe slightly larger when printing a 36+ megapixel file), and they just get lost in a somewhat larger room. Or they are at a size beyond the technical limits of the original (sometimes shamelessly far beyond that limits) – then they may look good from a distance, but become a disappointment when getting closer, leaving a sense of dishonesty to the viewer: I cannot help to feel betrayed when inspecting a print at close range, and all I then see is coloured squares instead of details. That aside – for setting up an exhibition in a room which is not equipped with gallery rails or the like I´m using a set of metal racks equipped with halogen spots, so I´m independent of any available infrastructure except a few plug sockets. This can look quite good, and has the additional advantage to allow for arranging the photographs in groups, away from the walls and responding to the show room´s particularities. But by far the most enjoyable exhibition I had so far was the one in the museum, where the curator took a full week to arrange the photographs and to fine-tune the illumination, turning the exhibition space into a room just filled with light and colors – a perfect dream!

Q: Where/how do you get your pictures printed?

A: I have a wonderful long standing collaboration with a small company which does all the lab work for me, including developing, printing and face mounting. They own a LightJet XL which allows printing up to a size of about 180 x 300 cm (72 x 120´´), in excellent quality. When they print a new image for the first time for me, I´ll be on-site and discuss the test prints with the owner, who has an admirable understanding of colours. I learned quite a lot from these discussions, including the fact that objective colour perception appears to be different from person to person. What I mean by this is that to a certain extent colour perception is not a matter of taste, but as I suspect rather has to do with individual differences in colour receptor density and/or receptor sensitivity in our eyes, resulting in something you could call an individual white balance – an important fact to keep in mind when making or having made prints not just for oneself, but for others.

Q: Could you tell us a little about the cameras and lenses you typically take on a trip and how they affect your photography.

A: My main camera is a Sinar monorail camera, which most of the time I´m using with a 5×7´´back, in particular when air travel is involved and the 8×10´´back is too bulky. This Sinar has been modified such that I can also take panoramic shots in the format 5×13´´, which allows the production of murals in ultrahigh-resolution, several meters wide. I´m using lenses with a focal length of between 90 mm and 720 mm (35 mm / full-frame equivalent 20 mm to 170 mm), but more than two-thirds of my photographs are taken with my beloved 150 mm Schneider Super-Symmar HM, followed by a Fujinon-C 300 mm lens (corresponding to 35 mm and 70 mm full-frame lenses, respectively). I guess what I particularly like about these two lenses is that they allow such unexited perspectives – they don´t add any artificial drama to a scene and thus provide images with a very relaxed and natural look. As regards large format as such, specific equipment aside, this certainly tremendously affects a photographer´s style. The bulk, weight and slow speed of a large format camera, together with the costs (clicking the shutter once costs me around £10 / $12 for film and development), make you think more than twice on where, when and whether to go, how to compose your image, which light you are hoping for, and so forth. All the limitations I´ve mentioned render photography a much more conscious process, and that of course has an impact on the results you´ll bring home. Instead of taking two dozens of variations of a subject with your digital camera (and possibly missing the best one since you´re so busy with filling your memory card with all the variations you can think of), with a LF camera you´ll probably take just one photo, but this one has good chances to be your definite interpretation of that subject. Another but related aspect is how you are composing a photo when shooting large format, which is quite different from using smaller cameras. You see a two-dimensional image projected to the groundglass, similar to the finished print, without the illusion of three-dimensionality optical finders of small cameras are providing. This clearly facilitates that reduction from three to two dimensions which photography is all about. Then that image on the groundglass is turned upside down, which makes it easier to see an abstraction of one´s subject to shapes and colours. Finally, under the dark cloth you´re isolated from the outside world (except sometimes from biting insects, I have to admit), so you can fully focus on what you see on the groundglass. Taking this all together one has to say that all these factors which at a glance appear to be disadvantages of LF photography in practice turn to a strength, and simply lead to better results whenever speed is not a limiting factor.

Frank Sirona

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 travelling (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.


Instagram: @franksirona

Lamborghini Dark Slides

Getting Through A Creative Block

 By Ryan Gillespie

Creative Blocks, or barriers to inspiration, can be described as the inability to access one’s internal creativity. Those in creative professions – writers, musicians, performers, artists – are often more likely to be affected by creative blocks, which can last for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Throughout all my years as a photographer, I have never found myself with a creative block, until now.

Just like everyone else in the world, in March of this year, I found myself in lockdown with my family in our home in fear of COVID-19 and a new worldwide pandemic. Weeks of uncertainty and social isolation were beginning to take a toll on me in ways I had never felt before. I wanted to get out of the house and explore the world around me and to get back to nature, but even the State Parks and many local areas had been shut down, and venturing out was almost frowned upon. Little did I know at the time but my desire to photograph and be creative was beginning to slip away. Another month passed and I began to realize that it had been weeks since I picked up my camera or made any prints and the desire to do so was gone. Another month had gone by and I thought that maybe I just needed to sell everything and find a new hobby in this new way of life and world that I was finding myself in.

My wife and youngest son noticed the change in me and expressed their concern as well as their desire that I don’t give up on photography. About this same time local restrictions were beginning to be lifted and venturing back out was possible, but I still was in a photographic fog, a creative block. One Sunday I turned to YouTube and sat and watched a few episodes of Ben Horne, Nick Carver, and Alan Brock and I began to feel the dim light of creativity turn a little brighter within me. I spent the next few evenings flipping through Photography books of favorite photographers I have in my collection. As I began to drive around town, I noticed I was “seeing Images” again, seeing compositions. The next weekend I grabbed my gear and hit the road to capture anything, anything that caught my eye. I didn’t care about the subject, or the location, I just needed to get back to feeling the process. Setting up the tripod, set up the camera, attach a lens, throw on the dark cloth, and view the scene on the ground glass. It was at that moment, the moment of seeing the scene on the ground glass that the dim light within me was now fully glowing. There is something magical when it comes to viewing your scene and composition on the ground glass of a large format view camera.

It breaks my heart to think about how close I was to selling everything and moving on. Creative Block can hit any one of us at any given moment and I’m sure I will encounter it again sometime. If you find yourself in the darkness of it, let me make this suggestion, seek inspiration in others, and then get out and waste film. Just expose film regardless of subject or location. Make exposures of anything that looks interesting to you. Don’t expose film trying for a masterpiece, just expose film to expose film and who knows, maybe a masterpiece is somewhere in all those exposures.

During my personal process of exposing film just to expose film, I came back home with a couple of images that I was happy with and they definitely make me want to get out and do it again.

Barn Road Dark Slides

(Chamonix 4×10, ADOX CHS 100 II, PMK Pyro)

Lamborghini Dark Slides

(Chamonix 4×10, Ilford Delta 100, PMK Pyro)


Name: Ryan Gillespie
Location: Vancouver, Washington
Description: I decided to get back into film photography in 2014, large film, and the large format process. The camera is big and the process is slow, but this oversized and somewhat primitive camera design is a romantic and creative way to become much more intimate with the subject and landscapes around me. The majority of my work is captured close to home in the Pacific Northwest.

A forgotten tip from Ansel Adams


Lowcountry Cypress by J Riley Stewart

“Lowcountry Cypress” -J Riley Stewart

The sheer volume of lessons from Ansel Adams about anything related to large format photography can be overwhelming. He packed more lessons into 3 pages than most of his contemporaries packed into a whole book. There is no way someone could remember everything Ansel said. But here’s one of his tips that stuck with me, and I use it every time I compose an image on a large format camera’s ground glass.

One of the hardest techniques to master with large format photography is composing the image on the ground glass. You not only need to frame the scene–something familiar to every photographer–but you also get to adjust tilts and swings to bring the important elements of the scene into precise focus as discussed by Martin in this article.

Ground-Glass Work can be tedious. I won’t go into all the details here; but you probably know the drill:  Frame and set initial focus – Check focus in foreground, middle ground, and far ground – Apply one tilt or swing movement – Recheck focus in foreground, middle ground, and far ground – Fine tune movement – Recheck focus in foreground, etc- Set another movement – Recheck focus in foreground, etc – OMG, when will I get this right?  And then…. damn, the light’s gone!! %&##@%

“Lowcountry Cypress” was that kind of scene.  It required both near-far corrections by using front tilt settings and also a bit of right-left corrections using front swing settings. And to make matters more challenging, it was a hot day in Charleston, SC, and the swamp bugs were being particularly nasty. I remember the relief I felt when I was finally finished with the Ground-Glass Work and able to get out from under the dark cloth.

Checking focus during all these iterations of camera movements is typically done with a critical magnifying loupe. These loupes are great aids, but they only look at one small section of the ground glass at a time. You need to ‘sample’ several such sections every time you change tilts and swings, and that takes time. Time you rarely have in nature. And never mind that in hot weather or buggy conditions, being under the dark cloth any longer than you have to can be miserable.

After years of doing it just this way and hating every second of it, I recalled Uncle Ansel’s method. Ready for it?

6-8X reading spectacles!

magnification reading glasses

Before you conclude “That’s crazy,” let me explain how this simple tool speeds composing on a large format camera’s ground glass.

  1. Spectacles let me see the whole frame of the ground glass at one time–magnified 8x. So now I can quickly evaluate initial focus without a critical loupe. I can immediately see whether it’s the foreground, background, or center ground that’s out of focus when the main subject is in focus. This knowledge alone tells me what tilts and/or swings I need to apply if any (and I always have them).
  2. Seeing the whole frame at one time lets me adjust tilts and/or swings and evaluate the resulting focus in real time. I don’t need to lock the focus, get out my critical loupe, and then pepper the ground glass sampling the edges and corners. My spectacles let me do all that in one continuous step.
  3. While I sometimes do a final critical check of my settings with a 7x critical loupe, I’ve consistently found that my settings never change after doing that. Meaning, my $40 pair of 8x spectacles is a great substitute for that $100 critical loupe, and many times easier to work with.
  4. Wearing the spectacles may help avoid Curious Ones from interrupting you to ask questions while you’re composing: Your eyes will look 4x larger than they really are, making you appear as an alien, and therefore encouraging the Curious Ones to shirk away without interrupting you further.  I advise keeping them on until you make sure there’s no one besides your camera waiting for you to emerge from the dark cloth to ask you about your “Hasselblad.”

There are a couple of down-sides to using the spectacles instead of a critical loupe:

  1. It’s another gadget to carry in your camera bag. But its weight and size won’t make much difference in how far you can hike in a day, I promise.
  2. If you forget to take them off when leaving the confines of the dark cloth, you may stumble down the path and break a leg, or meet with some other disastrous ending. But really, the magnification of these glasses will let you know very quickly that you’re still wearing them.
  3. At first, you need to ‘learn’ how to use them. Since they are fixed focus lenses, you’ll need to move your head toward and away from the ground glass until you find the correct focal length. Once you’ve found that, it’s pretty easy to keep things on the ground glass in focus.

I hope this obscure tip from Ansel Adams to compose an image on a large format camera’s ground glass makes it into your workflow. If you’re already using magnifier spectacles, please share your experience in a comment.

4-8x reading spectacles are widely available in many styles. Just google it to find the best source for you.

photo of photographer J. Riley Stewart

Author: J Riley Stewart

Location: Mid-Atlantic Region, USA

Statement: I learned long ago that to make really large, elegant, high fidelity prints, you have to start with really beautiful large negatives. That’s especially true for scenes captured from nature that are full of fine textures and dynamic light. Having used medium format film cameras for 20 years, I started using 4×5 cameras in 2009 to give me the best advantage for making those beautiful large negatives.

I’ve traveled through Europe and the American West over the years. But these days I find my favorite places to photograph are nearer my home in northern Virginia. The middle Appalachians in Virginia and West Virginia completely satisfy my appetite for nature, but I also love photographing the South Carolina Low Country around Charleston and of course, the Great Smoky Mountains. My artistic themes range from pure nature, romantic landscapes, pastoral settings, still-lifes, and an eclectic variety of single-themed photographic projects.

Gallery: J. Riley Stewart


The Virtues of an Analog Stopwatch

It’s best to keep things simple when working with a large format camera. Over the years I’ve developed a ritual of sorts when working in the field. As Alan Brock mentioned in an earlier post, one such ritual is test firing the shutter before pulling the darkslide. If the shutter is cocked and still doesn’t fire, it means your shutter is still open. Pulling the darkslide would have fried that sheet of film. We’ve all been there before, and it’s nice to avoid those mistakes.

Another practice of mine is to use an analog stopwatch for timing exposures. I love how the motion of starting/stopping the stopwatch is the same as using a cable release. This greatly simplifies the process, and is far easier on my brain—especially in stressful moments when I’m juggling other variables including wind and dynamically changing light. There’s another advantage to this technique as well. Analog stopwatches don’t require any batteries, and there is something very satisfying about seeing that second hand sweep toward my desired exposure length. The stopwatch I use is made by Minerva, and can be found on the used market. These stopwatches are quite old, but very simple in design, and are designed to last a very long time.


Using calculators in large format photography

Part II: Exposure compensation

Part 1 can be viewed here: Using calculators in large format photography

One of the many aspects which set large format photography apart from photography with modern digital cameras is that there is no CPU to which you can delegate such key tasks as focusing, exposure control, and others. Everything is fully manual here, which on one hand positively contributes to the experience of LF photography, but which nevertheless renders things a bit tricky. This is where little helpers in the form of calculators are coming in, and the one I´d like to present in this blog post is just amazingly simple and effective.

Figure 1: QuickDisc and the measuring strip. Figure courtesy Philipp Salzgeber.

Strictly speaking, handheld lightmeters provide the correct exposure data only for a camera focussed to infinity. As soon as the extension (i.e., the distance between lens and film plane) is increased in order to move the focus plane towards the camera and to increase the scale of reproduction, the fraction of the bundle of light falling through the lens which hits the film decreases – in other words: it gets darker at the film plane. This effect is negligible in the range from infinity to a scale of reproduction of maybe 1:10 or so, but after that – and certainly, in the range of what one usually would call closeup photography – it will cause underexposed slides or negatives if not being compensated for. If a small subject is photographed at half its size, about one full stop of correction is needed, while for a photograph at original size (i.e., at 1:1 scale) a correction of even two stops will be required. This is something users of small cameras with a built-in light meter don´t need to bother about, since modern cameras typically have TTL (through-the-lens) light meters which measure the incoming light at the focal plane, thereby automatically compensating for extension changes. However, whenever taking a close-up photograph with a large format camera is the plan, either the extension or, much easier, the scale of reproduction must be determined in order to determine the required exposure compensation.

Figure 2: Placing the QuickDisc within the subject. Figure courtesy Philipp Salzgeber.


It sounds difficult, but actually this goal couldn´t be any easier to achieve than by the use of a brilliant little tool called QuickDisc which was developed by astrophotographer Philipp Salzgeber from Austria ( The large-format community owes Philipp a big thank you for not only creating this wonderful tool but also for generously making it available to anyone for free!

Figure 3: Reading the QuickDisc with the measuring strip on the ground glass. Here, the applied scale of reproduction requires the exposure time to be extended about 2.3-fold, or the aperture opened by about 1.2 stops. Figure courtesy Philipp Salzgeber.

The QuickDisc system consists of two parts: the disc proper and the measuring strip (Fig. 1). Here is how it works: The disc is placed next to the subject to be photographed so that it is located in, or very close to, the plane of focus (Fig. 2). Thereby an image of the disc is being projected to the ground glass, the size of which depends on the extension and, thus, on the scale of reproduction. The latter can now very easily be read with the help of the measuring strip directly on the ground glass, which then immediately provides the corresponding exposure correction (Fig. 3). For example, let´s assume that focussing the camera results in a scale of reproduction of 1:2. The disc´s image on the ground glass then will be 50% of the disc´s original size. Using the strip for measuring the size of the disc image will indicate that either the exposure time would need to be multiplied by a factor of 2.3, or the aperture is opened by 1.2 stops, in order to compensate for the extension. Voilá!

Figure 4: Crossing the Lines. Sandstone wall detail, AZ; exposure correction determined with the QuickDisc.

What looks a bit like magic at first actually is the result of a thoughtful translation of the laws of geometry into a real-world object. One of the elegant aspects of the QuickDisc is that absolutely no care needs to be invested into the disc´s orientation – actually it literally can be just thrown onto the subject and still provides perfect results, as long as it´s not too far away from the focal plane. In most cases, the disc won´t be perfectly parallel to the film plane so that its image won´t be a circle but an ellipse. No problem at all – simply measure the ellipse´s length, and you´re all set. Another nice aspect of all this magic is the independence of the camera´s format. Since this is all about relative and not absolute sizes (of the disc, the disc´s image on the ground glass, and the measuring strip in relation to each other), it works exactly the same way, without any further adaptations or corrections, regardless of whether you´re using the QuickDisc with a 6×9 camera, a 4×5, an 8×10, or whichever format you choose. For the same reason it also doesn´t matter whether the Disc is being printed at exactly 100% size, or smaller or bigger than that, as long as the QuickDisc and the measuring strip are printed on the same scale.

Figure 5: Shapes in Blue. Detail of a frozen lake in Yosemite NP, CA; exposure correction determined with the QuickDisc.

In order to include this excellent little helper in your kit, simply go to Philipp Salzgeber´s QuickDisc home page, download the manual, and the Disc, print out the Disc on a piece of thin white cardboard and cut out QuickDisc and measuring strip. I have laminated my copy, which renders this little gem not only free, lightweight, and very helpful, but even waterproof. What more could one ask for?

Figure 6: Granite and Aspen Leaves. Fall scenery in the Eastern Sierra, CA; exposure correction determined with the QuickDisc.

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!


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 Take_a_Class/WRFA_ERG_9781584806295.pdf 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.

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

– 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.


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.


Lyme disease

Preventing tick bites

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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