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.

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.

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.


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


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:

Gallery: Alex Burke

FaceBook: @alexburkephoto
Instagram: @alexburkephoto

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 where you can look up even more. The main site 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.


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