Posts

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.

Website: https://www.franksirona.com

Instagram: @franksirona

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

Website: https://www.jrileystewart.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jrileystewart
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jrileystewart
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jrileystewart
Email: jim@jrileystewart.com

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 (www.salzgeber.at). 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  www.salzgeber.at/disc/index.html, 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.

A Path to Consistent Results

A Path to Consistent Results

By: Ryan Gillespie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoops

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to more consistent results in your photography!

8×10″ vs. 4×5″ – Which is for you?

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

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

Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weight

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

Cost

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

Image Quality

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

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

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

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

Depth of Field

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

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

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

Ground Glass and Composition

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

Conclusion

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

Best of 2019

Using calculators in large format photography

Part I: Depth of field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 2: Rodenstock´s depth of field calculator

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

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

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

Figure 4: Reading the Rodenstock calculator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II – Using calculators in large format photography


Name: Frank Sirona

Location: Germany

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

Website: www.franksirona.com

Instagram: @franksirona

Platinum Palladium Contact Prints

Platinum Palladium Contact Prints

When it comes to capturing an image, there is something almost spiritual when you do it utilizing a Large Format Camera. The entire process of capturing an image is so much more than just clicking the shutter. Viewing the image and composing it on the large ground glass, checking and double checking composition, metering for exposure, inserting the film holder, removing the dark slide, waiting for just that right light to fall on the scene, clicking the shutter release, re-inserting the dark slide, removing the film holder, writing down your notes regarding the exposure and subject, and then crossing your fingers that you did everything you were supposed to do correctly in order to capture that image on film.  For me, this entire process and experience of image capture is only one part of the overall experience of why I photograph with a Large Format Camera

Large Format Photography provides you with large negatives and positives full of detail and information that are just begging to be printed. I believe an image isn’t a photograph until it has been printed. The print is the reason I pack 60 plus pounds of gear around to capture that one image that speaks to me. The print is that one tangible thing that will remain with you or with your family, or with someone that appreciates your images for years and generations to come. Long after it has been seen and then forgotten on social media.

“Our lives have become digital. Our friends are now virtual, and everything you could ever want to know is just a click away. Experiencing the world through endless second-hand information isn’t enough. If we want authenticity, we have to initiate it.”

-Travis Rice

Hearing these words from Travis Rice had a profound impact on me and my work and how I thought about sharing my images. I decided that sharing my work and images on social media wasn’t enough and that social media does not do justice for images captured with Large Format Cameras. I wanted to offer and give “authenticity” I decided that I wanted to make hand-made contact prints of my images. I wanted something the viewer could hold, feel, and look deep into at the small details that are just not visible on a small handheld device.

Contact prints are something special to look at as they will show every small detail captured on the negative.  You can do contact prints in a variety of different media including traditional Silver Gelatin Darkroom Prints, but I choose Platinum Palladium prints for their range of tones, soft creamy whites, and most importantly long-life span.

I wanted my images to last for generations, long after I am gone from the world.

There is nothing quite like a hand made platinum palladium print.  It is simultaneously gentle and powerful, it is subtle yet rich and luxurious, and it has a physical presence like no other print. They are a work of art unto themselves.

I wanted to share a quick step by step of the process, but this is in no way a tutorial of how to properly make a platinum palladium print.  I recommend taking a workshop if one is available in your area or read a how to book.  I have done both and I definitely recommend reading The Platinum Printing Workshop by Ian Leake as a starting point before you dive into the process.

Cocoon – Oregon Coast – Platinum Palladium

Cotton rag paper is hand coated with a solution containing platinum and palladium salts and an iron oxalate sensitizer.

There are many paper choices, and some do better than others depending upon your environment, particularly your humidity level.

The mixture is then quickly brushed out across the paper as it is slightly absorbed into the paper.

After drying, the paper and your negative are carefully sandwiched together under glass in a contact printing frame and exposed to Ultraviolet light.

The contact frame is then placed inside an Ultraviolet exposure unit.  These can be made or purchased and use a variety of different Ultraviolet light sources.  I chose to make my exposure unit using LED Ultraviolet light strips.  You can also use the Sun as your Ultraviolet light source, but you may find exposure times to be inconsistent one print to the next.  The ultraviolet light causes a reduction of the platinum or palladium salts into pure metals.

The real fun and excitement to Platinum Palladium printing comes at the moment of development.  Once your developer comes into contact with the exposed platinum palladium coating, a reaction occurs where the image is transformed and visually seen at the same time the platinum and palladium have become embedded into the paper.

After several clearing baths to remove the remaining salts, the final print consists of pure platinum (Pt) and palladium (Pd) metallic fragments laid onto and embedded within the paper.  The process I use today is virtually unchanged from that first patented process in 1873.

The platinum-palladium printing process is such a fun way to print your images. You may find the printing process to have a steep and sometimes frustrating learning curve, but once you dial in the prints to your own personal liking you will find great satisfaction in printing your own images for lasting generations.

A full video of the printing process is available to view at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jx1BOiKOQKo

Thick of Things – Redwood Forest, California – Platinum Palladium

Land Of My Fathers – Ramasaig, Scotland – Platinum Palladium

 

Ryan Gillespie

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. Majority of my work is captured close to home in the Pacific Northwest.

Lightweight Large Format Photography on a Budget

When you think of large format photography, several things probably come to mind: heavy, expensive, bulky, complicated, difficult. While these may be the stereotypes commonly associated with large format photography, they are by no means traits that must be associated with it in practice. In this article, I’d like to address the weight and bulk concerns, while also taking on the cost concern tangentially as well.

As a landscape photographer, I enjoy hiking and backpacking to find and photograph remote locations in the wilderness, often where no other photographers have worked before. This usually means that I need to traverse canyons, forests, and streams, climb mountains and spelunk into caves to reach my scenes. Regardless of the exact nature of the terrain in which you will be photographing, weight and bulk are drags on your ability to create compelling work. This is due to the fact that weight increases the amount of energy required to hike or walk any given distance with your gear. It also creates a strain on your muscles and bones which leads to back, shoulder, and leg pain as well as fatigue. When you are exhausted and fatigued, you will not be in a good position to be creative enough to produce your best work. This is a simple fact of human limitations. Because of this, I have invested a great deal of careful research and thought into the types of gear I use for my hiking and photography.

When thinking about gear, it is often best to divide and conquer by sorting your gear into systems. Each system is responsible for a different aspect of your operations. For example, you might have a gear storage system which includes your backpack, as well as any gear pouches or wraps which protect your individual items within the larger pack. If you are backpacking, you have a sleep system, which includes your sleeping bag, your sleeping pad, and an inflatable pillow. You also have a shelter system, which includes your tent, stakes, poles, guy lines, and any other accessories such as a ground sheet. You have a cooking system, which includes your stove, cook pot, spoon, and any other related items such as fuel canisters or lighters. Finally, you have your photography system, which includes the camera, lenses, film holders, dark cloth, light meter, filters, tripod, and any other items you carry.

Because I don’t wish to make this article overwhelmingly long, we will have to save the discussion of backpacking gear for another day and focus on that last category, camera systems. I’ll also touch on gear storage systems, as they are necessary to carry your camera gear into the field.

Camera Selection

When selecting a camera for landscape photography, one of my primary considerations (arguably above all else after negative or sensor size/specs) is weight. I also consider bulk to be closely related. I look for cameras that are both compact and lightweight. This probably seems a little crazy when you consider that I am a large format photographer, but when you think about it, weight and bulk are more important than ever when working with large format because we are already operating at a strong disadvantage in these areas.

The Intrepid Camera 4×5

If you are looking for a large format camera that is compact and lightweight, you have a few options. The first and foremost option is the Intrepid Camera, which are the cameras that I currently choose to work with. You will certainly be able to find numerous other camera companies who make cameras that are more luxurious to work with, have more features, better fit and finish, and superior materials. However, they are not purpose built with weight and bulk as primary considerations, and as such are frequently heavy, expensive, and complicated.

The Intrepid Camera 4×5 costs £280 GBP or $354 USD and weighs 1.1kg or 2.42lb.

Intrepid 4×5 Mk. 4, viewed from the rear with front rise

Intrepid 4x5, Mk. 4

Intrepid 4×5, Mk. 4 viewed from the front with some front rise, swing, and tilt

The Intrepid Camera 8×10

The Intrepid 8×10″ Mk. 2 is very lightweight and compact for an 8×10.”

My current primary camera which is the workhorse for most of my trips at the moment is the Intrepid 8×10. I had the unique opportunity to help develop this camera from its inception, and it has become my favorite camera to date. It has proved reliable, lightweight, compact, and extremely capable.

The Intrepid 8×10″ Mk. 2 viewed from the rear standard

The Intrepid Camera 8×10 costs £480 GBP or $607 USD.

What I Look For in a Camera

When it comes time to find a camera, I look for one that is affordable, lightweight, and compact, because these are the metrics for success in the use case I need the camera to serve. The Intrepid cameras tick all of these boxes. They are simple, rugged, compact, lightweight, and extremely capable pound for pound. To put this in perspective, I can create virtually all of the images with the Intrepid that I could with an Arca-Swiss, but at roughly 1/15th the cost and about 1/2 to 1/3rd of the weight, depending on the configuration. For me, this is a no-brainer.

Obviously, some of my friends here at the Darkslides take the opposite approach, which is perfectly fine. Photography is all about having memorable experiences while making meaningful images with cameras you enjoy using. Everyone will have different preferences as to what they enjoy and value.

As I mentioned above, it’s all about selecting a camera for your needs and your budget. My needs are that the camera must be compact and lightweight, and it must be affordable to own and replace if necessary. Landscape photography is notoriously rough on camera gear. I could destroy and replace my Intrepid 8×10 camera 15 times over for what it would cost me to purchase even a single Arca-Swiss 8×10 and carry two or three of them on my back for the equivalent weight. So for these reasons, I’m willing to accept some tradeoffs in other areas. Whether you are or not will be up to you to decide.

Some Important Background Notes

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that I have been working extensively with Intrepid on the development and field testing of their cameras for several years now. Many of my images have been used to promote their cameras around the world. As a result, I’ve received all but one of my 6 Intrepid cameras for free in exchange. I stand 100% behind the company and recommend their cameras regardless of this arrangement. Their track record for customer service is excellent, and they have been aggressively responding to customer feedback and improving their products constantly. I can think of no other company in the large format industry which has a comparable record. It is important to note that I was only ever given the newer cameras because of the work I’d created using an early (and admittedly much buggier and less featured) version of the camera which I paid for entirely with my own money. I do not receive any commission or other payment from the company in exchange for the numerous cameras I’ve sold for them, and the cameras I’ve received were all for testing, development and review purposes.

For what it’s worth, my digital images were also used in the past to promote both Canon & Fujifilm’s cameras, and I do not currently even shoot, let alone actively recommend, either of those brands. I say this to clarify that these arrangements do not in any way buy my loyalty or recommendation of a camera or brand, and I reserve the right to change brands and recommendations at any time.

Now, let’s look at several competing options in the area of lightweight large format cameras:

Chamonix Alpinist

Chamonix Alpinist 8×10, front view

Chamonix Alpinist 8×10, side view

Chamonix makes an 8×10 camera known as the Alpinist, which only works in the horizontal orientation. To make a vertical composition, you must turn the camera sideways on the tripod, as you would with a 35mm camera. The camera does, however, feature a very nice fit and finish. It weighs almost the same as the Intrepid 8×10, at 5.48lb, or 2.49kg. The camera costs €4,690 EUR or about $5,261 USD.

The price tag alone essentially disqualifies this camera from consideration for the purposes of this article, as it is not affordable at all and is rather heavy. I include it here for reference so you can see what is out there, and how some of the other options compare. I also chose not to include the Ritter camera here, because it is too expensive and too heavy to fit in the affordable lightweight category.

The primary benefits of this camera are the build quality and low weight. The primary downsides are the very high cost and the lack of a way to rotate the back, which can be very limiting in the field. If you like the high quality, can afford the price tag and don’t mind the limitations, it could be a great camera for you. Its bellows supports lens extensions ranging from 60mm to 570mm.

 

Gibellini Proxima

Gibellini Proxima 4×5, showing off some flex

If you are looking for uniquely designed affordable lightweight 4×5 view camera, Gibellini makes their Proxima camera model, which is entirely 3D printed in white. The camera can handle bellows extensions ranging from 50mm to 380mm, or 400mm with their available bag bellows. It ranges from €379-499 EUR ($425-560 USD) in price, depending on the configuration. The Proxima weighs 1.4kg or 3.09lb. I don’t have any personal experience with this camera, but I do enjoy looking at pictures of it on the internet!

The Gibellini Proxima is a very unique and beautiful camera

Standard Camera

The Standard 4×5 is the only current monorail that can truly be considered both lightweight and affordable.

Standard is a new entry into the world of large format photography. Their only camera model right now is a unique 4×5 monorail that is both lightweight and affordable. It is truly unique as most monorails are very heavy by comparison. The Standard Camera 4×5 weighs in at only 2.3lb (1.04kg), or roughly the same as an Intrepid 4×5. It costs just $360 (€321 EUR), which is quite reasonable for a new large format camera. It also has the distinction of being the only camera that is available in pieces for you to assemble at home like a LEGO set. This makes it a fun project for makers and tinkerers. You can also save a bit of money (-$40/€36, making the camera $320/€285) by opting to assemble the camera yourself. I am currently considering adding a Standard Camera to my lineup as it represents the first time a monorail design has been light enough to meet my personal camera weight requirements. Monorail cameras provide a wider range of movements than their folding field camera counterparts, which makes the Standard Camera compelling even for those who already have a field camera.

The Standard 4×5 Monorail collapses down quite small, especially for a monorail!

There are of course a few cameras also available on the used market which may come close to this weight class and affordability level. My goal here was to cover a handful of the currently available newly manufactured affordable lightweight large format camera options as of 2019.

The Standard 4×5 is a beautiful camera with a simple, modern design.

Lens Selection

Next to your camera, selecting your lenses is one of the biggest opportunities to save weight. As a general rule, for wilderness landscape photography on large format film, you will want to buy lenses with narrow maximum apertures. Granted, you will have a brighter image on the ground glass with faster maximum aperture lenses, but you will pay major penalties for that convenience in weight, bulk, and cost.

The Schneider-Kreuznach Angulon 90mm ƒ/6.8 is truly tiny, at about the size of a 35mm lens cap or Micro 4/3 pancake lens! The rear element is nearly flat.

My lightest lenses have maximum apertures ranging from ƒ/6.8 to ƒ/8. They include a diminutive Schneider Angulon 90mm ƒ/6.8 for 4×5 and an also impressively small Fujinon C 300mm ƒ/8 which covers both 4×5 & 8×10.

I mount all my lenses in Linhof boards, which saves weight while also allowing me to use them on both my 4×5 and 8×10 cameras. To fit the lenses to my 8×10, I simply carry a Linhof-Sinar adaptor board, which mounts to the camera and allows it to accept my Linhof lens boards. This saves a lot of weight and cost vs. carrying separate lenses for both cameras or carrying multiple heavy Sinar lens boards for my 8×10.

A Note on Tripods

It is difficult to recommend anyone specific tripod, as the best tripod for you will depend on what type of camera you go with, how tall you want it to extend, and how small you want it to collapse. It will also depend on your budget and on weight, as well as availability considerations in your area (shipping tripods internationally can be quite expensive).

However, as a general set of guidelines, look for a rigid carbon fiber tripod that is fairly compact and can fit easily strapped to the side of your backpack. I tend to go with a tripod that is a little smaller than would ordinarily be recommended for my camera, as the cameras I use are so lightweight that they work well with lightweight tripods. You will find that as you make one thing lighter, you can also make another thing lighter as a result. A heavier tripod will, of course, be more rigid, but you can usually find a good balance of lightweight to rigidity with a medium-sized carbon fiber tripod.

Saving Weight with Accessories

Even after you’ve knocked out a lot of weight with your camera and lens selections, there are still dozens of other areas where you can save weight and cost in your large format photography setup.

Film holders are one of those areas. Wooden film holders are substantially lighter than their plastic counterparts, and in my experience have proven significantly more reliable as well. Furthermore, they can also be cheaper if you are patient and know where to look. My 8×10 film holders are vintage Kodak-Graflex wooden ones made in the 1920s, which I purchased on eBay for just $30 each. They weigh in at 520g each, which is even lighter than the brand new Chamonix wooden film holders with carbon fiber darkslides that cost $300 each, or 10 times as much. Intrepid has also just released some new wooden 8×10 film holders if you would like to purchase some new stock that hasn’t been used for many years and are still quite affordable and light. I’ve purchased all of my film holders on eBay.

Light meters typically weigh about a pound or half a kilogram. A couple of years ago, when Alan Brock and I were one day into a 5-day backpacking trip, both of my light meters decided to permanently stop working. They are rather expensive and heavy, so I was reluctant to replace them. I never did. For the past two years, I’ve done 100% of my large format photography using only a free iPhone app as a light meter, with good success and almost no exposure errors. Of course, this requires some knowledge of how various film stocks will behave in different lighting conditions, but you need that regardless of what type of light meter you use. This has allowed me to save a lot of money and 1-2 pounds of weight in my pack, which in turn cancels out the weight of a lens or two. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but don’t feel compelled to buy a light meter simply because others use them. They are a very nice luxury to have, but not essential.

Wanderer Dark Cloths are the best I’ve seen and used to date.

Dark cloths typically also weigh around a pound or half a kilogram. I do use an excellent dark cloth made by Wanderer Photo Gear for my photography that does not involve backpacking. These are the best dark cloths I’ve seen and used to date. They are available in a wide range of fabrics, including lightweight & waterproof versions, as well as numerous colorful and patterned options.

However, when going on overnight trips I simply use one of my jacket layers as a dark cloth, and that works quite well. Remember, something that is rain or windproof is also light proof. A wind or rain shell, fleece or puffy jacket will make a great dark cloth if you simply slip the collar around the rear standard of your camera (face down) and stick your head in through the torso opening at the bottom. I’ve used this setup numerous times to create many of my favorite images. To put this in perspective, my dark cloth weighs about the same as my R5.7 winter sleeping pad and consumes about the same amount of pack space. This is a substantial saving!

At the time of writing, Wanderer Photo Gear has recently announced a new ultralight version of their dark cloth (I had requested this version be considered after testing their standard design for them when it was first released). There is a possibility this one might be light enough for me to consider taking it backpacking. I will have to test one first to find out, but it looks promising. As another disclaimer, I received my current Wanderer dark cloth for free in exchange for providing field testing and feedback. However, I was blown away by the build quality and design, and recommend it whole-heartedly. They are well worth every penny.

A film changing bag looks like a T-shirt on which the bottom and neck were sewn shut. It is almost as light.

While we are talking about things I skip, I should mention something I don’t: a film changing bag. This is an area where I consider that savings to be “stupid light.” If I run out of film on a multi-day trip and have no ability to reload, my trip is over in terms of photography. For this reason, even on a 5-day trip, I carried two boxes of film containing over 120 sheets, and a small and light field changing bag for 4×5. I also carried 6 film holders (which is almost two full days worth of photography for me, at 12 exposures), because being forced to stop and load film holders in the middle of rapidly changing light is no fun at all. Note that this only applies to multi-day trips. On single day trips, I carry 2-4 film holders for 8×10 and 4-6 for 4×5 (depending on my plan for the day) and do not reload.

Carrying Your Camera Gear

There are a couple of features I look for in a camera backpack, and they tend to be much the same as the criteria for cameras. I want a pack that is rugged, purpose-built, lightweight, and affordable. I also want a pack with conveniently placed zippers that make accessing my gear a breeze. When I say “purpose-built,” I don’t necessarily mean for photography per se. Oftentimes backpacks made for photography are strictly designed to carry cameras, at the expense of all other functionality. This creates a problem because wilderness landscape photography involves far more hiking and backpacking than photography. A bag designed for urban or semi-urban (within easy walking distance of a parking area) use will often not be practical to use on a long hike or multi-day backpacking trip.

Camera Bags for Lightweight Large Format Photography

For this reason, I tend to find that backpacking bags work the best for landscape photography. As a result, I use a backpacking bag and simply pack my camera gear in protective cases or wraps inside it, along with all my hiking and backpacking gear, food, water, clothing, shelter, sleeping gear, etc.

The Mountainsmith Tanucklite 40 holds an insane amount of gear relative to its liter rating. I fit both my entire 8×10 & 4×5 systems, including lenses and film holders, inside with room to spare for additional hiking gear!

Mountainsmith Tanucklite 40, zipped open, showing off its optional cube system

Remember, we are looking for a bag that is also very lightweight, while also meeting the aforementioned requirements. These limitations essentially narrow the field to just panel-zipper loading ultralight backpacking bags, of which there are not many on the market. The pack I currently use is an Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) Camino 2, which is a 75-liter ultralight backpacking and travel bag featuring a panel-loading design. A pack that I have also been considering recently is the Chris Burkard Mountainsmith Tanucklite 40, which features a very similar design with some more photography-centered features. I had the unique opportunity to test my gear out in Chris Burkard’s personal prototype of the bag before it was released to the public. The Tanucklite 40 is officially labeled as a 40-liter bag, but I have personally tested it and found it to easily hold all the same gear that fills my 75-liter bag, so it seems to be quite conservatively rated in terms of capacity.

Back of the ULA Camino

Back of the ULA Camino

ULA Camino 2, zipped open

The panel loading design allows instant access to gear without undoing the top of the bag.

The Camino 2, like many ultralight cottage-industry bags, looks a lot like most heavy, traditional backpacking bags you might find at REI or other outdoor retailers. It just weighs a LOT less, while costing about the same!

The reason I use the bag that I do is primarily due to weight. Many comparable bags weigh around 5-6 pounds completely empty. By comparison, my bag weighs in around 40 ounces or 2.5lb. To put that in perspective, this weight savings in the backpack fabric alone entirely cancels out the weight of my large format 4×5 field camera.

I then continue this approach within the bag itself. I have modified the pack by cutting off many extraneous features that I don’t use, shortening all straps to only the required lengths, and simplifying or removing heavy buckles and closures. To store my camera gear within the pack, I have made a couple of padded inserts using Reflectix insulation, which is sold by the roll at home improvement stores for about $10. This may sound like a rather unorthodox material to use to house camera gear, but consider that it is waterproof, contains two layers of mylar thermal insulation, and a layer of internal bubble wrap material for padding. It has successfully protected my gear against splashes, heat, cold, and impacts.

DIY Camera Inserts

DIY Home Depot Reflectix case housing Intrepid 4×5. This one has been through the ringer. Note compartment at the top for 4 film holders. Side houses 3 lenses and sometimes a meter & filters.

These cases have survived multi-day backpacking trips trekking through chest-deep water, spelunking trips being dragged through caves, and countless day hikes in rugged and remote areas. They cost me about $3 worth of materials and weigh 3 ounces (85 grams) for the 4×5 kit case. Each case houses my camera, 3 lenses, and 6 film holders, as well as a light meter and filters. My 8×10 case weighs around 5 ounces (142 grams) and has worked similarly well.

To put this in perspective, when I went to find a commercially available case to do the same job, the lightest one I could find for 4×5 weighed in at well over a pound (18oz / 510g or so) completely empty and cost around $80-100. Furthermore, the commercially available cases left empty space in my pack because they fit my gear poorly. The custom DIY cases fit exactly around my gear with no room to spare, making for very efficient use of pack space. By saving this much weight and cost on cases to house my camera gear, I have canceled out the weight of one or two of my lenses and saved enough money to help pay for them too.

Using a Lens Wrap as a Camera Insert

A large lens wrap makes a great camera wrap.

If you are not too excited about the idea of building a case out of repurposed insulation, there are some other options. One that I frequently use is a large lens/camera wrap. This one is made by Tenba, but there are many brands available. They have 4 velcro tabs which allow you to securely wrap just about anything securely. Paired with a ground glass protector, they can house a 4×5 easily and do a good job of protecting it.

There’s an Intrepid 4×5 hiding in there.

I also use these to hold lenses and film holders.

Conclusion

Me, shooting 8×10 in the field, super happy and energetic because I didn’t have to carry a ton of weight out there to enjoy some large format photography.

It may seem silly to focus as much as I do on the weight of the year you carry and make the compromises I do. However, I can absolutely vouch for the fact that this stuff matters. Making my gear as light and compact as possible has fundamentally changed the game of my photography. It has increased remoteness and technicality of the locations I’m able to hike to. It has decreased muscle fatigue and back pain, increased energy and comfort, and decreased recovery times after returning home. I am able to camp in comfort and warmth with adequate food and water while still bringing a large supply of film and lenses which allow me to photograph uncompromised for days at a time – all with about 34 pounds (15.4kg) on my back for a 5-day trip. The end result of this is that I am able to capture large format film images while carrying less weight and bulk than most 35mm digital landscape photographers do on comparable trips. To me, that makes it all worthwhile.

Long Exposure Photography

What is long exposure photography and why I do long exposure photography?

By definition, any photograph made with a shutter speed of 1 second or longer could be considered long exposure photography. This varies from one photographer to the next. Some consider 0.25 sec long, some 0.5. Ultra long exposure photography, although there is no clear definition, is a long enough exposure which smooths out the movements. In my experience, anything longer than 30 seconds is considered ultra long exposure. Never the less, This yields a photo that records the passage of time in one single frame. the resultant photograph can only have an impact if the subject has an element of stillness and movements. For a long exposure photograph to be successful, it needs to have mainly two elements:

  1. a subject that is static, such as rocks, or trees
  2. an element of constant movement such as water, clouds, people, etc.
Standard Exposure

Standard Exposure

Long Exposure

Long Exposure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long exposure photography can turn a very chaotic subject such as the sea with harsh waves into a minimalistic, serene, dream-like scene that has mystery, that you normally can not see under normal circumstances. It is an abstract world that you can only create with your camera.

Long exposure photography with a large format camera is more challenging than with a digital camera, which is the reason why I like it. The calculation for a correct exposure for various films changes based on the respective reciprocity failures. The development of black and white film also is different for each film and also changes with long exposure.

The best time to photograph in my experience is overcast days, as the exposure is uniform due to the diffused lighting, there are no harsh lights and shadows, which can adversely affect the exposure and development of the film. Dark shadows on a sunny day, despite metering correctly, will yield a very dark, almost complete black shadows without any details due to effects of long exposure and tricky development. For the same reason, the highlights can often become over-exposed.

I typically carry a B+W 6 stop screw mount ND filter and a Lee 10 stop ND filter but I find that the 6 stop is what I utilize most often, As a 10 stop ND filter with the addition of reciprocity failure time can lead to very long exposure times which can increase the risk for failures. When it comes to black and white film, I often use Kodak Tmax 100 due to higher resistance to reciprocity failure than Ilford Delta 100. To put it into perspective, a 1-sec exposure for Kodak Tmax 100 with 6 stop ND filter yields a 1 minute and 30-second exposure, as opposed to 8 minutes and 14 seconds for Ilford Delta 100 in the same situation with the same 6 stop ND filter. As one can imagine, the Delta 100 exposures can easily add up in darker situations.

Black and White Long Exposure

Black and White Long Exposure

I also use Fuji Velvia 100 on overcast days as it is very stable with long exposure. One must be cautious on sunny days as you can easily have over-exposed highlights with long exposure.

For the exposure calculation I use an app called Reciprocity Timer which simplifies the task. It has a database of popular films which allows the addition of different filters.

To meter the scene, I typically meter as I normally would, then plug time exposure time into reciprocity timer, add the 6 stop ND filter, and use the exposure time given by the app. I have found that the only time my exposure has not been accurate is on sunny days with harsh lighting.

As stated earlier, there are many challenges with long exposure photography with a large format camera. On a recent trip, I discovered that wind, despite having a sturdy tripod, can still create movement, not by shaking the camera, but the movement of the film inside the film holder through the opening of the dark slide. This creates a partially out of focus photograph. One half of the photo is in focus which isn’t objected tot he wind. the portion of the film that is adjacent to the dark slide opening, is subjected to movements, thus leading to a blurred foreground in a vertical orientation. The film can also shift creating an out of focus capture. As I thought about this further, I came up with two fixes. In order to prevent wind entering the film holder, one can place a piece of masking tape on the opening after removing the dark slide and prior to exposure, or one can make a custom dark slide, long enough to place in the opening just after removing the actual dark slide. To fix the shifting film, one can tap on the film holder a few times to assure it doesn’t move during exposure. Removing the film holder from the Ziplock bag also allows any shrinking and expansion of the film sot hat it doesn’t occur during exposure.

Focused Top Half

Focused Top Half

Out of Focus Foreground

Out of Focus Foreground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I continue to learn this process myself, the biggest advice I can offer is trial and error. I recommend experimentation with your favorite film, with only one filter, such as a 6 stop ND filter which results in long enough exposure to yield the desired effect without leading to very very long exposures. Develop a technique that is consistent.

 

Name: Gevork Mosesi

Location: San Diego, CA

I began my photographic journey in the mid 1990’s with the legendary Canon AE-1 which still works till this day. In 2011, I rekindled my love for analog photography, leaving digital photography. I have not looked back since. I primarily use a 4×5 large format camera to make my photographs. I also utilize a 6×17 panoramic camera in the right setting. This format allows for a slower workflow which makes me more aware of the landscape, giving me full control of the image making process, ultimately avoiding multiple unnecessary digital exposures. Most of my work is from the landscapes of the Southwest.

Gallery: Gevork Mosesi

Website: http://www.gmosesi.com/