Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Large Format (Part 2)

So you read my last blog and you think that perhaps 'Large Format' may be for you. The intrigue of these cameras and of days gone by are very appealing. Add the allure of the great craftsmanship found in these old wooden cameras like the Zone VI that are no longer available and it can be a techies or collectors dream world.

But, is this right for you? First off, large format photography is very different than modern day digital photography. You don't just head out to do some shooting with your view camera. You find your shoot locations, you plan ahead for what type of weather you want and decide at what hour of the day to shoot. Essentially, you pre-plan your whole shoot and wait for the perfect day.

When that perfect day arrives you pack up all your gear, load your sheet film holders with film which may only be a total of 10 exposures lest you buy many more film holders and you head out. Upon arrival you will probably need to lug all this heavy and bulky equipment out to the specific location you had pre-selected. Oh and did I say this equipment is big and heavy?

Ansel Adams 16x20" Print - Mt. McKinley and Wonder Lake

While winding your way up the trail to get to that perfect shoot location you will be cursing inside but the peace and tranquility of your surroundings will keep your mind calm. Once you reach your destination it begins . . . the lengthy process of setting up a view camera.

Haul out the tripod, extend the legs and anchor it down properly. Attach the camera to the tripod and unfold it into shape. Depending on the camera you may now need to attach the lens. You'll need to attach your shade hood and your shutter release cable. Now the fun begins, setting up the camera itself.

Setting up a view camera properly is an art form in itself. Its a lot of work doing it properly so that you can create a perfect image. You can take a full weekend course or even buy several books on the subject. Here is where you optimize your Tilts & Shifts on both your film plane and lens plane. 10 to 20 minutes later you may just about be ready to take your first shot. But wait, you still need to focus.

The framing and focusing process is a little wonky. First, everything is upside down and so framing takes a little getting used to. Once framed properly you then need to focus. Without a view finder or an LCD display you need to stick your head under a shade so that you can clearly see the ground glass focusing plate. To get that perfect focus, you will probably use your trustworthy loupe.

But now you remember that you only have 10 exposures of film with you. You probably want to wait until the lighting is perfect or the clouds are moved to a better position. Its now time to bring out a good book or perhaps your digital camera and wait for that opportune moment.

You'll waste away an entire morning taking just ten shots. Perhaps all from the same location or perhaps from a few different vantage points. All the efforts will seem to be worth it at this point. You had a great location with a great view, the lighting was perfect and the weather cooperated. You now anticipate seeing the results in print.

Once back at home you need to have the film developed at a cost. Then once you decide you have the shot you need through contact prints or small homemade scans, you can get a high quality wet mount drum scan done at a cost of $100 to $200 per negative. Yes, sounds very expensive, but if you have done everything right, these will result in Ansel Adams like quality prints at extremely large print sizes. 'That', is the goal of this whole exercise.

Now there is another option here. You may want to get the camera as an incredible and beautiful piece of art and just display it in your office or living room and never take a photo with it at all. Either way, you will enjoy it. And even though you captured that great shot, remember that Ansel Adams lugged a 16" x 20" view camera around before all our roads were in place!!

You may have one final question, "Why would I buy and obsolete camera?" This I will answer in 2 blogs from now in Large Format (Part 3).

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.10 - April 2009)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux