Good Lighting means paying attention to the light that's already in front of you.

Elgin, Texas Sausage Maker.  4x5 Transparency.

A few years back a fellow name Mike Murphy was the photo editor for Texas Highways Magazine and he called to ask if I'd like to shoot a feature on the town of Elgin, Texas.  Elgin is known far and wide for their really good BBQ and their really great sausage.  I took the job and, even though we were in the Nikon D2X digital age at the time I asked if I could use large format film for the assignment.  Mike agreed.

While it may seem counterintuitive to shoot magazine photo-journalism with a 4x5 inch Linhof field camera (TechniKarden) it's really not and photographers have been doing it for decades.  Many of the images on our list were shots of things like historic building exteriors and interiors and I wanted to be able keep my verticals straight.  I also like the idea of slowing down and concentrating.

I shot 100 frames for the assignment.  That's all that came in the two boxes of film I had budgeted.  I shot two boxes (40 pieces of large format, black and white 100 ISO Polaroid test material) because that's all that came in the two boxes I budgeted.

I wanted a shot of a sausage maker and when this guy came walking by me with a big metal tub of sausage I thought the excess would be humorous and would make a good opener for the dining section of the story.  I asked the man if he could come back with another tub in about 10 minutes and I started setting up the camera.  I figured out my composition and, since it was dark in the area I wanted to man to stand in I knew I'd also have to set up a light.  I set up a Profoto 300 w/s monolight, firing into a 60 inch Softlighter umbrella, with its diffusion cover.  I was looking for f11 and then I dragged the shutter to bring up the background. (That means I dropped the shutter speed slower and slower until a meter reading (incident at the back wall) told me I was in the ballpark.  Only when I was nearly certain of my lighting from the flash, and from the tungsten down lights, and the overall florescent lights did I commit a Polaroid.  It was half a stop bright so I made a mental note to adjust for the film.

I did not filter the flash to match the green fluorescents in the back ground and then neutralize the whole frame with an on camera filter.  I liked the idea of the color contrast of the flash lit sausage and bright red apron against the green of the wall.

I shot three frames of film because I could see, standing next to the camera as I shot with a shutter release cord, that my subject blinked on the second exposure.  When we finished I thanked him and then took everything back down and moved on to my next shot.

It's a straightforward photograph and, like the rest of the article, was fun to do.  It was my last editorial job with 4x5.  Everything since then has been digital.

Would I do it that way again? With large film?  In a heart beat. If Polaroid was still kicking and the magazines were willing to budget for it.  


  1. I'd love to work like that. Yesterday at work, when a colleague showed another colleague his camera and shot window blinds with 7 frames a second, I got out my film camera...

  2. I use the Fuji instant peel-apart materials with a Polaroid back to check everything. Of course my initial proofing of the lighting is done with my D80. That works for everything except flashbulbs...

    My Crown Graphic has taken far fewer frames than my smaller format cameras. However, it has by now taken most of my best pictures.


  3. A few weeks ago a photographer showed up at the bike shop where I work/volunteer with an RB-67 to shoot for a story for a magazine about bicycling in Boulder. He had used a 4x5 earlier in the day. So I guess there are still some editors who are willing to go with film.

  4. Thanks for not editing out the green wall "in camera" with filters. Thanks also for saying its OK to do so. Too many strobe tutorials on the web and in books these days seem to want everyone to leave nothing untouched, and want us all to manipulate every aspect of our images. I like images that are more true to reality.

  5. Kirk, beautiful shot! It seems that if you would have put a filter on the camera to balance the fluorescents, then the flash would have to be gelled to match the fluorescents, and even then the tungsten down lights would have been some who-knows-what hue... Seems like a LOT of work, and I'm not even sure what you would have ended up with.

    I think you knew all of that at the time, and you did a fantastic job with this one!

  6. Sorry to be picky, but it's "fluorescents," not "florescents." Of course it doesn't help that the auto-spell-check on this comment system marks both spellings as wrong.

  7. Good stuff. Thank you for sharing your thought process, it is interesting and helpful to those of us who "over-balance".

    This time of year, and on this number post, let me just say "May the Fourth" be with you.

  8. Mr. Tuck, have you tried the fuji peel apart material, and if so, would you care to post you thought on it. I've never had a chance to use the original stuff but the Fuji looks hard to beat.

  9. Kirk, another great example of how experience and taking the time to look at the light does more for the photo than having the latest gear. I wonder how many people who might see this photo, without your explanation, and assume it was made with a high ISO uber-camera (most likely "full frame") using strictly available light?

    I constantly puzzle over why it is so many "photographers" don't realize that a good pro or serious amateur knows how to use artificial light in a way that looks like natural light.

    Also, I wager that if 100 strobists were to approach the same shot, 97 of them would do the filter balance thing, while the 3 most interesting shots would be from those who didn't bother, just as in your case.


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