10.21.2014

Shooting houses and landscapes makes me nostalgic for the era of the 4x5 inch view camera...


...but  when I remember the workflow without the overlay of nostalgia I realize that I wouldn't have gotten very many photographs taken in the time allotted. When I first had the thought that it would be fun to make images again with transparency film and a Linhof, equipped with my favorite Zeiss 250mm f5.6 Planar lens the memory all seemed so---magical. So I did what I usually do when I remember optimistically, I dissected the process in a step by step fashion to help me rationally remember what a pain the ass it really was. 

To take the image above I would have had to extend the legs of the Gitzo tripod I used out to the sides in order to get the head and hence the camera close enough to the ground to get this comp. That presumes that I would be carrying my 18 pound 5 series tripod with me. Yes, it was required. I would have assembled the camera from its carrying case and mated it to the tripod. I would open up the lens shutter and open the aperture and then crouch behind the camera with a dark cloth so I could evaluate the image on the ground glass screen. I would figure out how much tilt I needed to add (positively) to the front standard and how much to detract (negatively) from the rear standard to use the Scheimpflug  principle to distribute the plane of sharpness correctly. 

Since there was no efficient way to correct for color temperature with transparency films (and many times we needed to send original transparencies to clients or magazine....) I would pull out the Minolta color temperature meter to figure out what combination of Wratten gel filters to put over the front (or the rear) of the lens in order to get the right color in the final image. Of course, I would pull out a different meter and use the incident dome to get a preliminary reading of the overall exposure. 

Since I am within 10x the distance as a ratio of the lens focal length I would have to modify any meter reading with a bellows extension factor. I'd want to verify that by using a Polaroid test or two. While I was waiting for the Polaroid to time out and to dry a bit before evaluating I would simultaneously be praying that the lighting would not change. That no clouds would come by and mess up both my exposure readings and the color temperature readings. A big change would require a "recalibration" and maybe a new set of filters taped to the front of the lens. 

Once we got all the metering just right I'd hop back under the dark cloth one more time to put a loupe onto the ground glass, stop down to the taking aperture (so I avoid focus shift) and then fine focus at the taking aperture before cocking the shutter.

When the stars all lined up I would grab four film holders from the case and proceed to do a bracket in 1/3 stops. Two exposures over. One exposure under and one right on the money. Then I would reverse the process, making sure I'd flipped the dark slides before re-seating them in the film holders, taking the camera apart and putting it into the case and an then gathering in the tripod. Sounds easier when you write it but I'd guess that each of the shots would require about 30 minutes after you discovered the subject and angle you wanted. The move to the next subject would most likely involve putting all the gear into the trunk of one's car and driving to the next location. Back then, on a good shooting day with a view camera we'd be happy with six of seven good images for consideration. And we would have truly earned anything we shot. 

The reality is that for most of our current presentations the image quality of the m4:3 or APS-C cameras we have at our disposal are nearing the same technical quality that we would have gotten from all the hard work back then but the time period from recognition of the subject to final shutter click could be measure in dozens of seconds rather than in dozens and dozens of minutes. 

And, of course, the image on the transparency was only share-able with one person at a time. Maybe two. It would still have to be printed in the darkroom or scanned and uploaded to achieve sharing "parity" with modern images. Ah. The large format image. A romantic memory of a process that was, in reality, fraught with hard work and, at times, heartache. I think I'll stick with digital for right now. 





We don't see many lawn jockeys in Texas. 

I'm sure the natives thought it funny to see an person bent over their camera and fixated by a lawn ornament. But that's really the nature of cross cultural explorations. 




11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight into shooting with 4x5 film. That's just insane. No wonder the old guys are dismissive of lots of digital work.

Nick Davis said...

Thanks for that Kirk. Takes me back to not so long ago. I remember shooting some still lifes in studio on 5 x 4 with an art director whose middle name should have been "I used to be so indecisive . . . now I'm not so sure." I'd get it all set up, plane of focus, nice tilts and she'd change her mind about the composition. So change angles, refocus, check planes. Her only comment on all this, "Why is this taking so long?"

Happy days . . .

jlemile salvignol said...

Kirk, Josef Sudek is probably my greatest photographic passion. If I look at this:

http://www.sensunic.net/?p=5644

after reading and re-reading your post, I find it hard to be convinced.

Corwin Black said...

Out of curiosity, wouldnt that Minolta color temperature meter be more accurate then regular WB in most cameras?

I mean if we set camera to WB of certain film and then used that meter to calculate difference and applied filter on front (or back) of lens?

jason gold said...

Well said Kirk!
I hated my LF. The image was always upside down.. :-)
Sunday I shot my M6 with film, Pentax Optio digital 2005.
The Pentax in spite of it's age, did really well..316

Mike Rosiak said...

One of these days my Kickstarter Wanderlust Travelwide 4x5 camera will become a reality. I just want to, occasionally, do the film thing for the fun of it, and in the spirit of contemplation. TLR for those times when 120 film lets me contemplate "faster".

And then I will be deliriously happy to get back to my GX7 and some more than adequate, even fabulous, native M43 lenses.

Thanks for describing what it takes to do a really good job with LF. It's like a cold shower.

Kirk Tuck said...

jlemile, If I understand your comment correctly you are stating the because Josef Sudek (whose work I love) could make a handful of images that are well loved with a 4x5 camera that the process can't be too hard? Do you have any idea how much time and work Sudek put into producing a tiny collection of wonderful images? And more importantly, have you ever tried the process yourself? I write from 20 years of experience with 4x5. Used personally and for very demanding clients. I have thousands of negatives and transparencies to show for it. All of them hard won in a constant wrestling match with the dozens of steps that accompany the use of the format.

I could be misinterpreting your comment but it sounds so much like Monday Morning Quarterbacking in which the 350 pound, couch bound fan excoriates the world class running back for not running fast enough.....

Put on the "shoes" and give it a try then tell me it's all point and shoot.

Kirk Tuck said...

Corwin, those meters were pretty accurate but I think the latest gen of cameras have amazingly good color reading capabilities. The problem is that we are interpreting subjective stuff on the rear screens while a handheld meter is giving us a neutral measure...

Gato said...

Thanks, Kirk.

My trusty 4x5 Deardorff is sitting on the shelf behind me looking over my shoulder. It is still my all-time favorite camera, but I will bookmark this post to read any time I think of getting it down and actually making pictures again.

For about 20 years, from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, almost all of my favorite photos were made with that camera. Looking back, I don't know how I did it. Except that I was younger and there was no easier way.

For the record, almost all my professional photography was done with 35mm, but I was never satisfied with the image quality. For personal satisfaction 4x5 was it for me. But that was then ...

jlemile salvignol said...

Kirk, you says: "Do you have any idea how much time and work Sudek put into producing a tiny collection of wonderful images?"

Yes.

And I am convinced that it is in this lengthy process, extremely hard physically - JS had only one arm - that this perfection is possible. This is the single route.

Speaking of route, Sudek reminds me of Paul C├ęzanne traveling to the motif:

http://www.van-gogh.fr/images/cezanne/cezanne-se-rendant-sur-le-motif-en-costume-de-travail-avec-l-attirail-de-peintre-a-auvers-en-1873-500.jpg

I know very well that we are not talking about the same thing, and
as I am a old timerI have often bad excuses to leave the Ikeda or the Sinar (!) In the office and content myself with the V3 or the DP2M.

Basically I'm (probably) just expressing my guilt and my regret to give in to the "easy life" of digital ...

Mike Mundy said...

Not to speak of light leaks appearing randomly due to defective film holders . . .