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Author Topic: Large-format photography  (Read 4373 times)

eitanwaks

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Large-format photography
« on: February 19, 2006, 11:17:39 am »

Hi everybody,
during my brief endeavor into this photographer's world I have tried everything from an SLR to rangefinder to medium format.  I found that when I go traveling I'd much rather take my rangefinder and what I'm doing studio work I'd rather use a medium format camera.  In the beginning I would use my SLR exclusively however being handicapped makes using a heavy camera like that on a permanent basis prohibitive.  I now use my SLR on special occasions (especially photographing close to where I live).

I've gotten to the conclusion that when I photograph landscapes I do it at a very slow pace.  This is partly because my disability and partly because I don't take many photographs like several of my colleagues.  I might go to the field and actually come back with less than 10 photographs while some of my friends can burn through at least a hundred to 200 with ease.  This got me thinking that maybe I should work with a large-format camera because I like to enlarge my photographs the sizes of about 1 m x 1.5 m.

Can anyone give me a quick introduction on how to start with large-format photography.  Is there any place that I can learn on the Web.  What are some good resources for a beginner.  I know how to use a light meter but large-format photography is completely alien to me.

I've noticed that there are quite a bit of large-format photographers on this forum and I would appreciate any input I can get.

Thanks,
Eitan Waks
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Jack Flesher

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Large-format photography
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2006, 11:48:50 am »

Hi Eitan:

I would recommend one website and a few books to get you started.  The website is:

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/.

The first book is Ansel Adams' "The Camera".  Chapters 4 and 10 are specific to view cameras and give an excellent basic working knowledge. The second is Stroebel's "View Camera Technique".  It is almost a complete view camera course in one book, beginning with the basics and continuing through advanced methods of use.  

In addition to your camera and lenses, you will need a good spot-meter, focusing loupe and darkcloth. You can Google these and do your own homework as there are a multitude of discussions about them, but here are my preferences:

Spoot-meter: I prefer the Pentax Digital.  Unfortunately it was discontinued a few years ago and is difficult to find new, though they can be found used.  Second choice, and my back-up meter is a Sekonic 558.  Both of these are durable meters that will stand up to years of use in the field.

Loupe: Get a good one, but don't go overboard on power -- 4 - 6x is adequate.  Any stronger and you magnify the grain on the groung-glass so much you can't really see the image.  

Dark-cloth: Some are weighted, most are dual-layer and fairly heavy, and can cost over $50. Heavy stays on your body and camera in the wind, but it is also heavy to carry   I prefer as light as possible and hold it in place with my free hand in a breeze. I made mine out of a piece of black material from a local yardage store.  It cost me $8. Many folks use a black wind-breaker zipped up as a dark viewing "tube". Also reasonably priced and doubles as wind or rain wear on your way to and from a shooting location. You did not mention your specific disability, so the heavy may be an advantage as it frees up a hand.

Film and holders: There are two ways to go here, conventional sheet film that you load into dual-sided film holders in a dark room or film loading tent.  The second is using pre-loaded emulsions available from Fuji and Kodak.  These take up significantly less space and are lighter than home-loads, but are about 1.5x the per-sheet cost for film.  The other issue of home-loads,is dust -- almost unavoidable no matter how meticulous you are in your prep.  The ready or quick loads virtually eliminate it.  Finally, there is the issue of use. Film holders are dual sided, so you need to develop a rigid procedure to avoid double-exposing a sheet or failing to expose it at all. Since you are also loading the film in them, you have to take care to load it emulsion-side facing front.  There are methods to avoid these issues and they are well documented on the web, so I won't go into them here -- just be aware they exist.

Finally cameras and lenses.  There are just too many options to even begin to cover all the issues in an online forum. Again, the above site or a Google search will help get you pointed int he right direction.

Hope this helps,
« Last Edit: February 19, 2006, 11:52:52 am by Jack Flesher »
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Anon E. Mouse

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Large-format photography
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2006, 06:39:59 pm »

I am not sure what your disability is, but large format is heavy and bulky to carry around. And there is a lot of stuff that goes with it. If you can borrow or rent some gear to try out, that may help you figure out if large format is practical for you.

But why not a medium-format rangefinder? You get the best of both worlds. :-> This comment is only half in jest. I use medium-format rangefinder and viewfinder cameras and they are the best compromise between portability and quality I have found. You may want to think about the 6x9 Fuji RF or a Mamiya 7.

If you want a ground glass and you have the cash, the Horseman SW612 or SW69 series may be interesting for you. If money is tight, I would look at the Fotoman cameras. You may also be interested in the Cambo Wide and I would check out the interesting cameras from Silvestri (both have compact 4x5 cameras and none are cheap).
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Graham Welland

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Large-format photography
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2006, 07:19:50 pm »

Quote
I am not sure what your disability is, but large format is heavy and bulky to carry around. And there is a lot of stuff that goes with it. If you can borrow or rent some gear to try out, that may help you figure out if large format is practical for you.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=58560\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

As a counter point to the heavy/bulky LF equipment, I actually find that my D2X with 4 lenses and associated gear weighs as much, if not more, than my Wista SP outfit with ready loads. It's definitely bigger but not necessarily heavier.

I've noticed that there's quite a trend of people moving back to LF film as a medium in addition to digital. I think the thought is that if you're going to shoot film then you may as well go the whole hog and shoot LF. It's noticable that the good LF equipment isn't sticky around in stores in my locale for very long but the bulky MF equipment isn't moving fast. (Mamiya 7's and other RF's being the exception).
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Jack Flesher

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Large-format photography
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2006, 10:10:33 pm »

The other issue is that few MF rangefinder cameras have view camera movements
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pchaplo

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Large-format photography
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2006, 12:10:29 am »

Quote
...In the beginning I would use my SLR exclusively however being handicapped makes using a heavy camera like that on a permanent basis prohibitive. 

.....I've gotten to the conclusion that when I photograph landscapes I do it at a very slow pace. 

....This got me thinking that maybe I should work with a large-format camera because I like to enlarge my photographs the sizes of about 1 m x 1.5 m.
...

Eitan, I like to work slow, too ...nothing like that meditative process that is so deliberate and enjoyable. Its almost worth it for itself. I imagine that Zen monks would shoot large format with no film in the holders

However, the equipment is somewhat heavy, and my 4x5 is very heavy as are the lenses. Therefore, I am concerned to you, my photographer-brother! And, although there are lighter field cameras that may interest you, I wonder if large format is for you, and I then challenge you with an alternative.  I would swim the other direction and recommend a light digital camera like a simple 300D or if you have the resources, a 5D -- these are much lighter than the EOS 1 series digital like the 1Ds that is terribly heavy. The Digital Rebel aka KISS can be found for $US 500 . I would then get a Nikon lens to Canon EOS camera adapter for $175 US and a Nikon 28mm PC that can do the upward shift (and downward) like a the most widely used LF camera movements. This lens is light, also, but you must use it in full manual mode which slows you down. There you have a light camera and some good process to sip like a good Cabernet! This Nikon shift (black knob indicates newest version) is very good to buy used for a song! I use the Zork adapter, but I hear that the CameraQuest is very good, too. Also, the CF card is lighter than film, and the 511 batteries are small but with long life and they are rechargeable, so its somewhat earth-friendly.

I think that we can make slowness our process no matter what the camera, even digital. Also, the shift lens is very good whether for the trees in the forest, or the architecture of civilization.

Kindest Regards,
Paul

PS: Also, there is the Canon 24mm TSE, but it is a bit soft and with the CA problem (chromatic aberration). However it has both tilt and shift! The 50mmTSE is very good! ...but more heavy than the Nikon 28mm PC lens.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2006, 12:13:46 am by pchaplo »
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Sfleming

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Large-format photography
« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2006, 12:52:03 am »

eitanwaks,

I love shooting large format.  I've tried everything in the last four years and nothing satisfies like LF.  I shoot MF and 35mm too.  Digital and analog in the case of 35mm.  A lot of LF enthusiasts would gladly take you out and introduce you to the art.  Sign on to the large format photography forum that is part of the site Jack mentioned:

http://largeformatphotography.info/lfforum/recent.php

Introduce yourself and make your intentions known.  There's very likely someone in your area that would gladly spend some time with you and introduce you to the gear and the process.  I'm in central Texas and would gladly spend some time with you if you are around here.

Regards,
Scott
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BernardLanguillier

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Large-format photography
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2006, 06:55:11 am »

I guess that the following article could be of interest for you:

http://luminous-landscape.com/essays/lf-appeal.shtml

Don't hesitate to ask any question.

Cheers,
Bernard

Stephen Best

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Large-format photography
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2006, 03:03:11 am »

Quote
I've gotten to the conclusion that when I photograph landscapes I do it at a very slow pace.  This is partly because my disability and partly because I don't take many photographs like several of my colleagues.  I might go to the field and actually come back with less than 10 photographs while some of my friends can burn through at least a hundred to 200 with ease.  This got me thinking that maybe I should work with a large-format camera because I like to enlarge my photographs the sizes of about 1 m x 1.5 m.

I can't think of the last time I got to take 10 (or more) exposures in a single day. The issue is how many exposures you get that are usable for your purposes. LF is pretty easy (movements are optional) ... the hardest part is learning to load double-darks. Try to borrow/rent a kit and see if you take to it. There doesn't appear to be any cost-effective digital solutions for quality prints this size (other than stitching) on the horizon so LF and 4x5 film will be around for some time.
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eitanwaks

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Large-format photography
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2006, 08:21:07 pm »

Wow!  I didn't expect to get so many replies so fast!  I'll try to answer all of your questions one by one.

Jack Flesher,
thank you for mentioning this web site.  I have already visited in the past however I haven't been there for a long time and forgot about it.  There are so many hours of reading on this web site that I could probably spend at least a month trying to catch up on all the information.
Regarding the books, I already have Ansel Adam's books and have read them.  I will go back to the chapters that you mentioned and reread them.  I have also ordered the book you mentioned ( view camera technique) from Amazon and am expecting its rival.
Like you, I have a Sekonic 558 light meter that I use primarily for my studio work.  It has a spot meter built-in and I intend on using it.
Regarding the loupe, I have one that I used to view my medium format slides.  Is this the same thing?  Do I need something else?  The loop I use has a 6 x 7 viewing area.
Regarding the dark cloth, your idea of using a jacket is excellent.  I assume it will work very well for me however I am sure that I will have a lot of experimenting to do.
With regards to the film holders and loading films on pretty sure that I'm going to go with the preloaded films at the beginning.  I don't want to add more to what I already don't know.  I'm pretty sure that if I tried to tackle all at once I'll get nothing done.
With regards to cameras and lenses I have been searching with Google and primarily eBay.  I still don't have a clue as to what I need so not given by anything until I am better informed.  As the lenses, I know what I use with my 35mm and medium format outfits so I assume that it won't be that different using large-format.

Anon E. Mouse,
As to my disability, I'm a quadriplegic.  Several years ago I had an accident which left me confined to a wheelchair without much use of my hands.  In the beginning it couldn't move them at all however with time things have gotten better and I have limited use of them.  I cannot control fine movements such as finger movements however I have found ways to adapt my camera equipment so that I can use as with all of its functions.  I only shoot using the tripod except when using my rangefinder camera which is light enough for me to handhold (contax G2).  With my 35mm outfits and my medium format (Mamiya RB67) outfits I use a tripod that I connect directly to my wheelchair.  It is quite steady and should easily hold up a large-format camera with out any vibrations.
Thank you for your suggestion about borrowing or renting a large-format camera.  I haven't thought about that.  The problem is that I don't know how to operate one so that borrowing or renting one at this stage wouldn't do me any good.  I still have to educate myself beforehand.
Regarding the medium format rangefinder, I would love to be able to use one however they are too heavy for me to handhold and therefore they lose their advantage in my point of view with respect to my 35mm outfits or my medium format outfit.
Money isn't that big of a problem but like everyone else I don't want to spend my money on something that I either can't use and choose.  In addition, like everyone else, I would like to spend my money wisely and affecting get something that'll do the job but costs less I would rather go that route.
I'm not familiar with the cameras that you mentioned and will Google them right now.

gwelland,
it's an interesting remark that you made about your Nikon digital outfit.  When I think about it my 35mm outfit with the lenses I use ways more or less like my medium format outfit.  I suppose this is because I use is in lenses with my 35mm and I used primes with my medium format.
I don't think weights can be that much of a problem for me because I don't intend to use his camera as a travel camera rather either at my studio four for landscapes.  When I do landscapes I don't travel that much into the backcountry because it is quite difficult to do that with the wheelchair.  I usually take my shots from nature reserve trails or from the side of the road.  In both cases I can have my camera in my car most of the time when I intend to shoot.
The reason I want to get into large-format photography is twofold.  One, the more I photograph the more I feel a need to have control over my vision.  I began with an SLR on program mode, moved to fully manual SLR, to a fully manual medium format camera with a light meter on the side and now I believe the next logical step would be a large-format camera because I feel the need control my subject further.  Two, I love the impact of large prints and I believe that I will get much better detailed if I use a large-format camera instead of my medium format.  If I had the money I might buy a digital medium format however I am not that well endowed.
There actually is another reason, I believe it could be a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Jack Flesher,
the movements are definitely something that I'm looking forward to experimenting with.  I'm sure I can get excellent effects that would convey my vision.

pchaplo,
I haven't really thought about buying a digital camera yet.  It's not that I don't think that a can give me the quality that I want rather, I don't think that I am ready for digital yet.  I know myself well enough to know that I would probably cheat myself out of learning the way I want to learn photography.  I know this sounds kind of weird but it's just the way things work with me.  Believe me, I've heard enough about this idea from people that it got on my nerves.  I also love projecting my 35mm slides.  I'll probably move to digital once the digital projectors are as good as my slide projector.  I think that the main use of my 35mm outfit is to get slides that I project.  The main use is my medium format outfit is to do my visionary work whether it be landscaped, or studio.
I agree with you 100% that the pace of one's work is dependent solely upon his own little.  The photographer should know himself better than what is expected of him with a certain piece of equipment.  I know that I will always work in a slow pace.  Not only because of my disability but also because I like to get a shot I want the right way.  That is, I want to take a one-shot and know that I got what I wanted in my minds eye rather than take 20 shots and hope that I got what I wanted.  For me, this takes a little more time and preparation.

Sfleming,
thanks for the suggestion of the forum.  I will shortly check it out and register for myself.  Is there are even half of the good people that I see here I'm sure they'll get my (none) money worth.  It's great having forums to collaborate with people.  I can't tell you how happy I am to get all this help.
I would like to take you up on your offer.  I probably can't get to your place however, if you like to take two planes to Israel   that we can get together and you could probably teach me more than my money's worth.  I doubt that there will be anyone from Israel on this forum however it's worth a shot.  You never know.  I have a class at the local university that teaches large-format photography and I'll probably check it out.

BernardLanguillier,
thank you for the article.  It's always great to have people contribute like you do to this community.  I will definitely reread it and try to get as much as the as I can.  I'll contact you if I have any questions.

Stephen Best,
that's exactly the reason I want to get into large-format photography.  As I mentioned earlier I don't think that I can borrow/rent an outfit close to my home.  I will probably end up buying a budget camera to start with.  I've seen several Toyo and Calumet cameras that don't seem to cost an arm and a leg but as I mentioned before I have no clue what I need and will probably need to read for about a month until I end up buying anything.  In addition, like I mentioned earlier, I'll probably start with the ready load films.


Everybody,
thank you for all your help.  Keep the suggestions coming.  I would definitely like to know what type of camera should I try in the beginning.  On tend to not to go to the field camera solution even though it is lighter.  I believe that I will have a lot more versatile to using the studio camera option.
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Stephen Best

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Large-format photography
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2006, 08:52:21 pm »

Quote
Wow!  I didn't expect to get so many replies so fast!  I'll try to answer all of your questions one by one.

It sounds like you've got the character to make all this work for you ... all the best!

Something that may help you is going with Prontor shutters as setting the shutter speed and aperture can be pretty fiddly. A quick search on Google came up with this site which will give you the idea:

http://www.skgrimes.com/prontor/

You'll probably have to source these as second-hand.
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