Category Archives: Large Format Photography

Fake Format?

The other day I was doing what I always do: I was looking at photographs. Not my own. And in all honesty, it was a drooling exercise, because I was ogling my favourite eyecandy. But what I came across made me gasp out loud – a full-length portrait of said eyecandy. And this time it was not because of eyecandy’s pleasing bone structure, but because for entirely photo-nerdy reasons. The format of the image. I didn’t even have to look at a high-res version of the image to get excited – I knew straight away that it was something special – a LF image.

Or was it? The outward signs were there. The black frame around the image. But then I wondered – it is easy enough to just impose the frame on a digitally taken image in post-production in order to pass it off as LF. Aesthetically, the little black frame has become a bit of an “edgy edge”, I suppose. It adds a certain coolness factor to the image. Hence “frames” like this are now available as options in digital photo enhancement tools or popular filter apps such as instagram etc. How phoney is that? I felt pretty sure, however, that the image I was looking at was the real deal. Not only because the photographer in question is an established photographer who would risk ridicule if he “enhanced” his picture in post-production with a fake frame. But what it clinched it for me was a tiny give-away that convinced me that the image originated on LF film – and that’s what made me gasp as it became apparent to me that this was indeed a genuine LF image: the little clip marks at the side of the frame.


My clips are not as pointy…

A bit of doubt remains, however. The question is – why do photographers “bother” to shoot LF, and more importantly, *on film* at all, in the day and age of digitally wizardry? Maybe the challenges of it are also the benefits: The process of LF photography is more deliberate, lengthy and technically demanding, but that in itself is something that a lot of photographers enjoy. It is going back to the roots of photography. Shooting on film means that you *need* to execute your shot perfectly. It makes you slow down, look properly, think properly, apply your knowledge of photography. I find it far more technical than digital “snapping” and shows a love for the craft of photography. Yes, I’d say that photographers still do this for love of photography. I think I would.

Presbyopia Here I Come

Usually, I am the first to admit that I do not like to get my fingers dirty. But not when it comes to get hands-on with developing. Or so I found when I went back to the darkroom again, last weekend. It had been a while and recently I have only had a number of sessions in the processing chamber. Now it was time to get a few prints onto paper. And as the last time that I printed anything was Christmas 2009, I was indeed worried that I might have lost my touch – two years down the line.
But it all came back to me in a flash. With my large format negatives in tow, I had the LF darkroom all to myself, while the plebs… eh… sorry… the first years were packed in the large darkroom. Initially I had only planned to take a few contact prints of the negatives for my college work book. But with the LF enlarger all at my disposal, I decided to enlarge some images, too.
Scan of a LF contact print
 Luckily I had been given some 30x50cm photopaper a while ago, so I had material to experiment with. Printing LF negs is an absolute joy! As the negative is so large, it is obviously much easier to focus the image on paper. No faffing around with that annoying focus finder – the bare eye will do nicely. At least it did for me- presbyopia here I come!
I will admit that I had to familiarise myself with the developing times again. And I was very taken aback when one of the first years kept playing around with his iPhone right beside the various baths, using it to count down the various immersion times. “Stay away from me with you shiny phone”, I kept thinking. (Only to find out later that he was using a darkroom app with red light which was specifically made for darkroom timing *doh*. Do I feel I have been taken over by modern times? Nooooo. But I am tempted to get this yoke myself…)
Ah, how nice it was to get the fingers into the chemicals again. I still love the magical moment, when the image appears while the paper is agitated in the developer. I love the suspense of it and I like the slow pace. So I carry the whiff of developer on my fingertips with pride!

Panic Stations

Sometimes you think you have it all planned – and then the weather hits you. And particularly so in Ireland. I had been due out at the lighthouse for a second shoot this week as the first batch were just not enough. Monday came – and lashed with rain. Tuesday passed without the car. By Tuesday evening I was in a right panic.
But hey, the Cambo was sitting in its box in the hall and one floor below me was a studio with lights. All that was missing was a light meter. But heck, I decided to work out exposure by shooting a digital testshot and adjusting the lights according to what I saw on the screen.
And what to shoot? This had to be close-up – a nice challenge, what with working out bellows extensions and extra stops. So down I went, arranging my little brass temples on a table, popping up the view camera and shooting away.
Digital testshot
Considering that this was my first time shooting close-ups with a view camera, it went quite well. I had to apply the grey matter a good bit to work out my bellows extensions. (M+1)²… image over object… twice focal length… infinity focus… Yes, the lingo is mine now, too. Five long hours I slaved away in the studio, but I got six images in the bag and so I was :-).
The negatives were processed yesterday by yours truly. Note to ADOX: It would really help if you had a section on your website somewhere that gives the processing times for your wonderful film!!! As it was, I had to basically fumble my way through it, basing developing and fixing times on approximates. Not good! But the results are ok, the negatives are not destroyed. They look a bit too dark to me, however. But that can only be determined, once I take a contact print of the negs, hopefully over the weekend. Phew.

The Pursuit of Loneliness

Panic gripped me on Thursday. I had realised the night before in college that we are very close to our deadlines. And despite best intentions, I always end up panicking in the run-up to deadline week. You would have thought that a sprightly pensioner as myself would have learnt from her time spent in college first time ’round. Well, no, I haven’t. I am still a last minute girl. I keep telling everyone that “I need the pressure in order to produce the work.” But here is the truth: More often than not I am fuseling because I keep putting off dealing with the people who are needed for my projects.
In this case it was the people from whom I need permission to shoot what I am planning to shoot. I did eventually pluck up the courage to call the people in question. And was more than relieved, if not elated!, that they were actually delighted that I would choose their property for a photography project. I have settled on Wicklow Lighthouse as the architectural structure I would like to portray for my Large Format class. It is a historic building, built in 1781!, and situated in a scenic spot. It is nicely tall (good for playing with the camera movements!) and best of all: it’s not round but octagonal, which will facilitate a little bit of Scheimpflug much better than a circular structure.
To get back to Thursday – I made it down to Wicklow Lighthouse with the intention of shooting the outside. But to my surprise and utter delight I bumped into the housekeeper who invited me in and allowed me two hours to shoot the interior of the lighthouse. I shot four images inside – which took me nearly two hours. I did it all on my own – the loneliness of the large-format-photographer is slowly growing on me, even though I did miss a second opinion and pair of eyes to point out mistakes or angles or wrong settings.
And I loved the lighthouse – so romantic, so lonely, so cosy. And thus I leave you with a photograph I took in there, that describes the lighthouse on so many levels. It speaks of its structure, its situation in the landscape and it also touches rather evocatively on the possible solitude of the place – by contrast.
Cuddle up

Going Dutch vs. Big in Japan

“Oh look, she has got herself a new handbag.” – “Isn’t it lovely?” – “Look at those brass details, so shiny, so classy, so bling.” – “And that delicate little carrying strap at the top – actually, quite fashionable, a slight equestrian feel to that, isn’t there.” – “Oh, and the elegance of the mahogany inlays – now if that’s not exclusive, then what is?”
LF in style
No, I did not believe for one second that I could fool you into believing that this is a little handbag. It is, of course, a viewcamera. Tachihara. *blessyou* *excuseme* And I have gotten my hands on it thanks to my friend-in-photography Karl. He is lending me the Tachihara 4×5 – which is very handy as I am, as you all know, in the middle of my first LF project already.
Now, it’s not that I don’t like shooting with Mijnher Cambo. In fact, he is a sturdy and reliable fella, just as you would expect it of a solidly built Dutchman. Seriously, the Cambo 4×5 has been great so far. (Ok, I admit I still haven’t printed the negs, but the negs actually look ok-ish…) There’s only one thing: Mijnher Cambo is rather big and bulky. And heavy, too. 4.4 kg is a bit of weight alright when you are shooting somewhere in the wilds – or intending to do a project on lighthouses, which, by their nature, tend to be perched on inaccessible rocks on the shore… The Cambo can’t be carried in a rucksack – it sits there on its monorail (people, I warn you, no jokes now!), front and back standard sticking up, the delicate lens largely unprotected. There are, in fact, no rucksacks big enough for it. And I am not even starting on the tripod needed for this square fellow.
This lovely little Japanese beauty, however, is a different ball game. Delicate, pretty and practically minded – well, metaphorically speaking (as I am obviously in the mood to do today), it is a petite geisha of cameras. Made from beautiful wood and put together with shiny brass screws and fittings, it folds together into a small little square, that indeed you can carry with the ditzy little leather strap attached to it. (Probably appeals to the women photographers a bit more than to a big butch photo pro *roar*). Rucksack? No problem – it weighs about 1.5 kg and its dimensions are 216 x 94 x 196 mm. Folded down, the lens board fits neatly in, protected by the bellows. Ideal for location shoots.
So I look forward to testing out the Tachihara. One plate is shot already, but not yet processed. Instead of going Dutch, I’ll try to be big in Japan. *um* Wordplay is flying low today, better sign off…

Better Late Than Never

No, that title does not refer to the day and time I am getting to write this update. It refers to the fact that I really do not appreciate finding out essential facts late down the line… Mind you: better late than never. But this, again, does not just apply to last night’s proposal near-rejection, but also to the revelation that my negatives are NOT up to scratch.
Or rather: They are. Scratched. Literally. But that is not the worst thing about them. They are simply over-exposed. Well, possibly. Maybe not. It is quite hard to tell with negatives how good they have come out and I have gone down the line of panicking unnecessarily before when I thought my negs were far too light – yet when printing them, they turned out fine. This is it:
4×5″ negative
The lighthouse on the West pier in Dun Laoghaire harbour. Well – you might remember it from last week. I shot this with the 4×5 camera at a wide aperture of f5.6 and 1/250 of a second. I played a little bit with the camera movements because I didn’t want just a clean, clear, predictable shot of a lighthouse. So the focus deliberately is off the light and onto the door of the lighthouse. This was achieved by tilting the back of the camera backwards. I actually also used a back fall because I needed to get a bit more of the base of the lighthouse in the image.
I do like the overall aesthetic effect (not taking into account the possible over-exposure) – the falling off of anything above and below the door. It kind of adds a sense of vertigo to the image – the lighthouse is swaying in a storm, going to fall over any second. Rather contradictory to the usual image of the lighthouse as a proverbial rock in the ocean. 
On that note: Lighthouses have been photographed a million times. Yeeees, I know, my project is extreeeeemely original. *um* But therefore: Anyone have any suggestion on other famous or interesting lighthouse images? I need to find a different angle on this whole thing, because a collection of phallic edifices apparently is not going to cut the mustard with college. Bit late, finding THAT out. But hey, better later than NEVER!!!

As If!

The learning curve is really steep today. You think you have it all sussed. You have scouted your location, you have loaded your films, you have made time in your schedule. And even the weather is playing along and providing a bright, mild, dry day for the location shoot. And yet…
As planned I set off this morning for my first project shoot on Dun Laoghaire pier. Well, not quite as planned. Maybe it should be part of the whole process of organising a shoot that the previous evening is set aside for contemplation and rest, too. I am thinking soccer camp here – no drink, no drugs, no sex latenight TV! It was the latter (of course!!!) that delayed me this morning. Watching seminal 1980s films until 2.15 in the morning is not conducive to getting up on time.
Nonetheless, I took off at 8 am (only marginally later than planned) and headed out to Dun Laoghaire. View camera in its big wooden box, tripod strapped into the back – and the old push chair in tow. Push chair you ask? No, not for me, old as I may be. For the gear, it was. The West pier is exactly one mile long – a loooong trek if you are carrying a four kilo view camera and a sturdy tripod that weighs probably twice that. 
On my way I had a first taste of this not being as easy-peasy as I had assumed. In view of the bright sunshine it – pardon the pun – dawned on me why my lecturer H___ had been proselytising about the need for a compass. Assuming that the sun rises slightly towards the Southeast (in winter time) and it being already an hour after sunrise (7.31 am), chances were that the sun would be right behind the lighthouses when I got there. I.e. no way I would be able to take a shot against the sun.
And as I got to the pier, more holes in my strategy appeared. Yes, I had found out that I needed to pay for parking. But I had not made sure to have change for the parking meter. *doooh* Back into the car and off to the nearest petrol station for some change then – and a further delay of 15 minutes.
With the car parked and the view camera avec tripod safely strapped into the push chair I finally bumbled off onto the pier. (My mood was already nearing lowest possible point – I tend to get discouraged and easily frustrated when things don’t go the way I thought they would. Thank God my mood-enhancing iPod was fully loaded and got me back in form.)
The pier was not exactly teeming with people, but there were of course the unavoidable anglers at the end – who obviously had some fun watching this weird lady turning up with what to them probably looked like antiquated equipment, fumbling to set up the tripod and then putting a black bag over her head to look at the back of the camera. (I actually wish I could’ve seen the whole scene. Probably
of slapstick quality…)
With camera on tripod I took focus on the East pier lighthouse – only to realise that my scouting had been totally off. The lighthouse was far too far away to appear big in my frame. Bummer! I took a picture anyway, but then just turned around the camera to photograph the West pier lighthouse.
Three pics in the bag. I would have liked to take the same on transparency, too, just for testing, but stupidly I had no box for exposed negs with me and therefore could not take the negs out of the holders. There is another thing to add to the list of facts learnt today… At least my college work book will be full!
East and West Pier Lighthouses, Dun Laoghaire Harbour

Girl Scouts

After a rather disappointing experience a couple of weekends ago I had resolved never to go out shooting anymore without having scouted the location before. At least when photographing with the 4×5. Hence I had set aside this morning for a trip to Dun Laoghaire harbour where I am planning to shoot the lighthouses at the end of the two piers for a college project. Based on that previous trip where I had to concede that my vantage point was too far away from the object I wanted to photograph, I had carefully checked the focal length of the view camera’s lens to make sure I could take test shots with Marky Mark and find the spot where I would set up the 4×5 on a subsequent trip. 
And so I set off, Marky Mark by my side and a little acolyte for company. A beautiful day and a good trip. I found the best place to park my car (not very close), checked how much the parking cost (daylight robbery!!) and which vistas suited my purpose (any without people in it!). The sun shone nicely and even provided me with a nice preview of what I might catch on film – minus the lighthouse appearing to fall over backwards.
Test shot with the iPhone *ooops*
I also realised that – although I was going to shoot on the less busy pier – I would have to come out early-ish on my shoot if I wanted to avoid having people walk in on my shot all the time. A slight problem as we are now in winter time and the mornings won’t get light until 7.30 am – not exactly an ungodly hour and therefore I would still have joggers running, anglers fishing and dogs and their people walking into the frame. Why oh why could I not have done this project in the summer? Surely, the early worm i.e. myself would have caught the bird then (or something like that…) The whole tour along the pier takes about 25 minutes one-way. So time will be a factor to keep in mind (if I want to avoid being clamped by the carpark stasi).
Tomorrow then is the day. I’ll go out for 8am and get my first few shots in the bag. I’ll try to take some transparencies as well as I want to experiment with that in advance of my final project (although that will be shot indoors).


Furthermore to my post from Saturday – I have calmed down a bit and am feeling a little bit more positive about my negatives. Hehe. No, seriously – the initial reaction was a bit disappointed. The negatives turned out scratched, blotchy in places, some foggy. But maybe that was all premature. After all, you will only see your image properly when you have printed it.
That was my intention at the weekend. I was so looking forward to stepping into my own darkroom in my basement and make a few contact prints. Well, I was pushing it, thinking that the chemicals that I had last used pretty much exactly two years ago were still fine. No can do! The developer, when I poured it into a measuring jug, were a lovely coffee-colour. As far away from the clear liquid that you bathe your exposed paper in as it could be. No printing for me, then.
But hold on – this is the digital age, and a preliminary view can be gained from scanning and inverting the negs. So that’s what I did. And it appears as if at least the photography is largely fine. And just for the fun of it I have made a little gif of it *winkwink*.
gif make

If you look closely you can see some kind of fogging or blotching at the top left corner. To determine, where that comes from, is now the next step. Any ideas? Let me know.

Back to Square One

Or maybe back to semester one? It very much felt like that today when I was in the darkroom in college with A___. The LF experiments are moving nicely. In the past two weeks we have shot 16 sheets. As the processing costs for sheet film is just astronomically high, we had to get into the darkroom and do it ourselves. Thankfully there is a colour darkroom in college – which up until now was completely unbeknownst to me – that has a Paterson Orbital Developing Tank.  A brilliant device that makes the whole developing slightly less scary. Or so we thought…
But not having been developing myself for about two years meant starting from scratch. Sure, the general process is unforgettable easypeasy. Develop – Stop – Fix – Wash. And yet the whole manual process is predictably unpredictable. There are always issues – whether it is the temperature of the solution (not helped by the fact that there was no running hot water in the darkroom), the to-the-second timing of the various baths. Or even pre-processing variables that have an influence on the outcome.
Processing is not quite as magic as printing – you do not see the image slowly appearing before your eyes because it happens either in total darkness or inside a light-tight tank. And yet the satisfaction of making all of the image yourself is so big, I gladly take all the risky business of ruined negatives into account.
Here’s the negatives in the wash. The blueish tint I had never come across before – that is the developer being washed off even after the negs had been fixed in the tank. You never stop learning – and mistakes are probably better lessons than everything going swimmingly.
I have to keep telling myself that this is essentially back to the beginning. Do not get ahead of yourself, Sonja, and don’t expect so much! Sure, manual processing can deliver perfect results. But for that you need to be processing every day and have the experience that comes with that. 50 more sheets and I’ll be pro…