View Full Version : Large Format increases our talent
Daniel luu Van Lang
Hi all, No, It's not an assertion, just a joke and a question! I would like to know the opinion of this community. Do you think jumping from 35mm to large format really makes your photos better? Apart from sharpness and Sheimpflug, since each one has a personal sensibility, are the LF photos so different from 35mm when we shoot them? Is a photographer s o different when he shoots in 35mm and when he does the same picture with his LF camera? is it really the same picture? I have learnt so much from this forum, a nd I have learnt one thing while hiking and practising: It takes a long time to set up all the equipment, when you are ready to shoot, y ou feel like a part of the landscape and suddenly things seem very different! is n't it?
Generally, large format photography requires a more deliberate approach! Like you say, it takes longer to set up and actually take a photograph. The large format demands that you "see" the picture, analyze every element in the frame, and visualize the final image. One way to approach large format photography is to always work with a cardboard "cutout"...- a quick way to asses a scene and determine if it really is what you think it is - and a way to visualize the final image.
Read Fred Picker's book: "Zone VI Workshop" - it will give you the essence of large format photography.
David A. Goldfarb
My work in other formats has improved since I started using large format.
Aside from the knowledge of optics one develops when using the view camera, and the knowledge of film one can develop when using sheet film, having more formats available makes it possible to use each format for what it does best.
When moving to LF from other formats (particularly directly from 35mm) the first thing most people experience, is the realization of how little they really knew about photography.
Well, it can make those photos better that should have been large format anyway. Having used manual 35mm and medium format for many years before getting into sheet film, some of us already had good practices and understanding. Anyone who already was doing things carefully and with thought should find the transition easy. When first getting involved, I asked the usual newby questions. The best piece of advice I got was from someone who told me "just play with the camera and see for yourself". To get back to the question, no matter what the format, the same basic truths apply. Framing and composition are necessary, as is proper exposure. A good tripod and cable release are valuable, no matter what format you use. For landscapes, scenics, still life, architecture etc, large format has no equal. For action - sports, birding etc or where extreme lenses are needed, 35mm is the choice. For portraits or "tourist" pictures, I like medium format.... good definition and yet very portable.
Yes, 35mm has it's place in photgraphy. 35mm will capture the decisive moment,the horse and jockey spilling on the final turn. Yet place your self in front of a grand scenic and yes, large format will have no equal. Let me put it this way. It would be like two shooters showing up for a free landscape image give away. one shooter has a measuring cup, the other a wheel barrel, who will be leaving with more resolution?
Most of us today start with 35mm, but what about those who lived in an earlier time, such as Ansel Adams who started out with much larger formats and then at one time purchased a 35mm. I wonder how different the transition was going from large format to 35mm rather than the other way around?
In my crude layman's terms Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states that you cannot measure something without changing it in some way. Applying this to large format, I find that large format photography changes the way you take photographs. A lot of it is to the better, but some of it is negative. Large format tends to inhibit one's ability to compose quickly and flexibly, the way you can with, for example, an SLR or rangefinder. There are always angles, possibilities and fleeting ideas that you miss when setting up a view camera. The sometimes Zen-like state one enters into when setting up for a shot is distinctly different (for me) then when I am taking more quickly composed shots. I think large format can create incomparable photographs, but they are not always superior in terms of sheer force of imagery to those created by smaller formats. I also think that large format, particularly very large format and associated perfectionist contact printing can become subject to a suffocating stillness - a kind of visual deathmask instead of a stimulating image. To me, the best things about large format is the astonishing range of capabilities it offers, and the wide test bed it offers for continuous learning. I am going to do my best to continue to get the best images I can from all three major formats.
One thing that often (not always) differ LF photographers from MF/35mm photographers is the technical knowledge of photography. As essentially everything about LF is manual, it requires very good knowledge of camera, film, developing plus all the paraphenalia around it. Yes, there is quite a steep learning curve for anyone entering the LF world, but, in my opinion, it is time, money and sweat well spent.
I'm not saying that you have to know everything about photography to be a good photographer, but a little more knowledge does help for many people. A better knowledge, I believe, should give most photographers a greater certainty and this should also take any unnecessary distraction factors away, making the photographer more aware of the subject instead of feeling uncertain about the tool and the media.
Most of my photography at the moment is done with a semi- professional, japanese "all the bells and whistles" 35mm camera. I usually don't bother to use anything than the excellent built in program metering etc., BUT, I know that I treat both the camera/media and the subject at hand in a different way than what would be the case if I hadn't had my LF experience. Whether this is for better or for worse, I don't know, but I certainly believe that my photographs gain from it. Of course I often miss my LF camera, but at least I got a number of snapshots, maybe comparable to teststrips in the darkroom, and something to ponder on for my next LF session.
About the time factor, when shooting LF landscapes etc, I often find it that I have too little time on my hand. Those nice cloud formations did change before I had the time to meter my shot properly or that the wind suddenly decided to find my particular spot in the universe. Practice and knowledge helps in making you quicker, thus taking care of that feeling of uncertainty. (Knowledge is after all condensed practice in a sense.) With that practice, giving me a short setup time, I do get some time to maybe even make alternative shots. As many of you have mentioned (an endless number of times), I recon most LF photographers actually enjoy the fact that it takes quite some time to set up a shot properly, and that time gives you a much better perception of the subject at hand. This is increasingly important as the years rush along in an ever accelerating speed.
LFP to me is the best way to learn photography. If you are serious from the start, that is what you should learn on. The 4x5, spot meter, sheet film holders, Zone System, Fred Picker, Ansel Adams, and all the other usual suspects and equipment. Learning composition, balance, perspective, and developing a "feel" for what you want to say can best been achieved on a 4x5 or larger ground glass, then a tiny 35mm view finder. Learning the craft and how to control it using the zone system will give you the freedom to create intuitively. Eventually, setup will be a breeze, automatic. It takes time.
Go to it, if you're idea of good photography is to make pictures like Fred Picker.
Like many other endeavors, the tool is a means to an end. I've seen too many people with too much obscenely expensive camera gear producing (in my own opinion) rather bland photographs. At the same time, I've seen poor, talented students producing stunning work with cheap 35mm cameras. There are also several landscape photographers who produce wonderfully grainy black and white prints from 35mm film. My point here is that one's vision of the kind of photographs that you want to produce should drive your choice of camera. Using an LF camera would not make me a better wildlife or sports photographer, for example. Also, one should be careful making such pronouncements as it leads to thinking of onself as a "better" photographer simply because your negative has a larger surface area. Photographs are better judged by more aesthetic criteria.
To Bjorn Nilsson,
Back in the mid-seventies (OK, so I am old!) Ansel offered me a simple quote to "live" by when doing Large Format Photograhy:
"Chance favors the prepared mind!"
In other words be ready for that cloud change - or whatever comes your way...
You cannot really appreciate LF untill you work with it and learn the advantages it presents. One of the biggest advantages is the larger film area allows a tremendous amount of flexibility in choosing the film used and the kind of chemistry for processing. Chemistry that wuld be useless for any 35mm film enlarged over 8x10 is perfectly acceptable with LF. A greater tonality and detail can be achieved in the fine print. You also have the opportunity to fine tune the neg with various masking techniques. LF even allows for spotting and repairing of the negative.
The way you approach subjects will be determined by your knowledge of the tools at your disposal. Every format has its own strengths and limitations. There is no point in shooting the same subject with both a 35mm and LF to produce a fine print unless it is to learn how each produces its own unique product. IMHO every subject or idea has a best format. The fun and challenge is to learn the difference.
Yes, using LF has made me a better photographer.
I learnt photography on a manual 35mm, and was happy if I got 2 to 3 "keepers" per roll. Since learning to me more circumspect with composition and exposure, aspects forced upon me by methods and costs of LF, my perceived success rate with 35mm has gone up to 15- 16 "keepers" per roll. Additionally, the images that I consider to be good now are much better than my early work (as you would expect with experience). It's the attitude to each photo that's changed, rather than the materials used. I now treat every scene like an LF subject, asking my self "would I spend the cost of a 5x4 on this shot and would I hang it on my wall?". If the answer is no, I usually don't make the exposure.
I am only comparing 35mm shots in writing this, since there is no comparison between good 35mm shots and 5x4 trannies.
"Chance favors the prepared mind" is a statement attributed to the great French scientist Louis Pasteur on the process leading to scientific breakthroughs. It is not a St-Ansel original, but his use of the concept is very applicable to picture taking.
The assertion that all LF photography takes place on a tripod with an image carefully composed on the ground-glass ignores the magnificent tradition of hand-held large format photography (press photography of old, Weegee, Life Magazine, Dorothea Lange, etc.). It is not all about rocks and trees and beautiful landscapes and the zone system.
I use a 4X5 Technika (with range finder coupled lenses) mostly hand- held. I pretend that it is a giant 35 mm camera and use it to take semi-candid environmental portraits. I can compose very quickly and fluidly, focus very accurately with the rangefinder, and move about with all the needed equipment on my person (including an incident meter). Changing film holders is a little slower than advancing roll film, but it is surprising how fast you can do it with one hand if you have the right pouches on your belt and a clip for the dark slide on the back of the camera. The results obtained from a 4X5 negative this way are stunning and far better than one can acheive with even MF.
There are many ways to move a boat: you can sail with the wind, use a motor, drift with the tide, or tow it on a trailer behind your car...
A lot of great answers were given. I haven't tried what Mark says, but it sounds like it could be a lot of fun. That is exactly the sort of thing I mostly use medium or 35mm for, but then, why not give Mark's idea a try? I do the "rocks and trees" thing sometimes but there >is< more than just that. I used to pick up spare cash doing portraits....people for some reason loved the look of 35mm Tri-X enlarged and processed for a grainy "old timey" look. But really, no matter what format you started in or currently use, if you understand what is going on and why, it is easier and more natural feeling to do it right. Given a little experience, which you already have, it is just a matter of selecting the "tools for the job". Look at what the professionals in various fields use for different purposes (and why), then go from there.
I did what mark said a few years back, got me a speed graphic and when taking pictures hand held, you would be surprised how easy it was and how it made me try to "anticipate" the action, it was fun, but alas not for me. In any case the negs were great and I did not find any problem using the 4x5 handheld, then again it was for fun, not to make money.
Sorry to nitpick a side comment, but since misunderstanding of Heisberg's Uncertainty Principle is responsible for a lot of the nonsense in the world, I feel compelled to say that Heisenberg never said anything remotely like "you cannot measure something without changing it in some way." All he said was that you can't measure two dependent qualities (velocity and location, if I remember right) simultaneously; you have to measure one, and then the other.
If you are able to have the same discipline using a 35mm than when using a LF, there is no reason you wouldn't make as good photos (sharpness apart). But isn't the same true of APS as well, or a 1 megapixel digital camera ? Myself, I find it somewhat easier to be patient and disciplined when I know that the final image is something I will be able to enlarge to huge sizes.
Yes, you can take good photographs in APS or digital if you apply a little patience, care and attention. Just like any other format, they can be used to create something very good, or something that is awful. Composition, lighting, contrast, all the important things are still necessary. There is some very nice digital work out there if you look for it. It's just not my thing.
Thanks Q. I was searching and you said it. The fact that the end product has the chance to be truly excellent stimulates me in large format. Potential is what keeps fishermen going upstream to the next pool. Potential is what urges me to keep learning and trying.
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