View Full Version : LF Camera from the deck of a Cruise Ship?
Perhaps a stupid question, but I've read with interest lately about cruises in Alaska and also Antarctica which have left me wondering if it would be possible to make sharp exposures with a large format camera from the decks of these cruise ships. I've been at sea before, but never in one of these larger ships. I figured if Bradford Washburn can hang out the door of a moving aircraft in below zero temps and make sharp 8x10 negatives, why not a cruise ship?
Anyone here ever tried this or have any thoughts on how or if this would work?
Should't be a problem. Just watch how the ship is rolling/pitching and time your shot so the horizon is where you want it. Also be mindful there may be places where you can feel some engine vibration. Whether it becomes a problem or not I can't say. Depends mostly on the size of the ship, how fast it is moving, and whether it has Diesel engines or turbines. Sounds like fun and you will probably draw some curious attention.
Modern cruise ships have stabilizers which help, as does being on the inland passage rather than the open sea. The Bradford Washburn "rule" for aerials, which would certainly be appropriate for ship board work, is to open up the f/stop and use the fastest films and shutter speeds(1/250 would be the absolute slowest, 1/400 much better, so you'll need a lens in something like a copal #1) you can. If you find yourself in Juneau, there is(was?) a helicopter outfit that would check on antanneas on a ridgeline above the town. Since they fly that route as scheduled, passage was pretty inexpensive(by alaska standards, anyway) and you could arrange for them to drop you off at one tower, giving you the day to hike to the tower at the other end of the ridge, where they'd pick you up. In good weather, that would be a heck of a place to be with a view camera. Check with the locals, then drink to your adventure at the Alaska Hotel (not the touristy "Red Dog Saloon")----Cheers!
Since you'll be using your fastest shutter speed to limit motion you should have them checked so you know what they truly are. I just bought a tester and am amazed at how optimistic the higher numbers really are. New should be better than old of course.
The problem with ships is engine vibrations, which will transmit up the tripod. For this reason many classical shots were taken hand held, I remember reading about one photographer wh added a few pounds of lead to his camera to make it more stable. I have shot from moving ships and boats with MF, not LF. I have also shot hand held with a 5x7" Linhof Technika with good results, though not from a ship. Maybe I'll take my Technika out sailing some day just to try it? It's certainly heavy enough to be stable...
The earliest example I know of taking pictures with LF from the deck of a cruise ship is the photo made by the marine painter Salzmann in 1889 depicting "Dr. Güssfeldt mit Stativkamera auf dem Achterdeck der 'Hohenzollern'" (taken with a Kodak camera nr. 1). Transl.: "Dr. Güssfeldt with a LF camera on the aft deck of the 'Hohenzollern'". The 'Hohenzollern' was the State yacht of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The photo must have been taken during the Norway trip of that year. The photo is in the Robert Lebeck collection and can be seen in: Pioniere der Kamera, das erste Jahrhundert der Fotografie; die Sammlung Robert Lebeck (fotoforum Bremen, 1987) on page 306. Wonderful book by the way.
You can buy or rent a Kenyon Gyroscope that attaches to your camera's tripod mount. Neil Selkirk used to use one for available light interior environmental portraits with a Rolleiflex, with up to one second long exposures. Aerial photographers use them all the time. Do a search online, they make several sizes, and the larger photo rental houses have them.
What Ole said. The one and only cruise ship I've been on, had pretty bad vibration problems when it was underway. It was bad enough (that is, you could just feel it through your feet) that I wouldn't have considered a tripod shot.
That said, I found the cruise to be more like time in a (nicely appointed) floating jail. Never again! But clearly, YMMV.
With long exposures being the current rage, why not long exposures from the deck of a ship? What better rig for that endeavor than LF?
I wouldn't use a tripod from anything that moves unless you want the effect of sharp ship foreground and less than sharp scenery in the background. Often you see yatch shots where this is the case, on purpose, and it is done by anchoring the camera to the boat somewhere like up a mast or on a boom. A cruise ship is more stable by far but still has movement, so unless your exposure is in the hand-held range anyway you're risking introduction of some movement of subject during the exposure. I've shot many bridges from boats and use my 5x7 Speed Graphic with tremendous success. There are also 4x5 and 8x10 hand-holdable cameras out there. In extreme cases where it is choppy or windy, or when I really need the dof, I rent a gyrostabalizer and attach it to the bottom and shoot despite the movement or I can get away with as low as 1/15 sec. or so with an 8" lens.
My reaction to this question is based on experience with cruising and racing yachts up to 80'; having been on a major cruise ship, but only in harbour, on the west coast Alaska run; and on what I know, based on sailing experience, about the South America to Antarctica run.
To take the South America/Antarctica voyage first, the ships that do it are fairly small and the weather is highly variable. To be frank, you will be lucky if your primary concern is photography rather than seasickness.
Regarding the Seattle/Vancouver/Alaska run, the ships are fairly large, and the weather, when and where these ships operate (spring/summer through the inside passage), tends to be reasonably placid.
If you want to take photographs of the ship or other passengers, you should have no problem with a handheld 4x5. I wouldn't spend ten seconds thinking about a tripod, with or without a gyroscope.
I don't see how you could take photographs of birds, sea animals or landscape off the ship without a serious telephoto lens. Everything I know about being at sea tells me that if you want to do this sort of thing, you will need a 35mm camera.
If I wanted to take photographs of the ship and passengers, I would embark early and disembark late, while the ship is in port.
I took some photos of tidewater glaciers in Alaska with my 5x7 on a tripod from a medium sized tour boat and from a small charter boat, with a 210 lens at f11 and f16, iso 100 film. The glaciers came sharp, but the foreground water/icebergs were slightly soft, either from movement or lack of DOF. Based on that, I'd say if you minimize foreground in the compositions, you'd be fine in a cruise ship.
Re Mr. Luong's comments, I think that it is semi-doable from a tour or charter boat, which is by definition operating inshore. In fact, you can do it from a RIB if the conditions are right, but it is not apparent to me why you would want to use a tripod. At the last Cowes Race Week, I was racing an Etchells. There was a guy from Beken taking photos at the first mark. He was in a RIB, and was using a digital camera. While I believe that he could have used a hand-held 4x5, it honestly would not have made sense. That said, have a look at the older photographs on the web site of Beken of Cowes. The ones done on the water, or from the deck of a yacht, were all done from a large format camera, albeit one that Frank Beken designed and that was handheld.
Having been on an Antarctica Cruise last year I do not see how you wanted to use your LF camera on deck of the ship. There are a number of reasons why it is not desirable and practical to do so. - It is cold, very cold even during the summer months and handling the camera would not be easy - the groundglass will fog up every time you get close to it and breath on it - The wind in Antarctica is most of the time extremely strong. We tried to land on Elephant Island and we could not even get close because of the wind. Imagine what that will do to your bellows and the quality of the pictures you take. - The ship tends to roll even with the modern stabilizers they have installed. Around Antarctica you have some of the roughest waters on this planet. - When photographing icebergs from the deck of the ship you will be amazed how fast they are moving and with the longer shutter speeds you would need with LF they would come out blurry in your pictures.
I took two 35mm cameras, plenty of film, plenty of batteries and that was it. I contemplated to take my Mamyia outfit with me, but I am glad I didn't because even that would have been to combersome.
Antarctica is a magical place and you should spend as much time seeing with your eyes instead peering through the groundglass of your camera.
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