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Thread: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

  1. #1
    DavidE
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    Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    My apologies in advance for this rather lengthy post… but I am a man in great need of help!

    Hello good folk,

    As a brief intro, I live in Sydney and am finding myself passionate once again about photography – trying to balance occasional thoughts of irrelevance and redundancy (how many gazillion ‘amazing’ shots are already on the web??) with the great pleasures to be derived from continuing to capture worthy images myself and constantly evolve and engage with new (or in this case, very old) frontiers.

    Increasingly I'm being drawn to the idea of actually creating images, not just blazing away with some level of mechanical precision at a scene using a host of automated equipment in the hope that I’ll capture “that shot”, but to settle calmly into the thoughtful manual worlds of MF and possibly LF photography and actually make it happen over time. (Not unlike a parallel passion in making furniture with hand tools).

    I’ve photographed 35mm film and digital now for over 30 years and in recent years have been dabbling with a few 645 cameras of mine (Bronica ETRSi and RF645). In recent months, I’ve dialled up the intensity with MF and have experienced a new and passionate love affair erupt with MF B&W – such that my wife is beginning to wonder why I lie awake with a restlessness late every night!

    What she doesn’t know however, is that under the surface the evil god of Large Format has begun to lurk – tapping at my shoulder, chipping away at my weakness and fuelling an obsessive desire to plunge headlong into this new and complex world.

    So, I come with humility to seek your wisdom in the hope of making some sense of it all before launching into the next likely area of immersion – large format….

    Following are questions of a more philosophical nature, so forgive me if I appear to be from another planet… I can easily read up on the “what” and the “how”, this is about the “why” which is important for me to settle before I spend lots of money and apply time I don’t have to something I don’t have a reasonable handle on!

    1. So, my first question is – how does large format photography satisfy you the most? Is it in the sheer quality of the images you create, is it in the intricate manual process, is it the exclusiveness of the rare breed to which you belong, is it that you don’t get what you want any other way (ie. with MF/35mm etc.) or is it in the owning and using of such classic and beautiful equipment etc.? In other words, what is it most about large format photography that makes you go to all that trouble?

    [I suspect for me it will be all of those things, but perhaps with a bias towards the great sense of achievement of creating something beautiful with great effort and painstaking attention at all steps – like hand making furniture.]

    2. Secondly – given the amount of time and effort required to produce a single frame in LF, do you find that you value your work in different ways to the outputs of more conventional (and convenient) approaches (ie. 35mm)?

    [I have produced many tens of thousands of images in 35mm (slide and digital) and am struggling to enjoy and even comprehend or manage them all. A vast oversupply with, at times too little effort in the making – has to lower the overall value, right? (My hand-made cot with hundreds of hours in the making is priceless to me – and gives me joy every time I see it!).]

    3. What are the main (perhaps “artistic”) lessons you have taken from LF which you have been able to apply elsewhere?

    [I ask this as I feel that the discipline of MF has helped me to engage more with my shooting in other formats.]

    4. What do you do with your images? Do you feel the need to print them all at vast sizes so you can “walk into” the details, do you archive the negs/trannies and enjoy them in private with the light-box – marvelling at the detail with your 4x loupe, do you precision scan them and store them digitally (I think 4x5 @ 4,000dpi is about 320 Mpixels, yes?)?

    5. Finally, what do your images do to you?

    [Perhaps a strange question, but I know after spending a few hours scanning and preparing a 645, I feel a great sense of connection with the capture that seems to last.]

    So, perhaps these could be seen as the questions of a madman – I’m sure my wife would concur. However, I am feeling quite drawn into a new world about which I know nothing beyond some technical rudiments and am very keen to know what it is about it all that makes you tick.

    If you’ve gotten this far, I thank you and look forward to reading anything that anyone would care to respond with!

    Cheers and thanks,
    David

  2. #2
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    In other words, what is it most about large format photography that makes you go to all that trouble?
    In my case, I've never made a picture I liked that could not have been made with large format (usually 4x5" or 6x12cm). It is much easier to control and prints are better. (I do not make large prints except when specifically asked to.)

  3. #3

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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    Hello David,

    congratulations, you're asking the right questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
    1. So, my first question is – how does large format photography satisfy you the most?
    Just like building furniture with hand tools, making images with a LF camera is a lot about the process. Furniture or images can be made with more convenience, sometimes with more accuracy, almost always with more effectivity. Sometimes, your audience appreciates the extra effort. Most of the times, they can't tell or don't care. But as a creator, the process does make a difference. You probably don't make furniture because you need more furniture.

    Quote Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
    2. Secondly – given the amount of time and effort required to produce a single frame in LF, do you find that you value your work in different ways to the outputs of more conventional (and convenient) approaches (ie. 35mm)?
    Different, yes. Better, not always. When I visited Phnom Penh this spring, I took 150 LF images and 6,000 digital images. The fast versatile digital camera with the ability to capture unlimited sequences did better justice to the lively city than the LF camera (with 6,000 images, good editing is the key). LF photography doesn't work for everything, but for some things it's the only way.

    Quote Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
    3. What are the main (perhaps “artistic”) lessons you have taken from LF which you have been able to apply elsewhere?
    If you took the effort to set up tripod and camera, you might as well wait for the light, the clouds, the pedestrians. The LF camera teaches patience. The tripod plays a major role, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
    4. What do you do with your images?
    I mostly print 5x7" (from 4x5"), or 5x7" and 8x10" contact prints. I hardly ever print bigger than 8x10". Like I said, it's about the process. I show my images in exhibitions sometimes, but mostly they are for myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
    5. Finally, what do your images do to you?
    They help me understand the world. They help me to find out what I really care about, what captures my interest and my imagination.

    David, I don't think that you are crazy. Sometimes, you just get to a point where you have to take the next step. LF photography might be the next step for you. Just don't get entangled in the mechanical aspects too much.

    As for your wife - if you are spending time in a darkroom instead of a dark bar, if you are lying awake dreaming of cameras instead of girls, she should be just fine.

    Michael

  4. #4

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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    You might keep in mind the fact that having fewer LF photographs than you've had in 35mm and MF doesn't mean they'll necessarily be better photographs. But to answer your questions from my standpoint:

    1. Viewing the subject on the larger ground glass, especially with an 8x10 camera.

    2. Good question. I don't but then I use a digital camera in much the same way I use LF, i.e. I don't take a whole lot of shots of the same subject and hope that one turns out well. I generally make one, maybe two, exposures and move on.

    3. See #2 above. But I don't find the time and effort involved with LF to be unpleasant or something I have to tolerate to get what I want, I find them to be what makes LF photography enjoyable (especially 8x10). With today's technology I see no reason to use a LF camera except for the sheer pleasure of the process. Maybe if I made huge prints it would be different but approximately 16x20 is the largest print I typically make except for an occasional 20x30 that I have made by a lab since I don't have the equipment to print that size myself.

    4. In the past I occasionally exhibited, showed work at monthly group "critique" meetings, and of course made prints for myself that I didn't plan to do anything further with. I haven't exhibited in a while because I just haven't been sufficiently motivated to take the time, money, and effort to do so.

    5. I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from making and viewing an excellent photograph that I made. There aren't that many of them but when they do come along it's very satisfying. If I like the photograph it doesn't matter what format camera I've used - 6x7, 4x5, 5x7, 8x10, or digital camera (never used 35mm after I became serious about photography many years ago).
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  5. #5

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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    It doesn't really matter if your images are Weston quality or not -- the pleasure is in the process of working. Large Format is not a size, but a state of mind.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  6. #6
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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    Quote Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
    1. So, my first question is – how does large format photography satisfy you the most? Is it in the sheer quality of the images you create, is it in the intricate manual process, is it the exclusiveness of the rare breed to which you belong, is it that you don’t get what you want any other way (ie. with MF/35mm etc.) or is it in the owning and using of such classic and beautiful equipment etc.? In other words, what is it most about large format photography that makes you go to all that trouble?
    Yes.

    (Actually, it is mostly image management--the ability to control what is and is not sharp, and what is and is not parallel. And the abundant image quality, even with smaller prints, though it makes no less demand on technique. And the ability to get those outcomes using affordable equipment.)

    2. Secondly – given the amount of time and effort required to produce a single frame in LF, do you find that you value your work in different ways to the outputs of more conventional (and convenient) approaches (ie. 35mm)?
    I wish. The tendency is to do so, but the cold, hard self-editing eye is no less demanding of the large-format stuff just because it was hard to make. Outcome: One must have a high tolerance for disappointment, tempered by elation with it all works well and represents a vision worth achieving.

    3. What are the main (perhaps “artistic”) lessons you have taken from LF which you have been able to apply elsewhere?
    Learn to see the scene as a photograph, not as a scene. I'm still working on that one, but then I've only been at it for 35 years.

    4. What do you do with your images? Do you feel the need to print them all at vast sizes so you can “walk into” the details, do you archive the negs/trannies and enjoy them in private with the light-box – marvelling at the detail with your 4x loupe, do you precision scan them and store them digitally (I think 4x5 @ 4,000dpi is about 320 Mpixels, yes?)?
    I print at the largest size my printer will accommodate, which is 16x20. That is barely big enough, or maybe not big enough, to really show off what large-format can do. But a 4x enlargement makes it much easier to get the desired results than a 17x enlargement.

    The sense of endless detail is fundamentally important to me. I do not want that sense to be violated no matter how closely the print is inspected. Again, that's much easier to achieve at 4x than at 17x.

    5. Finally, what do your images do to you?
    Disappoint me, usually. Fill me with joy, often enough to keep doing it. Generally, though, I give up early with a disappointing image--putting hours into it usually won't make it better. Occasionally, I'll come back to it and see something I missed earlier, but usually it's the other way around. And I've learned that the stuff that fills me with joy often leaves others cold. But my results are mine and mine alone, and I like being in control of the process, so that if it turns out well, I can actually claim some credit for it.

    Rick "by the way, welcome" Denney

  7. #7
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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    Welcome; do tell us what styles interest you if you get around to asking for camera/lens suggestions.

    1. I like to think I have some tastes/loves that transcend time. In photography, this means chasing something other than the newest shiny camera or flash in the pan fad/style. In LF, it's high quality, but I mostly shoot soft focus or triplets or tessars; something mocked by the contemporary technology fans, but I'm after smoothness and styles that were popular from 1900-1930's. No better way in my opinion than to use original tools (cameras and lenses) when practical. I'm not nostalgic; my parents weren't even around then.

    2. I don't value it more; I like some of my 6x6 stuff as much or more than LF, not because of the size, but because of the image. Either is of sufficient quality to meet my needs. It's sort of like gambling with higher stakes sometimes. I can really dislike something when I spent big bucks on an 8x10 sheet of film and it was a total flop, like when your bucket of change runs out at the slot machine and you have wasted time and no money to show for it. But I do things with LF that I can't do with MF or digital and when they are done well, I am very pleased.

    3. It takes time to setup a tripod and camera, and scope the scene out. That sort of requirement of awareness and thinking ahead is helpful regardless of the camera; it's just more often required with LF. The thin DOF also makes me think more about visual layers and depth of field and making 3d scenes into 2d images to a greater extent than miniature formats require.

    4. I'm not into details, so I don't print them much or big. I'm more into tones and mood/feelings, and sometimes details are needed to show that, sometimes not. I would like to print more, but I honestly get behind even contact printing them. I mostly scan a few decent ones, and the rest wait in pages to be contact printed or enlarged if I have time for a special image once in a while. Probably 90% of what I like never gets printed. Photography is more about the seeing and learning than being a caffeine fueled print producing machine. If I didn't have to work for a living, I'd be inclined to spend more rainy days printing in the darkroom, and more decent days out shooting.

  8. #8

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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    Welcome aboard!
    1. All the above, plus the sensation of being quite literally "hands on."
    2. Yes.
    3. Never, ever be dependent on batteries. I'd die before consenting to get a pacemaker (not the Graphic one!)
    4. Share the really good ones---never on the internet though. If the image is something I enjoy, I figure others will enjoy it too. Bringing happiness to others is important.
    5. Take me back to the time they were taken, sort of like time travel.
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  9. #9

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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    ... but I am a man in great need of help!

    I think you just described all of us except for the few female members!


    1. For me it's both the process and the result. I agree with Brian about looking at that big 8x10 ground glass.

    2. The only 35mm I shoot is a Stereo Realist which I shoot for kicks. I shoot digital for sports, ebay and snapshots. The sport shots can be really satisfying in a different way. I also own a Hasselblad and those images can be just as satisfying. I shoot it hand held. Anything on a tripod I would rather use 4x5 or 8x10. So I guess to answer your question would be to say that smaller formats can be just as satisfying. Each format has it's place.

    3. To spend more time on each individual photograph. By slowing things down I find I get more keepers. Of course this does not apply to shooting sports. Shooting at 5 frames per second on my Nikon D300 does have it's place.

    4. I own an Epson V750 flat bed scanner so I can scan up to 8x10. I don't do my own printing and the largest that I have had a couple printed is 16x20 so far. I have a small house so I don't have a lot of wall space. One of these days I'll get a negative drum scanned and go really big.

    5.My wife half kidding says it's a sickness. Did you notice I said half kidding? Does that answer your question?

  10. #10
    DavidE
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    Re: Hello and some questions - from an almost converted LF photographer in Sydney

    Many thanks for your generous responses. I'm humbled that you guys have gone to so much trouble and am becoming more and more comfortable with the notion of progressing into this wonderful field.

    What I'm reading and sensing is exactly what I think I'm looking for, and that is a move towards more emotive and thoughtful (some might say "Zen") photography. The slower pace is very appealing to me, the necessity to dedicate one's self to an image for a significant time period and the commitment required to bring it all together, before - during and after the actual capture. These are aspects of my photography that in honesty I have allowed to erode with my highly convenient digital gear (D700). With young children, of course the D700 has its place but as has been said above, there are often times where I will shoot something in a beautiful and wild remote part of Australia, wishing I had a more appropriate tool (such as a 6x17).

    What did initially surprise me is that some of you have said that you're not detail junkies (but in far more eloquent terms of course). Perhaps this is due to me having spent so many years in the digital world where pixel count takes up a lot of bandwidth and far less conversation around tone and emotion takes place. I will reflect on that one - my presumption was that image detail and quality would be more of an incentive than it appears to be. There is something quite refreshing in that.

    In the next week or so I have the opportunity to head out with both an 8x10 and a 6x17 and a few experts in the field to have my first experience. So I think that format will be the next question - 4x5 or 6x17 potentially. Given a love of the natural world and opportunities to travel to remote places (we do a lot of long distance 4wd camping), landscape opportunities are just begging for large format!

    Anyway, enough about me. Many thanks folks and no doubt the coming weeks will be exciting as I decide on directions and equipment. I look forward to becoming a member of this reflective community.

    Many regards,
    David

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