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Thread: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

  1. #1

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    How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    First off, apologies if this is a less than optimal choice of forum. I scanned all the forum titles and, at least to me, there wasn't an obviously better choice of forum in which to post. Again, apologies to any mods who might be forced to move this post.

    Basically, here is my situation - I have, for a couple of years, shot MF/enlarged MF negatives, but I have never done so with (for lack of a better word) much science. In other words, I never bothered to measure my personal film speed, instead favoring just half box speed. I never figured out what it took to make a proper proof, instead just making ad hoc test strips each time I went to print. It works, but it seems a bit sloppy and like you are always fighting against variables in your process, instead of controlling them as a matter of intent.

    Fast forward a bit...I have long wanted to try LF and having found a mentor locally, I proceeded to acquire most of kit (8x10). The person I was relying on to be that mentor is now effectively unavailable, leaving me without anyone I know as a resource to help me through this journey, which begs my core question: how many of you taught yourself LF photography and, more generally, is it possible to be self-taught and to master some of the more demanding science behind the medium?

    Some of you will scoff and say, "of course it is, for so long as you have the desire" - I realize that, in the abstract, given enough time and energy almost anyone can learn anything. That is not really what I am asking. I am asking, as a practical matter, with little to no guidance, other than from the internet, is it practical to basically go from zero knowledge about LF to being able to measure personal film speed, learn to develop LF negatives at home, etc.?

    Another, admittedly somewhat unrelated question - the person on whom I was relying had a darkroom that I was set to use. Not having the darkroom poses an independent conundrum. Is it truly possible to do contact prints just using an overhead lamp? I am used to doing things like split-filter printing and am wondering what all the difference in look will be if I just contact print 8x10 using an overhead lamp.

    Thanks in advance for any answers to my myriad of questions. And, obviously, if you live in the eastern half of MA or southern ME or NH and are looking for a mentee...

    -M

  2. #2
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    Basic answer is yes. You can teach yourself the basics thru books, videos and help from here.

    To "master" any part of the process is a different story -- that just takes thought, time (a few decades) and work.

    I have been photographing with LF for almost 40 years -- never tested film for "personal film speed". It would be a waste of time for me. It is important to some folks, though. I just kept notes and changed variables until I got the prints I wanted. I guess it will be as demanding as you want to make it.

    One lamp will work fine.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

  3. #3

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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    You might want to look into the Large Format Workshop (9/28-10/1) put on by Richard Ritter and David Speltz at Camera Commons in Dover, NH. I went last year and thought it was very useful. Although I had some experience, the class was small and I got plenty of individual attention to clarify some things and focus on some of the finer points. Both Richard and David are knowledgeable and accessible. They'll get you started down the right path, and then it is just practice, practice, practice.

    Camera Commons also has two fully equipped darkrooms to rent, and my guess is it is only about an hour away from you. You might want to think about developing at home using something like the Stearman Press SP-445 developing tank, which I recommend, and then visiting a darkroom when you have several negatives to print. I like 4x5 contact prints. I think they can be exquisite, but inevitably you will want to make some large prints.

    As for "the more demanding science", you can make it as difficult as you want, but really need not do so. It is really pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it.
    Last edited by faberryman; 6-Sep-2017 at 12:02.

  4. #4
    Hack Pawlowski6132's Avatar
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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    YouTube is your friend!

    Ilford makes 30cm x 30cm filters you can use for contact printing.

    Forget film testing to start. Just use the recommended ISO.

    I've found LF is easy to learn, difficult to master. Certainly difficult to master all aspects:

    Camera movements
    Print toning
    Acquiring the right equipment for the right job
    etc.

  5. #5

    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    Yes, it is possible to teach yourself. The good thing about large format is it is very basic in concept and logical in process. While at times you may have to think more compared with automated 35mm for example, because everything is manual in LF, it is easier to remember and get into the rythym of using, as opposed to all those buttons and dials on 35mm DSLR's. Indeed, for me, large format was easier to learn than 35mm or medium format, it's just a slower more methodical process.

    I'm self-taught, mostly from a few decent books, and very occasionally from the internet on specific points (be warned, the internet contains a lot of rubbish regarding large format although there are some good websites run by individuals that provide a basic run-down of operation including film processing).

    There are a number of books that are very useful to have, and you'll only need to have two or three at most to ensure you have a working knowledge; some are out-of-print and scarce second-hand but some of these can be found as pdf's on the interweb if looked for in the right place, or browse the local library.

    Regarding contact prints. Yes, it is essentially a very simple operation. You just need to take care in your procedures and use the correct (or rather suitable) tools (a 40 watt bulb as an overhead lamp will do the job, sort off, but there are much more appropriate light sources to use which are not expensive or difficult to acquire). People who regularly contact print will provide less vague info' than me.

  6. #6
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    I'm self-taught in LF. One of the major attractions of the zone system, is that it made it easier to learn photography from books, without having someone to tell you what a good negative looks like.

  7. #7
    Joe O'Hara's Avatar
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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    Of course you can. In the early 19th century, all cameras were large format, contact prints (or daguerrotypes) were all there were, there
    were no schools to go to, and there was hardly any dependable information in the public domain. Didn't slow them down too much.

    Mastering movements is easy: Just look at the groundglass to see how they affect the image. You will quickly develop facility
    with this, and may eventually find the limitations that most MF cameras have in this connection to be frustrating.

    Modern materials are consistent and easy to use. You are unlikely to poison yourself or others with the silver-gelatin process.
    Let your work be your teacher. Refinements and specializations can come later.

    Needless to say there is lots of good information to be found in this Forum.
    Where are we going?
    And why are we in this handbasket?


    www.josephoharaphotography.com

  8. #8

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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    I think of myself as 90% self-taught, but if you take away the books I've read and the college classes I've taken, I'm really only 10% self-taught. The books and classes point you in certain directions, but YOU have to do the actual work. So, am I self-taught if I've read a book? Got direction from a mentor/brother-in-law/Internet Forum? Took a class? Or D: All of the above?

    As with many things in life you can choose from three paths -- easy, rough, or rugged. In photography, no matter which you prefer to try, you will get a million opinions on how to "travel" the road you have chosen. The best photography book I ever read was "Controls in Black & White Photography" by Richard Henry. He basically says, "Don't believe ANYTHING that anyone tells you. Test it yourself!" And that includes the words from the "Masters". His book shows you how to "test it yourself" -- and you can do that to whatever extent you want or can -- easy, rough, or rugged.

  9. #9

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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    Quote Originally Posted by MaximumFu View Post
    I am asking, as a practical matter, with little to no guidance, other than from the internet, is it practical to basically go from zero knowledge about LF to being able to measure personal film speed, learn to develop LF negatives at home, etc.?
    You can definitely learn LF camera work and darkroom work on your own. Most of it will come down to learning a few basics, a lot of practice, and solving specific problems along the way. It would help to use a good book on LF camera technique as a guide, and try not to feel overwhelmed at the beginning.

    Generally speaking, I would use the internet sparingly when it comes to the darkroom side of things (film, processing, printing) because while there's some good info on the internet, there's also a lot of bad information. "Personal film speed" is an example of the latter (most books get it wrong too).

    Quote Originally Posted by MaximumFu View Post
    Another, admittedly somewhat unrelated question - the person on whom I was relying had a darkroom that I was set to use. Not having the darkroom poses an independent conundrum. Is it truly possible to do contact prints just using an overhead lamp? I am used to doing things like split-filter printing and am wondering what all the difference in look will be if I just contact print 8x10 using an overhead lamp.
    Yes, you can contact print using an overhead lamp, however variable contrast techniques such as split filtering would be very difficult/clumsy to use with just an overhead lamp. I'm sure one could rig up some way of doing it, but you're way better off just getting an enlarger to use as a light source for 8x10 contact printing. Enlargers can be had for peanuts these days, and if you're only using it for contact printing you really only need a small one.

  10. #10

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    Re: How many of you are self-taught (in LF)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael R View Post
    ..."Personal film speed" is an example of the latter (most books get it wrong too).
    Can you elaborate? And apologies if I am playing a role in cargo-culting bad information on the internet. :

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