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Thread: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2008

    8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    Hello, this is my intro.

    I'm crawling out of the advertising woodwork to add my bit on LF photography. There was another side to LF. Forget Yellowstone, great names and cherry-wood. In the beginning there was the process printer. He had to take your transparency, mask it, shoot the separations, mask again (in register) and contact print the plates. Better 8x10 than 6x6. So advertising campaigns were shot on 8x10

    In the sixties, where I began, the ad agencies, JWT, McCann, Y&R, Ogilvy and others bought their way into Europe. Food and soap powder which previously was sold out of the sack by weight was starting to be sold in boxes with brand names. Ok, I am generalising, but here goes. The agencies came in with english-speaking Creative Directors who liked things done the way things were done in NY and London. Things were done on 8x10. It kind of separated the men from the boys.

    The agencies had another reason for requiring 8x10 - the all-important Client Presentation. Again, forget definition, tonal range, art. The transparency was mounted in a large black passpartout and held up to the window by an Account Executive. It had prestige. Anything smaller than 8x10 couldn't make it. Sometimes the trannies were sent off to London to make dye-transfers for retouching and more was spent on post-production than on the shoot.

    An Art Director wouldn't look at your portfolio if it wasn't in 8x10. When he did look, he held the trannies up to the window too. (ADs did use a light box; after the shoot, with a loupe, for nit-picking) In forty years I never got to shoot a colour negative. The system started to colapse in the eighties when Art Kane turned up with 35mm kodachromes.

    So the first step to becoming a photographer in advertising was getting the big camera and the gear to hold it up: big head, big tripod, big lens and big lights. Happily there was no big polaroid in those days. Polaroid is for nit-pickers.

    Despite David Ogilvy, it became the fashion in the 70's to position headline, body-copy and pack-shot inside the photograph itself. When the art-director had his way, his layout was sketched onto the ground-glass with a grease pencil. It was then left to the photographer to fill in the empty spaces with subject matter. That often involved a good deal of shift (needed a monorail) and acres of background. Even on location the set might be lit for white headlines over black body-copy.

    Getting back to gear. My first camera was a Burke & James which needed two tripods to keep it steady (the 300mm lens was also a mistake). Steadiness was vital because the shutter was always on bulb and the lens stopped right down. At f45 you barely get focus on a bottle and the plate of food in front of it.
    Forget the 'Depth of Field Scheimpflug Calculator' - nothing in advertising is on one plane alone - there is always a vertical and a horizontal and a compromise. We bent (compromised) all subject matter to fit within the limitations of 8x10. The format is about right for cars and unbeatable on location with plenty of distance, but we shot everything, from watches to ballrooms in 8x10.

    I've sat in the dark triggering flash sixty-four times to reach f45. Vibration from passing trams was a problem. We were doing "Natural Light" in the seventies and my window-light was eating up four stops. If you, the reader, are thinking tungsten, think of reciprocity, drooping vegetables, melting margarine, buckling persplex and packs of cc filters. Now I can afford 20,000ws of flash in a 2x3 window-light which givs me one bang at f.64 - nice for shooting steaming coffee. But it is too late, digital has spoilt the fun.

    4x5 was for pack-shots, the products at the bottom of the page next to the body-copy. Product Managers would grumble at the small size and produce a loupe to check the label (yes, they carried a loupe to presentations).

    Then there was 5x7, 13x18cm over here. It was like there was some sort of class prejudice. 13x18 was for commercial photography, furniture, kitchen catalogs. They shot negative colour film and sold prints for salesman portfolios. 8x10 and 4x5 was ok, 13x18 was not ok. We would have been a bit ashamed to bring a 13x18 into an agency.

    Things change and I grew up. I tried a Technika 13x18 in 1982 and thought what the hell and never looked back. For the next two decades I made a career out of 13x18, doing traditional still-life - my way, orthogonal and all in focus. The format is a perfect match for table-top. 13x18 got me a couple of Art Directors Club golds and a Clio. I didn't need more than limited movement and an 180mm lens. Also - no polaroid, no problem. The Linhof was too heavy to carry around outdoors so I build a half-plate box for landscape. See it here:

    My humble advice to first-time large-formatters is - You don't need big contortions. You do need to be sure the front end is square on. (Have a look at a 'Non Folding Field Camera'). Use just one lens, no longer than the width of the film. Get the back-end plumb square, raise and drop the front at will, but tilt it hardly at all. Scheimpflug is for the birds.

    Things change and I've grown up still more, and now I want things simpler. So I'm back to using 8x10 (Gandolfi) because it's big enough to contact print and I'm thinking definition, tonal range, art. It's a creative choice. All the rest is digital.
    Last edited by cjbroadbent; 6-Jun-2008 at 10:24.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    Sound advice, Christopher. Welcome aboard from sunny California
    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.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jan 2007

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    Hello and Welcome!

    Your intro was good reading. Thanks.


  4. #4

    Join Date
    Dec 2007

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    Nice intro and welcome - I could'nt agree with you more - as one who shot some tabletop advertising years ago and who now shoots landscapes and such for fun, your assesments are right on. It's funny looking at ads for view cameras to see all the contortions they are shown in. In reality, in the field, a few degrees of adjustment are all that is generally needed the vast majority of the time.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Whittier, CA

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice


  6. #6
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    Welcome. Great intro!

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    I don't usually read intros, I figure we get to know people as they post if they stick around and aren't here just to sell their gear. But I started reading yours and couldn't stop, the history was really interesting. Thanks and welcome.
    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.

  8. #8
    All metric sizes to 24x30 Ole Tjugen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    The only thing I could possibly disagree with is that you claim a 13x18cm Technika is "too heavy to carry around outdoors".

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    What a great post!
    The only addendum I'd made is to notice that in the US, at least, a lot of color was shot with 5x7 3-color separaton cameras like the National and Curtis, by such men as Paul Outerbridge(sp).
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: 8x10 Was Not a Creative Choice

    Great advice and thanks for sharing the LF advertising insiders view.

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