View Full Version : LF landscape photography NOT a contemplative activity

QT Luong
29-Oct-2003, 14:46
One often reads that shooting landscape with the large format camera is a wonderfully contemplative activity, and that this style leads to images that one doesn't make with smaller formats. In fact, I've even written it myself in the past.

I've changed my mind about that, and as far as I am concerned, I find that using LF for landscape is actually much more stressing that using smaller formats. Many of the great color landscape shots are made during the short "golden hours". The light changes are extremely fast and dramatic. I find myself rushing to set up the LF camera, focussing, metering, while with the small camera I would already have the picture in the box and could relax a bit and enjoy the moment. There is so much which can go wrong with LF that one needs the utmost concentration. Mistakes are very frustrating. If I discover a better composition with the small camera, it is just a quick matter to make another exposure, and then move on. With the LF camera, it's another 10-15 minutes, while the light is changing. In addition, being often greedy enough to want to shoot a certain "quota" of images during the day, I find that I really have to rush all the time and move fast between the shots, because each of them takes such a long time.

I recognize that if you were just looking for patterns, especially in B&W, you could take all your time, but with pictures which involve interaction of landscape and light, that's just not the case, and I find using LF is certainly not contemplative. What do you think ?

David A. Goldfarb
29-Oct-2003, 14:52
I see where you're coming from. When the light is moving fast and you're waiting for the wind to die down or the people to pass or the clouds to move, there really are decisive moments in landscape work and in architecture as well.

On the other hand I often try to set up and compose before the light is there, and wait for the light. Sometimes I'll revisit a site and each successive photograph becomes a kind of a "draft" toward the final version. I don't impose quotas on myself. If I don't see an interesting shot, I don't shoot just for the sake of doing so. This part is more contemplative.

QT Luong
29-Oct-2003, 15:16
David, the problem is not the lack of interesting shots, but rather their abundance. I also don't shoot in LF if I don't see something which really interests me (I have a 35mm for the "stock" shots). But more often than not, I come across compositions that I like, even in mid-day light. While you are getting ready for this shot before the light gets there, there is most likely another shot that you could make for which the light is already good. The only exception to that is when it's dark a dawn, but then it is really difficult to focus or compose well on the ground glass, and often when the light comes you find that you can focus or compose better, so that you end up fiddling again with your controls while the light is changing.

Walter Glover
29-Oct-2003, 15:23
Excellent proposition and probably long overdue.

Is LF landscape contemplative? It can be and for that matter so can smaller formats be contemplative. Admittedly being presented with a ground-glass like a roadside television does prove to be something of distraction but there is no real reason why a meditative and contemplative approach can't be taken with any format no matter what size the view finder.

My fervent belief is that the greatest personal asset that a photographer can bring to any task is FLUENCY. To be fluent with the operation of one's kit, to be fluent with the characteristics of one's materials and, perhaps most importantly, to be fluent with one's own objectives, attitudes and responsibilities.

The constraints of budget may prevent the LF worker from generating as many variations of a situation as a 35mm shooter. But consider also the limitations of something as elementary as exposure time. Shooting during the 'blink' is a demanding pursuit at the best of times. Here in Sydney the latitude dictates that the blink is very short and changes are rapid, if I were to be lucky enough to be shooting in the Orkney Islands at the top of Scotland the blink may last some hours. Being prepared and doing some of your contemplation BEFORE the event can be of considerable benefit I feel - irrespectiuve of format. Just lately I have been assigned to shoot streetscapes at dusk of a building under construction so that post production artists can montage CAD renderings of proposed retail facilities to generate lease agreements. The client wonders why I can only shoot ONE vantage point per night but understands that at f22 I must have the shutter open anything up to two minutes it becomes a simply matter of how many times does two minutes fall into 20 minutes, particularly when large vehicles like buses are to be avoided. On 35mm shooting at say f5.6 those exposure times would be significently shorter but the huge bill-board and poster reproductions the client eventually requires might not be as adequately served.

On another occasion I found a wonderful shot of a new office tower which was only achievable in pre-dawn glow. The client wanted two originals of the shot. The exposure was 20 minutes and at the end of that time the light had changed and was no longer appealing so, a trip back to the site at 04:30 each day for 4 days. (I wanted copies for myself also!)

At the end of the day it is generally the subject and the desired rendering or portrayal of it that dictates the terms, the format and the technique. Just as it is essential to become familiar with equipment and materials in the interest of hasty yet reliable function, so too is it necessary to develop the skils of prompt contemplation - to read and decypher what it is that a scene has to offer and react sympathetically to those stimulii with the greatest economy of time. Solitude, empathy and connection with the situation and the motif I find all improve my ability to respond and react to subtle and sublime elements of a desired scene and the capture aparatus simply becomes the conduit to make my idea into a tangible artefact.

On another tangent I have seen all too often where the fruits of extended contemplation by both myself and others has, in effect, over-cooked the stew.

Brian Vuillemenot
29-Oct-2003, 15:26
Interesting post. I find that I am most productive when I arrive at a happy medium between contemplation and rushing. During the brief periods of great light, my mind races with numerous ideas for compositions. In my haste to get as many as possible, I sometimes find that I am working too fast, and am getting somewhat sloppy with my technique. I have to slow myself down, and just concentrate on a few compositions. If I get one decent transparency out of each session, I think I'm doing pretty well. Sure, you can get a lot more with a smaller camera, but I think a nice 4X5 is worth dozens of 35 mm slides. If you get too greedy, and try to get more large format images than you can in a short amount of time, it will probably backfire, and the quality will suffer. Just my 2 cents.

Rob Barker
29-Oct-2003, 15:50
You have hit the nail on the head Tuan.

It doesn't have to be that way, of course. We could all recce all of our locations prior to carrying a camera there. We could check the sunrise time and be there with a headtorch and half an hour to spare. But it never quite works out like that, does it?

However organised I try to be, I always end up putting myself under pressure to get set up, nail the exposure and get the shot.

I think that tranny film is partly to blame. When I used to use FP4 in my old Hasselblad it didn't matter what the exposure was as long as it was 0-2 stops overexposed, so there was a fairly big target to aim at. Now that I use Velvia, I am painfully aware that I need to hit the bullseye within 1/3 of a stop or it's curtains.

I took a Fuji S2 digital SLR out on a recce of a new location the other day. I visualised some great shots and planned an early morning return when the light was just right. Blow me, though, if the digi didn't come back with some stunners, readily photoshoppable into dawn-alikes.

The thing that struck me, though, was that I had gained absolutely no satisfaction whatsoever in producing those digital images.

The killer thing about LF photography is that I, as the photgrapher, gain an immense amount of pride in arriving at the final image. There is a far greater sense of involvement in producing the image and there is far more "me" in it than is ever the case with a small format camera, particularly an automated one.

Stick with it Tuan. The National Park project shots are stunning! :-)

Francis Abad
29-Oct-2003, 15:52
I find I make better compositions with a groundglass than a viewfinder. In addition, as far as success rates go (negatives I print as a percentage of total exposed), mine are the same whether I shoot 35mm or 8x10, colour or b&w. The difference for me is that with the 8x10 I feel like I am experiencing the scene as opposed to just being a passerby with a motor drive.

As regards light conditions (in Sweden), I find myself exposing more during mid-afternoon than right after sunrise or just around sunset.

Paul Metcalf
29-Oct-2003, 16:01
I'm so glad to see another qualified photographer make these statements that I've forwarded them on to my wife. She's had to endure my frustrations as I chase extraordinary light around only to have the best image disappear right before I relase the shutter. Funny, you don't read about this much in any of the master's writings, but it has to have happened to them. I think David's approach is the best solution, but that means you have to have an image pre-visualized prior to the light getting sweet, and you have to remain committed to that image's composition, etc. throughout the sweet light. This is tough to do, a lot of times the best light pops up in a different direction and the composition I have on my ground glass goes pathetically flat lightwise. If I'm by my car or I've convinced my wife that it's in her best interest to carry my 35mm gear, I'll have that set up along with the LF equipment and ready to fire off really quick changing scenes while I wait for the one scene composed with my LF equipment to emerge. Then I go drink to calm my nerves (wife drives!).

29-Oct-2003, 16:35
Isn't "great color landscape shots" an oximoron? There are a lot of good ones, but I can't think of a single "great" one. Not even from Ernst Haas or David Muench.

Jorge Gasteazoro
29-Oct-2003, 17:04
I dont know Tuan, perhaps you are suffering from the "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome. Sure at times I have had the same conundrum, should I wait for the light or move on? In my home town, being semi desertic and the sierra not overpopulated and with little industry I get azure blue skies, in rainy season I get the same deep blue skies with very dramataic cluds, I have a choice to visit only one of about 5 or 6 favorite places, and sometimes making the desicion where to go is a crap shoot.

I think you are stressing about the "what ifs" and "maybe if". WHat if I wait, what if I move on, maybe I should take this other pic, etc, etc...

If I am at a place I can revisit at a later date, and I find myself in the "fast" light situation, by all means I try to take the shot, but I write down the settings and go back earlier the next time.

Many a time I have waited for the light for hours (dont worry I wont be putting "waiting for the light" in my phtographs) , in fact I have made it a point to bring a book with me and pack a nice lunch. SOme of the best times I have had was doing this and still the shot was awful.

Another thing is the perceived notion that we have to get "the shot" every time we go out, specially if we are under time constraints due to work pressures.

I used to feel like you do, every time I went out it was anything but relaxing, until I realized that all those presures were created by me. Now I have changed my entire outlook, I dont stress any more by the what ifs, I dont second guess mayself anymore or wonder if I was at a different place ro time if the phtograph would be better. I dont feel anymore I have to get "the" shot anylinger, if I do, great! if I dont...well it was good practice..

The result has been that I now photograph a lot more, I enjoy it a hole lot more and funnily enough my photography has improved. I now concentrate on the moment and the photograph at hand, I no longer worry about what or where else I could be photographing, and most importantly I no longer worry about making a mistake. I dont know if you are old enough to remember the popular "zen" books written in the late 70's and early 80's, like "zen in motorcycle repair" or "zen in the martial arts" etc, but I have found a similar situation with photography, the more you worry about the mistakes, the more mistakes you make, the more you worry about msising the light, the more you do miss it...the more you worry about dust in your holders, you get what looks like dust storms in your negatives....:-)

I am not saying I have become careless, I am still compulsive about cleaning my holders, or taking the best photograph, I am only saying I have learned not to stress about the things I have no power to change......

COMMING SOON..."Zen in photography" at your nearest B&N....lol..just kidding..

Michael Kadillak
29-Oct-2003, 17:11
There is no question that it can be a highly frustrating experience but I disagree with your conclusion. Reality #1 - logistics are such that you cannot be everywhere where the light decides to dance in its special way at the same time. Reality #2 - as David said, do the prep work and set up before the critical period and wait. The more time that you allocate to the endevour, the better your odds of success however one defines it. Reality #3 - the big names in landscape photography (Meunch, Dykinga etc) are in the field over 250 days a year. For those of us with families and real jobs such that we cannot "check out" for such an extended period, we need to imploy a much different prospecting system that mandates a more systematic approach to the process of covering a defined area and possibly coming back a number of times to get it in the right light because after all, the light is everything.

When success can be optimally defined as 4-6 high quality large format images in a years time, rather than get all whacked out running in six directions trying to capture something meaningful when clearly the rapidly changing circumstances are working against you, try just sitting down and enjoying nature at its finest. There is always another day to take to the field. As was said many times before - Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

Bruce E. Rathbun
29-Oct-2003, 17:26
There is also the flip side of the coin. There must no doubt be the added frustration with LF color work. With chromes it is either hit of miss. My experience has been working with black and white. Added to the fact that an ideal image for me may be the side of a beat up old barn or a detailed shot of a rusted door. In this case the light I seek is good old diffused behind the clouds light.

It is for the exact reasons that started this most interesting post that I enjoy diffused light in the first place. Many detailed subject matter drive the need for that type of light. I can remember the feeling of victory when in the Yellowstone area 5 years ago. Two weeks of perfect late spring light for over 10 days. The light was perfect. I could not have managed to take a bad shot. Or so I thought. My beat up old Deardorff had other ideas. A tiny hole in my front standard had ruined all of my 80 negatives. I was devastated for an entire year.

After a year of thinking I decided I had missed the entire point of large format. At that point I turned around my style and decided that a direction of fine art was more in order.

With new found inspiration I attacked subject matter that was within an hours drive. I even forced myself to take walks or drives with no camera to look closer. The first negative revealed that I had made the right decision. By focusing on my own back yard I found subject matter that could be captured in just about any lighting with much less pressure.

The next year I took my new 8x10 on vacation and for the first time I was not stressed about capturing an image. I actually enjoyed the images that I made.

The point that I am driving home is that when we treat a vacation or a road trip with the intent to bring home xx amount of killer images this is when we are the most likely to fail. The increased pressure to justify the larger camera can in fact lead to the death of the very camera we love. Just more of my thoughts.

Andre Noble
29-Oct-2003, 17:30
Actually, QT, one's perspective may depend how close your are to equator when shooting at twilight. You'll have noticeqbly more time at good light in the more northern hemispheres compared to shooting in the south, closer to equator.

But in general, I agree somewhat when comparing LF with medium format.

D. Kevin Gibson
29-Oct-2003, 17:34
"Isn't "great color landscape shots" an oximoron? There are a lot of good ones, but I can't think of a single "great" "

And what, pray tell, would class as a "great" landscape photograph "not in color" (and please don't even think of Ansel Adams...) It would be hard to place Meunch or Haas seriously in the top ten color photographers (in your words, they are good but not great), so I'm guessing you haven't looked at much color work?

(yes, I know, don't feed the trolls...)

Michael A.Smith
29-Oct-2003, 17:41
Well, I'll take an opposite position to most everyone. I recommend that photographing should be a process of discovery--not a question of confirmirming what you already know. So, almost never do I plan ahead of time what or where I will photograph. I try to be always alert--I find I can never tell when or exactly where I will want to make a photograph and I usually find them in the most unexpected places.

Another thing. The photograph is not all that important. I consider it a bonus. The point, as I see it, of making photographs is to have a deep experience, to learn something new, and to grow. As a result, the fine photographs will follow. Always.

I have never waited for the light to be "right," because if the light were not right I wouldn't see what captures my attention in the first place.

If you are doing a commercial job, the above does not apply. You must be there when the light is right, and you must get the picture. You cannot consider it a bonus.

But if your aim is making a work of art, then relax, have fun, take your time, be as contemplative as you want to be.

You do have a choice about this. It is never the format that determines the state of your calmness and contemplativeness.

Paul Butzi
29-Oct-2003, 17:56
Tuan writes "If I discover a better composition with the small camera, it is just a quick matter to make another exposure, and then move on. With the LF camera, it's another 10-15 minutes, while the light is changing."

I would certainly agree with the whole idea of questioning the 'contemplative' line. I, too, accepted (and embraced) the idea of a slower, more methodical, more contemplative style of photography when I switched to LF.

And, for years, I put up with the meager photographic output that I got when I exposed just a few sheets of film per day. I felt my photography was going nowhere and very slowly.

Then, on one trip to the Olympic Peninsula, I decided to chuck all that stuff, just as an experiment. My goal on that trip was to return with the largest possible pile of exposed film - and screw the whole 'tuning' the image thing. If I saw three compositional possiblities, I would expose film on all three. No longer would I spend countless minutes with painstaking focus, agonizing over zone placement, etc. Instead, I'd set up the camera, make the darn exposure, and then move on. If I botched the focus, well, tough.

Before the trip I did a little practice. At the end of the practice, I could set up the camera and make an exposure in about a minute.

On that trip, in one morning, I exposed over 50 sheets of film. Lesson number one was to put more than 50 sheets into the pack when hiking in. My goal was to set up the camera and make an exposure whenever I found something interesting. No 'editting' at exposure time. My goal was to get over the threshold where you look at something and ask yourself the question "is it worth spending 15 minutes on this?". With practice, that question becomes 'Is it worth spending 2 minutes on this?' Trust me, you'll capture far more interesting photographs when the threshold is set at two minutes than when it's set at 15 minutes, not to mention better results in fleeting lighting.

Now for the bottom line - I got several great shots from that trip - more than any other trip to that point. I got lots and lots of shots ranging from 'really good' down to 'darn good'. On top of that, I got perhaps half a dozen 'what the heck was I thinking' images.

I say forget the whole 'contemplative' thing. Practice ruthlessly with your gear to the point where you can set up, expose, and tear down in minimum time. You don't have to always make exposures in a rush but the practice will mean that most of the time you *aren't* rushing. Assess your gear for how efficient it is. If your meter is too fiddly and it takes more than a few seconds to make an exposure decision, ditch the meter on Ebay and buy a simpler one. At least for B&W work, exposure boils down to a simple decision and a fast way to mark the film for your development choice. I have labels pre-printed with 'N', 'N-1', 'N+1' etc which I just slap on the readyloads. I don't fill out lengthy exposure records, take careful notes, or any of that stuff anymore.

And the real bottom line is this: on those trips where I have practiced and can make exposures quickly, I come back with more images, and better images. On those trips, I have more fun, I feel more satisfaction, and often I find myself swept up in a 'flow' which is really gratifying. None of that would happen if I continued to take 15 minutes to set up each exposure.

And yes, I certainly feel a twinge of envy when I go out photgraphing with a friend who uses Pentax 6x7. He can make exposures at about twice the rate I can. In turn, he envies the control I have with movements. It's all about tradeoffs and what you find works best for you.

Jay DeFehr
29-Oct-2003, 18:44
First off, I don't really photograph landscapes, but beyond that, I find myself philosophically and practically in agreement with Jorge and Michael and Paul. If photography was an exercise in frustration for me, I wouldn't do it. I am under no obligation to photograph, nor am I obliged to produce anything. I think that some people might be naturally competitive, or over acheivers when I read how they agonize over their photography and photographs. It makes me wonder why they bother with it. I enjoy every aspect of making a photograph, and the more I learn, the more I enjoy it. I've been told that I don't know anything about making a photograph by someone who ought to know, but I couldn't care less. I enjoy it, and my family appreciates having my photos for their albums and even walls.

Hans Berkhout
29-Oct-2003, 19:11
I don't think I contemplate, but |I think twice before I take off my back pack and set up my LF shebang. Once I have decided that I want the shot, the adrenaline gets going. Not an orgasm yet, but it comes to mind, I can do it in the dark. No time is lost and yes it's b&w.

After years of LF shooting I took my MLeicas on a 3 week trip to Provence and Tuscany; I returned home with only 8 exposed rolls of 36 shots, some were doubles. Almost 10 of these have now been published in travel mags.I have no doubt that my LF selective shooting approach is the reason that I did not end up with 2000 shots!

I should mention that I do this for fun, I am not a professional, this may make a difference. In any case, contemplation to me is spending a little time in deciding if it is worthwile to go through the trouble of setting up the camera and then again spend time developing, processing etc in the darkroom.

Most of my shooting happens as part of fairly strenuous hiking in the mountains, and I can carry only a limited amount of film: another reason to think/look before setting up and using that film. But yo know all about that!

David A. Goldfarb
29-Oct-2003, 20:07
Great discussion.

I don't necessarily think of "waiting for the light" as incompatible with the idea of "discovery," but rather as part of it. I have some ideas often about what the light might do, but the light will decide for itself what it will actually do, so watching that change in the light with a composition I have already framed, is a process of discovery for me as well. There are scenes I have photographed hundreds of times in different seasons, at different times of day, with different equipment and different films and in different states of mind. As the light changes, different elements of the composition come to the fore. This possibility to see how the changing light changes the world looks is one of the things I enjoy about photography.

Darin Cozine
29-Oct-2003, 20:48
per Wester online: Contemplative: (2) the act of considering with attention.

Per the straight definition of the term, one would think that LF would require more thought and attention. Howerever I agree with QT that it is not allways the case.

With LF there is certainly more to think about (movements). I find myself concentrating more on getting a shot perfect. I carefully check what is in focus with a loupe. I decide what kind of changes I want to make to the perspective and I adjust the movements in accordance. So I guess you could say I am more contemplative on a technicalities of a single exposure. I am a novice at LF, and only an amatuer photographer otherwise, so this may get easier in time.

However when I am using a camera hand-held (35mm or 6x6), I tend to spend more time walking around an area finding different viewpoints and trying different angles. Some of my better shots were taken leaning over a railing, laying on the ground, or climbng on rocks. So in this respect I am more contemplative using smaller formats.

Quang, perhaps you are confusing contemplation with creativity. I feel grounded when using LF and feel I can be more creative when using smaller cameras. I though it was just my unfamilliarity with LF but now this thread makes me think otherwise. It could just be that I have more to learn. I guess I have alot to contemplate =]

Bruce Watson
29-Oct-2003, 20:53
I think my definition of "contemplative" must be a little different from everyone elses'. But, that's sort of normal for me ;-)

Like Tuan, I also sometimes feel rushed. But rather than think about taking multiple photographs around the scene like I would with 35mm, I think contemplative to me means thinking about the scene and finding the one, best, position and angle for the shot and concentrating on that. Forget the alternatives. No matter what the light is doing, before I setup I always "walk the scene" to find that single best position for that single best shot. This is what contemplative means to me. It often puts me in a physiological flow condition.

After I find the right position, discipline takes over. I try to set up the same way every time as much as possible, so that I don't forget anything on the "check list." Methodical works for me, what can I say?

Perhaps it isn't contemplative for everyone. Perhaps that's the wrong word. I think that it is definitely slower, but while slower can be contemplative, it sure doesn't have to be.

Frank Petronio
29-Oct-2003, 22:16
Commercial photographers often work with assistants and multiple cameras. If I were in a situation where there were multiple "targets" all within a close area, I would have no qualms about setting up several cameras ahead of time and using assistants to manage the exposures. I'm sure Ansel used assistants for his Colorama photos, and I bet the two other people in his car when he did "Moonrise" probably handed him a film holder or loupe in his rush to get the shot. Certainly Avedon had assistants to meter the light and shove his film holders into his Deardorff for his American West portraits.

Fifteen minutes as an average time to get a large format photo seems awfully long to me, unless that includes unpacking a complex backpack of gear and setting up from scratch. Perhaps you could train yourself to reduce the "technical" time, if not the composition time. Some people leave a slight front tilt in place between shots. Others don't bracket but do three shots all the same exposure, then run one sheet as a test to determine processing (push/pull) for the others. Look at the details of your technique I hang a loupe around my neck, shove my spot meter into a holster, and will often pull my shirt over my head and around my camera's folding hood instead of hassling with a dark cloth. Owning less equipment (lenses) is always faster...

That said, I like Jorge's and Hogarth's posts best - search for the single best photo and remember to enjoy yourself.

For an exercise in frustration - err, an enjoyable experience - try making long time exposures with a Noblex in rapidly fading light. As it takes the camera two minutes to make an exposure equivilant to a few seconds and as the light fades faster than the camera can expose the film you end up chasing your tail by adding extra rotations to compensate for the fading light. Now I know why McDuff Everton photographs at Noon!

Thanks again for this great thread and forum. After making trouble on the Leica forum it is refreshing to come here and read intelligent posts.

John Kasaian
29-Oct-2003, 22:57
Interesting, I agree.

How much is contemplative and how much is intuitive? or me, there is more contemplation when composing on the ground glass---after all, everything is all cattywompus. There is a sense, more often than not,of urgency(especially if the family is in the car, or as Tuan said, the light is changing)niether relaxing or pleasant.

Last year, I revisited a small artesian spring where my sisters and I used to play when we were kids. I must have spent a couple of hours there just trying to figure out how I wanted to shoot the place, and probably just as long a time composing under the dark cloth and fiddeling with the movements (the authorities had posted several signs around the spring that needed "disappearing.") The place was well shaded and when I started loosing the light it became a real race, but the negative was very satisfying. This Christmas, my sisters will get prints.

OTOH, at times it is intuitive. Sometimes I spend more time setting up the tripod than composing on the ground glass and futzing around with movements which, if any are needed, seemed to be preordained when I first walked upon the scene. A quick focus with my loupe and a squeeze of the cable release:done! I've taken absolutely dreadful pictures that way, but I've also taken some of my best. Contemplative? Not in the least.

I couldn't say which method is more productive, and there is a level of satisfaction I get from both ways, though the intuitive experience really strokes the ego. Pick up an old Crown Graphic and try shooting on the fly like the old time newspapermen did---Its really something special---or even better, shoot aerials!

"How" I go about shooting, whether contemplative or intuitive is not a conscious decision on my part, though circumstance is a factor. Handheld press cameras or trying to hang on to a heavy aerial camera in a noisey, cold open cockpit do not, for me anyay, encourage contemplation. I generally just let what happens to "happen"(of course, I'm not doing this for a living, either!)


J D Clark
30-Oct-2003, 00:55
This is a very interesting thread, and one I have considered from a slightly different point of view. Take the situation involving contrails -- sometimes I have carefully set up a photograph (contemplatively, of course!), and am waiting for a contrail to move out of the scene -- meanwhile another jet is dragging another into the scene. So, occasionally, there are only a few seconds between the departure of the old contrail and the arrival of the new.

If you don't like the contrail story, I have an LF wildlife story,too. I was set up along the shore of a lake in Florida, when two blue herons came walking by -- there was a flurry of activity to get the right shot while they were in frame.

So, while I'm frequently set up at a location for 20 minutes to an hour, I find that many of my best photographs are taken with only seconds to spare. As others have pointed out, this kind of activity demands good preparation, and procedures to be second nature to avoid the many lurking mistakes.

I also wanted to make a comment on this statement: "If I discover a better composition with the small camera, it is just a quick matter to make another exposure, and then move on. With the LF camera, it's another 10-15 minutes, while the light is changing." What I wanted to point out that, in just a few instances, the light, or the clouds, or the fog, or something, in those additional 10 minutes, turned truly wonderful -- I only wish this would happen more often. It happens enough, though, that I'm never in a great hurry to move on -- perhaps this is the contemplative time for me!

Ken Lee
30-Oct-2003, 05:03
With smaller formats, one can shoot quickly, and contemplation often comes when we pore over the contact sheets. With large format, we take fewer images, and contemplation comes as we rule out many images, in advance, in the field. The times you are mentioning are only possible, and we only deem them worthwhile, because of all the contemplation we have done at other times.

Witold Grabiec
30-Oct-2003, 07:08
It's always nice to have a thread that ends up in an interesting discussion. However, this one is apples to oranges. I don't let frustration set in at any time while out in the field. The very moment I feel bored I stop and go home. But comparing LF to smaller (quicker) formats may lead to wrong conclusions by the simple virtue of each format's intricacies.

It once happened that I spent most part of a day in the woods and came back with just one shot. But it was not a failure in any way. Just the way things went that day. On other days I can shoot a dozen or so in the same time frame. It never bothered me what time it took to set up the gear (practice makes perfect, but I find that my first set up of the day takes considerably longer than the last one, and that's on any given day).

When I take a 35 or MF out it's all different in every way. No question that set up time is basically a non issue and the response time is fast enough to search for subjects I usually don't with an LF. This allows for taking that different approach to contamplating the next shot.

At the end of the day it comes down to ability of enjoyment. It's similar to playing golf (in my case anyway). With the little time I spent on a golf course, I never got good at it. Yet, whether I shoot 110 or a 90, it's still the same great game.

I do contamplate, although it may have become a somwhat subconscious excercise these days. And it may depend on the quality of morning brew I have on that particular day.

Colin Carron
30-Oct-2003, 07:39
For me the contemplation and the rushing are strongly related. I want to capture the landscape and the light but I know I will not get the shot I want unless I spend time thinking about it before I start. There is so much time and effort invested in setting up that I must think before I act. 35mm allows me to blast away without thinking if I so wish. And it usually shows. It is precisely awkwardness of LF which imposes the discipline which in turn often gives a better result.

30-Oct-2003, 08:30
I began rock climbing in college because of the instant felling of completeness I got while on the rock. In my naive mind I thought it was the climb itself that caused this and as time went on I no longer felt this way. The climbs became less than climactic as I actively worked to increase my skills, to get more climbs in, and to "experience the climbing lifestyle", as it was called buy a climbing club I foolishly joined. I have stopped climbing entirely because it lost all appeal and it became a hassel. What does this have to do with LF photography not being contemplative. It is simple. Burnout, I lost site of the reason I started. I knew I was getting this way but figured I would get over it.

Contemplative photography can be done with any format, or camera even one of those disk cameras that were popular in the eighties. Sometimes it takes turning away from something we are doing all the time or shifting into other gears, to regain perspective. Mybe it is time to step away from LF and let the camera rest. I have let my 4x5 rest for almost a year now. MF has been my choice during this time. It was new, again, for me. Now I want to get my 5x7 working and I have been cleaning and flexing the 4x5 getting it into shape. I am ready to go back to it. Not because I want to be more contemplative but because the large image on the GG is beautiful again, while the convienience of roll film is becoming a henderance(it is losing it's appeal).

When one puts their heart and soul into something it is common to burnout. To not like it. For it to feel like work, to see all of those other pictures that could have been taken in the time it took to set up for and shoot that one exposure. John Sexton used a LF camera to shoot the shuttle. while the image was being exposed he was running around with a Hasselbald taking those other shots. Sounds like a good way to avoid the burnout and still keep the LF muscles in shape.

Christopher Condit
30-Oct-2003, 10:16
I have never bought the idea that LF is contemplative. For me it is adrenal, the opposite of contemplative. It's a slow process, but not a relaxed process.

I guess it could be considered contemplative insofar as one contemplates the finished photo while planning and making it. But if I want to contemplate, I'd rather contemplate the scene I'm in than the photo I might make of it.

The most contemplative moment I have experienced lately was on a trip to China during which I chose not to bring any camera at all. We were on a boat floating down the Li from Guilin. It was lunchtime, so everybody else was inside, while I alone remained on the roof deck, watching the ghostly shapes come and go through the mist. For me, if I'd had access to a camera, the moment would have been *less* contemplative.

Alan Davenport
30-Oct-2003, 11:24
Tuan, I have to disagree! In my (sometimes) humble opinion, LF photography is still among the most contemplative pasttimes. Consider:

I contemplate photography without being asked if my camera is an antique. ..

I have contemplated that I am insane for lugging 30 pounds of large format equipment 2 miles only to have the light I wanted never materialize, or worse, to be perfect when I arrive and gone 30 seconds before I have the camera ready...

I have contemplated leaving the damn thing home and instead taking my 35mm rig with 6 lenses, macro kit, TTL metering (and flash!) plus several hundred exposures worth of film. Ah, the freedom...

I have contemplated a photography excursion where nobody stops me in the middle of focusing the camera and expects me to carry on a conversation about the camera he/she used to have, while my light slowly fades away...

I've contemplated printing out your list of 1001 Ways to Ruin a Large Format Photo (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/mistakes.html) and keeping it with me, just as a means of keeping score...

Jonathan Lee
30-Oct-2003, 14:02

For me LF's contemplative nature is not about the physical act of taking a picture or of lugging all that STUFF around. As you have pointed out, this is definitely not contemplative. However, for me, contemplation is the act and art of seeing the picture and knowing that it is there without even considering the camera and the film it contains. This is so different from the 35mm experience, where one is forever seeing the world through the viewfinder.

Contemplation is also about cherishing and working with even the imperfect images because we make so few of them. In 35mm, if the image isn't immediately striking I discard them becasue I have so many of them. Not so with LF, each image (or nearly each image) is valuble. Even if it is not so good, you work with them, file them away, come back to them, work with them some more and so on. That is contemplation.

Michael E. Gordon
30-Oct-2003, 15:09
Geez, not really sure I have to much to add beyond what's been said here, but....

I think Michael Smith has it right (or at least it jives with my feelings/motives):

"Another thing. The photograph is not all that important. I consider it a bonus. The point, as I see it, of making photographs is to have a deep experience, to learn something new, and to grow. As a result, the fine photographs will follow. Always. I have never waited for the light to be "right," because if the light were not right I wouldn't see what captures my attention in the first place."

I have found that the view camera has changed the way I look at things and has most certainly changed my style. I'll say that while light is definitely important, I care little about sunrises, sunsets, or 'dramatic' light anymore. I rarely include skies, and instead focus all my energy on the COMPOSITION. IMO, 'dramatic light' nearly removes the reponsibility of creating excellent composition as the emphasis is elsewhere.

My favorite light is open shade, where just the slightest amount of ordinary diffuse sidelight striking a tree trunk becomes drama itself after a 40-second exposure. I don't need flaming skies anymore. If a strong composition isn't there, I could care less what the light is doing or how fast it is changing.

LF landscape photography IS, by all means, a contemplative activity for me.


Paul Metcalf
30-Oct-2003, 16:10
Michael G- Just looked at your website. Excellant, Excellant, Excellant pictures (did I mention excellant?). And the light is excellant as well (even if not contemplated). This may already be "automatic" to you (as well as Michael Smith), but I'm still struggling with the light ("photos") when making images ("graphy") with LF color, and I can relate to Tuan's frustrations trying to get that light when it's changing rapidly and I can't change my composition rapidly. I have a few frames similar to yours, and those were ones where the light did emerge after being set up for a while in my composition at hand. I'll keep cranking...

Wayne Crider
30-Oct-2003, 17:11
Contemplation to me means sitting and being still and observing or thinking things over. Photography at dusk for me isn't the act of being still, it's more like rush hour. Because of this I now am now building a 5x7 wide angle point and shoot with a peep site. I get along fine with hyoerfocal focusing and can always crop to what I need. When I have more time I'll use the GG.

30-Oct-2003, 18:34
My 2 cents:

I don't believe that any craft, at a high level, is performed in an atmosphere of "contemplation."

The technical demands of craft, the search for special insight, the aesthetic focus... these sensibilities all demand an alertness and discipline that is tiring. It's hard work. Contemplation comes later, when the image is framed & enjoyed.

The thing that many photographers encounter, I think, is the clash between 2 ideals; the first being photography as therapy (a means to get away and cleanse the spirit,) the second being a desire to produce outstanding images. One is "contemplative" and the other "hard work."

I've noticed that when the last notes of a "contemplative" musical performance come to an end there is a kind of settled contentment in the audience that reeks of "contemplation." On the other hand, the musician is usually sweating like a pig... and not just because of physical exertion.

Michael A.Smith
30-Oct-2003, 19:51
Contemplative and alert are not mutually exclusive.

The contemplation happens when viewing the scene and also when viewing the ground glass. There is alertness both times, too. Tremendous alertness--but it is not a panicked alertness, but a calm, contemplative alertness. Peaceful, relaxed, yet exhilirating. Sure, there may be moments when things speed up a lot--like camera out of the truck, set up, and negative exposed in a minute or two, but usually it is the other way.

To search for and only make the one "best" picture that you think you finally found is, to me, cheating yourself out of the opportunity to photograph something that you don't know will be good--cheating yourself out of the opportunity to take risks. You can never really tell which ones will be the good ones. Make all that appeal to you, not just the "best" one.

I have had the following happen, and I am sure many of you have also: Sometimes you make a picture about which you really think, "This is IT. Great photo." And then when it is printed you find that it is really quite boring and probably relatively conventional. And sometimes you make a picture about which you are not at all sure. It looks good on the ground glass, but is like nothing you have ever seen before. And it turns out to be a great photograph.

I find that those photographs that excited the photographers the most when they were making them--the ones they thought were really great, were often the most derivative and the least personal. It is when you go into uncharted territory (for you) that it begins to get interesting.

Bruce Watson
30-Oct-2003, 21:35
Ken, you said what I was trying to say, but more articulately. Good on ya.

Michael, you think that searching for the one best shot is cheating myself out of taking risks? You're kidding, right? What's not a risk in betting it all on one shot? I've made a number of bets like that, and won some and lost some. I've had my share of "what was I thinking" negatives on the light table, believe me. One of my favorite portfolio pieces is a "I wonder what this will look like" shot, and one was a lens test, of all things.

Just because I like to walk the scene and try to figure out how the scene wants me to photograph it, doesn't mean I'm not taking risks.

Besides, if I made all that appeal to me in a place like Yosemite Nat. Park, I'd never get more than 20 meters from my room!

Paul Frank
30-Oct-2003, 22:40
Wow - long thread, and good.

I disagree that it is not contemplative. I have found that the longer I do this, and the more often i do it (particularly on the week + long trips of shooting every day) I become more grooved to the point that I do not fumble, I can meter and load film very quickly, and there is time for the contemplative style of shooting, or at least a similar amount of time to shooting with 35mm.

Not to say that QT is inexperienced and not adept at using his camera (obviously!). And not to compare myself to AA, but I've always quite liked the story of "moonrise" where he had precious little seconds to setup, estimate exposure, and shoot before the light was gone. It has been said he was like a 'tuned instrument' where the motions of using the view camera were involuntary and immediate. I think this can and does happen every now and again for those of us who have not been doing this for 40+ years.

Also, I think that the fact that LF sunset/rise shooting can be more time comsuming and less immediate than 35mm can actually make it MORE contemplative. More often than the small format folks, we have to reshoot the same composition or the same spot over and over on different days and different light until we get the right conditions, or because due to fumbling, we missed the right conditions. Therefore, the image(s) are thought out over days, weeks, even years, while for the small format photographer, they can be thought out over the course of minutes in the field.

I can't really say I've ever had a "stressful" sunset or sunrise." Like others have said, if one does the contemplation *before* the dramatic light, then one can be ready to try several compositions in rapid succession as the light changes. I usually find several compositions I want to try beforehand, getting a sense of what lenses and filters I might want for the shots, and make sure that I am as prepared as possible when the light arrives.

that's my 2 cents.

Michael A.Smith
31-Oct-2003, 05:08

No I was not kidding. I was writing about visual risks. Yes, you are taking the risk of getting it or not, with no other variations or other pictures from a spot, but that is not the kind of risk I was referring to. If you have made some good pictures with the attitiude of "wonder what this will look like" (and I am pleased to read that), that is a contradiction with only exposing the one "best" scene.

You wrote "Besides, if I made all that appeal to me in a place like Yosemite Nat. Park, I'd never get more than 20 meters from my room!" And what is wrong with that? As I have said many times before, "It is how one sees not what one sees that makes any photograph interesting." So, if you see so many possibilities that you needn't get more than 20 meters from your room, I'm right impressed. That is the way it should be. Minor White once wrote that if a photographer were fully sesnitized, in a lifetime he/she would not get to the end of the block.

There is nothing wrong with photographing Half Dome or the waterfalls, bu there is so much else besides, and yes, much of it is less than 20 meters from your room. Just because a photograph is of something spectacular will not make it a good photograph. I get the feeling that many think otherwise. Or, if that is a bit of an exaggeration (and it may be), they think that a good photograph of something spectacular is always better than a good photograph of something quite ordinary. And so they backback miles and miles to the "special spot" missing the literally millions of opportunities that present themselves along the way.

N Dhananjay
31-Oct-2003, 07:43
To add my experience to Michael's point of view. One of the problems that I have struggled with is the fact that I (and I suspect many others) experience some degree of disconnect between what we think and what we feel. For instance, almost all of us would (at an intellectual level) agree that there are great photographs to be made everywhere and yet many of us trudge to the ends of the earth to find spectacular scenes etc etc. I know I certainly did. The odd thing is that intellectually, I would always agree with the folks who said there are pictures and beauty everywhere, and yet my behavior did not reflect that thought. And part of it was probably from the fact that my feelings were reacting to things at somewhat superficial levels. I would look at wonderful pictures made by others from the side and the road and keep asking myself, "Why didn't I see THAT?" And the simple answer was that I never tried finding them. Spectacular scenes, flaming skies etc and I would immediately have a visceral, bodily reaction that would demand me to get the camera out etc, though very often the shots were pretty, boring derivative kinds of things. And why would I get that feeling from the side of the road - to get that same feeling from the side of the road - I needed to have some experiences from the side of the road, to experience the excitement that I experienced with flaming skies and Half Dome. And that was the worst problem - I never tried pushing myself beyond that, never tried getting my feelings to respond to other things. And I think that is the risk taking Michael is referring to - go into uncharted water because that is where you stand to learn and grow - that is how one can change as an individual. Not that it is easy but (at least to me), that is how the work gets more interesting, because you really push yourself to have more visual experiences, to discover things and to discover yourself. That is when the work becomes yours, because it is based on your experiences and your life.

I don't know if LF photography is contemplative because I don't know what contemplative is, in some ways - it seems a somewhat complicated kind of construct. If its contemplating oneself, one's own ideas of the world, one's own visual ideas in an attempt to go beyond them, then yes, it is contemplative and I think it is probably a good idea to experience it - if the desire to get the picture is high and is typically forcing you after the 'golden light' etc, maybe setting aside some time to force some contemplation is a good idea. But if contemplation is referring to a sense of relaxation and taking it easy, not being attentive, I don't think that is what I experience. What I experience was best described by Michael who referred to a heightened state of awareness and attention, an attentive contemplation, if you will.

Just my thoughts. Cheers, DJ

tim atherton
31-Oct-2003, 08:20
"You wrote "Besides, if I made all that appeal to me in a place like Yosemite Nat. Park, I'd never get more than 20 meters from my room!" And what is wrong with that? As I have said many times before, "It is how one sees not what one sees that makes any photograph interesting." So, if you see so many possibilities that you needn't get more than 20 meters from your room, I'm right impressed. That is the way it should be. Minor White once wrote that if a photographer were fully sesnitized, in a lifetime he/she would not get to the end of the block. There is nothing wrong with photographing Half Dome or the waterfalls, bu there is so much else besides, and yes, much of it is less than 20 meters from your room. Just because a photograph is of something spectacular will not make it a good photograph. I get the feeling that many think otherwise. Or, if that is a bit of an exaggeration (and it may be), they think that a good photograph of something spectacular is always better than a good photograph of something quite ordinary. And so they backback miles and miles to the "special spot" missing the literally millions of opportunities that present themselves along the way."

One of the best things I've seen written in this whole discussion Michael - absolutley spot on.

I also think there is a significant difference between what is being called a contemplative approach and an approach in which one is "aware" (what Michael calls above being fully sensitized).

When you are in a frame of mind in which you are as fully visually aware as possible, then in a way it doesn't matter if you miss that spectacular scene at sunset, because you see so many other things on the way there and back.

I spent all of this summer (and some good time before that) basically photographing the 20m from my door - well, not quite, but the two or three miles that makes up this small isolated city. I never ran out of something to photograph. There was always too much to photogorpah and I know that if I wished I could spend the next several years at least on the same project. As Robert Adams prosaically put it "No place is boring, if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film"

Paul Butzi
31-Oct-2003, 09:32
I think it's a mistake to equate 'slow pace' with 'contemplative'.

If I spend a morning on the beach, and my process is that I just wander where my attention draws me, taking three minutes to make an exposure every fifteen minutes or so - that seems pretty contemplative to me. At that rate, I'd make 4 exposures an hour, or something like 16 exposures in a four hour morning of photography. At that pace, things seem unhurried. 12 minutes out of each hour are spent fiddling with the camera - 48 minutes are spent looking at things. In other words, you're spending 80% of your time *looking* and 20% of your time setting up and making exposures.

Note what happens if it takes you 15 minutes to set up the camera and make an exposure - suddenly, four exposures an hour means that you're spending 100% of your time on setup, and 0% of your time looking. It's hard to be alert and attentive to your surroundings when you're spending 100% of your time on setup.

So what happens is that you end up slowing down the pace. To get back to the 80% looking, you ease up to the point where you take one exposure every hour and a quarter. The results of your four hour foray have been reduced to 3 exposures. It's tough to attend to what's around you when each exposure you make represents 1/3rd of the morning because each exposure represents such a huge investment.

What I've learned, I think, is that it's important to be able to make an exposure quickly and with little effort for two reasons: 1) it leaves more time for 'contemplation', and 2) it lowers the threshold between the impulse to make a photograph and the act of making it.

I've watched LF photographers spend 15 minutes making an exposure - erecting the tripod, unfolding the camera, selecting a lens, adjusting movements, focusing, checking the focus, metering, filling out an exposure record, checking the meter again to make sure the light hasn't changed, checking focus, selecting a film holder, loading it into the camera, checking the meter again, and then finally making an exposure.

I think some folks have a love affair with the idea that LF is *difficult*, as if the very difficulty of it somehow imbues the photograph with some sort of merit. I know that I felt that way when I started LF.

The problem with this view is that it presupposes that what's important is the process of setting up the camera, and that what we point the camera at is of little significance. And it turns out that the opposite is true.

Bruce Watson
31-Oct-2003, 13:03

I think you and I are vehemently agreeing. We just work differently, as would be expected since I use a 4x5 and you often use various ULFs that can't easily be transported.

To answer :"If you have made some good pictures with the attitude of "wonder what this will look like" (and I am pleased to read that), that is a contradiction with only exposing the one "best" scene." I can only say that it is *not* a contradiction. Not the way I work. Even with an experimental image, I still work for the one, best, position and angle to make the shot. I did, in the beginning of my LF work, tend toward taking several exposures at different angles. As I gained experience, I learned more what works, and what doesn't work for me. Now, when I can see that something probably isn't going to work, I don't burn the film. Am I missing some good shots? Perhaps. But I use the time I save by not working on questionable shots looking for more interesting scenes to photograph. To me, it seems like a logical trade off.

Taking the one good shot is what makes it "contemplative" for me. Not trying to rush around and get several shots while the sun is rising (or whatever time dependent thing is going on) is what keeps me from feeling "Tuan's complaint" of being time constrained. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying that's how I work.

As to the "what's wrong with never getting more than 20 meters from the door" question, the answer is as you stated. There is nothing wrong with never going far from the door. Unless, like me, you want to see what else is out there!

Ole Tjugen
31-Oct-2003, 19:19
Yes, yes, no, and maybe?

LF photography to me is a contemplative activity. It slows down my snapping, walking spped, and heart beat rate. Sometimes I see situations which will look good as soon as the sun moves over THERE: So I'll leave it until 3pm, 9pm, or next October depending on where I want the sun. I've tried for six years now to get a picture that can only be made in early March or mid-October; ne of these years it's BOUND to be sunny at the right time of year. Hasn't happened yet, but I'll keep on trying.

Sometimes you see the picture, sometimes the promise of a picture. The picture has to be taken there and then, but the promise can be contemplated over for years, if necessary.

Then again, I'm privileged by living in Norway. Last year I caught the "green flash" on film, but since the flash lasts for 20 seconds at htese latitudes I managed to get three shots...

31-Oct-2003, 20:47
Contemplative and stressful are not mutually exclusive terms. The big camera does encourage me to approach the subject differently than I would with a small camera. Certain elements common to all photography, however, are definitely stress-inducing.


31-Oct-2003, 21:25
Interesting thread. The more I think about contemplation in regards to photography the less I think it has meaning for me, except before or after the fact. When Minor White speaks of "sensitising" the photographer I assume he is talking about what his teacher(G.I.Gurdjieff) meant by being fully awake to life...in contrast to the normal human condition of daily activity called by some the waking sleep...and by others...just asleep. The LF camera by its very nature as well as other instruments of the arts seem to be connectors... bridging a gap to a higher place of enhanced perception that is not of access to the person in the normal workings of the daily survival struggle. This feature alone is a lifeline for the artist...or else their life would be devoid of a of rich and deep perception and creativity. I think there are two ways this occurs to the artist. The first is through the trials and struggle of dealing with the physical, emotional and intellectual realities of the camera leading to.. through excessivly hard work.. an act of higher perception through exaustion and intense energy expenditure. The second way is to be in harmony and ultimate balance with the inner and outer realities and the doing of a meditative/slow act... of being the human photographer with no concern for success...the success has already manifested through the harmony and universal balance achieved.The doing is enough. This is more easily accomplished with music as it takes place all at the same time..the creation and the execution...with the performer at least...and then it is gone! With any visual art it is more problamatical though not insurmountable. The act of photography can be a spiritual action on many levels. This makes the camera the key... when taken in a certain way...leading to the inner realities of the of the real person...in a active and silent way.

Guy Tal
1-Nov-2003, 14:14
Interesting. I'd say this has more to do with the type of person you are and the reason for making images in the first place. If the light is changing fast and I willl likely not "catch" it in time, I put the camera aside, take a deep breath and watch the light show unfold. If I can predict the defining moment in time to make an image, I will attempt to capture it. Both experiences are contempletive, and both have something to do with choice of camera. The other part is just me - I'd rather witness a beautiful moment and not get anything on film than get frustrated over technicalities if I can't capture it. I'd be a lot more frustrated with a tiny piece of film that doesn't stand a chance of reproducing and communicating the experience to my viewers.


Steve J Murray
2-Nov-2003, 20:41
Very interesting thread! I love all the different points made already. For me "seeing" and "finding" the image I want to isolate and photograph is and has always been more of a "trance state." I tune out all thought and become purely visual in my mind. Its not really contemplation, because I'm not "thinking" in the usual manner. Thoughts are only intruders, distractions. Stress is an intrusion also. This is more meditative then, maybe. Setting up the camera and the mechanics of taking the picture I am still pretty much on auto-pilot. I try not to "think" until I am all done for the day. I don't contemplate much until I have the finished print to gaze at. That I enjoy immensely. Does anyone else do it this way?

Al W
3-Nov-2003, 09:22

If you feel you need to be shooting on the fly as the light changes, sounds like you might be ready for a press camera with a sports finder and a graphmatic. I don't shoot that much color or landscape, I do shoot downtown a lot. I've shot a whole box of 25 B&W in an hours time without much effort. Seems like you could do ok with a changing scene.

Hand held with a mono pod or chain pod is a lot of fun. Sometimes you just need to put film through the camera to pull yourself out of time consuming ruts. What you're describing is the difference between left an right brain thinking. You're so wrapped up with your camera that you don't have time for your art, so now you want a camera you can shoot without all the thinking and fiddling. I tend to find the shot I take with a few seconds of setup to be the one I like best at the end of the day. The ones I spend a lot of time on are never as wonderful as they seemed at the time. With a press camera I have an LF image of the ones I like.

Michael Chmilar
3-Nov-2003, 18:02
Just to add a few more "thinking points":

When shooting with a more "convenient" format, it can be easy to fall into the trap of shooting "coverage". ie. you try to shoot as many angles, focal lengths, and so on, as you can. You end up with a lot of interesting and "nice" shots, but nothing that really stands out. The problem is that you don't take a little time to "see" and evaluate the subject. Occasionally, you do end up with a great photo that results from experimenting.

Similarly, with the convenient format, you may stop too often, to shoot something moderately interesting, and miss a good spot. Another "coverage" mistake.

I find that the large format gear encourages me to spend a little more time evaluating the subject before I reach for the camera. As Hogarth says, "walk[ing] the scene".

I think that I have made at least a few photos using every process described so far: the mad rush to unpack and setup as the light/scene changes; setting up well in advance of an anticipated shot, and waiting; finding a subject which is "exactly ready", and taking many shots, moving the camera and changing lenses, because there is ample time to do so; returning to a well known subject at different times; setting up, evaluating, moving (without exposing), re-evaluating, make more "adjustments", and truly contemplating the subject (and maybe walking away without making the shot - although I'll usually take a shot anyway, since I've gone to so much trouble).

And, from each of these experiences, I have sometimes been rewarded with (what I consider) a successful shot, and sometimes not.

And sometimes the shot I would have "bet money on" is a loser, and the random "I don't think this will work, but I'll burn a sheet of film" is a winner.

And, even when I am rushed, I think I still manage to squeeze at least a little "contemplation" into the process, but I would agree that the term "contemplation" is either overemphasized, or not the correct term to use. I really like Michael A. Smith's phrase "contemplative alertness".

The situation often dictates how you will approach it. The trick is to find the best balance of creative and technical requirements at the time.

In the end, even if I'm not enjoying myself in the process (too cold, too hot, had to get up too early, pack too heavy, spending too much money, travelling too far, I'm wasting my time), I find that I am enjoying myself in the process!

3-Nov-2003, 18:51
I tend to shoot a lot of break of dawn photographs. My stress level is completely correlated with my preparation for the shot. Scouting the location carefully the day before makes the experience much more pleasant, albeit not as thrilling. While travelling, however, this is often not possible and I must rely on topo maps and gut feeling to get the shot/s. Yes I agree, frantic and definitely not *contemplative* describes this kind of work. I just returned from a whirlwind 4 day scouting trip of south central utah and I am still buzzing from the anxiety level of shooting cold most of the time!

Sandy Sorlien
14-Mar-2004, 04:36
Good grief, this is the longest non-political thread I've ever seen on this forum. Allow me to pile on.

Michael Smith wrote:

"I have never waited for the light to be "right," because if the light were not right I wouldn't see what captures my attention in the first place. "

This is right on. Light is the medium and that is why we are seeing anything. Light is not an "overlay" or "extra bonus" on an already existing composition. However, there are plenty of times when light is shifting, and you see the possible picture, and you stop to make it, but the light changes. That is when the "waiting for the right light" comes in. You are waiting for what you already saw to RETURN. In such situations, you may wait for an hour, being contemplative in the way Alma so charmingly writes about above: While the camera is all set on the tripod, I contemplate going to get another cup of coffee, I contemplate getting my stepladder out of the car trunk so I have something to sit on, I contemplate running behind a building to pee, I contemplate the likelihood of that cloud moving along to block the sun so I can get the damn picture.

On a related note, sometimes people say to me, "You have it easy, your subject [architecture] doesn't move." What a silly comment. Of course it moves! (See above.)



Ralph Barker
14-Mar-2004, 13:00
In addition to the usual "death and taxes", Sandy, one other "for sure" thing is that if you run behind a building to pee, you're sure to see the light return and fade again while looking over your shoulder. ;-)

tim atherton
14-Mar-2004, 13:08
"This is right on. Light is the medium and that is why we are seeing anything. Light is not an "overlay" or "extra bonus" on an already existing composition. "

Interestingly, colour also is not "not an "overlay" or "extra bonus"" not merely suface or cosmetic, but the very substance of what we are photographing. In fact colour really preceeds the shape and form we like to explore with our cameras. It is really the essence of our medium

Christopher Petrich
16-Mar-2004, 11:28
My maxim is, the larger the film area, the more time it takes to fill it. Plan for it.

I shoot any time, day or night, as long as the scene is compelling. If I manage to get a really good shot, I will know it when I see the camera original after development. I can never judge based on the moment of exposure.

Choice of format is related to whatever camera I have in my hand. I tailor my shots to what my equipment can handle, and what I feel like shooting. I don't expect to make a compelling landscape using a small format image. It can happen, but it is a surprise if it does. If I feel more like shooting grab shots, I don't grab my wisner.

The act of shooting is emotional and is frequently unrelated to making the photograph itself. I have been really excited by a day of shooting and subsequently disappointed with the images, even when they are appropriately exposed and developed.

Nevertheless, limiting oneself to certain hours of the day based on light conditions is an artifice. One's vision is severly limited by that restriction, whereas light and life is unlimited. What can be more compelling to contemplate than the infinite.