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Thread: Composing on the GG, or not

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Culver City
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    169

    Composing on the GG, or not

    A friend and I were having a discussion recently, which led us to an observation about technique.

    I have just finished my first year of using a 4x5 camera. In that time, I've fou nd this forum to be very helpful for learning about equipment, technique, approa ches, etc.

    One thing that gets discussed a lot is dark cloths: which is best, lightest, dar kest, best seal against light. From these discussions, I have to assume that som e people spend a lot of time under the dark cloth, evaluating their image compos ition on the ground glass.

    Thinking about this, I realized that I spend very little time looking at the gro und glass. I mostly use it to check my framing, and for focussing. To check fram ing, I usually look at the corners and edges of the ground glass for reference p oints, and then look around the camera and find those reference points in the sc ene itself. I almost never spend any time evaluating the composition on the glas s.

    My friend and I were discussing this, and he pointed out that my last twenty yea rs of 35mm photography were with Leica M rangefinder cameras, and not SLR's (my first four years of photography were with an SLR). He had recently changed from years of Nikon SLR's to a Mamiya 7 rangefinder, and found the transition difficu lt.

    Our observation is that SLR users develop the habit of composing in their viewfi nder. More importantly, they evaluate composition in the viewfinder. With a rang efinder camera, on the other hand, the viewfinder does not serve well for evalua ting composition. With an SLR, you have a nice bright image with a black surroun d, but a rangefinder such as the Leica and Mamiya have frame lines, clutter, and additional image area around the frame. Thus a rangefinder user develops differ ent habits for evaluating composition. The viewfinder is only useful for checkin g framing and focussing.

    So, it may be that photographers who move from SLR cameras to large format tend to prefer a well-sealed dark cloth in order to create an environment similar to the SLR viewfinder. Photographers who come from a different background have diff erent habits.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Posts
    77

    Composing on the GG, or not

    Good point, I learned with a 35mm rangefinder and made a recent move to LF and spend very little time looking at the GG, I don't even have a darkcloth, I just pull my jacket or shirt up over the thing, check the corners, look at the focus, then smoke a cigarette or just pick my nose or something and think if I really want the picture or not, I maybe pop my head back under for a second or to just to remind me while I am deciding, but all the decisions are made away from the thing. I even put a 35mm viewfinder on top of the camera which is more or less like the 135 lens I use to save time looking at the GG...

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Oct 1998
    Posts
    106

    Composing on the GG, or not

    I compose with a viewing card. Then I know where to put the tripod and what focal length lens to use. I still like it nice and dark to view the GG. Viewing upside down and backwards on the GG will sometimes help me see composition issues/problems I didn't notice with the viewing card. The image on the GG is magical and I will sometimes just enjoy looking at it when I'm done with focus/adjust. I've used both rangefinder and SLR, but prefer the viewing card. It is 1:1, bright, no distortion, and allows full movements.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Oct 2001
    Posts
    68

    Composing on the GG, or not

    largely, i compose in my head as i stand and view a scene. of course this is facilitated by years of being very familiar with my lenses. but i also use a reflex viewfinder and i very carefully study the composition with that. the problem of moving from small format cameras to large is a real one - with small cameras, your eye tends to pay most attention to whatever the primary subject of the photo is, and you can easily overlook odd things sticking into the image frame, or peripheral subjects or distractions. using the GG for composition is a vast improvement over this, since the GG acts as a "picture" that is abstracted in comparison to the much more "camera view" of an SLR - it makes it much easier to see all the elements of the image in a more balanced manner. this is the reason i take much care using the reflex finder - though it is very fast and easy to use compared to a dark cloth, it takes you away from being able to use the GG as a picture, and puts you back into the SLR-type camera view.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    Posts
    28

    Composing on the GG, or not

    Groundglass ... composition and focusing? Ah, so that's why the back of the camera is clear. And I thought the glass was just a marketing gimmick! And to think of all the years I've wasted looking thru a cardboard cutout, then eyeballing down the standards until I think I got a decent composition ... I always knew reading this forum was time well spent!

    Hyper

  6. #6

    Composing on the GG, or not

    I agree with JNorman. For me, the greatest thing about LF is that it allows you to compose the image and carefully. It eliminates a lot of wasted shots. I enjoy just setting up the camera and studying the ground glass, even if I don't expose a negative. The ground glass lets me see if the picture will be worth making or not. Sometimes moving the camera a few inches one way or another makes the difference as to whether the picture is good or not. To me, this is one of the beauties of LF.

    Regards,

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    Posts
    103

    Composing on the GG, or not

    I set up with a general idea, but I still use the ground glass to get the framing and composition I want. Move a little closer, turn it a little this way or that way, use a little rise etc.

  8. #8

    Composing on the GG, or not

    Most folks when out photographing see something that makes them stop and say "Wow" and then set up the camera and make an exposure of that which had caught their eye. The majority of the responses to Michael Chmilar's question confirm this is so.

    Now, consider that, by definition, you can only respond to something that you already know on some level, whether that knowledge can be articulated or not. If that is true (and I believe it is), then by making photographs only of what caught your eye you are confirming what you already know, rather than learning something that is entirely new. As a consequence, little or no personal growth takes place. Over time, the work becomes repetitive (not necessarily imitative) and stale.

    To experience personal growth as an artist it is imperative to get beyond responding only to what you know and respond to things that you don't know. But how can you do that when it is only possible to respond to things you already know? That's the paradox.

    The answer is in creative use of a view camera. Use that which caught your eye and caused you to set up this cumbersome equipment as the starting, rather than the ending, place. Rather than deciding, more or less, where you want the edges of the photograph to be before you look on the ground glass, allow yourself the freedom of playfulness and move the camera around--to each side, up and down, and even in a 360 degree circle.

    Here is what may happen: you begin with what you already know; then as you move the camera you may find that what caught your eye is now only half in the picture. You now have a new starting place. Move the camera around again. And again and again. It is not unlikely that what you finally end photographing will be nothing like that which caught your eye, and in fact may be something that, were it not for looking on the ground glass you never would have noticed. Sometimes it may even happen that you can make no sense whatsoever of the subject that the camera is focussed on, although it looks beautiful, and that even when you come out from under the darkcloth it still makes no sense. But if it looks good on the ground glass, make the exposure. You will later learn about what you saw as a result of looking at your photograph. The next time out what was previously unknown becomes known, because of the act of your having made the photograph. Literally, you will begin to see more.

    The painter, Alfred Leslie, once said, " There is a direct relationship between what we see and the quality of life." In the context of the article he wrote, "what we see" referred to how much we see. The implication is that the more we see the richer our life will be. By not limiting yourself to what you already know through the act of using a view camera in this way, your photographs will not be repetitive and personal growth will occur. e.e.cummings: "An artist, whose every agony is to grow."

    I hope in this brief summary of an extremely complex and often intuitive process that I have made this at least somewhat clear. Some things are better demonstrated than explained in words.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Posts
    77

    Composing on the GG, or not

    OK bolt down the hatches... I think that it is far more difficult to get a spontanious and "liberated" picture with LF than with 35mm or MF, the very act of placing the gizmo, the GG, the cost, the meditation all lead towards cold, composed, retentive type work. For me GG is the antisisis of this problem, as a new LF user I stuggle not to get drawn into the "studying the whole thing too much", which means more spntinaity, less GG.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Location
    Rockford, Illinios
    Posts
    128

    Composing on the GG, or not

    I used to compose in my head until I started using a 120mm on an 8x10. ...especially close-up. Moving the camera a few inches laterally or up and down produces a drastically different composition.

    A W-A viewfinder to locate the exact spot for the camera before setting up has made this process a lot easier.

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