Prepping for School, part 1

My penultimate semester in the WCC Photo program starts later this week, so expect to see some stuff about my classes. I’m taking a Large Format class and a Projects class. This post is mainly about large format photography.

I’ve never done anything with large format, so this ought to be interesting. The technology isn’t really different, but it’s more basic, and less of it is pre-calculated. If you’re at all familiar with cars, it’s more like driving a Model T than a Taurus. This is not to say that the equipment is antiquated, it’s just more manual than anything I’ve used.

First of all, each piece of film is independent of every other piece. If you’re used to digital, where you can have hundreds of photos on an SD card, or even a 35mm camera with its 24- or 36-image roll, having to make one image and then exchange the film holder for another one feels like working in the dark ages. “Really? You had to use a crank to start the engine? Where did the key go?”

Second, there is no autofocus. One focuses by looking through a magnifier at the image (upside down) on glass. This concerns me the most. Even when I use my “non-auto” Nikon lens, I get an indication from the camera that the subject is in focus. (It’s a little green dot visible in the lower left of the viewfinder.) I have bad vision, even with glasses. It’s ok for everyday, but fine eye-work is sometimes a problem for me. I’ll need to develop a strategy for this.

Third, the camera is generally not hand-held. This means always using a tripod. I almost always use a tripod anyway, but it’s designed for a light DSLR, not for a 4x5 field camera. So a heavy tripod, with a heavy camera. I think I’ve got this one ok, having done camera assisting and grip work.

Fourth, metadata! I’ll have to take along a notebook to record everything. Talk about old-skool. No, I don’t want to use my phone, because I’ll forget to use it. If I put a notebook in the camera case, I should be good.

Fifth, along with no autofocus, there is no auto metering. I’ll have to calculate my own exposures based on a hand-held meter. This is also not a problem, except for when I forget to set something.

Everything I’ve seen talks about how using a large format camera requires a deliberate, methodical process. I imagine that the only way to make a “quick” image is to be so practiced at it that it doesn’t take long to set everything up.

And then there is the developing and printing of the image, assuming I’ve exposed the film correctly. This is less worrying to me, because I do have darkroom experience with 35mm and medium format film, as well as digital negatives. I believe that most difficult part for me will be focusing an enlarged image. That and actually liking the image I’m printing ;)

There will be more on this later as I get into the semester. I hope to write updates as I go along, partly to help cement concepts in my head, partly to share what it’s like to learn to use a large format camera.