Large Format Film Photography

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Filmy Wilmy

Let’s talk about film. That wibbly wobbly, filmy wilmy stuff. Hipsters love it, technophobes cling to it, and the purists that swear by it never made it out of the 20th century anyway. I can’t wear my jeans that tight, I practically live with a power cord plugged into me, and I’ve broken way too many “rules” to ever have the misfortune of being called a purist. And somehow I still wound up shooting film.

Specifically large format film this past semester, though I’ve had a couple other run-ins with it. 15 weeks of working with 4×5 view cameras, fiddling with sheets of film, and sniffing wayyy too many chemicals. It’s a wonder I didn’t break and/or catch anything on fire when you really think about it.

Hybrid Workflow

That said, it wasn’t all mucking about with prehistoric hardware and processes. I also scanned all of my negatives so I could have digital copies to work on and share. Don’t get me wrong, there was the option to go all analog. All the needed equipment and chemicals were provided for shooting to developing straight through to printing in the darkroom. While exploring different ways of making photos is good and fun, I’m far more skilled at working digitally and the goal (for me) was to still try to make interesting images.

So I spent one or two class sessions playing around with the enlargers but after that I decided to do all scanning. That way the first half of the image creation process was still analog based. Then after developing the film I would switch to a digital workflow for post-processing and printing. It worked out pretty well and I know I ended up getting better results.

Portraiture

Portrait Assignment

I thought photographing people with a digital camera was pretty tough at times. Then I found out it can get worse. Like, 5 pound camera and half a dozen ways to ruin the image before  you even get to see it kind of tough. Let’s not forget the little voice either, reminding you it’s rare and expensive equipment so do try not to break anything. And as it just so happens, I’m very good at breaking things.

I rather like how these two portraits turned out though and it was an interesting new experience so I’m glad I did it. Plus, I gained a useful bit of technical knowledge specifically from making these images.

I never entirely realized this but sensor/film size also affects depth of field (DoF). Example: The first portrait has a very shallow depth of field yet was made at f/5.6. A lot more of the image would have been in focus if I had used the same focal length lens and f/5.6 aperture setting on a full-frame or crop sensor camera (whose sensors are much, much smaller than the 4×5 inch sheets of film used here). There’s more things than just the aperture setting that will affect the DoF but often you need a lens with f/2 or lower to get the same kind of shallowness.

Macro

Macro Assignment

My crowning achievement was pulling off this macro shot. Why? Cause space is freaking awesome, duh. Obviously that’s where I went to capture this. 😀

This is actually a key chain, roughly two inches long, modeled after a spaceship from the TV show Firefly (fantastic show, by the way). Originally the plan was just to have the ship and it’s reflection, so I set it up on a small piece of black acrylic with a few led flashlights for lighting. The secret for making the stars? It’s dust. I usually wipe the acrylic sheet off when I set it up but I didn’t this time. I wanted to get the framing and focus down, that way I would only have to clean off the tiny spot visible in frame. You can probably imagine my delight when I looked through the ground glass back of the camera and saw that holy crap it looks like space!

So, moral of the story really, is that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you being lazy is always a bad thing. 😉

Architecture

One of the benefits of a camera like this, with adjustable bellows and all, is the ability to do perspective correction in-camera. Architecture is one area that this comes in especially handy because normally buildings look like they’re leaning and you’d have to correct it in post. This particular image isn’t such a great example since the building isn’t all that tall, but I did have to do a little bit of correction using the camera. Now all the books won’t fall over from the library being crooked. 😀

Landscape

This image was another achievement for me but not because it’s so great or anything. To be honest I’m really not even all that fond of it. Why an achievement then? For each image assignment we would have a critique on the images we created a couple of weeks after they were assigned. Well, I was off by a week for when I thought this one was due and not in the “finished it early” direction. I walked into class one week to be reminded that critique was in three hours. I don’t know about anyone else but I practically never produce an image, from idea creation to final output, in just three hours. So I grabbed a camera and went wandering off into the campus woods…somehow managing to shoot the image, develop the film, scan, edit, and finally print it out in just under three hours.

Personal Project



For the personal project, three images with our choice of subject matter, I decided to do computer hardware since I have plenty of this stuff in my house and wanted to do more macro work. Well, that and I was running out of time so not having to try scheduling people for portraits was a plus.

The items are, from top to bottom, a Raspberry Pi, a RAM module, and some power cables. The RAM module (middle photo) is definitely my favorite of the three though. Mostly because I think the way the bench markings interact with the RAM is nice, plus the lighting and tonality worked out best in that one.

Tech Specs

Quick run through of the tech specs if you’re interested. All images were shot on Ilford HP5+ Black & White 400 speed film. Cameras used were a Wisner 4×5 field camera (the camera in the featured image at the very top of this post) and a Toyo 4×5 field camera (model 45-something), both with 150mm/6 inch lenses. The Personal Project images were shot using a 90mm/3.5 inch lens. Negatives were scanned using an Epson V700 scanner, usually around 7000 pixels on the long edge and at 600 dpi. Digital editing/stylization was done using a varying combination of Lightroom, Photoshop, Color Efex Pro 4, and Analog Efex Pro.

The End

Even though I like to poke fun at it, I guess film isn’t all that bad. I won’t be turning over my digital camera anytime soon but it could be fun to play with film now and then on the side. I’ll be sticking to the lighter weight cameras though. :)

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Posted in Adventures.