Large Format course, November 2015

November 26, 2015

This year the Large Format course ran as a one day, six hour session, rather than the traditional two classes over two weekends. We cover the same amount of material, but I suppose it is more convenient for students to get it done in one day. I’m not sure which approach is better, but it’s good to try new ways of doing things. There seems to be a fair amount of interest in large format in Sydney at the moment because this class was fully enrolled with people who missed out on a waiting list, so the course will run again the next Saturday. This is at ACP – the Australian Centre for Photography, Paddington, Sydney.

As usual we start with a look at an 8×10 camera set-up in a room looking out the window. This makes it easy to see the ground glass image without a dark cloth, and gets us into discussing the essentials of view cameras – in what respects they are the same as other camera types, and how they differ. We are lucky to have a darkroom in the next room, so we can demo the film holders by loading 8×10 paper under red light, exposing the sheet and the processing as a paper negative. As most people have iPhones these days we can use the invert setting to view the paper negative as a positive image via the phone camera.

After this intro a couple of students got to load 8×10 film into holders, using the film loading booths in the ACP darkroom. In 8×10 I’m using Ilford HP5. The last time I taught this class I noticed some odd fogging effects on some of the sheets we had exposed and was struggling for about a week to figure out what had caused it. The obvious cause was light leaks in film holders, but my holders have always been fine and it wouldn’t make sense for several of them to start leaking at the same time. Eventually I decided it must have been a student with a watch with a face that glows in the dark who caused the fogging while loading film. So this time I was conscious to mention this upfront to the students and in fact it turned out that about three of them were wearing such watches. They all took them off but it makes me think that I’m probably correct in assuming that’s what happened last year.

We then take all this out to the carpark to run through the complete process of setting up the camera and exposing film. I stress the need to plan your frame before setting up the tripod and camera. I use a viewing frame – a window cut to 8×10 / 4×5 format out of a piece of card. I use this to consider whether the frame should be vertical or horizontal, and what to include or exclude. It’s worth spending time doing this at the beginning, taking as much time as necessary to find a composition that works. Then set up the camera and tripod with the most suitable focal length lens. Next step is fine tuning the framing – basic focus, side to side and vertical adjustments, and perhaps shifting the camera a bit.

At this point I discuss and demonstrate the use of front rise to control verticals. There are a few buildings here that are suitable depending on the sun position. Each student gets to look under the dark cloth at the viewing screen and observe the change as I raise and lower the lens board. Once the frame is established with rectilinear verticals, we think about what aperture is required for depth of field. Again this is demonstrated one student at a time by closing down the aperture as they look at the ground glass.

scan020 8x10 hausmann blog

The photo above is the first sheet we exposed, Ilford HP5 f/22 at 1/60 with a Deardorff 8×10 camera and Rodenstock Sironar 300mm lens. The light was flat and overcast, hence the lack of shadows, and overall low contrast. I would prefer direct sun but we can’t control the weather on days when courses are scheduled. I’m just glad it wasn’t raining as it had looked likely to do. The image below is a small crop from this neg, showing the detail and resolution available with large format. The neg was scanned on the glass of an Epson V700 scanner using the film area guide. Any of these images can be clicked on for the full size view.

scan020 8x10 crop

Once the framing, focus and aperture are settled we think about metering. I use a Soligor digital spot meter and discuss the usefulness of spot metering with large format. Essentially I read the range of tones from light to dark and decide what part to expose as the midtone. In my experience Ilford HP5 is fine to expose at ISO 400 when processing in Rodinal. Many people would think it should be exposed at 200 or similar but I find that I get the necessary shadow detail at 400. We exposed a second sheet looking in the other direction, this time with a 360mm Rodenstock Apo Ronar lens for a slightly narrower angle of view. Exposure was f/45 at 1/8 and the film was processed in a Jobo 2830 tank with Rodinal 1+25 for 8 minutes. Here is the full sheet plus two crop details, the ivy wall was what we focused on.

scan019 8x10 carpark cars blog

scan019 8x10 ivy crop blog

scan019 8x10 shoes detail crop blog

After lunch we were back in the classroom looking at 4×5 film. I start with 8×10 because it is easy to demonstrate with, but I presume that most people will find 4×5 more practical. I talk about the differences between press, monorail and view cameras, and show my Chamonix 045n2 camera. We do a still life subject as this also provides the opportunity to talk about the bellows correction that is required with close focusing. I used to work this out in my head, or with pen and paper, but these days I recommend the Reciprocity Timer app which will do the bellows correction calculation. Using 4×5 also gives me the opportunity to demonstrate instant film for proofing. I still have a Fuji 4×5 instant back and some of the 4×5 colour instant film, however I also have to inform the students that this film has been discontinued and is now selling for about $100 per pack on ebay. I also have one of the Fuji PA145 backs that takes the regular pack film that is still in production, so in this case we made a test exposure with both.

scan012 4x5 fuji instant buddha blog

This was the first time that I have exposed the same subject on the bigger and smaller film and it was interesting to observe the difference. The 4×5 film crops the image a little, essentially the white border, but the print is very close to the framing you get on 4×5 film. The smaller pack film crops the image a lot but is still useful for exposure proofing. You could make the exposure with the Fuji print as the final image but would need to mark up the ground glass for composing to that crop. In these exposures I also demonstrated front tilt to correct the plane of focus. The camera was looking down on the subject and the plane of focus cut through the eyes of the wooden figure. This made the parts of the subject front and back (feet and lens) very unsharp. Rather than leveling the camera which would have had a big impact on the framing, we tilted the lens board to be more along the plane of the figure. This necessitated a slight focus adjustment but the change was significant.

scan011 fuji pack instant buddha

After proofing with the instant film we made an exposure on Kodak TXP Tri-X 320. (Once I run out of this and the Tmax 400 I have in 4×5 I will switch to Ilford HP5 to match the 8×10 film.) This first TXP sheet was exposed with the front tilt with a Rodenstock Apo Sironar N 150mm lens at f/11.

scan015 LF buddha sharp blog

The second sheet was exposed at f/5.6 with the lens board set back to the default position, i.e. parallel to the film plane. This demonstrates the wide range of focus looks that are possible with most view cameras, depending on what movements they have. There is a slight framing difference between the two sheets because I kicked the tripod before exposing the first sheet and forgot to correct it. I think I kicked tripods three or four times that day and nearly knocked the 4×5 camera over, very lucky that a student grabbed it. I don’t usually do things like that, but was a bit hyper with teaching eight people and also working in confined space. The 4×5 film I process with a MOD54 film holder in a Paterson 3 reel tank.

scan014 LF buddha unsharp blog




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