Large Format course No. 2, Nov 2015

December 7, 2015

On the 21st of November 2015 I taught a large format photography course with eight students, which is the class maximum. There was demand for another session from people who had missed out, so I ran the course again the following Saturday the 28th. In total there were thirteen students over the two weekends which is an encouraging sign for large format photography as well as film and darkroom in a general sense. A few of the students already had large format cameras, but most didn’t and were attending the course to help them make a decision about whether this type of photography suits them, and the pros and cons of various camera types and film formats. As usual I start with a demo of a Deardorff 8×10 camera as the size makes it easy for everyone to see the various features. We look at ground glass framing and focus, lens focal length selection and metering. The camera is in the classroom looking out the window and the other side of Oxford St, Paddington.

street paper005 blog

We make an exposure using 8×10 paper as the negative as this allows us to look at the film holder loading process under red light, before the students load actual film in complete darkness. In this class we used Ilford RC Pearl which I rate at ISO 6. We then process the paper in the darkroom to get a paper negative. This shows the essential simplicity of the exposure process and also allows us to asses the decisions we made at the camera. Students with iphones can use the “invert colours” option to view the negative as a positive image. Paper negatives have some technical limitations however they are good enough to show the high resolution that large format is capable of. This is a good paper negative, the white blur on the left side is some out of focus dirt on the window, likewise the horizontal blur at the bottom of the frame is part of the windowsill – there is a bench that prevents us from getting the camera any closer.

After covering the basics we move on to loading film and going outside to make exposures that will involve some use of camera movements. Generally I show front rise as most cameras have this and it is probably the most useful and most used movement. We had the same bright overcast weather as the previous weekend, which is not ideal for architecture but OK for demo photos. We spent a fair amount of time considering the visual possibilities, viewpoint, and what lens and framing to use.

carpark hp5013 blog

In this example we liked the combination of the old and new buildings as well as the ivy covered wall. First we got the framing right and also ensured the verticals were rectilinear which was accomplished with a fair amount of front rise. We then spot metered the various parts of the scene from dark to light, including a midtone reference and based the exposure on that.

After lunch we looked at a Chamonix 4×5 camera and then made a decision to stick with the 8×10 camera for portraiture. Using a Rodenstock 360mm Apo Ronar for fairly tight head and shoulder framing also allowed us to explore the concept of bellows extension light loss. To focus closer with a view camera we have to extend the bellows, increasing the distance between the film and the lens. As the light travels further along the bellows the inverse square law comes into effect which allows us to calculate how much less light is getting to the film. The basic rule is that if you double the focal length you should add two stops of light to the calculated exposure. So if a 360mm lens is extended to 720mm we would have to add two stops of light to the metered exposure, either by slowing the shutter speed or opening the lens aperture. This is an important thing to know about in large format photography as these cameras don’t have through the lens meters, so we use external meters and have to remember to make any necessary adjustments such as filter factors, reciprocity failure and bellows extension. I like the Reciprocity Timer app for doing this as it saves me from using a calculator, pen and paper. In this class our 360mm lens was extended to 570mm which required one and a third stops extra light added to the meter reading.

john hp5 blog

John at f/10 Ilford HP5 rated at 400 processed in Rodinal 1+25 rolling in a Jobo 2830 drum. Overcast skylight window sidelight with room lights turned off. The range from shadow to light side of face was only a few stops and we exposed to place the light side one stop over a midtone. After this first exposure we rolled on and made a series of similar portraits, we didn’t move the camera or change the exposure, it was an exercise to let the students each have a turn at loading film, composing and focusing on the ground glass and running through the various steps correctly – close the shutter, cock the shutter, insert film holder, remove dark slide, view subject from lens position, pick the correct moment to release the shutter, insert dark slide, make exposure notes on dark slide masking tape, etc.

neville hp5 blog

Neville. Depth of field is very thin at f/10 with a 360mm lens so we have to be critical with focusing and ensuring the subject doesn’t move once we have achieved ground glass focus. There is always a delay while we insert the film holder and remove the dark slide in which time the person might shift forward or back and go out of focus. In this class we did pretty well, achieving sharp eye focus in nearly every sheet.

tian hp5 blog

Tian. f/10 at 1/8 second. Spot meter read EV 9 off a grey card which gives 1/20 sec at f/10, bellows correction gives the actual exposure of 1/8. I know that in fashion retouching people expect hair to be perfect and will spend hours cleaning up stray hairs. I like messy hair as seen in this photo, partly caused by breeze through the open window and partly from going under the darkcloth multiple times. I prefer the slightly off centre framing in this photo to the more centred framing of the other portraits we made. We didn’t move the camera or the chair the subjects were sitting on, but did have to adjust the camera for people’s different heights.

koji hp5 blog



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