Large format diaries #20

 

A list of possible errors

 

I thought it might be fun to compile a little list of all the things that can go wrong – and have! – shooting large format film. Rather than list them in categories, I thought I’d list them roughly in order of the mistakes I’ve made, perhaps to provide a more organic description of the development of skills. Some of these are specific to particular film stocks, but most of them are more generally applicable(!!)

 

After three… One, two three… doh!

 

  1. Misreading light meter. I did this with my very first sheet exposed – my Sekonic 758D meter only lists whole numbers rather than fractions or decimals for exposure times: the difference, in this instance, was the difference between ¼ second and 4 seconds. If the exposure time was 4 seconds, it would have read 4 with a small S above it. However, there was no S, so I drastically overexposed my sheet (having correctly, so I thought, added even more time for reciprocity failure!!). All was not lost in this case, however, since the film stock was B&W (Delta 100) so I rescued the shot quite successfully.

 

  1. Vignetting. If you are not careful with your movements, particularly on wide-angle lenses, but in fact in all cases(!), vignetting can occur: that is, the limits of the image circle of the lens intruding into the edges of the film sheet. This has happened to me at least a couple of times, mostly when I’m not concentrating on what I’m doing. Setting up the shot properly in the first place, with camera position and proper use of the tripod head (here I cannot stress enough how useful a geared head can be) can help to avoid this issue before it occurs.

This is vignetting proper: another similar instance can be caused when you use a Lee lens hood incorrectly. I have also done this on more than one occasion.

 

  1. Unsharp shots. These can result from a number of eventualities: tripod not properly grounded; loose tripod head; being clumsy enough to kick tripod leg between composing the shot and exposing a sheet; movement controls on camera not properly locked down. In practice, it is quite difficult to diagnose these after the fact, but a few things can help to alleviate problems here. Here’s what I’ve been doing recently:

Use spikes on your tripod feet. This seems a no-brainer and I can’t quite understand why I hadn’t been doing this until recently.

Have a little piece of tape stuck to the camera reminding you to ensure all controls are locked down before making an exposure.

Use a geared tripod head, where the majority or all of the controls are self-locking.

Avoid shooting longer exposures in strong winds.

 

  1. Forgetting to stop down after composing. I have done this just a couple of times, but it’s very annoying! Probably best to do it as soon as you’ve figured out the depth of field you need / trusted the ground glass, decided upon your exposure, and closed the lens.

 

  1. Forgetting to pull the dark slide. I reckon I’ve done this one a few times too. I caught myself doing this yesterday, which was fine, since the exposure would have been junked anyway(!!) You end up second-guessing yourself, too. I ended up making a note of the dark slide in question, and, just in case there’s an exposure in there, will use that sheet for a double or for a shot I’m not totally wild about.

 

  1. Double exposure (the opposite of 5!!). I’ve only ever done this once, because I use tapes on the film holders, with exposure notes for completed shots. It is possible, of course, to not notice your notes on the tape and shoot over a perfectly good sheet! Hopefully once is enough.

 

  1. Load your film back to front. This was an expensive error, at about £40-£50! I lost about 6 sheets this way – they all came out very dark red (‘red-scale’). Relatively luckily, the sheets were exposed principally to test a new lens I’d picked up, and there was just enough detail visible in the sheets to indicate that the lens was fine.

 

  1. Forgetting to add time for reciprocity failure: result is underexposure.

 

  1. Forgetting to add time for bellows extension: again, underexposure.

 

  1. Forgetting to add time for a polariser: again, underexposure.

 

  1. Forgetting to take off the lens cap: result, a perfectly exposed white sheet, with a little ring visible in the centre – if you check out those white Lee lens caps you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve only done this once, because I was rushing around and not concentrating. I went to go and fetch another film holder to expose a second sheet on a scene. It was raining lightly, so I put on a lens cap to protect it while I was away. Forgot to take it off again…

 

  1. Problems using Reciprocity Timer App #1:

Forgetting to reset iphone reciprocity timer app to delete bellows extension dialled in. Result: overexposure. This has happened twice, really annoyingly. A good reason to wean myself off using the app.

 

  1. Problems using Reciprocity Timer App #2:

On one occasion I decided that I should meter my scenes with black and white filters properly, by metering through the filter. Why I then went ahead and dialled in more time into the app for the filter is a mystery! Result: overexposure. In practice, it seems a good idea to meter through the filters directly, especially with a polariser when shooting slide film: getting those highlights right in running water is crucial.  Another reason not to cling to using the app.

 

  1. Not doing critical focus with loupe properly: likely to cause insufficient stopping-down, causing lack of sharpness where you wanted it. Trust the ground glass, and your loupe! Don’t be afraid to try to stop the lens down while you’re under the dark cloth, to see what’s going on with the focal plane depth of field.  This was something the workshop in Glencoe helped me with.

 

  1. Mistakes with grads: using grads when you shouldn’t (e.g. in the middle of a forest!!! Mistake x1); not using enough grad when you needed to (mistake x2 – though this one can be a matter of personal preference, so long as highlights aren’t totally blown…); using too much grad; incorrectly positioning the grads. All of these can ruin an exposure, especially with slide film.

 

  1. Metering errors: particularly problematic with slide film. Errors include: not sufficiently controlling highlights; incorrect choice of brightest highlight with detail (can effect grad selection, or choice of using grads at all, of course).  The sekonic I use is quite easy and very powerful, but it can trip you up now and again… see 1!

 

There’s also likely to be whole load of other errors which are common that I haven’t made yet(!) or which I’m not likely to make not because of my own competence but because my Linhof Technikardan is in general sturdy enough not to create these issues. These would include light leaks between the camera back and film holder when pulling the dark slide – good practice here is to pinch the two together with the left hand while pulling out / reinserting the darkslide with the right hand. However, this list of 16 is comprehensive enough for me! Hopefully I won’t be making too many more errors!!

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Some recent experiences shooting large format alongside DSLR have firmed up my impression that this is more difficult than it might at first seem.  One might presume, given that large format is a very different working experience than the convenience and speed of working with digital, that shooting the same scene on both systems side by side wouldn’t cause too many problems.   However, some recent shots, taken on both digital and on large format, have had problems because of the lack of concentration or rather confusion in the thinking required for good practice in either.  Either something goes awry with the large format shot, or with the digital.  Here are my thoughts – others’ experiences may of course differ – but this is intended as an aide memoire to myself and a guide to others. (more…)

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