Large format Diaries




It’s always fascinating to watch others begin the large format process, now that I’ve been doing it for over a year now, and spent many months avidly following Ben Horne’s YouTube videos before finally biting the bullet myself. Matt Lethbridge has blogged about large format experiences here, and well-known photography YouTuber Thomas Heaton has just started also.


Here are a few things I mentioned in my comments on Matt’s blog, with a few things added here, to add to the ‘experience pool’:


I still find loading film a bit of a pain (hopefully I won’t ever load a complete set of DDS with film back to front again!) but shooting digital in comparison just isn’t quite the same – it’s all those intangible qualities of saturation, contrast, and texture.


Since starting out on large format in February last year, about 30% of my decent output has been shot on film. There’s also less wastage, because unless you make a mistake – which is actually relatively hard to do once you get a routine sorted – the whole process of selecting a scene and composing it tends to ensure that you don’t faff about taking loads of shots you’re not sure about, which can happen with digital, even with landscape work. This also means you can relax more and just enjoy the scene: if you can’t find a composition, you don’t have to take a shot. Large format work seems to encourage me to revisit areas more and get a feel for a sense of place.


I’ve often tended to take the Nikon gear with me in a side pouch, but feel that my best work has been when I’ve left the digital gear behind; on a side note, I’ve never been entirely successful with the “reshooting” idea (revisiting compositions you shot previously on digital in years previously): it all seems rather belated, somewhat missing the point, and I often feel that I don’t quite get the composition right – there’s a sense of spontaneity that’s missing, a kind of artificiality.


There is of course the risk of missing a shot or screwing one up – I had a failure on this during my first ever visit to Glen Etive last year when I forgot to add time for a polarizer, and another rather foolish effort when I shot on black and white with a Yellow/Orange filter, but took account of the filter factor twice over, by metering through the filter and then also absentmindedly adding almost 2 stops of extra time on top (meaning 2 full stops overerexposed: not very smart) – but I think, again, an adjustment to my routine (how I pre-annotate my DDS tapes) means that this is now less likely, and I’m unlikely to repeat the B&W filter exposure screw-up. There are so many ways to screw-up a large format shot, and I’m sure I’ll discover even more, but so long as I’m not in a hurry or distracted or anxious about the shot, things ought to work out pretty well in general.


With my Linhof Technikardan, at least, I feel the camera has a personality. With its multitude of controls (full movements in all directions on both front and rear standards, in addition to the focusing knob and the locking screws for the focusing rail) I feel the camera is always watching me, wondering whether I’m going to be up to the challenge of using it to its full potential – and indeed not screwing up any exposures this time! In my case it’s like having a special, rather teutonic, shooting companion! Might seem a bit of an odd comment, but all part of the fun 🙂


I’m eagerly waiting for customs clearance for my latest order of 4 boxes of Velvia 50 from Japan Exposures… I still can’t get over how exciting the whole experience of large format is: a bit like all your Christmases come at once!



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