One of the things that I enjoyed when I first tried large format photography is that you are forced to slow down and think about what it is that you are photographing. One thing that I disliked when I first tried large format photography is that you are forced to slow down. And so began my love hate relationship with my 4 x 5 camera.
While I am not exactly the fastest photographer around, as I am sure many who have been with me on photo shoots will attest to, working with my 4 x 5 camera is extremely slow and my “production rate” suffers accordingly. But, I keep reminding myself that it’s not about the quantity but rather the quality. Because the technology forces you to be slow you are forced to think more about the image you want to make. You have to spend more time thinking about:
- How to best compose your image
- How dark do you want your shadow areas and how bright do you want your highlights and where you want to maintain detail in the final image
- How best to work with the available light
- Do you want a shallow depth of field or do you want the entire image to be in sharp focus
- Will selective focus help emphasize your image
- How sharp or soft do you want your image to be
- What foreground, middle ground and background relationships do you want to develop in your image
In short, you have to think more about the final image rather than the photograph you take when you press the shutter. Although it could be argued that this applies to any kind of photography, I like to think that my perseverance with 4 x 5 has helped me immensely in pre-visualizing final images irrespective of whether or not I am shooting with my DSLR, any of my film cameras or even my point and shoot. It is one way that I become immersed in the moment and connect with the subject I am photographing.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to work with my large format camera as much as I would like. So, when my friend, Steve Oney recently purchased a large format camera and mentioned that he was taking it out on a photo shoot this past weekend I jumped at the chance to tag along with him. My film of choice is Polaroid PN 55, which is no longer available. When Polaroid announced that it was stopping production of this film in 2008 I purchased the entire stock of my local camera store. I even purchased a refrigerator in which to store it – and there is nothing else in there but this film. Although very much out of date it is an amazing film and despite the odd failure during development it produces an awesome negative with a very distinctive look. The following are two finished images that I created from this trip – I scanned the negatives and worked on them digitally. To put it into some context, in the 3 hours that we were at the park I only took 6 photographs and these are the only two images that I was able to make. In that same 3 hour period I could have made dozens if not hundreds of exposures with my DSLR – but it felt great to be shooting with this beast again. For now though it is back in its box, but hopefully I won’t have to blow off so much dust next time I take it out.