Contrary to how it is pronounced, Seil Island is not a sanctuary for Seals, although they are spotted there from time to time, it is probably most famous for the "Bridge over the Atlantic" that you must cross to get there. I spent a whole week there on holiday and managed to get a couple of evenings photography with the Chamonix in during my stay. The coastline is very rocky with cliffs and angled slate beds that protrude out into the ocean. I am finally becoming quite adept at setting up the camera now and the photograph below was set up and composed in under 10 minutes. I decided to use my Schneider Kreuznach Super Angulon 90mm f/5.6 lens to make the most of the lead in line. I exposed a total of 2 sheets of Velvia 50 as the light changed and I am quite happy with the end result, I particularly light the steely blue tones that came out. The image below that I shot the following evening on Kodak Ektar, again with the 90mm f/5.6, the light was really wonderful and on receiving the neg back it scanned really well.
I have quite a few sheets of Velvia 50 and Kodak Ektar 100 to scan over the next week or two and will post up a few as and when.
I have just finished loading film this evening for my annual Scottish Holiday. This year my wife and I are visiting Seil Island for a week and in anticipation I have loaded some fresh Velvia 50, Ektar 100 and Provia 100f. Hopefully I'll return with a few half decent pictures to show you all, bye for now...........
It's been a little while since I last posted and so time for a little update. As I write this I'm waiting eagerly for a few sheets of Provia 100f I shot last weekend to come back from Peak Imaging. I shot a couple of bluebell images locally and really can't wait to see how Provia renders the colour.
I also thought it may be time to tell you all about a few things I have learnt in the last 4 months or so..............
Firstly, loading and unloading film, one of the stumbling blocks when I was thinking of trying Large Format. Put simply, it's a doddle. I had one instance where I loaded a sheet of Velvia 50 back to front but it still exposed ok......I just had to convert it to monochrome (terrible red cast). Really, if your thinking of trying large format don't let handling film put you off, just get a changing "tent" link mine and away you go. I've already got it down to about 5 minutes to unload 10 sheets.
Film choice. Another thing I was worried about was the choice of film to use and how to meter for it. No worries there either. Low contrast, slide film, high contrast colour neg, job done. Yes slide films (Velvia, Provia etc) have a narrow dynamic range compared to my usual digital setup and you definitely have to take care with your metering but if I can do it anyone can. Colour neg is great, as long as you don't underexpose your shadows the dynamic range is brilliant, very hard to over cook indeed. As for black and white, I've only shot 2 sheets of Ilford Delta 100 so I can't really comment on that really, only that both sheets came out ok.
Setting up the camera. No worries, takes a few minutes that's all, I have been playing around with tilt and swing a little of late and although it's still a learning curve it's caused me no dramas at all. The composition is still a little odd when viewed upside down but not at all off putting, just different. What is really different though is my whole outlook when shooting. While I used to go out and shoot 15 or more compositions in a day, I am now chuffed if I accomplish 2.
How it makes me feel. Well.......this is the most important question of all really. I love it. Really. So much so that my digital setup has been put away in the bottom of the wardrobe.............for now. I say for now as I know that large format will not completely replace my digital photography but as I want to really master this form of photography, I'm finding that the XT-1 is getting in the way. It was tempting to shoot 5x4 at the start of a day and finish off with digital when my film was used. I am determined to slow the whole process down even more....to the extent that I have had 2 recent trips where I've shot nothing at all. If the picture isn't there, why force it?
So that's it really, at last I've settled in to large format and I have found what I've felt has been missing this last year or so. I realise that shooting this medium is not better than digital, just different. It's also not for everyone but if you've enjoyed following my journey so far and are hankering after trying it......why not give it a go? You may not like it, but you can always resell the kit for pretty much what you paid for it anyhow and if you don't try it you'll never know. All those hurdles I put in front of myself when thinking of it just seemed to fall away one by one.
I'll leave you with a few pictures from my last productive trip just to show what a numpty like me can achieve................
Well my films back.
I sat down with a cup of coffee this afternoon and just stared at the little box on the table for 5 minutes. I cannot remember the last time I wished so hard for something to go right............................
That's it then, can't put it off any longer, gingerly I open the box and pull out the first sheet, Provia 100F. Hold it up to the light.....bang on exposed. Awesome. Then the next sheet and the next sheet and the next............all pretty much spot on....the feeling of euphoria growing. Next the colour neg, Kodak Ektar 100. First sheet......looks good, and the next and the next....shout out a big whoooop! and scare the dog half to death. To say I'm over the moon is an understatement, totally ecstatic. I tried so hard on the Glencoe trip to try an nail my exposures, metering the whole scene, setting the exposure then re- metering the scene again before exposing the film. It paid off. Below is a first home scan of one of the transparencies....
Chamonix 045/F1, Schneider 90mm f/5.6 Super Angulon, 0.25 secs @ f22, Fujifilm Provia 100F, Lee Filters 0.6 soft grad.
I had a wonderful few days up in Glencoe last week, the weather varied from cold, frosty and snowing, to sunny and warm with blue skies. During the trip I managesd to expose 6 sheets of Ektar and 4 sheets of Provia 100F on 5 different compositions. I'm a little anxious again about my metering but this time everything was done with the spot meter as I didn't trust the incident meter with all the bright snow around. This time I also used the Fuji XT-1 to shoot the same compositions......it's a long way to return if the film images don't come out and the conditions were so good. This morning the film was sent off for processing.....the first time I've shot colour neg with the Chamonix, so it is with quite some anticipation that I await to see the results.
On another note, I was asked the other day if I'm happy with the Large Format experience and also with my choice of camera. I have to say the question made me really stop and think about the whole thing....warts and all. The answer has to be a very big yes. In spite of the pitfalls and the very steep learning curve, the hassle of loading/unloading film (see previous post......) and the expense, I feel the benefits far out way any negatives. The sheer pleasure of setting up and using the 5x4, the way it makes me feel "connected" to the whole process, even more so that Medium Format, the methodical and patient way you have to operate the camera and the sheer joy and sense of achievement when you seen the film exposed correctly. I made quite a few digital pictures on this trip, and although I used the same amount of care and thought that I usually practice when setting up, checking composition, using grads, cable release etc, this is the very first time that I felt that the process was a little clinical, a little disappointing perhaps? I don't expect many will understand this but the large format process is a much more involving experience and perhaps I was missing that when I switched to the digital setup. In truth I don't think I'll ever stop using the little Fuji digital but I really hope the day comes when I can regularly go out for the day and use only the Chamonix.
That's it for now, hopefully I'll have a few pictures to share with you by the end of the week, until then here's a ground glass view of one of my compositions.......
My film arrived back from my Bolehill Quarry outing last week and I opened the packaging with bated breath..........did I get it right?
The answer is yes...........and no. I'm quite happy with the picture of the red tree on the rock wall, a touch under exposed but easy enough to rectify after scanning. There was one big surprise however........have you ever wondered what happens to Velvia 50 if you load it back to front? As you can see it comes out bright red! I'm totally surprised that it exposed at all, the celluloid must have acted as a filter. Believe it or not, I have someone who has asked for a print in this bright red form! After scanning and flipping in photoshop, a little work in Silver Efex Pro managed to save the situation and I ended up with quite a reasonable mono image. Please stay tuned for my Glencoe trip report coming tomorrow.......
Talk about cabin fever..............I've not managed any photography for several weeks, what with pressure of work, the poor weather lately, not to mention the little fact of being invited to exhibit 5 pictures at the Joe Cornish Gallery as part of the "First Light" inspired exhibition last weekend. A great honour indeed, to exhibit along side so many very talented photographers, the exhibition will run for about 4 months, but I digress. This morning I decided to head out regardless of the conditions to get my fix of the great outdoors and chose Bolehill Quarry as my destination, simply because it's a hour away and a location I'm familiar with. This turned out to be a good move on two accounts as on arrival the car park was empty..........always a good sign (I know......antisocial bugger), and as I'm familiar with this location and have shot it several times before I didn't feel under any pressure to produce any pictures. I made the most of the solitude and managed to shoot 3 different compositions, all on Fuji Velvia 50, despite the light being very flat indeed and very little sign of contrast. The first image I made I feel on reflection was a little rushed, having shot it before in really good misty light, I decided to shoot it again as a kind of comparison and feel I should have taken more time. The second composition that revealed itself to me I have also shot digitally before, although this time I chose a wider composition from a different angle, the last composition consisted of some silver birch against a rock face. All three compositions held different challenges, I experimented with asymmetric tilt on the first and last and feel that although I'm certainly not accomplished with my Chamonix yet, I'm starting to get to grips with it properly. In all three cases I decided to bracket my exposures, the first made using my spot meter reading, the second using the incident meter reading. The reason I chose to do this was the light was so flat and even I felt it would be good to experiment, increasing my knowledge and experience at the same time. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Velvia 50 dealt with the low contrast and also how it rendered the bright green moss on the millstones.
How did it turn out..............like me you'll just have to wait until the transparencies come back next week. In the meanwhile here's a ground glass view of my first composition............
Here's the full image made at Holme Moss last Monday. I have scanned it on an Epson V800 flatbed scanner using Silverfast 8 software. I have sharpened the image using Unsharp Mask and boosted the contrast a little and a wee bit of saturation to the sky only. The film used was Fujifilm Velvia 50, the technical details are,
Chamonix 045/F1 view camera
Nikon 180mm F/5.6
14 seconds @ F32, Lee Filters 0.6 soft graduated filter.
Processing was done by Peak Imaging in Sheffield, they come highly recommended and the turnaround time was only 3 days.
Well, my first ever 5x4 transparencies arrived back from the lab this morning. Good news and bad really, of the 9 sheets sent off for processing only 5 had usable images on them. I had already anticipated this as you may recall from the last installment. The 4 sheets that I exposed after metering on the wrong iso setting were badly underexposed. However the remaining sheets seemed quite good. The 2 bracketed exposures I took on Holme Fell were not to bad at all. One was exposed really well but I under-graded the sky by one stop. It's not too bad at all as there was no detail in the sky at all, just a pre-dawn salmon pink glow I'm happy with the result. The second was overexposed by maybe half a stop. The other woodland shot I made the day before has also turned out quite well.
The first experience of viewing your own transparencies is not to be underestimated. If I was a little unsure if I had made the right decision moving up to 5x4, this was put completely out of my mind on viewing my first results. Sure, the compositions may not set the world alight but they were more to test me and my focusing/metering skills and to try and work out a system or process if you will. The sight of a sheet of Velvia 50, well exposed is a pure delight.
The next step was to scan the sheets onto the computer. To do this I used my Epson V800 scanner and Epson Scan. I used the Professional mode but made no adjustments, just set the resolution to 2400 Dpi, which equates to a Tiff file of just over 500mb. The results are stunning. The amount of detail captured is truly mind blowing. The depth of the tones, tonal separation and colour rendition of Fuji Velvia 50 really did leave me stunned. If you think I'm waxing lyrical, please try and view one on a lightbox or as a full tiff file, awesome.
So, the question is.......has it been worth it so far? That'll be an unreserved YES. Would I recommend it to others............that's a bit more difficult to answer. If like me you wish to slow down, become more methodical in your whole approach, have a boatload of patience........or wish to acquire more patience, like the thought of making your life a whole lot more difficult to exercise the grey matter more..........the rewards are there in the long run. Is it better that digital capture? Well, there are a few benefits, huge image files with the ability for huge prints or crops. Colour Neg film has a very large exposure/dynamic range. Tonal depth and colour separation. But on the whole I don't think it is necessarily better, no more than I think digital capture is better. The Digital age has brought so much to photography in the last decade or so I'd be daft to say it was inferior. What large format ultimately is, is different. A whole new ballgame for myself, so much so it seems a completely different experience altogether. It is this experience, not ultimately any benefits, that I've fallen in love with.
After exposing 6 sheets of Velvia 50 in the last installment I decide it was about time to unload and reload some film. Now this I approached with not a little trepidation...........this was one of the two things that had prevented my journey into large format. I had received my changing bag/tent from Calumet so there was no excuse, time to start.
I organised everything beforehand, empty film box put into tent, darkslides put into tent, double zips fastened......away we go. Well.....turns out it was a lot easier that I thought (having practiced in the living room with an empty darkslide helped no end). Open the box, turn it over and open it again (double sealed). Pull the first darkslide half out on the top film holder, open the flap, grip the end of the film between finger tips and gently slide out. Place film in box. Re-close darkslide, turn over and repeat, making sure each time the film went into the box the same way round. It all went without a hitch, result 3 empty film holders. I then replaced the lid, turned the box over and replaced the second lid, jobs a good 'un.
After emptying the changing tent I carefully cleaned all 3 film holders of any dust particles, switched all the darkslides back over to the un-exposed position, leaving them all half out. Into the tent they went with some fresh unopened Velvia 50. The re-loading is just the reverse really, making sure the notch in the film sheets were all top right corner, double checking that each piece went under the bottom notch in the film holder. After I had finished I re-checked each film holder in turn to make sure everything was correctly loaded, double sealed the box with the remaining film, finished.
I have to say it was probably easier that writing about it, anyone with a reasonable amount of dexterity would not have any problems, it is just really important to be organised and careful. All the concerns that plagued me about this whole process were completely meaningless and should definitely not dissuade anyone from taking the plunge.
I mentioned film changing was one of the reasons that prevented me from taking the plunge, the other was exposure and using a light meter. Most of us take our digital camera's metering for granted. I for one was so used to letting the camera give a rough idea, checking the histogram and adjusting as necessary. You just can't do that with film............The ever helpful and very knowledgeable Tim Parkin came to the rescue....(again). A quick demonstration and away we go. How did it turn out............I'll let you know, the first sheets of Velvia were posted to Peak Imaging this morning and it really is with some trepidation that I await the results. Will I have remembered to meter correctly? doe's the camera or changing tent have a light leak? did I make any errors withdrawing/replacing the darkslides? Well, like me you'll just have to wait and see.................
Great news, this morning I finally got to expose my first few sheets of Velvia 50. The day started out quite well, I lieu of the fact I don't yet have a focusing cloth my wife Christine kindly donated an old long black skirt....fully lined of course. I have to say it makes a fantastic make do Focusing cloth and worked really quite well (see photo's below). So the stage was set, a quick call last evening to a photographer friend saw us turning up at a very small local woods just before dawn. A quick scout around and I came across an interesting composition that would be quite challenging to focus on. In the pre-sunrise light I eagerly set up and came across the first issue of the day......not enough light to see the ground glass properly. No worries, time for a cuppa from the trusty Thermos. One cup of coffee later and I could just about make out the image on the glass enough for focusing. Second issue, I have not received the very nice x4 Nikon loupe I have ordered yet and x2 reading glasses are not quite up to the job. Luckily my friend has his loupe with him and so the stage was set.
Focus with the bellows.......a little asymmetric tilt on the rear standard......fine tune on the bellows....sorted. Close the shutter. Meter the scene at varying points and set the exposure 2 EVs under the highlights making sure the shadows did not fall below -4 EV. Re-meter the scene. Set the aperture and load the film holder into the rear of the camera. Check fire the shutter to make sure I've closed it after focusing. Set the shutter to manual and check my phone app to see how much time to add for reciprocity failure......metered time 15 sec, total exposure time needed.......24 seconds. Remove the darkslide, cock the shutter, press the shutter release and start my stopwatch simultaneously. watch closely.......tick,tick,tick....close shutter, job done. Like clockwork? maybe, I repeated this again with the film holder reversed (good job I did, more of which later) for a second exposure and then twice more shooting a vertical.
So...how was it you may ask? I can only describe it as awesome. The composition is not going to set the world alight but as the film stock in the holders is well past date I'm unsure of the outcome anyhow. The whole experience was very enlightening, the careful methodical way of working very relaxing, composing under the dark cloth really makes you feel at one with what your doing and I did not feel that even though the image is inverted it did not cause a moments worry. This is the very thing that has been missing for me....... a slow, methodical, thought provoking workflow that really makes me feel at one with my subject matter.
On arrival home I discovered two things.......first my film changing bag had arrived and secondly, when checking my kit before stowing it away found that all morning I had been metering for 100 asa not 50 asa like I should have been. That'll be 4 sheets of Velvia underexposed by one stop then........not quite...
I decided that I had best unload the 4 sheets of Velvia in the changing bag I had bought without delay. The bag come from Calumet and was a bit of a bargain really, pops up into a lightproof material box which I found has plenty of room to unload a couple of film holders in. Then we come back to the "not quite".......you see there was only 3 sheets of Velvia to unload, one side of one film holder was empty. As they came loaded I had no way of checking until the changing bag had arrived.
All in all I would count today as a real success, I've learnt that my 11 step checklist needs to become a 12 stepper.......how easy it is to set up the Chamonix provided you take your time and think through what you are doing. I've also learnt that unloading darkslides by feel alone is not much fun but not difficult to do.
After the saga of the lens arriving fitted with the wrong lens board a desperate scrabble around ebay turned up the right item....at a price. Ordered on Friday it arrived next day (Christmas Eve). Eagerly I set the camera up, changed the board on the lens over.......much simpler that I had expected, and draped a blanket over to act as a makeshift dark cloth. Well, I knew that the image would be inverted and back to front but I must say it is going to take some getting used to. I was surprised just how easy it is to focus the Chamonix as the focusing knob is fitted beneath the ground glass, so no reaching forward out of sight and feeling for it. The Chamonix came fitted with a Fresnel in front of the ground glass and although I'm not sure just how much this improves the view through the glass but I found it clear and quite bright with the lens wide open at f/5.6. I then spent an hour or so practicing achieving focus by adjusting the front and rear standards for tilt. Although I understand the theory I'm sure this will cause a few headaches along the way until I fully master it.
I have also come up with a written list to help when I start exposing film. The steps I need to take when setting up the shot are as follows.....
1, Open the shutter.
2, Open the lens to it's widest aperture (f/5.6 on the Nikon 180mm).
2, Compose and focus.
4, Close shutter.
5, set aperture and shutter speed.
6, Cock Shutter, test fire and cock again. (This will make sure that I have closed the shutter before loading the film holder).
7, Tap the film holder to make sure the film is sitting correctly.
8, Insert film holder.
9, Withdraw darkslide.
10, Take picture.
11, Replace the darkslide the other way around to show that that side has been exposed.
Well, that's it for now, I just need to sort out a proper darkcloth and loupe and I should be ready to expose some film.
The learning curve steepens.
When I purchase the Chamonix 5x4 camera I was very fortunate to be able to acquire 6 double dark slides, which for those who don't know are film holders which hold a sheet of film on both sides in total darkness until you withdraw the slides to expose each sheet individually. The bonus was that these came pre-loaded with Fuji Velvia 50 sheet film. Now as they have to be loaded in complete and total darkness the first issue I came across is what an earth can I unload them into when exposed? Not having bought any film yet I do not have any film boxes. A quick scour on Ebay turned up nothing so I put a call out on Facebook. After as little as half an hour I received a message from a photographer whose work I have been admiring for many years and who posted 4 empty double sealed film boxes to me at no cost. I am very grateful to Richard Childs for his generous donation and if you have never seen his work I promise it is well worth a look as to me it's quite amazing indeed. Richard shoots Large Format as well as digital and is a source of constant inspiration. His website can be found at www.richardchildsphotography.co.uk and is worth visiting for the cover picture alone.
Earlier this week my first lens arrived from Japan. I ordered a 180mm f/5.6 Nikon as it looked in great condition used. It took a mere 3 days to arrive in the UK but was then stuck in customs for a week or so. On arrival I eagerly opened the box and found it to be virtually pristine, no marks/haze/fungus at all. After checking the aperture and shutter were working ok I proceed to set up the Chamonix in eager anticipation of getting my first view on the ground glass of my very own 5x4 camera. Ah.......the lens does not fit.....bugger. It seems that although it was supposed to be fitted with a Linhof style lens board the one it arrived with certainly wasn't. A quick scour of ebay again and yet another purchase looms. I have to say I was quite disappointed as I would have liked to have exposed my first sheet of film before the new year. Once again Tim Parkin from OnLandscape magazine (www.onlandscape.co.uk) has come to the rescue. Tim has kindly offered to loan a darkcloth and loupe and has a spare Linhof board so next week I'm off to visit and hopefully I'll be all set.
I have chosen a Nikon 180mm f/5.6 as my normal lens which is slightly longer than the usual choice. Normally the usual choice is 150mm but I chose the 180mm based on the lenses I like to shoot with my digital camera. In the future I figure that I will purchase something in the region of 105 - 120mm as a moderate wide angle lens and something around the 250mm mark as a short long lens. This very roughly compares in 35mm terms to a focal length setup of 40mm/60mm/85mm.
Well, after all this you may be thinking "oh what a palaver......" but the truth is that I am so excited by the whole Large Format thing that although it may have stalled me slightly, it has in no way dampened my enthusiasm or determination. With a little more research I could have made things a little easier on myself I suppose............but then if I wanted easier I'd have just stuck with digital capture.
For quite a while now I have been quietly pondering on the subject of my own photography. I really enjoy my photography, I love the way it forces me to arise long before dawn, perhaps there is a long journey to my chosen location, perhaps it's just a few miles. I love the preparation the night before and the anticipation of what awaits. Will I rise to the challenges that I may find? will I be able to create an image that encompasses the feelings that I have for today's particular location and can I do it justice on a 2 dimensional screen or print?
The longer I mused over the things that I love about landscape photography, the more I realised that it is the very act of locating, composing and making the picture that gave me the most satisfaction. With this in mind my thoughts slowly turned towards shooting film. The extra challenges film poses to the modern photographer (post digital that is) would surely enhance the whole experience? At first I started off shooting with a Nikkormat 35mm camera which was a lot of fun but I still felt there was something to be gained by going bigger......................
Enter stage left a used Mamiya 645 Super and a few choice lenses for what seemed like a pittance. Now this is more like it, loading the film backs, dark slides, rudimentary metering the lot. The size and weight alone mean that this is not really a point and shoot bit of kit, it takes a little more thought about how and when to use it. So there we were...............happily bumbling along................but..............in the back of my mind I still felt that I was not really getting the whole experience..............
It started off quite innocently really, I accidentally stumble across a few Youtube videos made by an American photographer called Ben Horne. Now Ben makes beautiful images in locations such as Zion National Park and Death Valley. Nothing unusual in that, except he shoots with a 10x8 view camera. His videos show just how dedicated you have to be to become successful with such a beast. Now I had given Large Format photography a thought in the past but had not really known enough about it to give it serious consideration. Then there's the cost involved, digital photography costs virtually nothing once you have all the kit you need. Go out and shoot 100 frames.....no problem, Large Format....well let's just say your probably looking at 4-5 quid a click. Not long after discovering these videos I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Tim Parkin at his home to have a look around his Drum Scanning setup. While I was there Tim showed me around a few of his LF cameras and then a few slides on his light table. Now.............to say I was bowled over is an understatement, the quality of the images was amazing, totally beyond what I could hope to achieve with my current digital setup. If you have ever wondered just how good sheet film photography is I suggest you look at a good image, made on Fuji Velvia 50, on a light table. The colour rendition, sharpness, colour separation and saturation as well as the (to me at least) level of detail was astonishing.
The seed was sown. I started to research Large Format in a big way. The size/weight of camera as well as the cost of film etc meant that I soon discounted 10x8 in favour of the more common 5x4. I messaged Tim about a Shen Hao camera I had seen advertised and he suggested that I would be better of with a Chamonix, he also had a friend who was willing to part with such a camera....................
One very long round trip to Birmingham saw me returning home with a beautifully crafted Chamonix 045f1 view camera and half a dozen double dark slides (many thanks again Paul, much appreciated). I must admit I set it up on my tripod and spent the best part of an hour just getting to know how things work. I then ordered a Nikon Nikkor W 180mm f5.6 standard lens, which as I write is winging it's way towards me.
So what am I hoping to achieve?
I am hoping that I can learn to slow down even more, to relish the new challenges and limitations that this new style of photography brings and hopefully improve and grow as a photographer. Most of all I am looking forward to just enjoying the whole experience. After all is said and done, isn't that what it's all about..........having fun?
Please feel free to join me on my journey...............I may not post weekly updates but as and when I progress I'll post up the progress and the pitfalls as I see them.
Thanks for reading.