Following my earlier rumination about film I have now had my first go with my new large format 4×5 camera. I have tried both 4×5 sheet film and 120 roll but have so far developed only a handful of 4x5s as I have yet to finish a roll of 120.
I was not expecting much to come of these first experiments but I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the results. Here is just one example:
f/22, 1s, ISO 125
This is far from perfect but nevertheless I find the outcome quite encouraging. Firstly, the composition has come out well despite the fact that I found it hard to view the scene properly through the back of the camera. I think the issue here is that I need a focusing cloth. Secondly, although it does not necessarily show up well here, the amount of detail that has been captured is amazing. I used Ilford FP4 Plus which is generally regarded as a good all-round film that captures detail well. In addition I was impressed by the depth of field. The lens on my camera goes all the way up to f/64 and I expect that at that level the results will be almost hallucinatory, as I find with a lot of Ansel Adams’s work.
The big problem with this shot though is the exposure. Although I quite like the almost antique feel to it, and the way it reminds me of the work of Samuel Palmer, there are clearly large areas in the upper half that are over-exposed.
From a learning point of view this is probably the most important thing that I get from this experiment. Modern digital cameras meter the available light automatically. My Canon is generally set to evaluative metering so it is measuring the light right across the field of view. I have no idea how the process works but it choses apertures and shutter speeds that result in the picture being properly exposed (by and large) right across the range. What I did with the 4×5 is take a single reading from the centre of the view and set the camera accordingly. Clearly though this resulted in those parts that were in more direct sunlight being overexposed. Therefore what I think I need to do with the next round of pictures is take a series of readings from various parts of the scene and then, probably, set the camera in accordance with the most brightly lit areas. That might well result in some parts being underexposed but I suspect will give a better overall balance. I can of course also make some adjustments in Photoshop but I would rather get things as nearly right as possible when taking the photograph itself.
Above all what I learn from this experience is that I need to be much more thoughtful and aware of the processes involved with analog photography and make more considered judgments about how each shot should be approached as there is nothing that can be left up to the camera to decide. Hopefully that will in turn start to inform my approach with the digital camera as well.