Category: Notes

Large format – first attempts

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.


Part 5 Project 2 – Fantasy shooting modes

For Exercise 5.2 I set the camera to AV, aperture priority mode, as depth of field was the most important technical consideration for me in making this shot.  I wanted the main sign to dominate the field of focus and act as a barrier to see clearly further into the space.  I wanted everything else to be slightly less distinct, congruent with its physical inaccessibility. An aperture of f/5.6 gave a shallow depth of field that seemed to achieve the desired effect.

In an ideal world what preset modes would I want on my camera?  In some ways I would be happy with little more than Manual as I am now using this setting more often on my DSLR and is effectively all I am working with on my film cameras, my Leica and the new 4×5.  That said, I would ago for:  TA – Technical Ability which enables the camera to take the perfect shot every time!  Otherwise, V – Verity or Truth.

Part 5 Project 2 – Photography as information 2

Again, still waiting for Flusser’s book to arrive but subject to actually reading it I think his observation and comparison with writing is correct.  This is something that applies to any visual art, as Berger observes.  The final sentence of the paragraph cited in the course material, but which is not quoted, is, I think, particularly pertinent:

“The painting maintains its own authority.”

The image stands for itself and on its own terms, despite the passage of time, and does not need words to validate or justify it.  This seems to chime with what Benjamin has to say about stories.

That does not mean though that an image is immutable, that it is not capable of rereading or reinterpretation over time, as we saw in Barrett’s article.  That would, for me at least, reinforce the argument that photographs are like stories. But, like stories, they can be retold in different times and places to produce different outcomes or messages.  They can also be reordered and looked at in different sequences to produce something new.

As an aside, I was intrigued by Frank’s work being referred to in the context of time being closed in a circle.  I had not previously thought of this so have gone back to his book and a couple of thoughts now occur to me.  One is that I already knew that there were a number of recurring themes or subjects in the book, such as cars, American flags, and social separation or differences.  What I had not noticed before is the way they recur in a sort of cyclical way, though I would say it is more of an irregular spiral than a circle.  More importantly though, from a temporal point of view, is that none of the pictures are dated in their captions.  In a way they have been placed out of linear time and have become, in a way, timeless.  It strikes me that many of his photos might well appear very similar if they were taken today, despite all the so-called advances in American society (which is not a sense I get from, for example, William Klein, whose work, strangely, looks more dated now).


Berger, J, (1972).  Ways of Seeing.  London:  Penguin.

Frank, R (2016).  The Americans.  Göttingen: Steidl

Klein, W, (2016).  Life is Good & Good for You in New York.  New York:Errata Editions

Part 5 Project 2 – Photography as information

I had already come across the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi. mentioned in this part of the course book, by chance when looking through the Aperture Foundation website and noticing her book Ametsuchi.  (I do not have a copy but think I might have to get one! – Since originally posting this I have acquired a book of Kawauchi-san’s work and have written a separate post on it)  I had though not seen this earlier work before reading the Guardian article:

It might be said that from a technical point of view this is not a great picture – overexposed and out of focus – but that would be to miss the point of her work and what this photo actually successfully conveys, all the more so because it is “improbable” as Flusser would say.  What kind of information is included in it?  It is clearly a picture of a flower – I am not much of a horticulturist but assume this is a rose.  In this respect I do not feel this image conveys any less information about it as a rose than a conventionally exposed photograph might convey.  Yes, it would no doubt convey more precise information about the details of the bloom but I doubt it would tell us more about the photographer’s observation of it and relationship to it.  I think Andrew O’Hagan gets it right when he talks of a sense of intimacy.  Coming back again to the  Flusser quotation, she has looked at the flower in a new way and has presented an image that is new, that has not been seen before.  Certainly I have never looked at a flower in the same way before and found quite as engaging and intriguing as this one.

It might be said that Kawauchi is not just presenting straightforward visual information but is conveying something much more to do with the process of looking and her emotional response to what she sees, things that are much less physical or tangible.  To that extent i see this as a much richer experience, and a more interesting and satisfying one, than if this had shown a flower in sharp, clear focus.

I think that before considering more about “information” and reflecting on the remainder of this part of the course material, I am going to have to read Flusser’s book properly and post again – a copy is ordered and on its way! (It is available in the UCA on-line library but I do not really enjoy reading books like this on-screen and find it easier to make notes, and use Post-Its with the physical volume.)  In the meantime though I will start to think about Exercise 5.3.