Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'm small format and I like it

A local photographer gave a presentation at a gallery this evening. I've followed his work for quite some time, and received an e-mail invitation to the event. I wanted to go for a few reasons, including seeing his work again and meeting the photographer himself. Mostly, though, his invitation to "look at the ground glass of my large format camera and see what it's like" was the kicker.

His camera is similar to the types of cameras used by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. My experience is all 35mm and DSLR (and not even full-frame sensor at that). I've never been able to look at the ground glass on a large format camera, but I've wondered what it's like. I knew the image is backwards and inverted, because a large format camera doesn't use a pentaprism full of mirrors like an SLR. Beyond that, I had no clue.

We made tonight a Date Night, eating an early dinner out and then heading to the gallery. The work was beautiful, the presentation abyssmal (he's a phenomenal photographer and, as M says, he should stick to that). I felt bad for him; I think he was really nervous. After he was done he invited us to try the camera.

I put the loupe around my neck and ducked under the focusing cloth. I moved the loupe around on the ground glass and messed with the focus knobs. I heard M say to the photographer, "The longer she's under there, the more worried I get."

No need for worry. Whatever magic I thought I might feel going under the cloth wasn't there. I mean, it was very much a real treat for me to try it, but it confirmed what I already suspected: I am not, nor will I ever be, a large format shooter.

I discovered that I'm perfectly happy losing myself one-eyed in the bright viewfinder of my D300, and that as soon as I put my eye up to it, the world around me vanishes and all I'm conscious of is the image before me. I don't need a focusing cloth or a giant piece of ground glass to feel the magic of photography.

The photographer walked us through his creative process. There were some similarities, but far more differences. He scopes out locations. So do I. He likes to crop after the image is made. So do I. That's pretty much it.

He lugs his camera out to his chosen location (including the 40 lb tripod) and it takes him about an hour to set up, meter the light and shoot his first Polaroid. He only shoots at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. because that's when the light is best for his type of photography. The Polaroid allows him to check exposure. He then uses a little cardboard contraption called The Cropper to play around on the Polaroid and figure out where, exactly, he's going to crop. He'll shoot much larger than that and then crop later in the darkroom, but he likes to know his crop before he makes the image to ensure he's got exposure exactly the way he wants it.* Finally, he inserts negative film into the back and makes his actual shot.

As many of you know, I am not a patient person. At all. This would not be a good work style for me. I need to shoot and move on. I've been this way from the beginning. I admit to making more images now that I've gone digital simply because it doesn't cost any more to trip the shutter. I'll work a subject more now, finding different angles and moving inches just to vary the composition. I'll even go back at different times to catch different light or try to get some interesting clouds in the sky.

But to make only one image in an hour to an hour and a half? Not my bag, baby.

So, tonight was thoroughly enjoyable and knowledgable, and an utter confirmation that I am destined to remain a small format shooter. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

*It just hit me how funny this paragraph would read if you substituted "crap" and all its iterations for "crop."

P.S. I put the link for The Cropper in there so you non-photographer readers would know I'm not making this up. There is actually a product called The Cropper. Blew my mind. All these years I've just been using a couple pieces of mat board scrap.


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