Ever wonder what goes into making a large format photograph? No? You’re a pussy. Read on.
The camera itself is pretty simple: two vertical boards, called standards, on a horizontal pole or bed, one with film, one with a lens connected by bellows. You slide them along to focus and move them in relation to each other to correct for naturally occurring convergence and other lens-distortion and perspective-generated evils. The product is a large piece of film with your image on it, the grand size of which becomes easier to appreciate as you grow older and your vision declines, and when I say your, I mean mine.
Simple, right? WRONG.
A typical session might be something like this: I see an intriguing tree, leaning just off vertical, next to a crumbling shack. Yummy textures. Interesting light. I set up the tripod and put the camera on it (10 minutes). I select a lens and mount it. (3 minutes). Attach the dark cloth to the camera and poke my head inside, focus by twiddling some knobs, rotate the camera for composition. (5 minutes). I change my mind about the lens, change it out, go back under the cloth, re-focus, re-compose (3 minutes). Move the tripod for better composition, back under the cloth, re-focus, re-compose (7 minutes). Change my mind about the lens now that the tripod is in a different place. Re-mount, under the cloth to re-focus, re-compose (3 minutes). Try to decide if there is anything truly vertical in the shot to line up on. (2 minutes). Mess with the front and rear standards, notice that if I shoot straight-on the crooked tree looks unnatural and the building contrived. (5 minutes). Try to make the building look better and now tree looks uninteresting. (4 minutes). Refuse to change lenses though it might be a better idea. Compromise on relationship between tree and building–the background is the part that looks natural now. (2 minutes). Fine tune the focus. Massage twinges in back, try to arrest leg trembling, get stung by maverick wasp. Out of the cloth I move bellows out of the way where they cover part of the film plane, back inside I correct for the vignetting at the corners because I should have used another lens, curse several times. (6 minutes) Bust out light meter and decide on exposure. (4 minutes) Wipe sweat from eyes, cloud moves over the sun, scene is now completely dull. Inspect the sky, calculate wind direction, decide it’s worth waiting for the sun. Remove dark cloth, insert film holder and wait. (8.2 minutes). Set up lens, cock shutter, test. Check the sky. Remove dark slide, poise finger on shutter release. Wait, wait, wait, yes, yes, got it. I hope. Replace dark slide. Total time: 44.2 minutes. Collapse on ground, hope lightning strikes me.
Repeat until I run out of film, inspiration, energy, will to live.
Go home, wait a few days, mix up some chemicals, develop the film. Out of 5 sheets, 4 are, well, sheet. The 4 bad ones can have lots of problems; select 2 of the following: bumped the camera; dark corners; misread the light; scratched the film; can’t tell why I took the shot; uneven development; light leaks; didn’t pay proper attention to dark slide and double expose the film; expose an empty holder; include finger, cable release or bug on lens; used color film instead of b&w. See? Simple and joyful, every damn minute.
Isn’t this inspiring? No? You’re a pussy.