Large Format Photography : Lessons from the field #7

Large format is expensive. Large format is slow. Large format is unforgiving. However I've always loved the slow and meditative process. However when it works, it is pure magic. I've been a long time film user and recently started using film again. My last attempt (circa 2005) to do large format work was a mixed bag and ended on a sour note (no pun) as I tumbled down a cascade. And so did my camera and lens on a tripod which I tried to hold on to in panic. It took about 12 years to recover and start large format photography again. This is an attempt to write about the thought process, technical aspects and lessons re-learned during my second attempt.

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My approach in the field and composition choice at the location for large format. I decided to go with Rodenkstock Sironar S-150mm . Please click on notes and images on how I arrived at the exposure for film and development choice. Click to view large.

Chamonix 45N2 with Rodenstock Sirnoar S 150mm/f5.6. Ilford fp4+ exposed at ISO100. Rocks in the cascade exposed at Zone 3 and developed for 6:15 min in Ilfosol at 21C. Click to view large.

I had a Monday afternoon free and decided to go for a test-hike in south wales. The waterfall country is a brilliant 7 mile hike and a good test hike with all the camping and LF gear. I have done this hike in the past so there was no pressure of making images as such. However with heavy rain over the past two days and mist in the air I decided to make this image using Ilford FP4+. The final exposure was 22” and not matter what I did I could not get rid of the spray on the front element / pol filter. Instead of fighting it I decided to use it as an element reflecting the elements. This is quote a popular spot however I reached here by 6pm and had it almost to myself.

I have added a new “taking field notes” as part of my large format image making routine now. I found these brilliant Rite in the Rain pencils and spiral notebooks and now use it regularly. The combination works brilliantly and is rugged enough for UK weather. Please check images above to know how I use it.

So here are the lessons I learnt from this outing -

  • Test hikes are good. It allows me to test various new equipment without the pressure of making any images.

  • Don’t fight the elements. Use them. The mist on the lens makes this image even better, I think.

  • Always have a duplicate negative of the same scene. Practice I’ve been following now for a while (Thanks Ben!). It is the same exposure setting but to have a back up in case negative gets damaged for some reason. Here while unloading the film I scratched the emulsion side a little. It is not terrible but I’m happy I had another negative of the same scene with the same exposure.


Here are the images I’ve made in the past on this trail. All images made with Canon EOS6D. First three with Canon 45mm TS-E and the last one one Olympus Zuiko 24mm MC. Adding here just for fun.

The dozen - 2017

As per the latest trend here they are. I have never done it in the past. My criteria has been simple - will I print these and hang on my own living room wall? If yes, then it does qualify. If you like any and want to hang them on your wall please let me know. All the profits are donated to the "Project WIN".

It has been an exceptional year as I finally decided to come of out of the hibernation and also had the opportunity to hike/wild camp in various parts of the Scotland and Wales, two of my favorite destinations. Apart from family photos and climbing images I rarely ventured out to do any serious landscape photography for almost 5+ years. Few of the trips were more of a family holiday however early morning hikes to make an image or two were approved. And with our cottages at ideal locations in terms of distance to some of the iconic places I was able to find an hour before sunrise when the rest of the family was still asleep. Interestingly one of the images also made it to my "Mirror-me" portfolio - Images which are reflection of myself, the way I see landscape.

It was an extended Christmas break and early morning flying adventure at ZipWorld was booked for my wife. I was having a snack with my son in our car which was parked in a lay-by when these Godbeams broke through the clouds bathing the whole scene into golden/warm light. It was a magical moment as the mundane turned into something spectacular for a couple of minutes. I grabbed my A7ii with Loxia 50mm attached. Thanks to the best possible way of manual focusing available today with this combo I could make two shots before it all vanished.

Sony A7ii + Loxia 50mm, Handheld and no filters. Please click on the image to view large.

You can read/view the story here. Click to view large.

Click to view large. Sony A7ii + 70-200FE

Perhaps the most photographed place in Scotland however I have been here multiple times to capture it different conditions and it does not seize to amaze me every time I'm there. And I almost always think that this must have been the Cuiviénen Tolkien has written about.

Sony A7ii + Loxia 21mm. Polarizer filter to remove glare. Click to view large.

Another morning here and my only time till date when I was with few other photographers. It was an interesting interaction as I got to know a fellow photographer from Italy/Swiss who was visiting Scotland. There was another gentleman who had set up his tripod etc. I asked him if I'm getting into his shot as he was shooting quite wide (I believe Nikon 14-24mm on FF). He said it is all fine so I found another slightly different composition (as different as it can be at this location) however for some reason my lens was fogged internally due to condensation and I could not get rid of it. So I left my camera with the lens on the tripod. As the first light started to hit the peaks he got quite excited and decided to put the tripod where I had set up and literally told me "get out of his view". As I was not making any images due to condensation (and how many images from this magical place do I really need?) I was cool with it. While he was setting it up he dropped his filter adapter in the river. He had to get into the icy water to take it out and then just could not attach it to his lens. It was amusing. In the meanwhile I grabbed coffee from my thermos in the car, mind you the car park is like 20m away. Enjoyed my coffee with the lightshow of a lifetime on my favorite mountain. And as always it all vanished in minutes. So did the condensation on my lens. Well, almost. I decided to make a memoir of the incident image with fogged lens and all that. And I think it has give this image an ethereal feel. What do you think?

Click to view large. Sony A7ii + Loxia 21mm.

Next images are from our road trip to the Isle of Skye and are literally a case of - bit of planning and bit of luck.

Click to view large. Sony A7ii + 70-200FE.

It was one of the fantastic light display after two days of rain and we were having our dinner in the pub next to this lovely place. Believe it or not this is made with moon light that evening as it was a full moon. I call it "The dragon and the snake". It is still a work in progress as I'm not sure about the processing.

Click to view large. Sony A7ii + Loxia 21mm. Pol Filter.

After missing the sunset I was lucky to see this possibility thanks to the temporary traffic lights in the middle of nowhere for road-works. This is where digital capture excels. It would have been impossible to make this image with my large format or any other film gear. Quick high-iso shots confirmed the composition was how I wanted. And then it was a matter of setting the ISo 100 exposure of the depth of field. I'm calling it moonlit.

Click to view large. Sony A7ii + Loxia 50mm.

The mandatory stop on the way back from Glencoe for all the Harry Potter fans. There were so many tourists and buses flying by (no pun) that setting up a tripod was impossible. This is, believe it or not, handheld-ISO100-ThreeImageBlend panorama. Well, actually you can. See the adjacent image.

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100s

Click to view large. Sony A7ii + Loxia 50mm. Handheld thanks to the image stabilisation.

Next two images are from my wild camping trip in Wales.

My first successful shot using 4x5 which I started using after a gap of some 12 years. I hope to scan it using drum scanning one day. This is digitized using copy stand set up. I made some mistake while pulling the dark slide and had to crop it a little.

Intrepid 4x5 Gen 2 + 150mm Schneider APO, Kodak Ektar 100.

Click to view large. Sony A7 ii + Loxia 21mm. 2 Stop GND.

Click to view large. Sony A7 ii + Loxia 21mm. 2 Stop GND.

I know. This is the 13th image. However people and portraits is my another passion. And I had to add this handsome old man's portrait. Happy new year to you all!

Sony NEX 6 + 35mm Leica Summicron IV - my favorite travel combination.