5.11.2010

Flash back to the early part of this century. The long goodbye.

front porch

It's pretty easy to get typecast as a certain kind of photographer these days.  But recently we've been getting more and more jobs that require me to use some of the old skills.  This is from one of the last jobs I did almost completely with a 4x5 view camera.  And it wasn't that long ago.  I think it was 2004.  Camera:  Linhof Technica,  135mm Symmar lens,  Fuji 4x5 transparency film.  No lights.


I got a call from Michael Murphy who at the time was the photo editor for Texas Highways Magazine.  I'd done a piece for them about the little town of Boerne, Texas previously.  Mike must have liked the work because he invited me back to do a feature article on Elgin, Texas.   I read the writer's first draft to get an idea of what to cover and then I thru my camera gear in the car and headed down the road.

It was summertime so it was nice and hot and sticky just about every where I went.  I shot the rodeo one night and it was probably the only part of the job job I shot on 35 transparency film.  Everything else, from photos of people barbaque-ing to profile portraits I did on the big camera.

I can remember today driving slowly down the main street looking for just the right view of the historic buildings before parking the car and hauling out the battered Gitzo tripod and setting up the camera.  I'd look through a monocular viewing hood (like a modern Hoodman loupe only ten times bigger) then hoist the tripod over my shoulder and head in closer by ten feet or so and then look again.

When I found a composition I wanted I'd stand there in the heat, a little breeze flapping my shorts against my legs and jiggling the bellows, and focus my camera, mindful of the need to distribute the sharpness carefully.  Then I'd stop down and re-check focus at my taking aperture.  Usually f16 or f22.  Then I'd mosey back over to the car and pull a couple of film holders out of my Coleman cooler.  Didn't need Polaroid in direct sun.  It was always pretty much the same exposure parameters and the Texas Highways Budget wasn't rich.  I'd do a three sheet bracket:  1/2 a stop under, 1/2 a stop over, and one right on the money.  I used the shutter speeds to bracket.  Sometimes I'd use a China marker to write a note on the white space near the business end of the film holder but most times I just ran sheet film thru the lab at their normal settings.

Then I'd hoist the camera up over my shoulder and head back to the car.  I always took time to put the camera back in the case.  I'd hate to mess up a ground glass by having it rattling around exposed.

I don't remember the view camera being too difficult.  I'd worked with one since 1978, for a while almost daily, and I'd gone thru the routine thousands of times.  What I did like about the view camera is how it slowed everything down.  You spent a lot more time considering shots and then considering the best way to shoot something.  You almost never had difficulty editing down your take.....

And there was a lot to love.  Literally.  If you nailed focus and exposure you could do mind boogling enlargements in magazines and in the darkroom and you could crop till you were using a tiny quarter of the frame and still pull off a good image.  I used the view camera a lot for shooting flash outdoors.  With a nice 2000 watt pack and a convenient wall outlet you could almost work miracles.

And all the lenses sync'd at all the shutter speeds.  But the great thing about using a view camera was all the range of movements.  Tilts, shifts and swings on every standard.  Not just on the front standard like the TS lenses for Canon and Nikon.

The new digital cameras are fun but I think someone should hold a workshop to teach old view camera techniques.  We'd get together enough cameras for everyone in the class, put normal lenses on em and then head out and learn to use all the movements.  What a great way to learn theory and exposure.  Probably only want three people in a workshop as that's how many would fit in an Element besides the driver.  And it's a pretty good number for a nice, leisurely lunch.

Anyway, after we did this article the tide washed over us and we started having clients finally demand the new, free, immediate digital stuff.  Not better or worse, just different.

Still remember my first days with those old cameras.  That's back when no self respecting photographer had a fancy focusing hood---we just used black focusing clothes.  The real trick was---how long could you stand up on an August day in humid, 105 degree heat under a black cloth before the sweat rendered the controls uncontrollable and before you fell over...