Most of my images are made with a Large Format View Camera. This ancient camera design, heavy and complex, still offers the landscape photographer the best possible quality and control over the image (both focus and perspective). It encourages the photographer to slow down and consider what he is doing.
I have owned and used bucket loads of digital cameras over the years. Yet I still choose to make my images using a camera design that hasn't altered much for 100 years. Using such a camera - practicing the large format camera craft or 'dark arts' as they are sometimes called - is a pleasure and that above any other reason is why I still make 95% of my images this way.
Once I get the film back from the lab, modern technology kicks in. I scan the image onto my computer and use software to control the final characteristics of the print (colour balance, contrast, dust removal etc.) on a calibrated monitor. I print digitally. This means that every print I make has a consistent, quality result.
'The man in action' - (thanks to David Tolcher)
My main camera is a Linhof Technikardan S45
(often just called a TK or 'Techie'). Details can be found on the Linhof website.
The TK is a Large Format 5x4 inch folding monorail camera. For those who have little experience of such things it is basically a metal bar with two plates, one holding the lens and the other a sheet of film. They are connected together by a flexible bellows. The camera allows me to adjust both plates and hence lens and film in virtually every direction (tilt, swing, rise, fall, shift, focus) to control precisely the plane of focus and the perspective of the image.
The camera can be used with either a bag bellows (for wide angle work) or a long bellows (capable of focusing a straight 450 lens to a few feet).
I have tried out several different large format cameras (including wood and metal field cameras) and without doubt this is the one that is ideal for me. It is very easy to fold (despite what people say on web sites) as I always remove the lens and bellows before folding - this ensures there is always a positive choice about both when setting up. Folding and unfolding can be done in 15-20 seconds or so.
The TK shoots single sheets of 5x4 film. I used to use the fuji quickload variety, but I have now made the shift completely to double dark slides. I load and unload individual sheets into film holders inside a Harrison Pup Tent.
5x4 inch sheet film when scanned properly yields detail up to 15,000 pixels by 12,000 pixels - which is a whole lot of mega pixels. With large format, quality prints can be made easily up to 40x30 inches or better.
The camera is focused using a dark cloth covering the ground glass screen, which enables me to see the image properly. (It is very dark). The image is upside down, which sounds hard, but like many people I find this helps to balance the image by viewing a more 'abstract' version of the picture. I have a fresnel screen attached to the ground glass to help increase the apparent brightness of the image. I use the dark cloth designed by David Ward and Joe Cornish, available from the light and land website - which I have to say is the best I have come across and very efficient at keeping out light when I view the screen.
I use lenses at 5 focal lengths - a ‘wide angle’ 90mm Nikon, a 125mm fujinon, a 'standard' 180mm Fujinon, a ‘short telephoto’ 240mm Fujinon and a 'telephoto' Fujinon 450mm. (Divide by three to get 35mm equivalent). They are all very light and produce superb results.
'In Heaven' - (thanks to David Tolcher)
My preferred film is Fuji Velvia 50 colour transparency film, although I also use Provia and various colour/black and white negative films from time to time. My latest black and white project is based on Ilford Delta 100 which I develop at home in either a HP Combi Plan or a Paterson Orbital depending on the development treatment required. I use Peak Imaging
based in Sheffield to process my transparency film. I have a roll film holder for black and white work - but it still annoys me.
I also own and use (alright - very occasionally) a digital SLR (Nikon D2X), and much more fun a Nikon FM2 and a set of Nikon Lenses (including many old manual focus lenses which work great due to the ‘sensor crop’.) I capture these images in ‘RAW’ format. Digital camera technology is great and I enjoy using it – it is lighter, quicker and you can be confident you ‘have it in the bag’. However to be honest, the D2X has become a family portrait camera. Every time I made a strong landscape image on digital, I wished afterwards I had made it on my TK, because the enjoyment of the process and the result is still a world apart. I never take both the TK and DX2 out together - too much weight - as a result I almost never shoot landscape images on 35mm. On holiday I prefer to take the FM2 loaded up with Delta 100 film.
I have recently invested in a Canon G10 compact digital camera to take and review snap shots at locations (replacing my Ricoh which was not at all robust). It is the first time a digital compact camera has actually felt like a camera to me and to be honest the quality of the results are quite stunning. I can see myself using it for some serious images from time to time.
I would not be without my Linhof Viewer, which allows me to see how the resulting image will look at different focal lengths without getting the LF gear setup (which can take several minutes).
Both the viewer and the compact help me to decide where I am going to setup my Large Format gear. In particular I can use the viewer to help get the tripod pretty close to the desired position before I unpack the camera.
For stability I almost always use a tripod. I have two. A lightweight Gitzo 1228 with a Arca style ball-head (Kirk BH-3) for use when I have to walk longer distances or use my D2X (which has a custom made Kirk ‘L’ bracket attached ). The centre column is removed and replaced by a short column.
For the TK, most of the time I use a heavier, sturdier Gitzo GT3530LS with a Manfrotto 405 geared head. I have adapters for both Manfrotto and Arca permanently attached to the base of the Technikardan. I carry my gear in a Lowepro Trekker AWII bag.
The best bit of photography gear I have bought in the last two years are my hunter wellies. They are comfortable, warm and allow me to set up in places I would not usually manage. I wear them on virtually every trip out.
I also use the Paramo outdoor jacket designed for bird watchers because it has some superb large inside pockets that can fit my large format film and film holder. It is possible for me to be setup with my camera bag on my back and everything I need to make an image in my pockets. For the winter I use a marino wool thermal base layer which reduces the weight and volume of clothes I need to wear in the cold - I will typically wear a thermal base layer, a fleece layer and a waterproof outer shell.
To get accurate exposures, I use a hand held spot meter. This allows me to calculate the exposure precisely and to retain control over this critical part of the creative process. I use a Konica Minolta Flashmeter VI.
The dynamic range of transparency film is limited (barely 4 stops on Velvia 50) and therefore Graduated Neutral Density Filters are essential to darken areas of the image so that the highlights can be exposed without going white and losing detail. I use a range of Lee graduated filters (hard and soft) to achieve this. I also utilise digital technologies (photoshop ‘levels’ and ‘curves’) to balance the contrast and brightness of various areas of the image. In the past, I have used digital blending techniques to extend the dynamic range of D2X digital images, but to be honest using lee filters are easier and quicker, even on digital most of the time. Apart from a polarising filter (very occasionally) and a warm up filter (about once I think), I use no other forms of filtration.
'JB in a winter wonderland at Fen Bog' - thanks to David Tolcher
My resulting transparencies are scanned using an Epson V700 and Silverfast scanning software. The Epson has a large format film holder which holds the film flat whilst scanning. It produces excellent results so long as you set the height of the film holder to its maximum setting (+).
I scan as a HDR file and use SilverFast HDR to convert to a TIFF file.
Once my image has been produced (as a TIFF file) I edit it using PhotoShop CS2. Every image requires some degree of balancing of colour, saturation and levels. I will also eliminate any remaining spots of dust using the clone tool and crop the image to tidy it up. I do all this as I project my transparency on a 5x4 inch lightbox. My objective with this whole practice is to get the original transparency as close as I can to the visualised image and to get the print as close as I can to the image I can see on the lightbox. I have no interest in creating things that were not there.
The final images are stored on my hard drive and backed up. I use a Lacie Electron Blue 22 inch screen which has been colour calibrated (essential) using Lacie Blue Eye 2. I am finally running all my software on Windows Vista (what a nightmare upgrade that was).
Printing is done either on my Epson R2400 A3 printer or via a lab. I utilise printer profiles for each printer/paper combination to ensure accurate colour rendition. My preferred lab is Digitalab
, based in Newcastle, who have an excellent printer which produces stunning high quality images. I send my files electronically to them and they have provided a printer profile so that I can get consistent results.