Life in large format – Part one

Well, I am one step closer to working in large format now. I have bought a beautiful Ebony field camera. Mind you, that’s all I have bought so far. I still need to buy a lens (hopefully with lens board and shutter fitted), dark slides, dark cloth, film, etc. I am meandering across Evilbay and websites to find the rest of the kit.

To say that this is going to be a journey of discovery is probably a bit of an understatement. I have never even held a 5×4 inch camera until last weekend, so learning how to use it is going to be interesting. I have, however, managed to find some videos on YouTube about how to set up and use a large format camera, which is already very helpful.

Naturally, given that it is a large (and heavy) camera which can only shoot one image at a time the whole approach to photography needs to be different. Obviously, I need to slow down – in fact this almost Victorian era camera is going to force me to do this. I don’t mind this, as I have been purposely using a Mamiya 7ii for a while to force me to make my work more considered (you get 10 shots per roll of film on this camera). Then, there is the whole setting up, focusing and shooting experience – once you have focused and loaded the film into the back you are into the realms of guesstimating what the image will look like – unlike my usual cameras I won’t have lovely big viewfinders to peer through. After that, I need to work out how to get the film posted off somewhere to get it processed, as my local processor doesn’t do large format. I have seen a few places online, but would prefer something local. I could try and do it myself (I have processed E-6 slides before and black and white), but time is the main issue for me with a young family.

I am both excited but also anxious about the whole thing. I am excited as large format images look stunning when they are done well. The level of detail in them and particularly the tonality blow away any thing else that I have access to (I don’t have access to a 100mp Phase one 645 camera at £32,000!). But, I am anxious to say the least about actually using it. I am really clueless in this area of photography. But, if anything, I like the challenge of learning something new. Until I decide to take on the MA in documentary photography (a long-term goal), I have always taught myself how to use a camera – for me the process of discovery is part of the fun of trying out different cameras!