May 25th, 2008 admin

Using a 5×4 view camera is a unique experience, quite removed from that of using a Mamiya 7 (my camera of choice for Motherland). Accordingly, I’ve developed a very different method of photographing my subject.

More often than not, I find myself wandering around a landscape looking for a scene that I think could make a photograph. If I see some potential, I’ll often take some digital photographs for reference, almost like a sketchbook. Once I’m happy with my location, I’ll set up the tripod and camera, which normally takes about 2-3 minutes (for the technically minded among you, please see Q Tuan Luong’s step-by-step guide to operating the view camera below) and finally place the film plate onto the camera back. I’ll then wait for the scene to unfold within my frame, taking the photograph at a given moment.

There’s often a lot of patience needed, either waiting for people to enter the landscape, or, because many of the scenes I’m photographing contain large groups of people, a moment when as many people as possible are distributed in an interesting way throughout the landscape. One fact about using a 5×4 plate camera (similarly with a 10×8 camera) is that once you’ve placed the film plate onto the back of the camera, you can no longer see through the lens. You are then relying on memory as to where in the landscape your framing starts and ends.

Having captured what I consider the final photograph from a scene, I now force myself to wait another few minutes to see what else happens, as often something does. This is a result of some frustrating missed opportunities where, having started to pack the camera away, I’ve spotted something happening, and not had time to re-frame and set up the camera to capture it. So I’ll now wait a further seven minutes to make sure. Why seven? Five just seemed too obvious. 


A step-by-step guide to operating the view camera by Q. T Luong

Operating the view camera is done in a series of steps, whose order is crucial. Reversing some of the steps will ruin the image. Reversing some other steps will unnecessarily waste time. Although this might seem complicated at first, if you always stick to the same sequence, it will become second nature. You will then be able to concentrate on the subject.

Here is the sequence that I favour in the field.

·       Choose the camera position, approximate orientation, focal length.

·       Set up and level the tripod and camera.

·       Attach the lens and open it to full aperture.

·       Focus roughly using the focussing knob.

·       Adjust precisely the composition while looking at the ground glass.

·       Focus precisely with tilts/swings.

·       Determine the optimal aperture.

·       Re-adjust slightly the composition (optional but recommended).

·       Adjust filters and compendium shade (optional but recommended).

·       Check for vignetting (optional but recommended).

·       Close the lens, cock the shutter, rap and insert the film holder.

·       Determine the shutter speed.

·       Set the aperture and shutter speed.

·       Remove the dark slide.

·       Look at the subject.

·       Fire the shutter with a cable release.

·       Put the darkslide back in.

·       Remove the filmholder.

·       Make a second identical exposure (optional but recommended).

·       Pack and move to the next spot.


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