While I wouldn’t exactly call my early experiences with large format photography to date negative, my blog so far has tended to stress some of the intrinsic hurdles of the format. This derives simply from my knowledge and experience of other formats, and my awareness of the need to learn through a process of doing and reflecting. I expect stumbling blocks, just as I expect satisfactions.
This is a post about a further glimpse of the satisfactions, gained through a shoot in Cannock Chase in the Midlands. I have written before that LF demands planning in a way that small or medium format photography does not. You will of course see my logic: one cannot carry a LF camera and accompanying kit in the way one does a small shoulder bag with a 35mm camera tucked inside. I have blogged about this loss of what I called the opportunistic nature of my 35mm shooting. My visit to Cannock Chase confirmed this planning need, albeit I left with a slightly different view of the idea of settling on a location beforehand. I didn’t so much find and shoot a specific location as ramble upon one.
I had been engaged in making a colour photograph of a tree stump emblazoned with emerald greens and rustic reds. I suppose I got into the groove of taking my time and making the exposure; I had plenty of time (I was on location for the day), and had begun to take in my peaceful and beautiful surroundings. My tree stump was up a hill; I was aware of a view behind me too, and that began to take my attention. I moved the camera, already set up from the previous exposure, and framed and metered the new view. This was to be a black and white Delta 100 shot, a classic landscape-type image containing a tunnel of shimmering light.
Having framed, focussed and metered the image, I started to think about making the exposure. The scene contained a key subject in the near centre of the frame - a backlit fern that stood out against a darker background. The fern wasn’t especially big, but it was central, and the resting point for the eye in the picture. It was moderately windy: too windy for my chosen exposure time if I wanted the fern to be in sharp focus. I waited. The wind ebbed and flowed, but it was persistent. Having already made the tree stump exposure, I was quite relaxed, and, knowing the time I might invest in a negative and subsequently print, I resolved not to press the cable release should the wind not abate. Then it came: the slenderest moment of stillness, in my mind just the one second I needed to make my photograph. The fern went back to its little dance.
LF is a coming together of separate elements. It is demanding of the photographer because when a single element fails, so does the photograph. The converse of the this is that when an image succeeds, the coming together is quite glorious. Doubtless this is a romantic thought, but there is a air of destiny about it, a wink from an otherwise indifferent universe permitting a moment of photographic magic. My romantic frame of mind was hardly discouraged by what happened next: the light turned to darkness and the heavens opened. I was now in a photography novella penned by a Thomas Hardy figure.
Well, nearly, at any rate. My negative unfortunately shows that I should have paid a little more attention to the subject brightness range of my image. (I also regret my impatience with a developer measuring 21c and not 20c, but both of these issues are perhaps for another post.) It is a challenging negative indeed, with highlights a little ‘hot’ for my liking. Still, the idea of rambling upon a scene stuck with me, and, while the rest of my day failed to bring another exposure, I left feeling like I had got a little closer to a LF modus operandi that might fit with my own free time and opportunities.