visualization versus previsualization : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am using my Hasselblad ofr everything from cityscapes to landscapes, but ever so often the "large format bug" bites me and I wish to move up to 4x5. I enjoy large prints (20x24 max) and having a larger negative would improve those prints, I am sure. So I borrowed a Toyo FA and tried it for a weekend and found I didn't like to work with it. I didn't have too many problems with the technique or the film inserts, nor did I mind the slower speed. Instead I found I couldn't get used to the "working style". With my Hasselblad I like to walk around watch the (tiny) groundclass until interesting and unusual perspectives show up (i.e. visualization). With my first attempt at large format I found myself walking around without camera, looking for interesting things to photograph (i.e. previsualization) and all too often found that once I had brought the camera over, put it up on a tripod, looked at the groundglass, I didn't like it anymore.

I was wondering if experienced large format users had the same "problem" when they started. Especially with lenses that are different from our normal eye-sight (e.g. wide angle lenses) it seems to be difficult to "find shots". Maybe the learning curve is just steeper than what I had thought. All comments are appreciated!!!

-- Andreas Carl (, September 12, 1999


Andreas, one way around this is to make a "viewing card": a thick piece of black mat board, approx 10x10 in size that has a 4x5 hole (or a hole with 4x5 proportions) cut in it.

Shooting just Polaroids at this stage can also be helpful at this stage so you make images and can judge it immediately, make adjustments to eith er your position or camera movements shoot again and also juge the results later when you are not feeling pushed by the light to make judgements. Many times I make post exposure "discoveries" that either make an image stronger than I expected it to be or reveal weaknesses which kill it for me.

-- Ellis Vener (, September 12, 1999.

I have a Linhoff viewfinder. It is a device ment to be placed in the camera's hot shoe. It is equiped for adjustments for different lenses allowing you to preview the scene, as well as with different perspectives. I use it as if I had my trusty SLR around my neck with a 30-180mm zoom lens attached (the actual range is 90-360 in 4X5). Saves lots of time-and aggrevation. Although more expensive than Ellis's suggestion, if you could borrow one for a trial, I think you would find it helpful. However, LF is slower than MF. And thats one reason I like it. Good luck Jeff

-- Jeff Thompson (, September 12, 1999.

There may be some confusion here. Visualization and "previsualization" are the same thing basically. When Ansel Adams coined the term he was referring to the ability to see and feel what the final product would look like. The image does not always look the same after we process and print what we saw on the GG or in the viewfinder initially. The image may change in tonality, color, and texture when we are through with it. We can "previsualize" or visualize the outcome of this image and expose and process it to help accomplish this end. When you are walking around and searching for images you are just at the beginning of the process. And it doesn't matter what format equipment you use. If you see components that your mind puts together into an image that is part of the visualization process. Ellis uses a very tried and true way of compensating for not having a view finder to look through as you do with your MF gear. But he still goes through the same mental process to find and evaluate the quality of the image before setting up to expose film. What I am interested in is your reasoning for wanting to use LF when you are already using a format that will give you everything you need to create great prints. I use 4x5 and 8x10 for my choice of format about 80% of the time. That is only because I enjoy the pace and emotional connection with my prey, er, subject matter that these formats create for me. I like the feel of the method. I also own the other formats of 35mm, 6x6 and 6x9. But I enjoy the LF the most. But you have a good format so I am unsure of your motivation to change formats. So why? James

-- james (, September 12, 1999.

"I have a Linhoff viewfinder. It is a device ment to be placed in the camera's hot shoe. It is equiped for adjustments for different lenses allowing you to preview the scene, as well as with different perspectives. I use it as if I had my trusty SLR around my neck with a 30-180mm zoom lens attached (the actual range is 90-360 in 4X5)."

Actually that is an old Linhof (one f) Multifocal Finder. The later ones (including the current one) goes from 75mm to 360mm.

Some of the older types accept an accessory attachment that adapts it to 75mm.

-- Bob Salomon (, September 12, 1999.

I'm still in my first season of using LF equipment, after 20 years of using 35mm. I don't really have any problems with differences in what I see with my eyes and what I see on the GG. One technique that helps me is to close one eye and see things as the camera would - no artifical depth created by two viewpoints. If I can't 'see' the depth by form and pattern with only one eye, then the camera won't record it either. I do tend to wonder around quite a bit 'visualizing' and trying to frame my shot. I guess practice makes better (not perfect!) so that when I unpack the gear, I often get the photograph to look pretty much like I wanted. I do a lot of quick mental gymnastics to decide depth of field and natural frames for the landscape photography that I do. I recommend reading books on form and color and pattern so that you become 'sensitized' to what looks good to successful people. Then you have a starting point to create your OWN vision. Contact me via email if you would like recommendations on books that I have found useful.

-- Ray Dunn (, September 12, 1999.

The "pre-viewer", as it were, is an excellent suggestion, no matter which system you use. I use a Zone VI viewing filter/frame that I find quite useful, for Black and White.

Another consideration; try to match the focal length in 4X5 that you find most "comfortable" i.e. the one you use the most in 6X6. For instance, I tend in 6X7 to use a 45mm to 135mm range, with a tendancy to lean towards the wider lenses, 90 and 75mm. In 4X5 (roughly) these are a 90mm to 150mm. I tend to "see" in those focal lengths, and with a lot of visulation/previsulation experience under my belt, find that I naturally "frame" the subject in those ranges. I shot for 11 years in 4X5 with only a 135mm lens, so obviously I tend to see things in that focal length more easily.

Finally, use the upside down image on the ground glass to your advantage. It can be a strong and useful tool for visualisation. The image is quite abstract, and forces you to be very attentive to where elements are placed.

-- Marv (, September 12, 1999.

I agree with Ray. Bringing the scene in a two dimensional frame by viewing it with one eye is a good test. If the picture is unsufficiently balanced, weak, or too contrasty, it will then appear. The same is achieved by looking through a viewfinder, like Bob suggests. It will also indicate which lens to use. I have cut a serie of three frames in relation with the 6x9, 6x12 and 4x5" formats I use, in the black plastic stuff found as film support in the old Readyloads. The window sizes are one inch high and proportionally wide. They are pinned together in a corner and this fits easily in my pocket. When walking I can use it with one hand and make quick appreciation and building of the scene. An other aid that might perhaps fit your Toyo is the folding binocular reflex viewer from Horseman. After nearly ten years of LF, I have started to use one and would now hardly do without. But it has to be used cautiously.

-- Paul Schilliger (, September 13, 1999.

andreas - i would add to the previous answers that familiarity with one's equipment is a key ingedient to success at understanding what you will get on film. when you do nothing but walk around for 20 years with a 35mm camera and a 50mm lens, you get pretty good at knowing what you are going to see when you put that thing up to your eye. the same thing goes for a 4x5 - if you use it consistently, you will get good at it, and if you only pull it out occasionally, you will almost always find it awkward. because of that, it is a good idea for any serious photgrapher to focus on a particluar format, and even specific subject matter, and avoid trying to be the master of small, medium, and large formats - it is hard enough to do just one type of photography properly. if your chosen subject matter is active, obviously you would want to utilze small, versatile equipment. medium format is an excellent compromise for those who wish to pursue a variety of subjects in a high-quality way, and can easily produce extreme enlargements. however, if your subject matter is fixed (architecture, landscape, etc), there is no substitute for the quality that large format can offer.

-- jnorman (, September 13, 1999.

I find that when I have a 35mm camera, I tend to shoot at anything that is marginally interesting. With the 4x5 and 8x10 if I try to photograph the same kind of thing... I lose interest before I get the thing set up. So, my criteria for a photograph is very different with LF. It IS is different way of seeing and thinking. Probably accepting the difference will yeild a better product than trying to make LF the same as MF or 35mm.

-- chuck k (, September 13, 1999.

Great suggestions everyone! I think I will cut myself a viewing card and go out in the field amd try some more. How do you simulate different focal lengths with a card? Do you hold it close to the eyes for a wide-angle look and further away for a tele look? The Linhof finder is cool too - until I saw the price tag ($1400 at B&H)...

James - I know when Ansel used the term 'visualization' he was more concerned with how the tonal range would reproduce on a black&white photo. I just "borrowed" that term and made up the distinction between visualization and previsualization, since looking at a waistlevel finder seems one step closer to the finished product (i.e. photo) than just looking at the World without viewing aid. Thanks ya all!

-- Andreas Carl (, September 13, 1999.

It's my understanding (perhaps others will confirm) that if you cut the viewing hole the same size as the negative, then the distance you hold it from your eye will correspond to a lens of that focal length. For example, it you hold it 150mm from your eye it will be the same field of view as a 150mm lens. I've also heard of attaching a string to the corner of your viewing card and tying knots in the string at the various distances for which you have lenses. I've never tried this because I already feel conspiciuos enough with a LF camera and related paraphanalia!

-- J.L. Kennedy (, September 14, 1999.

I use a 4X5 viewing card with a string attached to one side and knots at the focal lengths of the lenses I have. I would be lost without it. You can do accurate composing and even shifts using the card. When I set up the camera, I am rarely suprised at what is presented on the ground glass. One area where this knot distance fails is on close up as the effective focal length of the lens becomes longer.

-- Gary Frost (, September 15, 1999.

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