Post trip blues : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

After a week of shooting in the West Texas desert, I returned with excitement of seeing the results. Once again I was disappointed, and I should know better than to get excited before making even the first print. An excursion to sand dunes turned out rather disappointing. My best shot was fogged when I accidentally pulled up the dark slide ever so slightly while in a hurry to shoot before the sun went down. My second best shot has bad vignetting in the upper corners and my 3rd best shot suffered from some type of blotching, probably from using old fixer. I still had some good pictures, and have yet to develop all of my film so maybe I'll get better results in the next batch. I think I have finally gotten to the point of realizing on the ground glass when an image has potential and is more than a large format snapshot. And using PMK has helped save negatives that I would have trouble developing with other chemicals. Does anyone else suffer from the malady of being disappointed upon seeing what they actually got? I went through the same thing last year, but after a few months of not looking at them my fotos started to grow on me. Maybe it had something to do with the familiar becoming contemptuous? It seems like some of the fotos don't actually come to life until after matting and framing. Any thoughts on this?

-- Bruce Schultz (, February 18, 2000


Pre-visualization. I think Ansel Adams talks about this. It means what you think your pictures look like before you have the unfortunate experience of actually seeing them.

-- Erik Ryberg (, February 18, 2000.

I took my Rollie/spot meter/no tripod on a bike trip in Switzerland. I used TMax 400 so I could hand hold at higher shutter speeds. 7 rolls of "why did I take that?" maybe 5 decent pics. 1 whole roll of the covered bridge in Luzerne/slightly fuzzy self timed picture of my sons and me on top of Brunig pass(focus) /many Alpine mediocre pics/nice shots but not sharp when enlarged (camera movement). I guess I'll have to go again

-- George Nedleman (, February 18, 2000.


The first time I go anywhere on a photographic excursion I am invariably let down by the results. All the initial wonder and excitement I experience being somewhere for the first time does not seem to translate easily to film.

The lighting always seems just a little more flat and lifeless. The composition is not as tight. Things like improper focus, poor metering, or sloppy use of lens attachments resulting in vignetting are more readily apparent in the developed negative when sitting in my darkroom, after the fact, than they were while on the spot.

For the last ten years or so I've been working on a project photographing the many, little village churches in the northern New Mexico area. I've returned again and again with my 8x10 to the same churches, photographing the same things again and again, armed with the knowledge that my previous efforts were just not as successful as I'd hoped. Sometimes my initial efforts, with the passage of time, reveal themselves to be better than I had first thought; often they don't.

I think that to really be able to successfully capture what you're experiencing and seeing, you have to be very familiar with the subject. This means either staying in one spot for a long period of time, waiting for just the right light or conditions, or waiting till you discover precisely what it is about the place that makes you want to photograph it.

Good luck, Sergio.

-- Sergio Ortega (, February 18, 2000.

This might make you feel a bit better. In October 1998 I got an extra week off work for all the overtime I put in that summer. I spent the week by myself at the Bristlecone Pine National Forest, and shot about 40 sheets of T-Max 100 and E100SW. Upon returning I discovered my Readyload holder had malfunctioned and not one sheet had been exposed.

To make matters worse, but backup Yashica Mat died the first day (wind mecahnism failure) so I didn't even have any 120 film exposed either. And, of course, it was one week of the most incredible light I've ever seen. I went back last summer and got some wonderful shots with my 2x3 Crown Graphic.

While I was shooting the Bristlecones last August I was disappointed in the light. However, after drum scanning some of the slides I've come to appreciate what I got. I'm heading back next summer with the CG and a Calumet Cadet and a Fuji Quickload holder.

You are not alone. West Texas has some excellent scenery. Write it off as a scouting trip and a learning experience. This just gives you a good excuse to go back.

-- Darron Spohn (, February 18, 2000.

Boy this makes me feel better!

I have found that making larger LightJet prints helps. Since they are larger, they cost more, and take more wall space so I can't do many. So if I get one really good image from a trip, there goes a wall and a wad of money.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, February 18, 2000.

Many times I've been disappointed in a group of photos, put away the proofs, then looked through them months or even years later and found several that looked very good and I wondered why I hadn't liked them the first time around. This phenomenon is very common. One explanation I've heard is that right after making the photograph we remember what the scene looked like and what we were trying to accomplish with the photograph. When we see that we failed, we don't evaluate the photograph from any other perspective. But with the passage of time we forget what the scene looked like and what we were trying to accomplish, and are then able just to evaluate it as a photograph without any preconceived notions of what we hoped to get. As to photographing a new area, as someone else mentioned we almost never make good photographs the first time somewhere. I remember John Sexton saying in one of his workshops that if someone offered him a free trip anywhere in the world, he wouldn't go somehwere new but instead would go back to any area he had been to before. I spent a week for the first time in the southwest and out of about 15 rolls of 220 film (that's 220, 20 exposures per roll no less) had no/zero/none photographs that I thought were worth framing. The next year I went back and between large format and medium format I had three excellent photographs. If I go back again I think I might get four or five. As we get to know an area we not only learn from our initial failures but we just have a better idea of what will work and what won't. So I don't think your experience is unusual but I know it can be discouraging. Still, I bet if you put those photographs aside for six months or a year and then come back to them, they'll look a lot better than you now think.

-- Brian Ellis (, February 18, 2000.

Well, let's confess. Most of the time, when I get my slides back from the lab, I am more or less disappointed with what resulted from my one or two days tour. I have regularly the same kind of technical misadventures you had. More, sometimes the only good shot taken has been ruined by some technical failure at the lab where the films where processed. And if I thought I had a decent one left, my wife who is the tougher artistic critic I know and not a dreamer like me would soon bring me back to reality. I have thought many times I should stop spending money on films and burning petrol on mountain roads, sell all my gear and get my family a decent holiday! What kept me going? I don't know! Some say photography is addictive, other would say there is something in the genes, I would rather say in the spirit that pushes men to try seize glimpses of the creative talent that surrounds us. When this impulse is here, not doing so would be disobeying. For aren't we all the Creator's apprentices? Of course there where encouraging results also, otherwise I wouldn't dear this comment. Now, if nothing has changed much, I have learned not to depend upon success. Understanding a few rules helped me to accept the uncertainty of the results as a normal path and working towards improving the chances for a good work. In previous answers was mentioned the need for going back to where it failed and doing it again until it succeeds. Although for many pictures it will never be possible to gather the same parameters one had in the first place, it is very true that one has to apprehend the "spirit" of the place to successfully transmit what one indiscibly felt when urged to take the photo. Some talk of "impregnation". A good friend of mine travels regularly to a few places where he would spend up to two months every year. The first week he hardly unpacks his camera. He says all he could do during that period would be for the trash. You would not believe it when you see his marvels, but I often feel the same when I leave my work, drive a few hundred kilometers and land in some retired paradise. I feel urged to take photos by the overall impression of beauty that surrounds me but to my greater despair, am unable to "see". As the light passes by, I just feel miserably inadequate. It's only when I have spent some time in the area that I can successfully frame some nice shots. And then, I will have to wait until the slides are processed to evaluate my successes. Sometimes the reward doesn't come from where I expected. The grandiose shot I thought would be the best proves rather uninteresting and an other one I had forgotten about can pull me tears! But honestly, if I could make one very good shot, one that expresses something from my soul, each day spent out, I would be the most happy. It's far from being the case! Chances of course increase with the choice of places I visit, the season (I'm much more productive during fall than in the midst summer) and the weather conditions (a changing weather gives me more opportunities than a clear blue sky), although bringing back a handful of "postcards" doesn't mean much, but you all know this. Well, I already feel a bit better knowing I'm not alone. This Forum is a good group therapy!

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 19, 2000.

Bruce: As you have already discovered, you ain't alone when it comes to disappointment with a shoot. Even after more than 40 years of amatuer and professional photography, I find I can still blow a shoot as well as a rank amatuer. Although I can usually get what I see after a little work, I still get a large dose of humility once in a while. As a case in point, I shot a beautiful old oak tree a couple of years ago in early spring. It is hundreds of years old and majestic. Since the leaves were just coming out and were a bit yellow, I thought I would enhance the brightness by using a yellow filter. The filter raised the value of the leaves and dropped the value of a slightly hazy sky. The tree almost disappeared agaist the sky as a result. If I hadn't been so all-knowing and shot without a filter I would have gotten a great shot. I can't count the times I have taken beautiful pictures on a darkslide. (Anyone have a formula for developing darkslides?) I have pulled the slide on the wrong side of the holder, had one holder hang up on another in the bag and pull a darkslide, and have managed to make just about every mistake known to photography. I just finished shooting at the beach and without my knowing, my carefully composed shots got progressively worse as the front tripod leg sank slowly into the sand and gradually raised the horizon line. I could have caught that if I had checked between shots. Despite all that, ain't it wonderful when you set up a shot and everything goes well and you get a negative and print that sings. Good shooting, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (, February 19, 2000.

> Does anyone else suffer from the malady of being disappointed upon seeing what they actually got?

Happens to me all the time. It's _never_ an equipment failure; it's _always_ my failure to learn from experience. Sometimes things take a while to sink in.

I've noticed that usually while shooting or getting ready to develop the film I'll have some glimmerings of what I should do, as opposed to what I'm doing, and that someday I'll have sense enough to do what should be done.

The solution is really very simple, but often hard to implement. Do you work to the best of your ability and your ability will improve.

-- John Hicks (, February 19, 2000.

I think there is an important lesson in all of this. It took me quite a while to get to a stage where I could dependably bring back worthwhile negatives from my trips, but then again, there is always the weather, over which none of us have any control. But the lesson , I feel relates to the game of golf, of all things! In golf, about 90% of all of the factors that contribute to that perfect shot need to happen BEFORE you take your backswing. Club selection, stance, grip, aim, strategy ( in the case of having to shoot from behind a tree, for example) all can be dealt with BEFORE taking that backswing. In LF photography, it's pretty much the same. Just as golf pros suggest going through a "ritual" when getting set for a shot, the same can work for you when making that photographic shot! The important thing is not to vary from that ritual. In this way, only the variables that fall into the remaining 10% of the process need to be thought about seriously. As in golf, practice is very important. Also like golf, we all have bad shots from time to time. Maybe even a whole string of them! In golf, the game begins with your next stroke! If you dwell too much on past mistakes, you'll rattle your concentration and continue to make more mistakes. If you put mistakes behind you and get back to that ritual, you'll eventually achieve success. Photography is a wonderful combination of Science and Art. Artists have periods of creative "Dry Heaves" and need to step back for a bit to regroup from time to time. Don't give up. Find the routine that you feel comfortable with and stick with that. When you run into problems, you can always come back here. We're all here to listen, share and learn.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, February 19, 2000.

This is why it is good to enjoy photography on more than one level. The process can be as satisfying as the final result.

-- Chris Hawkins (, February 19, 2000.

I like Robert's reply about 90% of it happening before the event. My rule is "look before you shoot". If I go to a new area and have little time, I generally fire away with a 35mm and hopefully get a few good shots, but I don't bother with a view camera because if I can't give things the study and respect that large format deserves, it's usually not worth it.

I've gradually come into a working mode you could call "photography as religion". It works as follows: I'm now using a very large camera. (12x20, and I must say all the naysayers are wrong - it's almost as easy as 4x5 and the enjoyment seems to increase in direct proportion to the film area, but that's a subject for another post...) Because I have a lot of demands on my time and I don't wish to spend all my free time away from my family, I mostly photograph early on Sunday mornings when my kids are still asleep. And due to the camera size (and film cost!) I only shoot one subject per outing (although sometimes I expose two sheets). And because I don't want to waste precious early morning light driving around desperately looking for subject matter, I don't go unless I already have a subject selected. So what this means is that I'm ALWAYS on the lookout for interesting subjects during the week as I go about my business, and when I find one I make a mental note of where it is and what sort of weather would show it best, etc. Sometimes I go on short "scouting" expeditions on my way home from the store or wherever. I don't mean to imply that I find one every week or that I shoot one on the Sunday immediately following it. Some have been in my mental file for years, and I look at them whenever I drive by, making notes like "if it rains this week that pond would be magic, assuming the clouds also cooperate".

My point in all of this is that by the time I've made the commitment to photograph something, it is with a lot of contemplation and the knowledge that I have one holder to use on one subject, and although things don't always come out perfect, I must say that since I've started this contemplative/unhurried method I've been happier with my photography than I've been in a long time. And if I go out and things aren't quite right then I just scout the nearby area for a bit (knowing I won't set up the camera) then go home and have breakfast with my family... and those outings are also wonderful in their own way. I guess I'm just saying that you can't force magic. Look and stay open and you will find it.


-- Mark Parsons (, February 20, 2000.

A couple of decades ago I took a workshop with Minor White. At first I was off put by the fact that for the first few days he would not allow us to use a camera. We were there to learn from the master and I was quite upset that he had us doing all these other things, like thinking and talking and looking and seeing but no shooting. In hindsight, I was probably too young to really experience the quality of this mans teaching. Anyway, by the time the workshop was over I had only exposed 4 sheets of film. 30 years later they are still my favorite 2 images. What I learned was that Only by throughly knowing your subject and yourself will you give pleasure to your viewers, and you. I am still not sure if we can ever please ourselves. Seems we are our own toughest critics. When you are new to an area everything looks special and you become caught up in the idea that if you don't photograph it now you won't be able to later. So you make questionable choices, its only natural. This is why you are disappointed, you did not take the time to enjoy, learn, and find the areas magic. Go back with out your camera and just smell, listen and enjoy the wind on your face. Then get your camera and go back again.

-- jacque staskon (, February 20, 2000.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate everyone's input. This site is amazing in the spirit of assistance and eagerness to lend advice. I know what many of you are saying about stepping back and soaking up a new area before taking the first shot. Trouble is, this was my 7th trip out there, the 2nd with a view camera, and last trip I took the obvious shots. This year, I focused on lesser-known areas. My frustration wasn't in the fotographs themselves as the screw-ups I made. But many of your comments are helpful as I consider what to fotograf in my own backyard, to get beyond the can't-see-the-forests-for-the-trees syndrome. Perseverance, bottom line, leads to results. But I think I'll go fishing first chance I get this week ---- and bring my camera. Thanks again

-- Bruce Schultz (, February 20, 2000.

I have to admit, this is probalby the most humorouse thread ever... as we all read the posts, we say, yeah I made that screw up too! There was a wealth of experiience offered above. I have summarized my mistakes in a few major categories.

1. Equipment failure - there is so much equipment we use, any one of the components can hurt us, meters, film alignment, lab processing errors, light leaks, over / underated film, knobs that do not stay tightened down, shutter or apt. that are not "on the money" etc. It is so important to know your equipment inside and out, and investing in check ups or tests is some of the best money ever spent. If you limit these by knowing and repairing / adjusting your equipment, you have an amazing head start. This takes a lot of time, and most of us do not want to do it.

2. Technique - LF photography is a thinking mans game, there is no end to the amount of things you need to know and when you need to recall them, you need some method to quickly retreive the information. I have a calculator with 40 formulaes programmed in, charts, markings on my cameras, bellows compensation charts showing focus distance and their respective stop adjustments... etc. Not knowing all your basics, tilt angles, DOF, camera shake, etc. is a recipe for failure. A lot of improving your technique comes from evaluating your mistakes, very painful, but a great teacher. One of the worst aspects of us weekend shooters is the fact we go too long in between shoots for everything to be second nature all times.... this is why a quick check list never hurts before firing the shutter.

3. Subject... at this point in my photography, this is one of my hardest parts... finding subjects that overwhelm you with your eyses is not that easy. A perfectly executed shot of a mountain is not that pleasing to most people... our standards have become higher, so we need to look further for that great shot... and that takes time, time that most of us can not afford on a trip! So we tend to just shoot to be sure we have something to show from our trip! The poster with the 12x20 has a great plan for LF,stalk your scene and study it, get their early and think your way through the entire process. Atleast you may get a keeper or two on each trip, and that's not bad! I have a ton of perfectly executed photos of subjects that are just blah...and therefore, I don't care if they were shot on 35mm or 20x24" format, nobody would get excited about them... So I have learned to become a scouter first and a photographer second. It's not what I had in mind when I started shooting LF, but it works!

-- Bill Glickman (, February 20, 2000.

Reading this thread, it is a relief to know I'm not alone in having mixed results! One of my very best photos was taken only shortly after I had bought an 4x5, and I put that down to a beginner's concentration on doing everything technically right, and the fact that, after a long period of intense work in my day job, a release from that seemed to sharpen my vision. Good luck always helps, of course! For several months after that period I found it difficult to get images that came close to the early ones - it doesn't help that I have to do my photography in fits and starts as I am not a professional.

One of the things that interests me greatly is the uncertainty over the final results, which several posters above have referred to. Only this weekend, I took a picture of a tree stump surrounded by evergreen plants and ferns which so far have survived the Japanese winter. I knew that the stump was intrinsically interesting, but it was only after looking at the negative that I realised that the wood had naturally split in such a way as to reveal, or imply, several Chinese characters - those for water, fire, rice and "big", all of which contribute to the nature of the image. Does it really matter that I had not seen this on the groundglass, but only when the negative emerged from the tank?

-- fw (, February 20, 2000.

When it rains, it dumps. To add insult to injury, yesterday at a local photo show, 3 sorry grainy, out-of-focus, muddy fotos won in what I suspect was a rigged show. Not saying I should have won, after all, I was happy with the Award of Merit, but there were plenty of other good black and whites that should have gotten something. My wife won a 1st place for a color snapshot with a point-and-shoot 35mm. I laughed all that off and started looking at my fotos again last night, and darn it, they're good enough and I like them after all. And this morning I got back on that horse and rode off to take a foto of a neat old building in early morning sun. 1 shot only. I would have stopped and taken another shot that I've neglected. Maybe tomorrow. I've been putting off photographing scenes I drive past daily on my way to and from work. I have to admit that 1 screw-up turned into a nice foto. A nude clutching a clay pot was accidentally double-exposed with a shot of a backlit palm frond. It was my first double exposure, albeit serendipitously, and I like it. I was amazed that Ansel Adams had so many bungled shots. I read his account of shooting at Mount McKinley and he dropped several holders in a creek, and huge mosquitoes landed on his film while the dark slide was out and they appeared on the negative as giant bugs! But on that same trip, he got one of his classic images. I'm amazed at how these guys persevered. And how those photographers who trekked into the west with fragile glass plate negatives got anything is mind boggling.

-- Bruce Schultz (, February 21, 2000.

Last saturday as we had some snow-falls, I drove to a mountain area nearby. The scenery was neat but I could not stop the car for the side-ways had not been cleared. I suddenly realized my snow chains, someone had borrowed from me days earlier where left home! So I decided the wisest thing was to return while possible. I went back home and unloaded part of my frustration on the internet, in the LF Forum in particular. Today, I left work a little earlier and returned. The side-ways had been cleared but two mild and windy days had changed the scenery. So I headed for a mountain lake. I finally found a place where I framed some uninteresting "illustration" photographs. But as the sun came down (and the temperature as well!), the sun was crossing some light clouds on the horizon and behind me some patches of ice on the lake edges started to glow beautifully of a golden reflection. I searched for an image and decided I would rather squeeze the framing, but the 300 mm was too narrow. So I returned to my bag and mounted the 210 mm. But by the time I framed something that pleased me, the light was passing by very rapidly, so I hastily took my measures, pulled the quickload wrapper and as swiftly as my frozen fingers would permit, fired the shot just as the last color patches went off. But the shutter didn't go and I realized my lens was still open! My hands where so cold I had not pushed the knob all the way! There was no point rushing to the bag for an other sheet for all color had gone by then. So after refraining from some x7=:~F, I tried relax and enjoyed the scenery before I returned home. But tomorrow if I can, I will return.

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 21, 2000.

I had a similar experience during a trip to New Mexico to visit family. I took my 4x5 and bought a changing bag so that I could reload the holders "conveniently". By the time I got home and developed and printed the shots, I found that the first eight pictures were okay but all remaining shots (i.e. the field loaded film using the changing bag) suffered horribly from dust spots...what are some good pictures otherwise seem to have the pox. My promise to myself is to use a local bathroom and commit to doing the work necessary to create a dark environment somewhere rather than suffer the disappointment of the changing bag syndrome...luckily I have family in New Mexico and visit every year or so, so I can repeat some of the would me more of an injury if I had the experience during a "once in a lifetime" journey...

-- Sam Bowman (, February 21, 2000.

the post trip blues are there tom give you an excuse to go back I went to Norway and shot a bucket full of negs came back could not see anything that i liked So i scaned one shot in and used it as a wallpaper you would not belive the number of people who have said how great it looks just no telling for taste as the man said Just do it.



-- Alan Chandler-Smith (, February 23, 2000.

Bruce, you started a wonderful thread that has been valuable for our collective psyches. No-one is alone. We all experience the same excitement of the shoot and the common disappointment at not having perfectly captured what we visualized and are holding in our mind's eye. It seems to me that time frequently modulates that disappointment and I can only think that the image in my mind's eye is, perhaps, slowly changing. Those of you who talked of patience and familiarization with the subject are very wise and give me confidence that I am on the right track by seeking out local subjects, visiting them several times and trying to visualize what will be the best light for a shot before unpacking my camera. I still have a high percentage of "failures". However, with this more contemplative approach I find I have fewer and fewer failures due to technique. One thing you mentioned at the end, Bruce, was that some shots don't seem to come to life until matted and framed. I know exactly what you mean, but can't put my finger on why that is. Anybody have any thoughts on Bruce's observation? Glad you got this started, David

-- David Lewis (, February 26, 2000.

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