observations on hand held large format photography

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Here are some observations concerning my quest to rediscover the ancient art and technique of hand held large format photography. It would be very interesting to hear from those who are experienced in this dying craft...

In June 2000 I took delivery of a Linhof Master Technika with cammed 90/135/210 lenses (Grandagon N and Sironar S). The lenses were also bought through Linhof and the camming was done at the Linhof factory in Munich. The system is therefore optimized (without compromise) for hand held photography with coupled rangefinder focussing.

The system is expensive, but built to last a life time. The cost, when amortized over several decades, is actually quite low compared to trying to keep-up with rapidly obsolete auto-everything technology. In buying new, one is also helping to prolong the survival of a threatened industry.

There is nothing obsolete about the superlative mechanical quality and highly refined design of the Technika. A pinnacle of acheivement from the opto-mechanical era, equally suited to either groung glass focusing on a tripod as well as for rangefinder focusing.

The result is that rangefinder focusing is extremely accurate and hand held shooting is actually quite versatile once one masters many now forgotten tips and tricks. The results far exceed the image quality that one can obtain with 6X6 negatives. Candid portraits are not impossible, and the resultant 16X20 B&W prints are wonderfully life-like.

The secret to hand held 4X5 photography is to pretend to use the Technika like a large 35mm or MF rangefinder camera, and to similarly shoot alot of film, relative to what one does with the camera on a tripod. It's a whole different mind-set from the zone-system style of large format photography. It's amazing how quickly one can change cut film holders with one hand when shooting hand held and working fast from two side pouches on your belt...

There must be many 'tips and tricks' to this style of photography, and it would be very interesting to hear about the experiences of others.

Long live the great tradition of hand-held large format photography!

-- Mark Nowaczynski (archivalprints@home.com), December 17, 2000


Mark: Your post brought back some fond memories and I enjoyed it. I learned serious photography with a handheld LF, because that was the way to do it then. I shot a lot of weddings with a Speed Graphic and also did a bit of shooting for a newspaper. I think I have written before on this forum that a Graphic or Linhof can be the fastest camera around for the first shot. The old news photographers used to load one of those huge flash bulbs in the gun, set the aperature on f- 16, and lock the focus on 12 feet. A holder was inserted and the slide placed under a clip on the ground glass cover. All one had to do was raise the camera and shoot. The second shot took a bit longer, but not much. The photographer who shot the Hindenburg disaster wrote later that he shot quickly by tossing the exposed holders onto the grass as he shot them (not a good idea on concrete!). Hand holding a 4x5 is not for everything, but it works great for a lot of things. Have fun with it.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), December 17, 2000.

Get a Grafmatic film holder - it'll make you even quicker.

-- Dave Brown (wolfgang@peakpeak.com), December 17, 2000.

If you can hold a Technika steady at eye level for more than 10 seconds with that incredibly un-ergonomic "Anatomical Grip," you're a better man than I.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), December 17, 2000.

Oh great, just when I had persuaded myself I could do without that Linhof Technika I had been dreaming about to do hand held photography.

All that time talking myself out of it and now you go and write this!

Thanks... :-)

Tim A

-- tim atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), December 18, 2000.

I've been trying the same thing on the cheap, with a Crown Graphic. My goal is to create large format photos of boats from boats, where a tripod is impossible to use. My experience has been mixed. I'm still wrapped up enough in the technique that I haven't freed my vision yet, but I'm getting there. I find the Crown poorly laid out for handholding. The only way I get it to work is to put one hand under the bed for support and focus, and the other around the right hand side of the camera to hit the release (which is very stiff).

The first thing I did that made a massive improvement was to switch from 100/125 speed film to 400. The additional depth of field is necessary with my setup, as the focus is not spot on no matter how many times I calibrate it, and the additional shutter speed helps too. Obviously this isn't as much a concern with a newer better equipment, but still, I've found the 100 is too marginal under most circumstances.

I'm experementing with L brackets and cable releases at the moment in an attempt to reduce the "trigger pull" of the built in release. Sort of a cheap emulation of the Linhof style grip.

-- Andrew Cole (laserandy@aol.com), December 19, 2000.

No tricks, just pratice with lots of film, I use my crown graphic and chase trains thru vermont, and foliage in the fall, I never use a tripod, with shutter speeds down to 1/15th.

good luck, Bill

-- Bill Jefferson (jefferw@together.net), December 19, 2000.

This brings back memories of me learning photography in highschool using a crown graphic and a flash with a battery that weighed around 15lbs To steady the camera (with available light) I would use my elbow against my chest to shoot slower speeds. This would be a real challenge on very slow exposures. These days I use a tripod exclusively

-- Larry Gaskill (covenant@essex1.com), December 20, 2000.

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