large format/low light situations : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Would photgraphing sunsets be a possibility with a 4x5 view camera? My concern is not being able to focus in low light. I ask because I will be visiting an island known to have beautiful sunsets, and I am wondering if another format would be better suited. Thanks for the advise.

-- Raven (, January 05, 2001


You are concerned that you won't be able to see well enough to focus because the light is dim? Then show up early when the light is good and wait. As the punch-line says on the main page - "F/22 and be there - 20 minutes early."

-- Sean yates (, January 05, 2001.

After 20 years, I took my bride to Moorea to celebrate. Took the Nikon. Got great sunsets, AND we're still married. J

-- Jim Galli (, January 05, 2001.

There are a number of ways of making low-light focusing easier. You can try a brighter screen, but that's a subjective preference. I use an ordinary screen, but maybe I just have good night vision.

Be sure that you are completely closing off extraneous light with your darkcloth, particularly light coming from underneath, and that your cloth is really dark. It also helps to take a minute or two under the cloth while your eyes adjust.

-- David Goldfarb (, January 06, 2001.

Sunsets shouldn't be too difficult since you can always show up early and compose/focus your image then.

I recently made the mistake of bringing my view camera (a Toyo 23G) to photograph Antelope Canyon and had a VERY difficult time composing and focusing in the dim light, despite using a very dark focus cloth and a fairly bright finder screen. Even using my flashlight to help focus didn't totally solve the problem and I often resorted to focusing either by guessing (or walking off) the near/far distances and relying upon the notes I'd made earlier about various focus distances and the scale markings on the Toyo's fine-focus adjusters.

Despite everything, though, my results were less than 100% successful and the next time I shoot there, I will bring a different camera with me.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, January 06, 2001.

The horizon will be light enough. For the foreground, here is a tip: carry with you a couple of tiny flashlights (Maglite solitaire or Photon Micro Light), turn then on, and place them where you intend to focus. You'll be amazed at how easily they pop in and out of focus. Don't forget to remove them before exposing the film :-)

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, January 06, 2001.

When I get into situations where I canít stop down and focus, I use an old range finder that I bought on eBay. Not the camera range finder, but an old fashion optical/mechanical device for determining distance Ė nice thing about our large format technology is that our fathers faced the same problems we do :-)

In addition to the range finder, I made a slide rule style DOF calculator for my lenses. In this way I can use the range finder and calculator to determine the focus. Iíve been surprise at how well it works.


-- Doug McFarland (, January 07, 2001.

Has anyone considered using a laser to focus? Point the laser at the desired spot (set it down of course), then it should be relatively easy to get accurate focus on that bright spot.

I thought of this but chickened out when I read about retinal damage possibilities. But maybe it would work well.

-- Lloyd Chambers (, January 08, 2001.

I use the laser shot through the Kal-Art rangefinder on my Graflex. But at that, why not just set to infinitiy? I also got a little split range finder thingy that works well with a laser pointer -- a little more acurate than the rangefinder of a Canonet -- which also does the trick.


-- Dean Lastoria (, January 08, 2001.

I've occasionally used a laser pointer to give a bright dot to focus on; it worked ok.

Don't do this with people or animals.

-- John Hicks (, January 08, 2001.

Raven: to elaborate on my previous answer, you need to focus correctly the background and the foreground. Background is no problem, since there is enough light on the horizon. If the foreground is tall (ie palm trees), it will silhouette against the horizon and provide enough contrast for focussing. So the only problematic situation is when you have a low foreground (ie rocks on the beach). You will want to use tilt to keep it in focus, as well as the horizon. It might be too dark and low contrast to focus. So you place the flashlight where you want to focus (ie on the rock).

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, January 22, 2001.

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