Suggestions for large format demo : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I Looking for some suggestions on how some of you would demonstrate a large format camera to a class of college age students, most having little or no interest in photography. If I decide to do this, I know there will be questions on, why bother to use such a camera? How would some of you answer that?

One thing I was thinking, is to bring in a polaroid back and take some pictures of some of the students, or show how to focus and let some of them take pictures of each other. Since I don't have any lighting, the classroom is bright, has typical fluorescent lights, would you suggest b+w or color poloroid? I am using a Omegaview with a kodak 203 7.7. If I would be better off using a different lens, suggest one and I could rent it.

I was also thinking of taking a 35mm print and a 4X5 print in B+W and comparing the two. What film and what size would the prints have to be for someone who does not know what they are looking at to notice the difference? Do any of you think that I should use a fast film to show more grain?

Thank you for any suggestions.

-- Eric Williams (, March 31, 2001


Something I've done is to bring in two books. One shows gorgeous 35mm work (Maybe Salgado's Other Americas, or Koudelka's Gypsies) that uses the mobility of the format and revels in the grain of the images and uses it as part of the esthetic. The other shows large format work that's equally gorgeous in using the smooth tonal scale of the large format, or preferably contact, print. Then I show the kids a Leica with 35mm Summicron, and an 8x10 Deardorff with 10 inch Wide Field Ektar. It seems to work pretty well, the point getting across that both of these beautiful instruments make their own very different kinds of beautiful the right hand

-- Carl Weese (, March 31, 2001.

Eric, Polaroids can really help to keep people awake, but only focus and perspective controls can be shown this way. Large views,in turn, when photographed the same way, can be quite convincing, mainly if you show details from both formats enlarged or projected some times bigger than normal. A nice and simple way to show the possibilities of LF cameras is projecting some strong light through the ground glass and make all shifts and tilts visible in the wall. If you have lines, drawing or any transparent midia on GG, it will show selective focus, distortion, perspective, or anything you want. And if possible, I would prefer to show a wood View. Just to state that technology isn't so imperative on creation of beautiful pictures. Good luck with your kids. Cesar B.

-- Cesar Barreto (, March 31, 2001.

From the wording of your post I am not sure if you mean that they are actively hostile to photography or just indifferent/apathetic. It can be difficult to speak with those firmly oppossed to something, especially when they are firmly convinced of the validity of their own opinions.

To the question "why bother to use such a camera?" You could respond rhetorically - "Why not? Why compose and play on a grand piano? Why paint with oils? For that matter why use film at all when there's digital?"

You could respond with all the usual reasons - print quality, sharpness, tonal range, movements, contemplative approach, ability to develop one exposure at a time and in effect "customize" each image, link to early photographers.....etc. etc. etc.

Or you could say, "It works best for me. It is a tool that most effectively helps me achieve my goals."

Definately bring books by accomplished practitioners - the greater the variety of subject matter and approach the better. If there is an internet connection in the classroom, I would suggest a few minutes browsing the sites in the "L.F. Photographers" links page. An edition or two of "View Camera" "Lenswork Quarterly" and "B&W" would help as well.

In my teaching experience, I have found that turning the entire room into a camera obscura is incredibly rewarding and inspiring. You can almost see the light bulbs blaze into life in their heads. It is complicated and takes time - you'd want a room with a window and access to it well in advance to set things up - but the "EUREEKA!" or "OH WOW! COOL!" that people respond with when they see the upside down image projected on the wall from a pinhole lets you know in NO uncertain terms that they "get it".

-- Sean yates (, April 01, 2001.

If you have the equipment available, do the demo DIGITAL. This will make the whole process "seem" more up-to-date, and they can all relate to seeing images on a computer monitor. And a 20" Monitor gives everyone a better look at what is going on compared to a 4X5 Polaroid. Then you can demonstrate the ways the images can be manipulated and prepared for printing.

-- William Levitt (, April 01, 2001.

I would like to thank you all for your suggestions. This is an assignment for an English class. I am sure that the students in my class have never seen or heard of a view camera. The polaroid transfers are a good ides as well as a digital back.

I really appreciate all your help, and welcome any other suggestions.

One question that I have is, if I use the polaroid back, should I use black and white or color. The room has fluorescent lighting. Thank you all

-- Eric Williams ((, April 01, 2001.

Personally, I wouldn't recommend using digital. I think this would shift attention from LF to digital technologies. On the other hand, nowadays people rarely see B&W, and I have found that an instant B&W image looks very "cool". People also notice that it is sharper than a machine print from a 1-hour lab.

Also, rather than insisting on the wonderful body of work which has been created with the LF camera, which might be a bit far away, I'd try to keep the demo as "hands-on" as possible. Part of the interest of the LF camera is that you can physically see the belows extension, aperture, hear the shutter, view DOF on the ground glass, and I have found kids like that. Besides my suggestions on (I didn't see that you had duplicated your question, otherwise I would have replied here only) one thing which would help is to have on section of the room fairly well lit, and the other kept dark so that your student can look over each other's shoulder on the ground glass.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, April 01, 2001.

Bring & show sample work of LF used to make beer & alcholic beverage ads as well as the 8x10 work as used in Playboy centerfolds.

-- Dan Smith (, April 01, 2001.

Use digital? The point of education is not to deliver to students what they've been trained to expect from advertising and the American ethos of "newer is better NO MATTER AT WHAT COST." This is about large format photography, not the ability to show images on a computer monitor. If it proves impossible to engage students in any way without the use of computer equipment they've been craving because they were told it was "up to date," then perhaps it's pointless talking to them. I get increasingly irritated with college initiatives to "update" classroom teaching methods for no pedagogical reason but to satisfy the "demands" of students reared in a completely non-critical acceptance of a consumerist market. This is especially apalling in some photography classes, where slide projection has been replaced with digital projection. Invariably (I've seen this), the images look, well, like video. And you're supposed to be introducing students to the possibilities of high quality image capture and projection this way?? So, it comes as no surprise that the kids never pick up a roll of slide film because they've never been shown that real, "old fashioned" slide projection beats the pants off a computerized image display. Then they spend all of their money on digital equipment. Hmmm. .sounds like we just furthered the aims of Sony, Microsoft and Epson, doesn't it? That is not education. What about the wonders of seeing an image projected backward on a ground glass? The magic of using that view camera as a camera obscura in the classroom to demonstrate the very basic principles that allow photography to be done? If somebody doesn't teach this stuff, we're going to end up with a generation of young people who don't even understand how a lens works and would look at you slack-jawed when you told them that, yes, even a digital camera uses a lens that produces an inverted image! Oh, and yes, in a photography class that's not strictly geared to ensure the students make the most money in the shortest amount of time, it might be profitable to point out to them the vast quality difference between a nice sized negative and that Epson print from their spiffy new D30. Gosh. . shouldn't have said that. . .someone's going to tell me the D30 has six times the resolution of Kodachrome and accuse me of sticking my head in the sand. . heheheh

-- josh slocum (, April 02, 2001.

You guys who oppose the idea of using digital examples are the reason we are thought of as dinosaurs. Sure, who cares, as long as were all members of the same club, right? But look at what is happening all around us. The tools our our trade, and yes, I'm a studio photographer and have been for the past 20 years, are slowly but surely being phased out by the big companies like Kodak and Agfa. Why?, maybe it's because the public at large, as well as the next generation photographers think that all you need to be a "photographer" is a 35mm camera, and if uses film or a chip is, auf gut Deutsch gesagt, "scheiss egal". If demonstrating the use of a LF camera using a digital back will get the attention and interest of the otherwise, "uninterested" students in question, well then, do it. The goal should be to excite and motivate, and if that means using a medium other than what we Dinosaurs consider to be "holy", well then so be it. Being stubborn to prove a point ends up defeating the main purpose of the seminar, and it's not worth it.

Please note: The above was written by a tired photographer after an exceptionally frustrating day in the studio.

-- William Levitt (, April 03, 2001.

William, I don't think Eric has access to a digital back, so that's kind of a moot point. BUT, if he did have, say a scanning Dicomed back, or a leaf back, then I'd say "go to it!". (mind you, I work all day in a studio too...) We do a little digital stuff here in our studio (using a now ancient Nikon E3s). We looked at some Dicomed backs, but simply could not afford this stuff, nor could we afford having to switch out to HMI lights for the scanning backs. I agree with you though, as far as going along with the changing times.

To put in my thoughts on Eric's question though. We did a little seminar for a history club, where we hauled our 4x5 out to shoot some historic structures. These were grade school kids, and we wanted to keep it simple. We shot on polaroid (55), and they all seemed to like the instant feedback, and the "weird" part of darkcloths, reversed images etc. Taking portraits is one thing, but you could also take it outside and shoot a building with your Omega. At least then you could show them something that most 35mm cameras can't do well...or do a tabletop set and show off schleimflug. I think to keep it simple, I'd suggest sticking with the b&w polaroid films, maybe the coaterless stuff, so you don't have to pass around a gooey print. We've also done some little tours of our facility, where we'll set up a tabletop shot, and burn a polaroid. We set this (type55) neg up in an enlarger, and leave it there. Then when the group comes to our area we do the shot on another piece, show everyone the neg/print. Take them back into our cavernous darkroom and knock out the "real" print. It's a good way to show the whole job in like 10 minutes or less...

-- DK Thompson (, April 03, 2001.

William: I am 25 years old; hardly a dinosaur. If we are truly in the same club, then please read my post again and understand what I said. My point was that education, while it does have to adapt to some degree to changing times, SHOULD NOT BE ABOUT SATISFYING PREEXISTING STUDENT NOTIONS. Students raised in the "digital age" expect school to be about whiz-bang computer stuff. Teachers who uncritically deliver that are not teaching, they are satisfying consumer demand. If the course content or philosophy relates to issues and techniques brought up by digital, then by all means, do it. But saying "oh, yeah, they'll love that, give 'em digital" is not good pedagogy, it's treating them like mall shoppers. There are fundamental concepts of photography that have nothing to do with digital anything, and in my estimation, the point of a good education is to (if you'll pardon the corporate phrase) get the students to "think outside the box." Right now, young people think in the digital box. They have been taught by advertising to accept the premise that anything digital is automatically better, whether or not the quality of the image, or the knowledge gained, proves to be inferior. Yes, there's a place for digital, it's a reality in today's world, and will become more so. But there is also a place for teaching young people that intellectual and artistic progress is not tied to the hottest technology. You know, silly me, but I think they ought to be aware of the fact that making an image is possible without (gasp) semiconductors!! I hasten to add that the vast majority of the world's images are still caught on film, and that the majority of photography's lifespan has been spent in film use. No, this does not mean ignore digital. What it does mean is don't cave in to the praise-the-new at all costs mentality that our consumer culture preaches. Community colleges and vo-tech schools teach this because their job - their only job - is to get kids jobs. Real education enriches you with history, context, and the means by which to discriminate between fashion/advertising/consumer trends and well thought out decisions that engage all levels of craft and art rather than the almighty dollar alone. In short: a presentation that foregrounded the ways in which digital technology offers a way to extend creativity (perhaps showing an artist using the medium in unconventional, thought-provoking ways) would be great. A presentation that simply uses digital "visual aids" to engage students because you don't give them enough credit to be fascinated by anything they haven't seen advertised is bullshit, and sells their minds short. You make the call.

-- Josh Slocum (, April 05, 2001.

One addendum: I should also mention that students given the opportunity to do digital work should be cautioned that digital capture, unless one has 40K to spend on a scanning back, another 10K on a laptop and two spare minutes to make each exposure, is NOT up to the image quality of film. Yeah, I know, everyone with a D30 will tell you till they're blue in the face that their image is better than my film, but logic and my own eyesight poke a hole in that. Show the kids how to expand their minds with new technology, but make sure they understand that sometimes, the highest quality doesn't come from the newest toy. Take any digital screen projection and put it next to an "old fashioned" slide carousel projector and you'll see what I mean:)) If I can be long winded, another thing that makes me a bit nervous about digital as a teaching tool is the expendable, erasable, limitless nature of it. I don't think that good art, or well-reasoned papers, come from learning situtations that cushion each fall. For example, my photographic mentor, Joel Sternfeld, told us a story about how he went across the country when shooting for the books "American Prospect," and "On This Site," he had such a low budget that he limited himself to one negative per day, no exceptions. Joel shoots exclusively on 8x10. The result of this limitation was an attention to detail you rarely see in someone who's taught on 36 exposures or limitless memory cards. His work, I believe, speaks for this better than I can. The point I'm trying to make is that students don't need "Oh, I can just hit delete and do it again," they need to be forced to contemplate why they do what they do and how they get there. Once you've done that, go ahead, expand. But while you're "apprenticing," it shouldn't be so easy. I took Joel's lessons to heart, and started doing things shooting only black and white for certain projects that I would have preferred color for, or going out with my all manual Crown Graphic and only one loaded holder. Poverty took care of the rest, imposing its own limits:) You know what? Joel was right. I'm a better thinker, and I hope, a better photographer and artist for it. And this doesn't just go for me. . .I think anyone who shows you a print she retouched by hand, on a negative she labored to expose and develop properly, on a budget that allowed nothing more, deserves just a wee bit more respect for thought and effort than the one who desaturated 16 of his Gold100 negs and tweaked them endlessly in Photoshop to get the right one to "come out." That's not an argument for the hand over the keyboard, it's an argument for discipline and genuine commitment. If an artist shows that same level of self discipline and motivation with a computer, I think that's great. The point is, good stuff doesn't come from laziness or taking the easy path. Happy shooting and thanks for putting up with my diatribes!!!

-- Josh Slocum (, April 05, 2001.

Josh, you have alot of good points going on here, but as someone who came out of a technical school background (with the very purpose of turning out a grad. who could do the job.) sometimes I think the best training for anyone is to work as an assistant doing entry level work, or take a job doing routine (boring) work all day long, repetition and economy of materials are the best teachers. Your story of your mentor reminds me of talking with a fellow I knew from school, who got a job working in one of the large furinture studios here in our state. His first day on the job they put him on a set and told him he had only one sheet of film (color, 8x10) to do the shot. This was in one of the big studios here in this state, where they build massive sets and 8x10s are considered "small format", and these are lit by 25+ hotlights...well, he sweated it out & did the shot, and worked there for antother 5+ years. My point is, is that in the commercial world, it's not uncommon to just burn one sheet of film on the job, we usually just shoot 2 here, and then move on. The school I went to was like a training camp for the furniture studios (not so anymore), it was boring, sometimes terrible work, but it was good training...

I know the rage between digital & trad. I find myself siding with the latter, but, it's all a "tool" to get the job done. One thing I've heard (over & over) when trying to educate a coworker or a client, as to why something should be shot right (on 4x5) is "I'm not intersted in quality, I want....blah blah..." It's sad, but true. I find myself like William, I think. I'm about 10 years older than you, but sometimes I feel like a dinosaur. I feel lucky in a way though, because I work in a profession that is not as effected by digital (yet).

You don't need to respond calling me a sellout or anything, I'm not talking about fine art here, but if these students are not interested at all in photography, they're not going to be into hearing about how much trouble it takes to get the shot done on a 4x5. Even though it's the right way to do it.

The bottom line with digital as a tool (from a real world commercial view) is that you still need to do the shot right. Just like it's better to burn your film right, and make a great print because you exposed a good neg, it's the same with digital. It's better to capture a good image, and do the bare minimum on the computer. There will still be a place for us old timers (ha ha...) if you work with people interested in quality.

-- DK Thompson (, April 05, 2001.

Josh, at 25 years of age, YOU are the ones I consider to be the "young students and next generation photographers". And DK, thanks for your support. I just wish that I was merely 10 years older than Josh. My point is, and was, a digital large format camera is still that, a large format camera. The origional post asked for suggestions in demonstarting a LF camera, NOT a particular film, process or genre of photography. During the day I earn my living behind the camera, shooting anything from Hasselblad up to 8X10 chromes, but in my free time, what little there is of it, I use my 8X10" field camera and shoot b&w film. I feel as though I know the spectrum of tools available to photographers and also know that to get the right results, the proper tool for the job must be used. I still enjoy watching old movies filmed in black and white, but can be equally thrilled with a modern hollywood spectacle filmed using every modern tool known to the film industry. Results are what count. The bottom line.

Josh, I invite you to take a look at my website to see that in fact, I am a tried and true believer in the old school of photography. But if you do visit my page, make sure you follow the link to "Women" as well, to see that being "multi-faceted" is not to be considered a weakness, but rather a strength.

-- William Levitt (, April 06, 2001.

Out of courosity, why are you giving the demo?

I have done pinhole camera projects with elementary school classes. The 'hook' for them was building the cameras and getting out of class for the photos and developing. The hook for me was making the cameras and getting the kids to compose their pictures. (The wife used it as a math and writting project). Do you do large format? What's the hook for you?

Wouldn't that be alot easer to express. Unless they are really interested in photography, they won't remember an F stop from film speed five minutes after class.

-- Beau Schwarz (, April 06, 2001. was kind of hard to call myself a dinosaur, being a "youngster" myself! I've been working in this studio (in-house, I guess you'd call it industrial) for 10 years. About 5 yrs. ago there was a "desire" on an upper level for us to go digital, or at least move that way. At the time, our inclination was to go shopping for Dicomed backs, and HMI lights. Due to budgets (reality), we wound up with a Nikon E3s. This is a big place, and alot of people got point 'n' shoot digital cameras over time, and began to bypass us for alot of the projects we used to do. In this short span of time, my job has changed as well, there is that notion that everyone is a photographer. If any of you have ever worked in graphic arts industries, it's the same way. So, when you talk of a society used to using 35mm slrs, and desktop publishing, I understand. It's one thing to hold a line, when you're talking of fine-art, but it's another thing when it comes to working for people, especially on the clock & on deadlines.

I have had a little experience (working) with interns that have come from a more arts oriented background. I don't know if it's just that our job is boring to them or what, but it's an interesting attitude some students have in regards to every day photography. I started in jobs where I had to load hundreds of holders all day long, and schlep equipment all over the place. But what I've encountered most, is the attitude that it would be beneath them to make contacts all day, or scrape the silver recovery unit...heaven forbid you should ask them to do copywork.

I use a 4x5 mostly at work, but when I play around it's with half-framers...I need to give my back a rest.

Josh, please don't think my comments about students were aimed at you, they were not. I am merely trying to offer a more commercial oriented viewpoint. If you're really into view cameras, and a big neg (and a big production), if you're ever in NC, stop by High Point. Alderman Studios used to offer tours of their facility. This was at one time the world's largest studio, and Norling is there in High Point as well. These are big, production studios, and it's worth a tour if they still do it...

-- DK Thompson (, April 06, 2001.

Definition of Dinosaur in this case: .

I'm not so old that I can't remember how it was when I was 25. In defense of all "younger" photographers and members of this board, I too considered myself a photographer at that age. What I know now that I didn't know then, is what a valuable asset experience can be.

My use of the word Dinosaur was not ment to be an insult to any member of this board and if it were seen or taken as one, I apologize.

-- William Levitt (, April 07, 2001.

I'm not sure why, but my "definition" did not appear on my last post. It went something like this. Dinosaur was not meant to refer to ones age but rather the "love" of the traditional methods of our craft.That is why I refered to us all as being members of the same club.

-- William Levitt (, April 07, 2001.

William, I wasn't offended at the least...when I was that age I was starting this job here, I'd already been working in various photo jobs for at least 7 or 8 years, and thought I had it all figured out. Work can be such a humbling experience though!

I got your original point about being a dinosaur though. Without getting into the politics of it all, the point I was trying to make, as someone who has tried to hold onto doing things a more traditional way, is that alot people just don't care. If they can find a way to do something, even if it's of a lesser quality (but okay to them), then they will just do it. Like I said, sad but true. You can bang your head against a wall, and deride digital or whatever, but it's going to happen like it or not. Now if you're into large format for yourself, then do whatever you want. But like you were saying, the question wasn't limited to one genre altogether. It easy for me to be a dinosaur, I work in a history museum....

-- DK Thompson (, April 09, 2001.

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