How To Use View Camera: In The Field?

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In the early 1980s I used 4x5 field and studio view cameras extensively.

Since that time, I have not used this type of equipment at all...about 15 plus years...I have forgotten much.

I recently acquired a fine vintage 5x7 camera with Schneider lens that I intend to use in the field and to produce high quality contact display prints.

My question: This is a somewhat large, heavy, cumbersome beast. I am not totally sure how to haul it around. Obviously, I can not sling it around my neck. Using it takes time and patience. I am able to keep it on the tripod, and balance it on my shoulder without too much discomfort.

I am thinking that this type of camera should be used only after the photographer takes the time to scout out an area and predetermines the selected locations for the Large Format image.

Does anyone simply roam around with an LF unit over their shoulder looking for possibilities or is it best to think through the potential photo sites before even bringing the LF system to potential photo site?

I recall Ansel Adams seeing a spot along the merced river, with a fine tree in the foreground, for over a year before he even attempted a shot with his LF system, looking for the right time of the year and lighting.

How do YOU operate with your Large Format in the field? What are your methods and procedures? I would be most interested.

Thank you.

-- Todd Frederick (fredrick@hotcity.com), December 11, 2001

Answers

Here's what I do when I'm out with my 8x10, once I've found the shot I want (in tedious detail):
1. Take off my bacpack and place it and my tripod on the ground.
2. Walk around to find exactly the position I want.
3. Set up the tripod
4. Take the 'Dorff out of the backpack, screw it onto the tripod, and open it up.
5. Take out the lens, remove caps, attach hood, open shutter, and put it on the camera
6. Compose and focus on the groundglass, determine proper aperture, close down the lens, and cock the shutter.
7. Determine proper exposure w/spotmeter, set shutter speed as appropriate.
8. Insert film holder, remove darkslide, count off exposure, replace darkslide, flip over the holder and do the same.
9. Repeat steps 1, 3, 4, and 5 in reverse.
10. Hike to the next spot.

Maybe I'm taking this a bit too literally? Perhaps, but hey, the process of it all interests me too.

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), December 11, 2001.


> operate with your Large Format in the field

I use a fold-up steel handcart; it works fine most of the time. I just lash the bag and tripod to it.

_View Camera_ published an article a couple of years ago with instruction on how to build a "peanut cart," which is basically a two-wheel wheelbarrow with a top.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), December 11, 2001.


I am new to large format and, a few months ago, I asked myself the same question. I use indeed an heavy monorail camera (Linhof bi-system) that I transport on my back in a custom home-made wood case. I have bought in an army surplus shop a special backpack (just a metallic framework with shoulder straps) made in order to carry big rigid cases. I clearly think to potential photo sites before carrying the camera and the tripod to the site itself. When I decide to take the picture, I bring the camera and I scout out the area in order to determine the best precise location. To this end, I use an old Linhof multifocal viewfinder. Eventually, I unpack the camera and I mount it on the tripod.

-- Matthieu ls (lstrauss@infobiogen.fr), December 11, 2001.

Nobody said it was easy!

I come from a similar photo background: Heavy monorail Toyo G 8x10's and 4x5's in the studio. When I shot cars on location, believe it or not, I took a van loaded with everything you could imagine, including a generator and an 8x10 Poloroid processor so I could show the client and art director what they had no hope of seeing through the ground glass. I should also say, I usually took two assistants to cart all this stuff around.

Nowadays, I'm the one who carries the stuff and I've gone the backpack route. I use a huge Tenba pack to hold my monorail Horseman LE 4x5, 4 lenses, 10 holders, meters (I always carry a back-up Weston in case my spot meter craps out.), dark cloth, magnifier and lens shade. On the outside of the pack, the Tenba pack has a netted pouch which holds my tripod. All together, this rig weighs in at 41 pounds.

As you can see, this is hardly a light-weight load. And since I do most of my shooting in NYC, most of the time I do not work from a car. Therefore, my usual procedure is to scout and test shoot with 35mm. When I find something that motivates me enough to hump out with my 40 pound pack, I shoot 4x5.

Once I'm at the location, the pack is pretty easy to work from. Setting up is tedious, however. The Horseman LE is beautifully made, but it requires disassembly to fit in my pack, so everytime I set up I have to assemble the monorail, standards, bellows and so on. Once I'm at a site, I will keep it on the tripod and carry it over my shoulder while wearing the pack. It's not exactly easy, but it's workable. Eventually I'll get something more sensible--a nice light, compact Canham or Ebony--that doesn't require a pack that buckles my knees when I throw it over my shoulder.

-- Ted Kaufman (writercrmp@aol.com), December 11, 2001.


I guess it depends on the circumstances for me. If I'm travelling someplace I may only have one chance to visit, then I bring my 8x10" Gowland, 3-4 lenses, accessories, and tripod with me on my back--all on the order of 35 pounds, I would guess. If I have the time as I do at home to scout locations, maybe photograph first in a smaller format then go back when the light and is good, I prefer to work that way.

Lately I've been photographing birds (not with LF, but with 35mm), and it's not really more cumbersome to carry the 8x10" than the birding kit (600/4.5, one or two bodies, extenders, 90mm macro, same tripod as for 8x10", maybe a 400/4.5 as a flight lens if I'm being particularly energetic).

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), December 11, 2001.



When I go out to photograph, I carry my cameras with me, as I prefer to respond to the moment, and generally find that seeing something and planning to return later seldom work for me.

I use a Toyo 810G rail camera, which I carry in a large backpack. The pack holds the camera, three lenses, six film holders and bag bellows. I also carry a 6x9 Fuji rangefinder and a 35mm camera, with the full kit, including tripod, weighing in over 60 lbs. The key here is the back-pack - it is a well designed hiking pack, and sits wonderfully on the body. Yes, the gear is ungodly heavy, but once it is on the back, it isn't a problem to walk for extended periods - and the camera doesn't weigh anything when I am using it, which is when it really is worth all the effort!

-- Eric Boutilier-Brown (ericbb@evolvingbeauty.com), December 11, 2001.


Hiking into the woods isn't the only way to use a view camera. When working that way, it does take a little time to get the camera out of the pack and set up, but by *practicing* the set-up operation it is possible to get very good and fast at it. Much faster than you think possible the first time you try to set up the rig. Force yourself to set up and take down 25 times in a row and you'll be amazed how much you improve!

A lot of my work is done from the road--agricultural and urban landscape--and it is possible to work really fast out of a vehicle. Of course large format is well-suited to a slow and contemplative approach, but it I think people miss a lot when they just assume that you can't work fast with a view camera. Some of my favorite pictures are of fleeting light effects exposed within a minute or two of spotting the scene at 60mph. With banquet cameras.

That said, I also return again and again to locations that I've spotted when the light or weather wasn't what I wanted. I just came back from a two-day loop covering about seven hundred miles during which I photographed in half a dozen previously worked locations and added another half dozen potential ones to my running list of promising sites.

There's certainly no single way to work with large format, which makes sense since it's the most versatile of photographic approaches.

-- Carl Weese (cweese@earthlink.net), December 11, 2001.


In the past I have bungeed my Domke bag with my Linhof, few lens and holders to the bracket on the back of my mountain bike. With a Bogen Magic Arm I literally turn my bike into a tripod, clamping the arm to the cross bar of the bike. I have done this for years and my stuff is always tack sharp. The bottom of my Domke is a little more padded and I don't push the bike and myself to hard but I get to the outback in no time and get the pictures I want.

-- Scott Walton (scotlynn@shore.net), December 11, 2001.

Todd,

Many good descriptions of how people work. Let me add mine. If shooting 4x5, I pack my Wista SP a few lenses and Readyload holder, film, etc. in a backpack and hike (hand carrying my tripod) as many miles as I care to. Iím in decent shape so this is no problem. My 8x10 gear is another story. I have local areas in New Jersey that I shoot where a car ride and short walk does the trick. Far-flung spots are scouted before hand and I return at the right time with my gear in any way thatís possible. My most extreme case was climbing a steep mile long trail in Puerto Rico with 30+ pounds of gear in the dark to get to a spot before sunrise and focusing at the instant when there was just enough light to see the image on the ground glass. I got a tremendously gratifying image that I had to shoot before the sun fully cleared the horizon to avoid my own shadow in the picture. What you do is only a matter of how motivated (or insane) you are.

Good shooting.

-- Linas Kudzma (lkudzma@compuserve.com), December 11, 2001.


I always have a point and shoot camera or my Nikon with me in the car. I use it like a sketch pad for later reference in determining if I want to go back with a LF camera. Sometimes I go out and purposely scout locations, sometimes I have an idea of what I want and I just take the 4x5 or 8x10 with me, and sometimes I might just hop in the car on a Sunday morning with my gear, pick out a town or road within a day's drive round trip I have never seen and go. Some times I use all the film up I bring along, sometimes I just use the Nikon and take notes for a return trip. It just depends on my mood and circumstances.

-- James Chinn (jchinn2@dellepro.com), December 12, 2001.


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