An Unusual question fro all of you - part II?? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Before you read this you should read the question I posted on December 12 titled “ An Unusual question for you”.

The reason why I love this website is because of the experiences, commentary, and knowledge that people bring to these pages. It is rich and invaluable. Thank you.

However I think some of you may be off topic. My questions are not why I carry 160 lbs of gear or why it is so heavy, but rather how can I be more productive and creative in the field. There are very few, if any books that speak to this topic, yet this is really what photography is all about. The equipment is secondary for once you have it then you must do something with it and that is very hard.

I believe that imposing a goal of 1-6 exhibition quality images per day is absolutely essential for you to grow as a photographer. It forces you to start to think about how can I obtain such a goal. All of a sudden one image per week is no longer acceptable and now you are forced to move outside of your comfort zone. Your mind becomes filled with frustration and self drought. After many failures you will start to ask the question am I really an artist or just a fool running around with expensive gear. You are now in a crisis. Only then do you really start to innovate and truly create, if you survive.

Let me drive this point home by introducing you to another side of myself. I am also a wedding photographer. Four years ago I changed my whole approach and offered four packages starting at 300, 500, 700, and 900 excellent photographs. Excellence here means not only excellent images, but also excellence in coverage. The next thing I did was to tell my clients that they could keep half the fee until after inspecting the final product. If they did like it then they do not have to pay. This kind of sounds like 1-6 exhibition images per day, but it is even worse because brides have unrealistic expectations. When I first instituted this changes I can assure you my income went into a noses dive. This year I have exceed all my expectations and booked 62 weddings and will shoot over 24,000 frames of film. So far I have had no unhappy brides and I have received over $1600 in tips. Four years ago I was an introvert. Today I have become a extravert and I love pouring film over humanity. Yet, each time I shoot a wedding I still sweat bullets which forces me to learn and grow as a wedding photographer. If I fail to grow then I can assure you I will not get paid.

So let me repeat my question. What methods and techniques do you employ to insure success? To increase your productivity? Do you have any untested ideas that you would like to share with us. Here are just a few of the many things I have done to move closer to my goal of 1-6 exhibition images per day.

1. I now use a llama. A llama lets me get lots of gear into wild-prestine remote areas. Hershey allows me to set up a comfortable camp, carry 10 lens, a polaroid system, a big tripod, and many other things. All of this adds up to a very versatile system. Once we start to shoot film, Hershey carries everything (about 50 lbs) and I stay fresh, energized, and very productive.

2. I use color neg film. I then print it on Fuji super gloss crystal archive papers to get cibrachrome colors. Most people think I use chromes because of my colors. The reason I use negs is because I can record up to 11 stops of total light and 8-9 stops of dynamic light. This allows me to shoot later in the morning and earlier in the evening. I can shoot rings around people who use chromes, 4 stops does not cut it. I can also do contracted development with my negs: n-1, n-2, n-3, and n-4 just like you do with b&w film. In fact, I contend that I can take on higher contrast scenes then those who use b&w film with my color negs. This has made me extremely productive.

-- Stephen Willard (, December 13, 2001


Personally, I have learned a great deal from Galen Rowell's books. Instead of talking about the techno-babble regarding equipment, he focuses on translating human experiences into photographic images. His most recent book, "The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography", is a compilation of various articles he has written over the years.

Even though he shoots with different tools than I, he describes the process of capturing emotional images, not the mechanics.

I recently took a 3-day workshop in the Eastern Sierra Nevada with him and 12 other students, and most people were asking the same old 'what aperture would you take this image with' and 'what film do you like to use'. Productive questions for some, but the reason he has been successful as a photographer has more to do with searching out and anticipating great photos. Keep in mind, most of his best photos were taken with a manual-focus Nikon from the 70's, and an older manual focus 24mm lens. Not exactly an equipment snob.

I don't want to come across as being a commercial for Galen Rowell. I find faults in most artists, including his work. However, I am intrigued by the process by which he seeks out his images.

Hope this helps.


-- Andy Biggs (, December 13, 2001.

As long as you equate numbers with quality you will be easily satisfied with average 'pretty picture' images. Look at the work of Ernst Haas, David Muench, Paul Caponigro and Edward Weston. Seeking only excellence in results, not numbers, will get you out of the rut you seem to be in and pushing for good images.

-- Dan Smith (, December 13, 2001.

Are you really looking or asking for answers, or are you challenging anyone who cares to respond to point out the rightness or wrongness of your current mindset?

The beginning of your thread asks 'how can I be more productive?' and your last sentence suggests that you are extremely productive? If you think you've been productive because of your personal style and mindset then it's essentially case closed, because nobody can be you better than you can. Nobody could or should shoot like you except you if the way you shoot works for you, notwithstanding what can be learned from you or any of us from example and/or inspiration and so forth.

There are many ways to be productive, some I think are going to wear you out quicker than others, and maybe the day will come when you will want to 'mellow out' your style a bit.

Change, flexibility, inspiration, doing things differently, getting a masterpiece as a result of and/or making a mistake, in other words growth, are the keys for me, not quantity or quotas(I say that with absolutely no disrespect to your position).

'I believe that imposing a goal of 1-6 exhibition quality images per day is absolutely essential for you to grow as a photographer'...........If this is a reflection of you true beliefs, then maybe thinking this does in fact help you to grow, but only you'll be able to know if it does.

Growth for me as a photographer takes place when I'm not shooting. Growth for me occurs for me while I'm looking at what I've shot and how I shot it. Sometimes this process is drawn out, sometimes I'll be driving down the street thinking about anything but photogaphy , and an inspiration will hit me!

Sometimes I'll be sitting at the beach with my wife and kids and I'll 'realize' something that I'll want to try later. I'm racing around the beach begging anyone with 'earshot' for a pencil and a piece of paper so I can sketch out my newfound 'idea', and when this happens, my wife thinks that I've gone crazy.

Growth takes place for me while I am setting up a shot, and I'm thinking about how it looks, but at the moment of taking a shot, the thinking is over, and all I care about is executing. Its not in me to think about things when I'm shooting, and whether it's right or wrong, that's me.

Expecting one to six exhibition quality images per day is a hell of a Gorilla to hoist up on your own back! I can't help but think that the day will come when you'll get tired of carrying that Gorilla around, and eventually, the time might come when you will indeed want to put him down, which will probably be a part of your growth process to help you achieve what you want.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 13, 2001.

You grow as a Photographer on the days you don't shoot and on the days you don't come up with good shots, and even though you might have had a day that stinks, think of it as the fertilizer that makes your grass grow.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 13, 2001.

You sure that's a llama your using, and not a weasel?

-- Pete Andrews (, December 13, 2001.

My brothers and sisters in large format photography:

I came to photography back in the 1960s when my mother gave me an old beat-up Kodak Brownie box camera. After we moved up to a Nikkormat, we spent the next 30 years essentially documenting a growing family, travels, and sundry special events. These were snapshots, where the subject was the thing, and there was little or no attention to any artistic or other esthetic quality. We still regard handheld 35mm photography as a wonderful way to share experiences with others, to preserve a record of things that would otherwise be entirely forgotten, to (re)create an acceptable past, to make possible a visual review of our lives in images.

Last year, we took up large format with the acquisition of an 8x10 field camera with related gear. We shoot b/w only, in response to largely esthetic considerations. Entering LF photography, at least on my part, was the end result of long-simmering unfulfilled aspirations rooted in autobiographical details which are beside the point here. What is to the point is the difference I perceive between my ongoing 35mm snapshooting and the use of the field camera. The two work in synch, but with entirely different purposes.

Through large format, I try to express some very deep-seated life- long esthetics and mental images that I carry with me everywhere. A decade ago in a frenzied burst of enthusiasm I grabbed some of my preschool daughter's colored craft paper and within a quarter hour had pasted together a likeness of perhaps my most persistent image: approaching the Sierra Nevada range by road from the San Joaquin Valley--my childhood mental rendition of John Muir's account of the view eastwards from Pacheco Pass a century before. I framed it and it's still hanging in my living room ("When I Paint My Masterpiece", I always explain). But I still have other images I want to express: some childish, some erotic (the curve of a woman's body), some heroic, some monumental, but basically abstractions in search of a specific visual embodiment. All, I suspect, are rooted in some autobiographical ego-related space-and-time circumstances, but I'm far less concerned with those circumstances than with my desire to find expression for them in my black and white large format images.

When we take the rig out, we're not looking for Kodak moments, although I'm not ashamed to admit that those boyhood visits to Best's Studio in the Valley have in not a few cases substituted photographic icons for reality--icons I'd like to try to recreate myself in my own personal way. Essentially, what we're about is to capture on film the essence of almost archetypal notions. We (me, my wife, and a child or two) work hard on technique, on the craft in all its aspects, but all in the service of the larger personal project "from within." No quota of images, exhibition quality or otherwise, other than to continue until I/we have satisfied these inner emotional/esthetic longings.

All the best, Nick.

-- Nick Jones (, December 13, 2001.

Dear Stephen, my heart rate is increasing just thinking of all the stress you are imposing upon yourself. Does this stress show in the pictures? I work as a professional photographer, and - like you - I have certain commercial demands and motivations (i.e. my mortgage payments depend on a consistent turnaround of quality of work in very short time spaces).

However, when I make pictures in the landscape, the motivation behind the work is altogether different. My motivation here is to MAKE pictures (not TAKE them), pictures that I can live with, that feel they have been made with a clarity of mind not possible in the commercial world, whether I make them half way up a mountain (usually not), or somewhere close to home (most often).

Most of us have limited time to make these kinds of pictures, and so there is an inevitable pressure to 'perform'. However, I find that when I have forgotten those anxieties, the picture-making process begins to work faster.

At the same time as arguing for the necessity of a calm, clear-minded approach as I have, for some artists this anxiety may actually help to generate a flavour in the work that the pictures need. Signs of urgency, or agitation. For some this may be an equally necessary part of the process, reflected in the images.

At the end of the day, it sounds as though you are making plenty of pictures. The question you maybe should be asking, more importantly, is whether they reflect your artistic motivations, or are they a series of practical excercises in coping with everything thrown at you and making something come what may?

If you are making six great pictures every day, then congratulations! I think Ansel Adams said to Imogen Cunningham that he probably made one or two great pictures a year (or something like that), to which she replied "one a lifetime".......

Best w

-- Stephen Vaughan (, December 13, 2001.

I think you make a mistake setting your goal based on a target number of great photographs a day. It's good to have goals, but you'd be better served if you made your goal simply to *be* there as often as possible and to look and see and imagine the possibilities are before you.

Photography is very much a Zen-like experience--the harder you aim, the more likely the arrow will go astray. You cannot force the arrow to the target; you focus your energy on the target and *let* the arrow find its way.

You must dismiss numerical production goals. That's good for manufacturing, but not creating. Numbers of photographs mean nothing. Some days we are on, some days we aren't. The important thing is to free your mind and allow yourself to focus, to experience the world around you, and to see without excessive mental burden. A relaxed mind, clear yet focussed on your environment, should be your goal. If you do that, you will not have to concern yourself with production numbers. If you build a place for images to grow, they will come.

-- Ted Kaufman (, December 13, 2001.

Don't tell anyone you use colour print film that our little secret. Everybody thinks you need to print slides but of course our prints prove people wrong. It is bad to be a factory but a production goal is important. Yes we have to go with the flow but we can't get anywhere without a goal. I never expect to make that special image everyday however I need to make a lot of images to find that special one. I try to enjoy life and when I can't take a picture I will just enjoy the moment. However we are photographers and photographing our lives is what we need to do. This discussion is really good because this forum is technical and we don't talk about what we actually make with our great cameras. I am doing a school documentary project of my photography program at Ryerson University in Toronto. I can't believe you use a IIama. So does the animal live with you or do you just rent? What film do you use to get massive N- development? Portra? Please e-mail me offline.

-- David Payumo (, December 13, 2001.

I find that traveling light and being responsive to local conditions works best overall. For example, if I am working in the desert and a thunderstorm rolls over a mesa in the distance, I know that I can go there and shoot water pockets when the sun is low. Or if the weather reports say snow in the high country – a quick trip.

This is a strategy, of course, for one who has very limited time…… Nothing can beat living in the area full time for quality of production, if not quantity.

-- Bruce Wehman (, December 13, 2001.

I don't see why so many are fixated on the llama. My recollection is that St. Ansel commonly used a burro, even indicating that how much equipment he brought depended on how much the burro could carry. Heck, Ed Weston didn't like getting 50 feet from his car. So what? It appears to me that the questioner is focussed on eliminating a lot of variables that ordinarily interfere with the act and process of shooting. He seems to be doing that. He obviously has all the technical tools. Maybe Stephen is asking the how to move between the chaos of wedding photography to the relative calm of nature photography. As to his goals, different things drive people differently in the creation of their art, their vision, their message, their whatever. However, I think that ultimately, as others have said previously, that most of the battle is just showing up. You're there -- enjoy it and enjoy the results whether the photos are exhibition quality or not.

-- Donald Brewster (, December 13, 2001.

Jonathan hit the nail on the head. If you can already knock out this many keepers in a day and truly close the gap between quantity and "real" quality, buildings will be constructed in your name in the future to house all of these masterpieces for many generations to see. For some reason, I do not think that this is the case. How can we take you seriously that you want to kick it up a knotch. When I first read your first post, I thought you were pulling our leg. Now I realize that you are serious. In any event, in the extended period that I have been monitoring this forum, yours is the first to even suggest such a paradox. I run across the llama brigade in the Colorado high country on occasion and it seems to me that the likes of you are on a mission to a higher calling. Stop and talk? Just sit down and marvel at what is transpiring in front of you? Hell no, we are on a mission! I just steer clear any more and let you do your thing. Photography for me is not a destination, it is a marvelous journey not defined by the parameters we use to describe success in our daily lives. How many frames you shoot in weddings has no material bearing into the "esthetics" of photography. The bottom line is that very people could assist you in your question that I have ever interacted with. You are in another orbit and I wish you the best of luck. Can you say burnout?

-- Michael Kadillak (, December 13, 2001.

So you are an obsessive compulsive who feels you must be productive every minute or you are moving dangerously backwards. You are on an accelerating treadmill with only brief glances of satisfaction.

It sounds like your system makes you both productive and very successful - so there isn't really a problem. I suspect the roots of your dilemma are not in photography at all.

-- Phil Glass (, December 13, 2001.


These are only goals and in most cases are not a measure of what actually happens. By having goals it forces me to grow and innovate. That is all. No goals no growth!

For the record, Hirshey and I are a real team, and we have lots of fun on our journies where ever that may lead us.

Perhaps you could tell us about a typical day in the field for you. Outline what you do. Maybe in between the lines there is a small bit of information that no one except you has thought of. Something innovative that the rest of can benefit from. For example, I attach a 10" cable release to everone of my lens because this saves me time.

Remember, this is a small commutity and we are all in this together, so lets challenge each other and share what little we have to offer.


-- Stephen Willard (, December 13, 2001.

We all are into photography at different levels and for different reason. It sounds like you need to relax and maybe enjoy what you are doing a little more. I love it when I have a very productive day. Some days it just doesn't happen. If you feel the need to meet production quotas, get a factory job somewhere. You will never get enough numbers to please them and you will have plenty of the stress you seem to need in your life. (Just kidding).The number of photographs I'm going to make is the last thing on my mind. I get totally into the subject at hand and then move on to something else, and hopefully another subject will inspire me to make another photograph. When I shoot 35mm, I pretty much take the same approach, except I usually will shoot a little more film on the subject.

-- Wes Carroll (, December 13, 2001.

I think part of the reason that some may be distracted by the quantity of gear, is that some of us find excessive amounts of equipment to be a distraction in the field. I own a good deal of equipment, but I try to go out with a focused vision, with certain things that I am looking for, but also prepared for a few surprises. When I decide to leave equipment at home, I'm making aesthetic choices.

But that's just the way I work. I'm not trying to pay the rent with photography. I have a very fulfilling day job that pays the rent as well as providing much intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction. One of the reasons I set aside the idea of pursuing photography as a profession at a certain point was the desire to be free of commercial pressures and influences in this part of my life. If I can produce a few aesthetic objects of lasting meaning and value, that is sufficient for me.

-- David Goldfarb (, December 13, 2001.

Here's what I do to be more "productive" with a view camera. I shoot roll film.

If you get a small view camera and 6x7 or 6x9 RF back, you won't need a llama, the weasel would work just fine.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 13, 2001.

all the other stuff aside I recommend Robert Adams, Why People Photograph. Mainly the first few chapters. It's good soul food.

happy holidays ec

-- eck wheeler (, December 13, 2001.

Here is one of my techniques that you may find unacceptable. When I am going into a new area that I am relatively unfamiliar with, the only optical equipment I bring with me is my Linhof finder for my format (4x5/8x10 or 5x7)and my binoculars for spotting bears, sheep, eagles and elk. I cover terrain to look for composition without any photography equipment specifically because I do not want to be tempted to make a photograph and spoil the "understanding" of the area in its entirety that will let me feel where the best places within its boundary are to make photographs. I can cover a larger area and when I return, it is like visiting an old friend - we have commonalities. In the past I found that I was moved to make a photograph only to find that 100 yards further, was a much better position. It is still a lot of hard work, but it is without the 60# pack.

-- Michael Kadillak (, December 13, 2001.

Stephen, in the field there is no way to “insure success”. Opportunity comes from simply holding ones’ feet to the fire - getting up at 4am for sunrises, getting out in windy and inclement weather, taking the time to really see the compositions and form the image you’re trying to achieve. There is no substitute for time spent in the field. But opportunity alone cannot ensure satisfying images.

You need to enjoy both the process and the results, otherwise you’ll not spend the time. You really need to have some kind of internal motivation or drive to do photograph. You seem to be approaching this from a “production” perspective, perhaps a conditioning brought on by your wedding photography - where results are everything.

I guess what I’m trying to say is enjoy the process and the results will come. Give the llama a weekend off, reduce your gear to backpack size, and go for a days’ hiking - relax and see what’s around you. You could be making this more difficult than it should be. I wish you luck.

-- Michael Mahoney (, December 13, 2001.

I'm new at this board, I asked a question earlier about the MXT enlarger, and thanks to everyone for their ideas and suggestions.

I guess I will add my ideas about productivity and creativity. I'm probably a beginner in photography when compared to some others on this board, started in 1991, using a 35mm Yashica range finder camera that my parents bought for me at a garage sale. I used it for two years, wandering around the streets of Chicago with it bouncing on my belly. I guess it was more like shooting from the hip, because even though I looked through the rangefinder, I discovered it focused on one thing, and the lens another, so the negatives were always a surprise to me, at least until my brain figured out that I had to move the finder about two inches to the left of what I wanted to photograph - scary process, because I started getting it right. I saved money for a year and during that time thought about what camera I was going to buy. I decided on a Hasselblad (whoops, I know this is a large format discussion, but one day I will buy one), so far it is all I use, but hopefully soon I will move into 4X5. I try to go out everyday with the camera, sometimes I don't though, things come up, but if I am diligent and carry it around good things sometimes happen. I notice better things happen when no people or cars are around, so I like to go out at 3am when most people are dreaming, then strange things occur, I see rabbits and fog and twisting maple tree shadows. I start to have a rapport with the things around me, then I have the desire to make a photograph of what I am seeing. I don't photograph people much because they seem to complain when I pull the camera out and point it at them when they are telling me about what they bought at Walmart, but trees and empty roads are always cooperative with my efforts. Sometimes I walk around and never make a photograph, because the desire never arises in me to make one, but other days I come back with 40 exposures and think - "damn, I can't wait to develop this stuff". I have never done photography as a job, because I probably would never want to see a camera outside the work environment. I try to use the camera to learn about the world that I find myself sinking in. Using it thus, I rarely go out with any set ideas about what I want to make - I don't want to make pictures of things that that are already known to me. I want to see things on the film that startle me - even though I am the one who presses the shutter, the image should remain difficult to recognize.

-- James Webb (, December 13, 2001.

I haven't even read but the 1st three answers but I have to get to work so I'll save it for a treat later.

You are a person that thrives under pressures that would crush most others:

5-6 isn't enough! That's laziness and sloth for you. You need to change that requirement to at least 24. OK 24 to start with and 50 tops. Then you need to take more gear so you can duplicate all your camera backs with Black and White film. (Poor Hershey)

Plan your trips around a full moon so that you can work at least 6 24hour days while you're there.

Treeline in the rockies isn't hard enough for you. You need to come out here to central Nevada where I live to add some difficulty.

Finally, you need to hire a large vicious person with a bull whip that will inflict real pain if you start to slack off. Let me know when you're coming so I can get you on my calender.

Jim Galli

-- Jim Galli (, December 13, 2001.


Most excellent. I have just purchased the same finder last year and it is turning out to be a very powerfull tool for quickley weeding out junk. I suspect that this finder will have a significant impact on my yeilds. This summer I did go to a place that turned to be worthless. If I had done a scouting trip as you suggested I would have saved myself a lot of time and money.


-- Stephen Willard (, December 13, 2001.

Stephen, I'm not sure where you get your idea that you should, or can, take 1-6 exhibition quality images per day. Without getting into the definition of "exhibition quality" (which arouses my suspicions right off the bat), if you can accomplish this, you'd be the first photographer ever to do it. Ansel Adams said he was happy if me made one good photograph per month. If you read Edward Weston's daybooks, he photographed almost continuously for 25 years and the total of his life's work is about 100 images. Look at the work of any great photographer, or other artist for that matter, and you will see a similar pattern-- a challenging goal for a full-time artist would be 10 new pieces per year. For a part-timer, one or two really strong images per year would be a happy result. My personal production follows this pretty closely-- I've been photographing for 10 years and my work to date is about 120 images (which you can see at if you are interested). I recently spent ten days in the canyons of the desert southwest, and took a photograph only on the ninth day. I exposed two sheets of film (both the same image at different exposures), and got one of the best photos I've ever taken. That, for me, was an extremely successful trip.

My belief is that if you are out there pushing yourself to take 1-6 killers per DAY, then the intellectual side of your mind will be so filled with pressure and stress and dreams and fantasies about shows and galleries and success, that the intuitive side of your mind will never get a chance to take over the controls and see the really magical scenes that you encounter, and so you will walk right by the real killers that would stop a focussed artist in their tracks.

My recommendation would be to try to forget about artistic goals, and learn to enjoy and love the process of making art. Set an impossibly high standard for yourself that applies to every image you make, and then meet that standard by looking really deeply wherever you go and not taking a photograph until you see real honest magic in front of your lens. And then, adopt a brutally harsh throw-out standard for when you get the film back from the lab. In five years, if you have 50 "keepers" then you can consider yourself an asskicker.

It might help you also to try to define what that magic is that you're looking for, through some form of spiritual study as well as a comprehensive study of photographic history. Spending a few years studying the history of painting wouldn't hurt either. Without these ingredients, you're inevitably destined to simply take a bunch of pictures that you "recognize" as being good because you've seen them in calendars. In other words, to break out of the formula, you have to go deep into yourself and your medium.

The goals will happen by themselves, if you really care about what you're doing, and do it sincerely.

Best of luck,

~chris jordan (Seattle)

-- chris jordan (, December 13, 2001.

Jim....If he doesn't come your way, then you need to fed-ex the whip to Hershey. Hershey, if you've got a laptop in that pack, and Stephen gives you some time off, contact us and let us know the 'real deal'.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 13, 2001.

Didn't Ansel Adams say he was happy with his output if he made one image a year that really mattered?

-- Charlie Strack (, December 13, 2001.

Stephen....with all joking aside, please e-mail me a j-peg of Hershey if at all possible, it would be appreciated.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 13, 2001.

Stephen, At first I thought that your question was interesting, but now I'm not so sure. Harry Callahan was an engaged photographer for his whole adult life, but I don't think he ever thought in the terms that you are. I'm not suggesting that what you're doing is wrong, but it may be self- defeating. Productivity is the kind of consideration that is important in your commercial work. You seem to be dragging that mind-set into your artistic journey. I really think that if you'll let yourself be more at ease, without any pre-set quantitative quota, you'll be more able to think and see clearly. I'll overstate this slightly to make the point: If your goal is the realization of your self through artistic work, then it's what you do not yet know that counts, not your preconceptions as to what constitutes an acceptable photograph. If your goal is to create a second photo business with your landscape photographs, then your daily quotas might make more sense. The real question (for yourself, not for this forum) is, which is it?

-- Michael Alpert (, December 13, 2001.

- I scout a location with a small viewfinder and a palmtop full of software. I document the places and angles, figure out the position of the sun thruout the year, try to "previsualize" the scene. Sometimes I just sit and admire a rock from every angle for a whole day. Later (a day, a week, a year) I come back with just the gear I need for the image I want. Frequently, the small viewfinder captures a fleeting moment that never returns i.e.: a fish in a pond with a blooming lilly is one of my personal best shots. I have returned many times, but the fish has not. I have a stack of maps, pics and notes of places to go back to.

- I select one of the best shots from one of the master photogs. I then go to that location and try and see what it is they saw, try to duplicate their results with my modest skills. This gives me a measure of how and where my skills need improvement, and where my "inner vision" needs refinement. The question I try to answer, and which I never will, is whether I could have made the same picture had I never seen the masters'.

- I really like the idea of a llama to carry my gear, but I lack the back-country skills to handle a pack animal. My wife has 8 cats, maybe I can hitch them to a wheelbarrow....

- I am yet to create a picture in the same league as the masters. OTOH, in the rockies above the treeline, that close to God, I can imagine that all pictures would be great.

-- Mike Kelleghan (, December 13, 2001.

Stephen, your entry and the many contributions clearly show once again that there are all sorts of people in photography, I am afraid that I belong to a different tribe than yours. You concentrate on "results" and amounts of "perfect" shots seem to play a large role in your approach to your craft. Numbers matter in a commercial enterprise and I am sure that you are very good at doig what you do, in art, numbers matter a great deal less than what you seem to think, art is the product of a fine spirit fed on long conversation to your good friends, good films, good books, visits to museums. Some people are then possessed by the holy fire and go and sweat and produce a lot, some produce a great deal less. No one of these two methods is any better than the other. Practice is a good school but cannot give somebody talent, some choose to frantically work, some don't. There is no point in doing something different from your nature. By nature I am a less active person than you seem to be, I don't blame you and don't espect you to blame me. We are different, we make different photographs, and there is no telling from our characters if any of us, one day would create an unforgettable masterpiece. I hope you will, in any case, take it easy and enjoy the ride! Good luck! (even though you might not believe in it!)

-- andrea milano (, December 13, 2001.

Stephen, how old are you?

Could this feeling of what seems like self doubt, simply be a touch of the "middle-aged crazies"? Do you ever entertain thoughts of trading Hershey in on a red sportscar? Do you constantly examine the financial success of others your age, and compare it to yourself? Are you thinking about trading the wife in for woman 20 years younger?

From reading the 2 questions you posted, it seems to me that you are approaching your photography with a great deal of energy and thought. Producing museum quality photographs is not something you can schedule, or practice, or explain...

-- Dave Richhart (, December 13, 2001.

Mr. Willard, I am astonished by the progress of your contribution to the forum. Many genuine image makers and thinkers have responded with some genorosity to your question. And yet - and this is what amazes me - the only answer you have deemed worthy of response in return, is one regarding the grand virtues of a viewfinder!

Which planet are you from that you boldly ignore the broadly mutual sentiment that picture-making is not about the equipment? Stop. Take a deep breath, and answer these questions honestly, please: Is all of this 'stuff' really improving your work? What elements of your work genuinely fulfill your needs as a picture maker? What things do you feel are missing from your work?

Surely the one thing you are not lacking is quantity. I feel you need to ask yourself deeper questions about why you make pictures.

Sorry if this sounds harsh. I just cannot comprehend the level of obsessive behaviour which forces you to go and buy a seperate 10 inch cable release for each lens, pre-attached for speed.

Please calm down, you are making me tense!

Maybe your joking though.......that would be funny..

-- Stephen Vaughan (, December 13, 2001.

Stephan.....One of the most 'feel good' and 'battery recharging' moments I've ever had was running around the house 'shooting/catching' images of my wife and kids with my sons SX-70 and time zero film.

The best one of these I caught as my wife, son, and daughter sprang out of the closet, with all three made up with my wifes gree/quacamole/mudpack in the morning in their pajamas.

Sentimentality aside the shot is carefree and uplifting, and more importantly the shot stirs something in me in that it has a quality I want to add to a few Portraits that I do with my gear.

The point I'm trying to make, is that you can snatch from any part of your lifes experience, any number of little vignettes/inspirations, the creativity/Artistry that you would mold/weld together to use for your craft.

Living your life with fun/Panache, a sense of humor, with a joy for it all, and the ability to laught at yourself(I need practice on this) will serve your Art as much as anything.

Fooling others is mean spirited, fooling yourself is downright cruel. I don't mean this as a personal statement to you, I'm saying this to everybody including myself.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 13, 2001.

Hi Stephen

I really think you are joking;-)) But if not I would start to make your equipment lesser in wight! I for exampel go sometimes only with 1 lens 1 camera and 3-6 holders for a 3- 6 ouhers walk somewhere and sometimes I did`nt even take the camera out of the backpack and sometimes I came back with all negs. or pos. used. Thad works not so good if I work for a mag and I have a deadline from 2-3 days, but it works very well for my free work!

Could it be that you are to hard to yourself and to Hershey?

-- Armin Seeholzer (, December 13, 2001.

Some master said (anyone know who?) that if you make ten "masterpiece" photographs IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE you are doing all right. The catch is that you don't usually know which ones will be the enduring masterpieces (to yourself or anyone else) until months, years, or even decades later.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 13, 2001.

I just cannot comprehend the level of obsessive behaviour which forces you to go and buy a seperate 10 inch cable release for each lens, pre-attached for speed.

Many people do this, including such well known landscape photographers as Tom Till. Obsessive? Maybe, but also very convenient. .

-- Stewart Ethier (, December 13, 2001.

So you really want to save time and make 6 masterpices a day? Ok, I see you got all the gear, all the advice. All that I really think you are missing is sitting down and think what you want to photograph. In my case I just moved to Mexico and I am building my house and darkroom. Since I am unable to use my LF cameras, I already scouted the are and have at least 5 or 6 pics in my mind I want to do, When I get the rest of my equipment it will be only a matter of going to the site and set up and click! Easy...:-))

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, December 13, 2001.


You've asked an interesting question and for me the methods and techniques to produce those successful images come from within, not from the equipment or the technique. Creativity is the key. Having a sound knowledge of technique and having good quality equipment is certainly a help, but if you are not able to be creative then all the equipment and lastest techniques in world will only produce mediocre images at best.

To be "productive" you must first love your subject with a passion and have the ability to express that through images that will provoke strong emotions in yourself and in others too. Turning your photography into a numbers game is, in my opinon, non-productive. After all, it's not about how many images we produce, it's about how many unforgettable images we produce.

So to answer your first question, I would say that "the art of seeing" and "the art of creativity" are the techniques and methods I employ the most.

And I think the text below best sums up my thoughts to your second question:

" I have always liked landscape photographers, people who make their living from vistas of nature, whose hands are familiar with the feel of the camera, whose eyes are trained to distinguish the different varieties of the land, who have a form memory.

Their brains are not forever dealing with vague abstractions; they are satisfied with the romance which the seasons bring with them, and have the patience and fortitude to gamble their lives and fortunes in an industry which requires infinite patience, which raises hopes with each new image and too often dashes them to pieces with each change of the light.

They are always conscious of sun and wind and rain; must always be alert lest they lose the chance of seeing at the right moment, shooting at the right time, circumventing the vagaries of nature by quick decision and prompt action.

They are manufacturers of a high order, whose business requires not only intelligence of a practical character, but necessitates an instinct for beauty which is different from that required by the city dweller always within sight of other people and the sound of their voices. The successful landscape photographer spends much time alone among his rocks, his trees, his nature, away from the constant chatter of human beings."

Peter Habens-Brown 1953 -

Photographer & Explorer

-- Peter L Brown (, December 13, 2001.


I must say that I have read this post and your previous with much interest. I am not going to tell you the kind of LF photographer I am, nor will I try to evaluate why you do what you do. You asked a simple technical question in looking for ways to improve your productivity.(this is important to you)

What I will say is that I am totally amazed at the many replies that need to judge/evaluate your reasons while still not contributing any answers to your original question.

I am able to offer only the simplest of answers and that is be prepared with your knowledge of the terrain as well as the expected weather. This may help to maximize your chances of shooting some wonderful shots when the opportunities present themselves.

Great ability develops and reveals itself increasingly with every new assignment. Baltasar Gracian


-- GreyWolf (, December 13, 2001.

"I believe that imposing a goal of 1-6 exhibition quality images per day is absolutely essential for you to grow as a photographer."

This is just my opinion, but I believe that in order to "grow" as anything, it is essential that you sometimes fail at your attempts. It is from examining those failures that you can really learn something. If you are looking for a "formula" for producing exhibition quality work, your work will probably take on the appearance of such....formula art! I think an important thing to do is to frequently look at a lot of great photographs made by others. Actual photographs, not just ones in monographs. It's a bit like playing tennis with someone who's better than you... your efforts to keep up will help you to improve.

Here's some questions for you. Do you sell your landscape photographs? How many? How frequently? Through galleries? Is the demand for your work so great that you need to come up with new images at such a fast rate just to keep up with that demand? Do you bring Hershey with you on wedding jobs? If so, does he wear a tuxedo?

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, December 13, 2001.


I am not so much as an equipment junkie as a solution junkie. I like to mix things up to keep me on the edge. A change in venue or formats. Shoot medium format for awhile in a particular location. I go along the San Mateo coast in california. Now dump the medium format & start dragging along the 4x5 & suddenly you have to think very differently.

Jim Brandenburg published a book recently where he traveled in the northern woods for a specific time & allowed himself one meaningful image per day.

I turn that around a bit & pick an area ~ say a local park & make your goal to produce a single photograph that will capture the essence of that park. Do you start at the North or South entrance? What season? Start walking around without a camera on a regular basis...

You get the idea.

The goal is to have fun & once you do that, the quality of your work follows.


-- Ted Brownlee (, December 13, 2001.

Get on Ebay and buy every Grafmatic back you can find.

-- Neal Shields (, December 13, 2001.

Many people are way too busy/active !Thats cool but there is another way too...Try moving very slowly...taichi style without a camera while in the forest or while doing regular activities around the house.Real....real...real....SLOW.The unknown/universe might open up to you and then perhaps to photograph...If you reach the STATE...but you may not need to at that point!Most people are overactive to avoid something they dont want to encounter inside themselves. The other way is to do something with extraordinary speed and risk outside of the comfort zone. This can lead to the STATE but through another door if the first one dosnt work or becomes stagnent.Its all really about you...not some stupid exibition or anything else your mind can decieve you with.

-- Emile de Leon (, December 14, 2001.

Stephen, When out in the field taking landscape photogrpahs I carry my 35mm camera with several lenses as well as my 8x10. Upon seeing an enticing composition I first pull out my 35mm with a lens combination that closely matches what I forsee using with the LF camera and lens. What I then do is walk around looking through the 35mm to get a better sense of where to first place my tripod and LF camera and to see if the composition will work. It saves me some time in moving my big heavy LF camera around on tripod from spot to spot until I find the right vantage point. This doesn't always work but seems to help me. Another thought is to become very familiar and proficient at setting up your camera. It may be the difference between catching or missing a scene in which the lighting is quickly changing or fading. I've missed a few at being too slow and clumsy with my camera. Lastly if you can get your hands on the publication LENSWORK issues 33 and 34 there may be something of interest to you. In issue 33 the editor talked about a 100 prints project in six weeks and follows it up with some observations in issue 34 "The Importance of Structure". Some tidbits from issue 34 "I can be much more productive when I define a project and then set about the task of executing it. When the definition is missing, the execution tends to be random, unfinsihed, inconsistent and mostly theoretical. One of the keys to success is to frankly face our limitations and work within them." You can buy back issues on line at These ideas may help you be more productive, which may or may not help in getting you more exhibition quality prints. Best of luck.

-- Saulius Eidukas (, December 14, 2001.

Lenswork is a great mag! Perhaps to be sucessful it's necessary to work on ones weak points as well as our strengths...but we need to recognize them first! This we rarely if ever do ever do for ourselves.We need to have an honest eye and heart...but with NO judgemental qualities to alter the reality of our position.Just to SEE...clean and clear!

-- Emile de Leon (, December 14, 2001.

Ooops, a correction on my previous post. The article - Getting Serious: The One Hundred Prints Project is found in Lenwork issue 21 not 33 according to their web site.

-- Saulius Eidukas (, December 14, 2001.

One thought would be to use the shutter off of a Graflex Super D. It allows you to focus at full aperture and then stops down automatically to the taking aperture when the shutter is tripped. Thus saving one whole step in the exposure process. Also you could use UV filters instead of lens caps.

Also if you use Grafmatic backs, you can buy extra septums and instead of loading septums in the field, you can just swap out septums in a changing bag which would be very quick. If this doesn’t make sense, see the web site.

However, the king of rapid fire 4X5 has to be Peter Gowland. Get one of his Gowlandflex cameras (4X5 and 8X10 TLRs), and you eliminate several steps in the normal view camera picture taking process. You can leave the Grafmatic back in place, leave your shutter speed, and aperture set. They are a bit heavy however, so I hope your Llama doesn’t spit on me if we ever meet.

Keep in mind when everybody tells you about these great artists that didn’t do very much, all of the stuff that Michaelangelio did during his life time. Read “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. The birth of American Art Photography coincided pretty much with the Beat era so prolific output would not be expected.

However, I have been trying to get a satisfactory picture of a door with vines around it for several months, so I don’t think I can aspire to your 6 or 7 a day.

-- Neal Shields (, December 14, 2001.

I prescribe a 4x10 pinhole camera that has to be taken apart to be loaded, five sheets of film, and a 7 day backcountry trip.

-- Erik Ryberg (, December 14, 2001.

Perhaps I am too late to ask, but could we see some of your work? It might give us a good insight into what you consider exhibit quality images, and also to see what your work offers to mankind.



-- Geoffrey Swenson (, December 14, 2001.

I've been faced with this situation at times. For my National Parks project, I often travel to a remote area for a relatively short period of time, during which I want to bring back some good (whatever it means) images. What I found help me the most was

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, December 14, 2001.


Although there is clearly some difference of opinion regarding specific approach, I am entirely in sympathy with your basic aim of ensuring success and increasing productivity--if success and productivity mean eventually creating images the photographer can be proud of. Particularly for those of us who are amateurs who must adjust their photographic work to a bunch of other overriding obligations, it's esp. important to go about this complex business in a methodical and premeditated way. While it's true that in our own case some of our best images were the impromptu result of on-the-spot inspiration, it's also true that on the average the harder we work, the luckier we get. So here, in brief, are the stages of preparation and execution we work through. They assume that the vision is in place, that the photographer is animated by some artistic impulse, that it's basically a question of acting on something that's already in your head.

(1) Rehearsal. Many have said it in this forum before: practice, practice, practice. We sometimes take the camera out without film and go over the sequence of steps, esp. the movements. Important for amateurs like us who don't shoot enough to retain what we've already learned from outing to outing.

(2) Previsualization. Tuan just mentioned this. I picked it up from the athletes. I mentally put myself in the field where we plan to shoot (often a place we've been before) and visualize location, position of sun, probable range of values, distance of subject from camera, etc. etc.

(3) Check list. It's so easy to forget something, esp. if you've come from a different format where you don't have to use a dark slide as lens hood, or lift a sagging bellows, or have to worry about excessively shallow depth of field. Our check list is in our heads, but my wife and I are always catching something the other forgot.

(4) Take notes. One of us sets up the camera, meters, works with movements, the other takes notes on everything. Let's face it, some of our best shots were pure luck, but without notes we'd never be able to recover what we did. Equally valuable for understanding and hopefully eliminating mistakes.

(5) Follow through. I develop every sheet, even an unexposed 8x10 one time. I test print every developed sheet, no matter how awful. We're still at the point (and probably always will be) where we can learn something from every exposure, good and bad. It's in the post mortem that the real progress is to be made, I think.

Photography at this level requires a lot of attention to mechanics, so the practitioner is an easy target for the charge of excessive preoccupation with technique. But all of us know that without mastery of the craft, there will be no satisfactory results however inspired the vision. I don't think you can have one without the other. Nick and Marilyn.

-- Nick Jones (, December 14, 2001.

great response is a little late but since i just found this place yesterday-4/10/02, what the hell..similar to another response, i just decided to leave the 4x5 system at home and now use a very simple, elegant 2x3 camera called the galvin view, that i bought on ebay for $ uses horseman 120 roll film backs and with a carbon gitzo tripod and small back pack i can go all day and never feel over over loaded...i am my own llama...also, using roll film uninhibits me...hand processing b&w sheet film is laborious and the thought of "just more darkroom work" sometimes stops me in my tracks...i give generous props to any one using an 8x10 or larger format without an assistant but for me a lighter load in general seems to be the answer for uninhibitted creativity in the field...not a personnally imposed creative

-- thomas gage (, February 11, 2002.

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