Does large format inhibit your creativity? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Theoretically the large format camera has the potential to be a very creative tool. With all those movements the possibilities would seem to be endless. Unfortunately I see little evidence of creative or original work and much obsession with perfect front to back focus and other formulae.

Whilst I see much exciting work on 35mm and medium format I am surprised by the lack on large format. I admit it could be that I am not looking in the right places!

Does the large format camera actually inhibit creativity and if so why? I am particularly interested in photographers personal work, not their commercial output.

Your thoughts would be much appreciated.


-- keith laban (, January 11, 2002


My photo's ... none of them are in focus -- worked hard to do it to. Here's the thing. If your photo is the target, you can machine gun with a 35mm and after 36 exposures get a hit, or you can use the view camra like a morter ... and miss. It hurts to miss, but you can snap of 3 cannisters of film and still miss. I like to take my time. I could be just as bad with 35mm. So, I'd have to conclude with, you can be just as good or bad with either, it's your style that counts. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, January 11, 2002.

Although I shoot medium-format, not large-format, I do find that using a view camera tends to cramp my style, at least a little.

In fact, for much of what I'm shooting these days -- abstracts, urban landscapes, etc. -- I've gravitated toward using my Minolta Autocords (a '50s vintage TLR) instead. They're not only smaller, lighter and quicker/easier to use, they have a lens that imbues my images with an aesthetic quality that I've been unable to duplicate with any other lens. Better still, since I compose my images as squares, they don't have to be cropped later. However, when movements are necessary or I need to focus closer than 3.5', then I dig out my Toyo 23G and drag it along with me instead.

In a perfect world, I'd probably substitute a three-lens Hasselblad Arcbody outfit for both cameras but as my photography is still a non- income producing hobby, the cost is too high for me to justify.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, January 11, 2002.

Keith, quite the reverse! The secret is to use movements only when necessary and for the camera not to get in the way of what your trying to make/take/create. When I first got my LF camera I wanted to use movements all the time!! Sometimes I could have taken the photo just by focussing!! Remember the mantra "its not the camera but the person behind it, its not the camera but the person........" Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, January 11, 2002.


There is a lot of creativity with large format, but done in the context of what a large format camera's strengths are. That is a very precise rendering of the subject in greater tonality, depth and detail than other formats. If I want part of the image to be skewed, have limited depth of field in focus, converging parallels etc, it is my decision with the controls of the camera.

Recently I have started using a Holga 120 plastic camera for the fun of it, after seeing some really wonderfull work by a couple of friends. I am attracted by the focus- sharp at the center and softer as you move to the edges. I like the idea that you never know exactly what you will get with each shot. That you have settings for focus and only two aperatures permanently set at 1/100. In other words it is the total antithesis of LF. No thinking, planning the shot, choosing lens, camera position, aperature filters etc. Just compose and shoot.

Of course the Holga is not my pinhole camera, not my Nikon FE or FA, not my Mamiya 330 and not my 4x5 or 8x10 camera. Each camera and format promotes a certain style of creativity with its strengths.

One needs to be careful about comparing work across formats. Most photographers choose a camera and format because it is the right tool to make their statement.

One is not going to see the more fluid and spontaneous work done in 35mm with LF because it isn't possible, unless you are very adept at using a Speed Graphic. Some subject matter can be photographed with both medium and LF, but if the photographer's vision includes 30x40 or larger prints, he is probably going to choose LF to acheive the final results. Sometimes you just need to have a different "tool" to acheive your vision on paper.

If you do not read them already, View Camera has a fairly good sampling of work by contemporary LF photographers, and Black and White Magazine frequently highlights photoraphers in the Spotlight section who use LF in a variety of ways.

-- James Chinn (, January 11, 2002.

In my opinion, not at all. In fact it is the reverse. As one poster said, you can machine gun 35mm and still not get what you want. Large format makes you work your subject, makes you slow down and makes you see differently. The poster above said that he started with a Holga... After being persuaded to stop being such a technical shooter, a few friends handed me a Holga and told me to just shoot, don't even look through the view finder... I said what a waste of film and time. Boy was I wrong! I shoot corporate and sometimes there is no room for "creativity" and that is where I refresh my batteries and shoot with my 4x5 and Holga in the great outdoors. Some of us, commercial shooters, persue a different avenue like Kallitypes, Platinum and other alternatives that require large negatives and this is another way to be more creative in our everyday lives... at least this is my story. Large format shooting helped me be more methodic and focused in what I was doing in every format!

-- Scott Walton (, January 11, 2002.

It's not the camera, it's the photographer who's creative. LF movements foster creativity by allowing much more and more precise control of all elements, but it comes down to the individual photographer and his style, and what he's comfortable working with.

-- Dick Deimel (, January 11, 2002.

Hi Keith,

Good question. I suppose it depends on individual tastes and definition of what "exciting work" is. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages. If there is one thing I have learned from photography, it's that there is always a trade off. I may gain an advantage in one area with a particular format but give up something else in return. I think this is what contributes to it being so challenging and enjoyable though. Perhaps you could provide some links to some images that you feel are exciting and of interest. Then I could get a better idea of where you are going with this. I will admit though, that many of us large format photographers fall into the technical rut and sacrifice creativity as a result. But again. I feel you have a valid question.



-- jim Billups (, January 11, 2002.

It ain't the format, it's the G.D. tripod!

-- (, January 11, 2002.

I've got all three formats now so I would say this, you see the shots of Kertez, Eugene Smith, Scavullo, Gordon Parks, Avedon, and plenty of others, what was original or distinctive or imaginative about the work was independent of format.

I'm excited as hell about my 810 and its gigantic negative, which is why I've just started to get into contact printing with it, but 35mm and MF are formats that also have their strengths that aren't always that readily apparant.

I dislike firing off my 35mm gear 'machine gun' style in a somewhat blind attempt to 'come up with something', rather I use my 35mm gear to first get the shot, and then bracket and recompose and try things. The happy accident where you try something and get an interesting result you can use for later photographs is what I live for, when I'm not trying to do a portrait.

You don't have a big neg with 35mm, but for me it's the 'you've got the shot, now try something different' format, without the time factor and pressure of wasting the $2.00 a pop for B&W, $7.00 a pop for color in LF(810).

MF is of course still rollfilm, the films a little cheaper but the negatives bigger but you can still try things, and I'm not saying you can't try things with LF, it's just harder to do. Sure there are folks who use a 35mm like a movie camera and just run through a roll with the expectation that they'll be something there.

Nowadays you can do that with some MF, but regardless of format, I like taking the time to look through my camera and size things up and making reasoned decisions along with some idea for choosing a particular exposure.

You can't sell 35mm and MF short, even though if I had the chance to go back to the exact moment of every keeper that I've gotten in the other formats and redo them with a big LF negative, I would. That is the exact reason you have different formats, 'out and about' when I'm carrying around a 35mm, I like to hang my 35mm under my armpit, and most of the time nobody notices I've got a camera until I raise it up to take a shot, which gives me a tremendous advantage that I wouldn't have with the other formats.

In terms of the issue of originality with LF, I would refer you to the 'Keepers of Light', a book on alternative processes which inspired me to get into LF and contact printing, which has LF work by the masters as creative and fresh and original as anything ever done in the other formats.

I recently saw an exhibit in LA of Edward Weston and there is a Masterwork called 'Summer Sunshine' which has the freshness of shot that was 'caught' in spite of the fact that it was done in LF. Perfectly composed, exposed, and executed.

In addition to the commercial,landscape, and architectual work that some folks do here, there is portrait and street scene work, and the whole spectrum of subject matter in LF that you would find in 35mm/LF. There may be a style and a subject matter in LF you may not agree with or find boring, but if you check out everything in LF as I've done, and the work of the masters since the beginning, it's all there in whatever flavor you like.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 11, 2002.


Large Format does not impede the creativity of the creative.

A thread started last week postulated that there was little justification for the overwhelming pre-eminence of nature photography. In their responses forum members confessed to having no particular creative or artistic aspirations. They confessed that 'Art' is beyond their capabilities. They like the aparatus, materials and processes of large-format photography. They like mountain climbing/hiking/wilderness, etc. and take their camera along for the ride as a vehicle of escape.

Those objectives have little or no relationship to the 'photograph' or creativity. In all probability those nature expeditions and all other genres of photography could be adequately accomplished any camera: something as simple as a point-&-shoot with a great deal less effort and for a lot less money, a Helga, a 35mm. But that would never do. These folk use large format. Why? Perhaps as an apology for their professed absence of creativity and innovation.

I am not branding all Large Format photographers with this summation, of course. Just the vocal majority; those who seek to foster and perpetuate the philosophy of a small band of largely West-Coast photographers whose heyday was 70 years ago.

The eidetic image was novel, back then. To portray the world and the objects in it with draftsman-like precision had an impact because it was new. But the once-new is now stagnant, stale. The world has moved on but, like the Amish, many large format photographers are unwilling to break the bonds that bind them in the past. .

The perfect description of the lens is a unique property of photography; it sets photography apart from the other mimetic arts. It is not the only property of photography. Great asset as it may be, in the hands of the unthinking its monotony can render it a liability. Erudite, free-spirited and courageous photographers will continue to be creative on any formats appropriate to the task at hand. Sciolist dilettantes will only occasionly, and by accident, produce work that rises above camera-babble.


-- Walter Glover (, January 11, 2002.

I don't think it is a matter of large format impeding the photographer's creativity.

A very large % of LF work is made up of sharply focussed images not because the photographer was impeded, but because that is the type of image he chooses to accomplish, and the controls provided by the use of LF processes are STILL the best method to accomplish that...

Sharp focus can also be extremely abstract... as in some of the works of Brett Weston, Fredrick Sommers, Minor White, and others... -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, January 11, 2002.

WOW!...Eidetic! One things for sure Walter, nobody'll ever accuse you of having a slim vocabulary!

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 11, 2002.

Bravo Walter! Well said, and I agree with your sentiments.

Keith, here is my response to your questions;

1) >Theoretically the large format camera has the potential to be a very creative tool. <

It is.

2) >With all those movements the possibilities would seem to be endless.<

They are.

3) >Unfortunately I see little evidence of creative or original work and much obsession with perfect front to back focus and other formulae.<

How do YOU define creativity? Originality? Please give some examples?

4) >Whilst I see much exciting work on 35mm and medium format I am surprised by the lack on large format. I admit it could be that I am not looking in the right places!<

Perhaps you ARE looking in the wrong places - Isn't there just as much "non-creativity" and "unoriginal" work in 35mm and MF?

5) >Does the large format camera actually inhibit creativity and if so why?<


Kind regards

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, January 11, 2002.

Only after I gave up my Nikon and went to 4x5 did I feel that I was actually part of a creative process.

Eidetic - that's stuffed with duck feathers, yes?

-- fw (, January 11, 2002.

I'd forgot to mention in my thread above that Westons 'Summer Sunshine' was basically a 'portrait study', and what impressed me about Weston was that he knew his way around portraits in a format that takes a lot of time to set-up and shoot, and could still catch the spontaneous 'look' he got in 'Summer Sunshine'.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 11, 2002.

Nice question with many answers. Personally, I started with 35mm but quickly realized that it would not produce the quality I wanted for the type of work I was doing, nature, landscapes, etc. (in NJ of all places) My first 4x5 was one of the original Wista 45s, wood, minimal movements. The larger format and zone system, forces you to carefully compose, and balance your composition. The only movement I really cared about was the rising front so to keep the camera level and better frame the subject without converging lines. For still lifes, large format is the way to go. For stop action, obviously 35mm is the choice. The right tool for the job.

My recommendation is if you are really serious about photography, you should learn on a view camera, probably a 4x5 for economic reasons. After a few years, composition will become instinctive, the balance and feel will be automatic so that when machine gunning 35mm, you will be far more sucessful in your imagry.

-- Rob Pietri (, January 11, 2002.

A couple of thoughts:

1. LF selects for perfectionists, and, to SOME extent, equipment junkies. Neither of these necessarily foster creativity.

2. In any format, you need to spend a certain degree of time mastering technique before you can be creative in any purposeful way (you may generate accidental "creative" results by giving fingerpaint to monkeys, but the work will not be likely to fascinate for long!) At any given time, more LF users are perhaps in the "technique- learning" phase, as it is a bit harder to master technically than 35 mm or MF.

3. I've felt better able to express myself creatively over time the longer I've shot in LF, and the more time I spend ruminating and mulling over the shots and their meaning to me in between making them. During this time, I have certainly become a lot less obsessed with perfect focus and using the sharpest or newest lens. I've had no particular desire to gravitate to smaller formats, and now mostly shoot 8X10 and 12x20.

4. Some of the most creative portrait-makers out there today are shooting 8X10. Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon and Jock Sturgess would be three immediate examples. There is no contemporary collection of photos that I find more evocative, beautiful and worthy of repeated appreciation than Mann's "Immediate Family." Apparently I'm not alone in this, as Time magazine recently (and surprisngly!) named her the greatest living photographer.

Nice provocative question...


-- Nathan Congdon (, January 11, 2002.

Two of my favorite photogs. Sally Mann and Jock Sturges use 8x10. They're work is very uninhibited.


-- eck wheeler (, January 11, 2002.

This is a very good question! I used to wonder the same thing and stayed out of the LF world for a long time since I didnít see that much exciting work there, mostly statis landscape. I was impressed with that Japannesse photographers book on the Hyimlayans (circa 1970s) which was all shot with a Pentax 6x7. Ditto Robert Glenn Ketchumís work. Thus I resolved to stick with my 6x7 and tried for about 5 years to get those kind of images. Mostly I came up empty, but did get some nice 16x20 cibas off velvia. The problem was that I was drifting towards the LF landscape genre and I just couldnít get the DOF or perpsecitve control afforded by the Pentax. Thus I sold the gear and jumped into 4x5.

Yes, there are countless times my mind says: If you only had a hand camera Ö. Or if you could pack the gear in easier and shoot dust free roll film, there are shots to be taken that you canít get with the 4x5. But I wonder how many times a subject absolutely requires a singular format? Look what Porter did with a view camera and birds! I've always thought that no matter how great a shot is, there's some diminishment of value when it's on too small a format to do much with.

I looked thru some of Eugene Smithís work and itís so incredible, and it would have been difficult to take with a 4x5, although the hand- held Linhof Tech users may beg to differ. Thus I will probably get a 6.45 camera at some point. Maybe a Mamiya or Pentax that has a 55- 100 zoom. Contax is too $$$$.

Yet the creative process transcends format.

Always a tradeoff Ö.

-- Hyperfocal Yokel (, January 11, 2002.

"Does the large format camera actually inhibit creativity...?"


How are you defining creativity? There is a difference between creative seeing which might be going on even if you think you are looking at a technically straight forward image, and technical gimmickry. On the other hand there are far too many photographers who are way too content in just making a technically perfect and emotionally and intellectually dead image.

Photography is just a medium for visual communication, and primarily it is first of all a medium that touches you on a sensual level ( the beholding of the image or the print) and then you feel it on an emotional level, After awhile you start to consider it from an intellectual distance. If the image fails on any of these levels, it is a failure. But who can say what an individual viewer's emotional or intellectual capacity? All you can do as an artist is try to be true to your own vision of the world. if you are good and honest to your own standards -- and if you have really pushed against those standards and found which are durable -- others will also respond.

Here are the names of some photographers who work primarily or partially in large format and whom I think are very creative:

Richard Avedon

John Sexton

Robert Adams

Mary Ellen Mark

Nicholas Nixon

Sally Mann

Jack Dykinga.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, January 11, 2002.

Hi Keith,

As a newcomer with less than two years experience with large format I would say "yes it does inhibit my creativity". This is probably because when using other formats the compositional options are less distracting. With MF or 35mm you have a choice of perspective framing , lens selection and camera placement all of which can be explored rather easily and quickly by handholding the camera. When a person shoots using a large format camera you have movements which offer you more to be creative with but require more time to learn and understand. Also the image is larger encouraging you to spend time to better frame your subject as well as being upside down bring about a different part of your brain into play. The necessity of always using a tripod also tends to reduce spontaneity into the shooting session. Not being able to quickly handhold and focus an impromptu shot tends to complicate things a bit.

You can no longer just walk around twisting your handheld camera to this angle and that angle exploring the possibilities but rather must think ahead before setting up your camera with the dark cloth. If what you anticipated is not there then much more effort is required to relocate your shooting position in comparison to a handheld camera. Of course with LF shooting comes the learning curve and your mind needs time to move past the basics and return to creative composition. This time will be different for all of us based upon previous experience and how often you can go out and shoot with your LF equipment.

For myself, I am learning so much more about seeing and compositional elements because I now need to take my time that I feel the learning curve is well worth the time invested. I also must add that although it is a bit frustrating not obtaining as many decent shots as I might with say a 35mm camera, I am most definitely enjoying my shooting sessions considerably more. I am now more than ever before exploring my shots from within before viewing the scene through a viewfinder. I am forever hopeful that I will learn the view camera advantages and that they will become intuitive in my future. When this occurs I believe that I will have regained the creativity I may have left behind and now will have a much better understanding of my tools and materials.

Kind Regards,

-- James Phillips (, January 11, 2002.

Talking 'Machine gunning' a 35mm, clouds the issue, especially in tems of using 35mm as a learning tool. It enables you to do a lot of different things, differently, and then move on to something else.

It is at is best when you happen upon something that is transient, if you've camera loaded up, you've got a chance at this brief instant, that might be gone in the time it takes to set up a tripod. You're right about LF being the best with certain subject matter, but I disagree with you that it's the format to learn on.

The term 'Machine gunning a 35mm', I think among other things is suggestive of the technique of an individual who doesn't pay attention to technique. There's no excuse in shooting that way just because you have a motor drive, there should be attention to detail, careful composition, and the idea that 'careless' is ok, is more a statement on the shooter than on the gear, regardless if it's 35mm.

The Masters who I alluded to in my first thread, are the proof to what you can do with 35mm, the fact that they did what did, isn't dimished by the fact that they shot what they shot with 35mm. You're not going to hear anybody say, 'yeah, that was a great shot, too bad Kertez it shot it on 35mm'.

I remember a post a while back, where there was an individual who was a little depressed, down on himself a little, because his LF stuff wasn't coming out the way he'd like. He said something to the effect of 'My shots are no good', I think that his being down might have been accentuated by the fact that he might have invested quite a bit of time into each shot.

I think It's a better deal to try your hardest, be careful, think about what you're doing, and go out and do a lot with 35mm(no 'machine gunning', with the implication of carelessness), and find your 'niche' and 'comfort zone' and your photographic tools.

There are plenty of people here that still use 35mm along with their MF and LF gear, I know that from their e-mails. Whatever 35mm is or ins't, it has, and will be an important and cost effective learning platform for countless photographers.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 11, 2002.

No, I don't think LF inhibits my creativity. I don't think any equipment can inhibit my creativity. I only have me and my brain to blame. Too bad. I'd like to blame something else.

-- Charlie Strack (, January 11, 2002.


For sure, LF inhibits our steps. And makes us think. And look carefully. If thinking and looking carefully makes one less creative, well... that's a problem. It took me some fifteen years of 35mm to find out that I had allways been shooting on LF way. Although a bunch of people say I'm a "great artist", I just try to keep having fun with photography. When shooting LF I sense difficulties as like climbing or playing tennis. One doesn't look for the easiest way or heaven's help. There's a inevitable sense of "doing things" when you deal with tripod, dark-cloth, lens setting, etc. And that's fun! After all that trouble - print on the table - I love the idea of seeing some work that shows my fingerprints everywhere. Not a single sign of AF, Matrix, dpi, bits or whatever alike! After all, I can say: I made this picture. Good or bad, it's mine. Mistakes make me laugh and, sometimes, they look good, indeed. So, whatever to expect? Geniuses, real artists, create from nothing, empty board. Photographers usually start from something quite real, almost ready, lying behind their lenses. Accident, sometimes can help us making some really terrific pictures. But we can't count on that. I think we got strugle hard to put some personal stuff into our frames, whatever we use Nikon, Wista or Holga. And it takes some thinking. Or intuition, I'm not sure. But I suspect that using silicon-brained cameras and weird photo-shop tricks, we're way apart from discovering something personal on our work. Or about ourselves. Time usually does it.

I hope you've the patience.

Best regards. Cesar B.

-- Cesar Barreto (, January 11, 2002.

LF facilitates creativity, as does any format, when it's the right tool for the job. That's why I shoot some subjects in 8x10", some in medium format, and some in 35mm. Sometimes I photograph with the camera at hand, as I'm sure we all do, and I'm frustrated by the fact that I don't have the big camera with movements and a large sheet of film.

I suppose it would be inhibiting, if it doesn't feel intuitive to you, and if it doesn't, then maybe it's just not for you, and there's no crime in not using large format. I feel that way about 645, and to some degree, 8x10" comes much more naturally to me than 4x5", though it would seem that many of the technical issues are identical.

-- David Goldfarb (, January 11, 2002.

Avedon shot a hell of a lot with his Rollei TLR, is anybody stuck on that fact as opposed to the work he did with Deardorff? Scavullo worked for others but made their vision his vision, lyrical, spontaneous, and fun, is this diminished by the fact that the work may have been on 35mm?

The greatest shots from Photojournalism were caught, the photographer in many instances had only a second to focus, compose, and take the shot, some of the results are timeless, yet some folks are found of saying they don't take shots they make 'em.

Some shots from photojournalism are masterpieces despite the fact that there wasn't time to set up, check exposure, and scrutinize the composition. sometimes, regardless of what you shoot, it's good to go out with nothing in particular planned and shoot what you find, trust your reflexes, and instincts, and go with the flow.

I understand folks talking about the reasoned and contemplative approach to LF, but the best of photojournalism where the photographer had no time other than to react and take the shot, has elements that ought to be brought to the party too.

You can look at it and adjust it for an hour, or you might have only the time to bring the camera up to your eyes and fire the shutter, it's been done great, both ways, and so the ingredients of both ways are valid.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 11, 2002.

I remember a few years back, every time I went into the supermarket and went to the counter, every magazine I saw had a close-up or head shot of somebody shot with a ringlight, a lot of the commercials on TV at that same time looked as if they were shot with a ringlight.

It was great the first time somebody shot the effect on a portrait, but after a period of time, everybody was doing it and it became sickening. I was mad because so many people were doing it, I just put my ringlight away.

Charlie Parker was dynamite, after awhile everybody tried to sound like him and/or imitate him. Anything done well, is going to be admired, emulated and/or copied, after enough people do this for a certain length of time, it will become passe.

Then you gotta try something else.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 11, 2002.

For me, it does not. Of my last few rolls of 35mm (black and white), I've finished with about 2-3 pictures per roll worthy of an 8x10. Of my last 8 sheets of 4x5, I've enlarged 5-6 to 8x10. So for me, and the static subject matter I have shot lately, LF does seem to contribute to better images.

-- Erik Asgeirsson (, January 11, 2002.

This may be a slightly technical response, but I have dealt with the lack of ability to quickly and easily check out and explore different camera angles and compositions with my 4x5 by using a black cardboard composing card with a string with lengths designating the viewing distance for my three lenses. I then can leave my camera in its pack and thoroughly work a scene, object, or composition from up, down and sideways. Having gotten a few workable ideas I will then take out my cumbersom camera set up. I also have switched to the Horseman folding binocular viewer, which has made my viewing much more spontaneous and intuitive. This is how I have dealt with the lack of mobility of the 4x5 and tried to foster more fluid creativity. You don't have to be looking through the camera to "see", experiment and explore.


-- Scott Jones (, January 12, 2002.

I use the same approach Scott is describing and that has helped me a lot. I know some would call it crutches, but a simplified small black plastic sheet that fits inside my pocket with a rectangular hole in the middle replaces avantageously the viewer of the camera and allows quick and easy composition and search for the best angle. Putting the scene in a two dimentional frame helps keep the graphical and not be distracted by other elements in the composition. When I think I have found the right setting, I simply reproduce and refine the image on my ground glass. Sometimes I then decide that it's not worth pursuing, but most of the time, it's ready to be put in the box.

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 12, 2002.

To Jonatan Brewer,

Thank you for your kind coments but in response to:

"WOW!...Eidetic! One things for sure Walter, nobody'll ever accuse you of having a slim vocabulary!" I would like to point out that at 310 lb there is absolutely nothing slim about any part of me. (Maybe?)

Have fun ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (, January 12, 2002.

Many thanks to you all for your answers, so many replies, there was I wondering if I would get any response!

Many of you mention the lack of spontaneity with LF but I feel in many ways this is a separate issue and not necessarily a hinderance to creativity.

Perhaps it would help if I said a little about my views on creativity and gave an example. For me creativity is about striving to be original, challenging, exciting, taking risks, experimenting, making a very personal statement.

As an example, my personal favourite photographic image of the last 50 years is a photograph (or more correctly a series of photographs) that to my mind transcends mere photography and has a sense of time and place never achieved before. Why has it taken someone other than a photographer to show the photographic world the very meaning of creativity. The image can be viewed at

Takes my breath away every time!

Thanks for the lists of photographers using LF in a creative way, unfortunately not too many contemporary examples. Perhaps some of you could provide links etc. to your favourite creative contemporary LF photographers.

Thanks again to you all.


-- keith laban (, January 12, 2002.

Right, now we see what you mean! "Creativity" is just like "Art" in the sense that there are as many meanings as you ask people to tell you how they see it. I believe photo montage was a way to make something interesting out of photos that were not. It's another step in creativity. Guys started to pick up images here and there and with a pair of cissors, created their own story. Maybe because the creatives were not the ones who took the images, they picked from just anything, and of course, most images are small format. With the advent of digital and the first Silicon Graphics Unix stations, the tools provided for that kind of work unlished a new burst of creativity and we have seen many examples in the early nineties. There was hardly an advert image that did not use some sort of photo montage and some studios were specialized in that kind of work. The style was used and abused until it was replaced by other concepts. Still, when it is used well, it can be a powerful way to tell a story and has great impact and the example you pointed above is amazing.

Some large format photographers are making exciting artwork. I would point this link to Bruce Barnbaum website:

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 12, 2002.

I own many different formats and types of cameras. While my mainstay is 4x5 and the subject matter I enjoy the most is the landscape, there are times when I get in "moods" and have to go out with a 35 rangefinder or a TLR or even my 4x5 super D and work in a different way and with other subject matter. I try to learn from the techniques required of each and apply what I discover to my overall photographic technique. I don't remember who first said this, but "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". I also believe that learning to see is the real challenge and whatever tools one has, if mastered, can be used to capture their vision.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, January 12, 2002.

Oops, sorry! That's not the page I had in mind and Bruce might not be happy that I suggested that his pics are photomontage! Still, his prints are full of creativity! Who was it then? Caponigro? Mulligan? Someone help! I'm making a fool of myself!

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 12, 2002.

Found it!

By the way, check Steve Mulligan's website. There is no need to use a pair of cissors to make amazing creative images! But the technique is there! Pure beauty:

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 12, 2002.

Just to say the Hockney artwork was merely an example. I have no great passion for photo montage in general.

-- keith laban (, January 12, 2002.

Walter, your language and humour are in good nick, but your logic could do with a little touching up. I don't remember anyone saying that "'Art' is beyond their capabilities", just that nature photography wasn't necessarily their favourite arena for creating it. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Our town gallery has just had an exhibition of 'contemporary Japanese photography'. It was interesting to me because the spartan labelling and my own ignorance of the Japanese photographic world meant that I viewed the images completely out of context, uninfluenced by any knowledge of the photographers' reputation or technique. The conclusion I drew was that there are some very creative people out there, and whether they use large format or not is almost completely irrelevant.

(Incidentally, if any Danish readers see this, the exhbition is called "Illusions" and will be going to two or three Danish galleries over the next year. Worth catching.)

-- Struan Gray (, January 12, 2002.

It all comes down to the power of the image. Detail or focus by itself does little to empower an image it can only enhance (or detract) from what is already there. I take umbrage at the idea that 35mm shooters are "shotgunning". That is a pretty naive statement. Good 35mm shooters ally themselves with their sub-conscious eye - that which can track objects in motion and place them in a context that expresses the image powerfully. Kertesz, Cartier-Bresson all did this brilliantly. Just because most of the framing and ideas come along too fast to be fully conscious does not mean they are lesser than large format images.

This idea of 35mm as a reduction of large format technique is misguided. My work in large format has given me a new respect for the power and potential of 35mm shooting. The two formats have their respective strengths. If you use either format in a rigid formalistic way you can get stuck in the format's weaknesses. For large format it can a pointless search for utmost clarity and tone at the expense of the power of the image, for 35mm it can be the attempt to counter its intrinsic graphic power with unreal levels of saturation a kind of tarted-up attempt at verisimilitude. But a lot of good photographers avoid these pitfalls. Essentially, if you find yourself inhibited by the format find another way of using it that works for you.

-- Andrew Held (, January 12, 2002.

No, I don't think LF inhibits my creativity. I don't think any equipment can inhibit my creativity. I only have me and my brain to blame. Too bad. I'd like to blame something else.

-- Charlie Strack (, January 11, 2002.

Like a good photograph, clarity so often comes with brevity. Thank you, Charlie, for perhaps the most profoundly insightful answer of all!

-- Paul Coppin (, January 12, 2002.

Keith regardless of what my personal experience is(I find it a very creative medium) I would advise you to look up the Polaroid site and in particular look at the winners of their international competition, some of the work is small or medium format but a very large chunk of it is 4"x5" work, I bet you will get surprised a few times of how creative the large format can be. I've taught large format photography for many years along my personal practice of the large format way, I must say that my students always approached large format as a fussy camera, as you seem to suggest, a camera which you wouldn't use for fun ; almost invariably they grew to love and use after attending the courses greetings

-- andrea milano (, January 12, 2002.

I reread several of the posts to this question (to which the answer is, simply, NO) and I think several of you have fallen in a very common trap. Creativity=novelty. Creativity is the other guy doing something YOU didn't think of, and by extension doing something that the popular authority (whomever that is at any societal juncture) hasn't yet endorsed. The only criterion for creativity is novelty. Once the novelty factor is zero, so goes the creativity. What large format lacks, by its intrinsic nature, is spontaneity. If you define creativity as the product of spontaneity, then large format will hinder creativity. But creativity is not spontaneity, only an element of it, and a non-essential one at that. Somebody recently made a reference in another thread to the handheld use of LF cameras. There's creativity at work. I think, respectfully, Walter has got it backward. Iconologizing the photograph does nothing to elucidate creativity; in fact it does the opposite. The forum members who hike in nature and make pictures, professing to not know wit (or care less) about "Art", ARE [the] artists. That their effort doesn't look like what(or even gets to) hangs on the wall in New Yawk, or LA, or Paree, or heaven forbid, Sydney, makes no difference whatsoever to their capacity to have produced art. Those that simply conspire in studios, galleries, directorial think-tanks, showings and various and sundry self-effacements are the dilettantes, because they have constrained their efforts to the business of photography, not the artistry of it. The paradox of art is that an artist cannot say whether or not he produces art. Its not his call. Art is the popular place that his body of work takes if the rest of us deem it so. The huge irony in this art-form (whatever) is that the finest examples of photographic art are never seen - they sit buried amongst the millions upon millions of photographs taken year after year by ordinary people, never to surface to bask in the light of popular adoration.

-- Paul Coppin (, January 12, 2002.

Jonathon Brewer... You mentioned how important speed can be in photojournalism, and that is true. But consider the important images that were immortalised on a 4x5 Graphic... The flag raising on Iwo Jima... The burning of the Hindenberg... Ruby shooting Oswald...

LF is a great tool in experienced hands -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, January 12, 2002.

I feel like "large format" is taking a bad rap of late. Large format is a tool that lends itself to a certain type of image that some would brand dull. Springtime last I was out and about with the Deardorff 8X10 and in a hilly district I would herd a large group of wild horses each time I dropped into another canyon. Not the type that always follows rules, I set up a shot ahead of time, focus at infinity, sheet film in place, and at the top of the next rise, there they were. So I jump up on top of the pick-up with the Deardorff at waist level, and literally shoot from the hip.

Great fun! But the picture sucks like the military service! I simply had the wrong tool for the job that happened to present itself. The Nikon FE-2 with some Velvia and the 300f4 AF would have gotten the job done splendidly.

Part of creativity is choosing the right tool for the task.

-- Jim Galli (, January 12, 2002.

To Paul Coppin,

"Creativity is the other guy doing something YOU didn't think of."

With all due respect sir I think it is YOU that has it backwards.

Surely Creativity is YOU doing something the other guy didn't think of.

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (, January 13, 2002.

Creativity I understand literally as the act of creation, in human terms the expression of an individual (or collective) self, of some personal impulse. Since we all are unique individuals, each of us is capable of expressing something unique, although many do not choose to do so.

Documenting the subject is not creative, except accidentally or unless mere choice of subject is regarded as expressive of self. Duplication of another photographer's work, well known or otherwise, is not creative except again in the very weak sense as expression of preference, although we can have our teachers, mentors, and "schools" and still be creative. Nor is creativity the imaging of the odd, bizarre, sensational, or titilating, despite the fact this is what I for one mostly see passing for art photography in the book stores these days.

To respond to the question at the head of this thread, creativity in photography is obviously not a function of format. Each format, or medium, has its own particular range of possibilities, of potentialities and limitations. As I understand and practice the LF format/medium, we have great potentials in fine grain (hence contact printing or enlargement), control over the geometry of the image, gradation of tone esp. in b/w. We can also interact with, or play off, the tradition of LF photography--at least those of us who recognize that tradition and choose to place ourselves within it.

Mastery of the LF craft is so essential to full expression of the creative impulse that I don't think it can be separated from creativity. Creativity for me necessarily includes full understanding and control of the tools, processes, technique--the craft.

Creativity isn't originality in the sense your or my image has never been exampled previously in the history of photography. For most of us, this is an unobtainable ideal and one I'm not sure is worth pursuing. Besides, lots of us have similar backgrounds, educations, experiences, equipment, circumstances, so often our images, no matter how "original" we are, will turn out looking somehat similar--unique in detail but categorically similar. Personally, that doesn't bother me at all. But even if we're going down similar paths, we can still be creative by making our images expressive of a unique personal impulse.

-- Nick Jones (, January 13, 2002.

I fear Walter took my comments too personally. My premise is that the 'label' of being creative is not something the artist can give himself, and it may not have any bearing on the 'act' of creativity that went into the work. [Some of]Those photographers whom we deem to be creative, may be so by virtue of being in the right place at the right time. Their 'creative' skill is fostering serendipity; their technical skill is capturing the image adequately. I can say that I am (or attempting to be) acting creatively, but I cannot say that I am creative. That's for others to decide. There is a tremendous lot of fluff promoted as creativity in the arts, that in my opinion, is primarily peer self-agrandisement. This is a tough topic, semantic quicksand, like the 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' thing, because it is not empirical.

-- Paul Coppin (, January 13, 2002.

Dave....I agree with you 100%, but while we're at it, don't forget 'Weegie', the cigar smoking powerhouse most famous for his shots of gangland 'rubouts'.

I wasn't talking about speed, or quickness only, but that under certain circustances all that the photographer had time to do was rely on his/her experience, insticts, and yet still come up with something magical.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 13, 2002.

I am pretty sure the photo of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald was not made with a Press camera but with either a medium format TLR or a 35mm camera. There was a story about this photo in a magazine recently and the photographer recalled missing the photograph of JFK being assasinated because he was in the middle of reloading his camera as the limo went by and he recalled lookingup and seeing the rifle sticking out of the Book Depository window and see ing the gun jerk as it was being fired for the third time. (please let's not get into conspiracy theories here or bother e-mailing me to say Oswald didn't shoot Kennedy. I am just relaying what the photographer recounted in the article. I wasn't there and I am willing to bet a dollar, neither were you.)

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, January 13, 2002.

LF improves my creativity on a base level, because I am forced to create the image in my mind before I set the camera on the tripod and attempt to re-create the image on film and paper. Even if I don't have a camera with me, I now create images of the world about me in my head and mull them over for future reference. Using the considered approach with LF has also improved all my other work with the faster formats. "Does the large format camera actually inhibit creativity?" No - it improves it for me.

-- Graeme Hird (, January 14, 2002.

That photo of Ruby shooting Oswald was done by Bob Jackson of the Dallas Times-herald. The NPPA did a series of commemoritive posters on their 50th Anniv. a few years back and that was one of them...I got it in my office, and while I can't say for certain, the framing of the shot looks to be about 35mm in proportion. The interview that accompanies has him saying that he got "a couple of subsequent frames" off before it was all said and done. Apparently his strobe hadn't recyled fast enough so he missed one shot after that first image...he also talks about being one of about 4 guys in a press pool outside the jail cell waiting for Oswald to be transfered...apparently he pre-focused the shot and was ready for him to come out, but not ready for what actually happened...I don't know about the account that Ellis is this interview he says he was riding in the motor escort at the time of the assasination.

But I also have an old Graflex poster on the wall from the mid 50's. It says "The Pages of History Are Pictured By Graflex" and has the image of the Hindenburg going down in the background....with little insets of other wire service photos from the days before AP and UPI, or at least in the infancy of UPI. That same ad lingo could be applied to Rolleiflexes, Leicas, and then Nikons....personally, I don't think the format really dictates the end result across the board, but there's no doubt that the end of the press camera ushered in a whole new phase of news-photography...

-- DK Thompson (, January 14, 2002.

Many thanks to you all for your answers.

I tend to agree with those of you who said that creativity is dependant on the individual and not the format. My main concern is that the large format camera, being the complex and involved beast that it is could detract from creativity. I also worry that this complexity leads to using the same practiced formulae time and time again regardless.

My personal mantra is to keep things as simple as possible, with the minimum of distractions (simplicity for a simple mind?) I work with a Hasselblad 500 series camera which surely must be one of the simplest cameras ever made. In many ways I work in a similar manner to many LF users, very slowly! Often I will spend a long long time considering different viewpoints, framing and focusing options and that's before I even put the camera on the tripod. Yes I know you can use masking frames to aid LF composition, but... combined focusing and framing options? Is this one reason for the formulaic front to back focus often seen on LF?

Many of you mentioned compromised spontaneity with large format, but I do feel that this is a separate issue, not necessarily affecting creativity.

In conclusion, I am sure that in the right hands and with an inventive attitude the LF camera is indeed a very creative tool. I am very happy with the simplicity of my Hasselblad, allowing me to concentrate on the image without distraction, though I do admit, that on occasion, some movements would be helpful.

Large format instead of the Hasselblad? .......... No

As well as the Hasselblad?........................Time will tell.

Thanks again.


-- Keith Laban (, January 15, 2002.

Contemporary creativity can be found in images that are notable for the unexpected composition, hues, light or shadow -- be it a Monet or a representation of what a person sees who is high on methamphetamine. Ansel, Edward, Brett, Eliot, Sexton, Muench, Dykinga, and Walker are notable for their exploitation of composition, light and shadows. Creative artists make something out of nothing. They show something surprising in the very ordinary. They might choose, for example, the textured surface of a painted concrete wall with saturated blue hues, a large intensely red stone among a bed of dull gray pebbles, or yellow markings conspicuously located on a very black asphalt concrete pavement, as was done by Ron Lussier's wonderful work at www.lens

-- Quien Nosabe (, January 19, 2002.

The man who photographed Ruby shooting Oswald did a TV show recently where he explained in detail how he got the shot....he got it with with a Nikon rangefinder.

-- Emile de Leon (, January 19, 2002.

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