What's your best/worst/most embarrassing LF experience?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Since I'm new to large format I'd like to hear about your favorite, least favorite, or most embarrassing experience involving large-format photography.

Did you publish a book? Did you forget to calculate the bellows-extension factor for an important client (a nightmare of mine)? Did you trip over your tripod and fall in the lake?

If it's an unusual experience in large-format photography, then I want to hear it. Thanks!

-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), January 16, 2002


Myself and a friend went out shooting in the mountains (my first trip out with my Calumet 45N). I didn't have a proper pack for the camera, nor did I have proper prorection for the camera back. I ended up breaking the ground glass. But this wasn't the embarassing moment.

I went to the local camera store and picked up a new ground glass (which was fairly pricey). Took it home, ground down the edges to get it to fit properly, and screwed it into the back. I inserted the back into the camera, and locked it in. I then took the bellows, and moved the switch on the back standard to insert the bellows. But, stupid me, I moved the switch the wrong way.

Damn back with the new glass fell out of the back of the camera, and smashed into the monorail, breaking the glass. I didn't even get a chance to take ONE shot with the glass.

The worst moment? Going back to the camera store and getting another glass. And yes, it was from the same person. I also bought a glass protector the same time.

An expensive lesson. But relatively funny. Now.



-- Ken Miller (andawyr@hotmail.com), January 17, 2002.

Maybe that occasion when I decided to make some portraits in large format. I set the camera in someone I know's garden, install some flashes for the fill in, set everything, make the person look right, find an unaesthetical pleat in the jacket and walk to the person, stumble in the flash sync cable, hold the flash just in time while the camera joyfully crashes to the ground! I found later that the person had a Monalisa kind of smile on the pictures that were made... Wonder why?

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), January 17, 2002.

Surely someone else has loaded up the backpack with the film holders, light meter, loupe, darkcloth, cable releases, lenses, filters, lens cleaner, spanner wrench, rain cover, and . . . . . . . . left the camera at home.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), January 17, 2002.

A year ago I was hired to photograph an important collection of contemporary art that was being donated to a university. I needed practically every piece of gear I owned: all my lighting equipment, a Sinar system to shoot the 4x5 transparencies for publication in a catalogue, a Hasselblad system to shoot specific details to illustrate the catalogue essays, a Nikon system to shoot 35 mm slides for the press packs, and a Nikon digital camera to shoot images for the web "exhibition." The university gallery was forty miles from my studio, and I spent an entire morning just UNpacking cases of gear, laying out everything so that I could switch formats rapidly and work efficiently and systematically for the upcoming week. All the lenses were cleaned, the film holders were vacuumed and loaded, the boxes of Polaroid were opened and ready to fly when I looked around and noticed that one thing was missing: the Sinar f2 itself. Racing back to my studio, I had to laugh that the camera occupied the only position in which a last look around the studio (at eye level!) didn't betray its omission: I had missed it because it was sitting comfortably eight feet off the ground, at the top of the big vertical copy stand I use for photographing flat art! Since at least ONE thing usually goes wrong on any given job, it was kind of nice to get it out of the way at the start, so that the rest of the job could go smoothly!

-- Christopher Campbell (christopher.campbell.mc.1979@aya.yale.edu), January 17, 2002.

Last year I went to a little town near the Amazonic Jungle, to take photos with my brand new Linhof Tech. After 12 hours driving, I realized i had left my tripod at home....

Anyway, I ended up taking the photos, using a tall chair to rest the camera on, an couple of small boxes to change the orientation of the camera.

Embarrasing, but fun...

-- Enrique Vila (evilap@hotmail.com), January 17, 2002.

i went to a lawyer's office to take his portrait for a magazine. broke out the camera and got the light source on him the way i wanted it. i thought i had set my light meter to the right asa ... but realized when i began to process 1 sheet of film at a time that i had underexposed everything by 4 whole fstops. not good :)

-- john nanian (jak@gis.net), January 17, 2002.

I suppose this is more darkroom than large format, but it's no less embarrassing.

I was testing expanded development of sheet film, and very carefully developed it.....in fixer. I suppose it could have been a better story if it was irreplaceable wedding photos!

Just so you'll know, TMY in Rapid Fix loses both the shadows and the highlights.

-- Kevin Bourque (skygzr@aol.com), January 17, 2002.

I was in Hokkaido (north Japan) with my family, where there are a number of bear attacks each year, and I had warned my family to be careful. It was one of the first times that I had gone on an extended trip with my 4x5, and my family was getting more and more annoyed with the amount of time each shot was taking. Anyway, I had been composing a shot for about 20 minutes under the darkcloth when there was this enormous roar behind me and I was grabbed from behind - I was absolutely terrified, thinking that I had disturbed a bear, when in fact it was my daughter venting her frustration at another long wait. I think that she is still laughing at the look on my face.

-- fw (finneganswake@altavista.net), January 17, 2002.

I live in the desert where everyone has a tendency to get dried out if you don't drink enough water and use some kind of moisterizing hand cream. I met a photo companion for some field shooting at a ghost town and the temperature was about 105f. We shot about 30 shots combined. About a week later we got together to compare negatives and everyone of his had a large juicy thumbrint on the negative. Seems when loaded up the film he had just lube his hands with Jurgens. Needless to say Jurgens is not light transparent.

-- Kevin (kkemner@tatesnyderkimsey.com), January 17, 2002.

Back in 1973, at the age of 15, I was in the local high school auditorium where the Port Washington (NY) school board, union officals and teachers were discussing a potential teacher strike. I thought I hot ---- because the local town newspaper would send me out on local assignments. Now picture this.....there were 4 -5 professional photographers, all with Nikons as I recall. Then there's me...a 15 year old kid with his 4 X 5 Crown Graphic taking shots! I got many strange looks! (my first camera was a Crown Graphic at 13 years old, thinking I'd learn more about photography with a large format than the typical 35mm) I had just purchased a junky condition Grafmatic back, which I loaded with 6 sheets of Tri-X. I took a shot and was so anxious to take a second shot I quickly cocked the shutter and yanked the Grafmatic back so hard that the dark slide (which is suppose to lock) pulled all the way out and all six septrums popped out, sprung forward and landed on the ground! I was in the front of the auditorium when this happened....I received a lot of laughs...much to my chagrin!!!!

J. P. Mose

-- J. P. Mose (j.p.mose@lmco.com), January 17, 2002.

One day I went to take some pictures with a friend and we stopped at a field, I set up my camera on a flower and got under the dark cloth, no matter how I fiddled with the focusing or the lens opening I could not see an image on the ground glass...after about 5 minutes of trying I went to my friend and asked him what did he think was wrong, he looks at the camera, and then looks at me with a small smile and tells me: "if you take the film holder from the back, it is easier to focus".....:-))

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), January 17, 2002.

It seems I have a habit of putting a red filter on and forget to compensate and adjust my exposure. One of the worst episodes was on a cold morning in Monument Valley. It was about 25 degrees and I was setting up my tripod. I wasn't wearing gloves and pinched the end of my little finger opening the legs. I closed the legs to extract my finger and saw that it had cut the fleshy pad off. Luckily, my hands were so cold there was no pain or bleeding. I had to drive 20 miles to find some bandages. Needless to say, bandaids and antibiotic ointment is always pack in my camera bag. Pat.

-- Pat Kearns (pat.kearns@coopertsmith.com), January 17, 2002.

A once in a lifetime opportunity to capture a steam locomotive that was due to pass by about a mile away from home. Got the camera ready and checked out. Decided to use a rollback to capture a sequence. Got the lens swing all set, the darkslide out and forgot to advance the film between shots. I ended up with a ghost train on a heavily overexposed & slightly jiggled background...

To provide a backup, if I had two tripods I would have set a motor drive 35mm camera on the other one and let it rip.

-- Duane K (dkucheran@creo.com), January 17, 2002.

I haven't had any embarassing moments. I have had a bakers dozen of what might be termed 'learning experiences'!

1) Using my new Jobo CPP-2, developed 5 8x10 B&W negs in Ilford fixer.

2) Forgetting to refocus camera after moving it and then taking picture.

3) Not changing asa on my light meter when changing film

4) Shooting with 72mmXL lens and not moving bag bellows fold out of the way entirely, thereby prevening one corner of the film from getting exposed.

5) Fiddling around with the cable release and taking the picture while not noticing that my fiddling with it caused it to change positions so it fell directly in front of the lens.

6) Loose knobs on view camera or tripod connection

7) Stopping down lens so much that diffraction became readily apparent (Fuji 600mm)

8) Having sheet film shift positions slightly by settling while the picture is being taken, which gives a horrible astigmatism effect on the slide/negative.

9) Unscrewing rear element of enlarging lens and dropping it on floor. Twice, within 30 seconds.

10) Going out on a shoot doing long exposures without a timer. Believe it or not, I have found a piano metronome works just as well, plus it is audible!

11) Making prints and not noticing a big hunk of dust on the glass neg holder in the enlarger, until I have gone through about 5 or 6 negs and examining them while they are drying. Same dust spot showing up in the same position on multiple pictures.

12) Taking portraits with empty sheet film holders.

13) Going out to shoot skiers and not going to the ATM first to get some cash to be able to pay the entrance fee. For myself and wife, while she's complaining about freezing from the cold.

-- Roger Urban (roger_urban@yahoo.com), January 17, 2002.

I'm also relatively new to large format photography, and I have a motto: sometimes it helps if you make an even number of mistakes!


I was shooting a stream, had focused, metered (it was overcast and not bright), set aperture and shutter speed, cocked the lens, made sure the cable release wasn't in the picture (a specialty of mine), closed the lens, inserted the film holder. All of this took some time.

Just as I pressed the release, I noticed that I was standing in bright sunshine. The sun had come out and my meter reading was obsolete. Just as I was thinking that I had dreadfully overexposed the film, I noticed with some relief that I had failed to pull the dark slide out of the film holder!

-- Bill Hahn (bhahn@world.std.com), January 17, 2002.

Oh yah, almost forgot:

14) Getting my exposed film holders mixed up with my unexposed film holders. Has a tendency to put a lot of question marks and explanation marks in the air all around my head.

15) Changing lenses and forgetting to refocus.

-- Roger Urban (roger_urban@yahoo.com), January 17, 2002.

You ask about good as well as bad ones. One of my worst was having done what I thought would be one my best portraits of friends photographing, using my 8x10, and after coming home having relatives stop for a visit & discovering a nephew in the other room with the film holder in hand... pulling the darkslides open & shut.

One of the best was a solid commercial shoot. Waiting 3 months for the sun to set to get the clients new building with the sky just right to accent the showroom, spending 6 hours with them directing cleaning the lot, windows, showroom displays, having them scrape tape marks off the windows & hosing down the driveway. Then, shot with the 8x10 & having the lab owner say "we seldom get professional work of this quality"... The 30x40 print is straight, no nothing to touch it up.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 17, 2002.

I somehow managed to avoid most of the newby mistakes when I was still a newby. They seem to be catching up with me now that I've been doing the sheet film dance a few years. About two months ago I was struggling to get a shot on my 8x10 before the light faded. I clicked the shutter, got one good one. Then I flipped the holder around and pulled out the darkslide- the wrong darkslide. Swearing, I pulled the proper darkslide and the light promptly disappeared. So there I was with one unexposed sheet and one previously good sheet that was duly assasinated by sheer idiocy.

By far my most tiring episode occurred when I was photographing in a natural area near my home which has all sorts of running trails around a largish area filled with lots of narrow, steep-walled valleys. I was in the bottom of one of these valleys photographing while trekking down the course of the stream at the bottom. I noticed it was starting to get dark, so I decided to scale the side of the valley rather than backtrack, which I figured would take me long enough that I'd be walking back to the car in the dark. So I start up the side of the valley. Now the site I deemed appropriate looked deceptively easy to climb. Granted, the first 40 feet or so were fine, until it pitched up to about a 80 degree elevation of wet shale for about 80 vertical feet. Maybe I'm a closet thrill seeker or was particularly thick- skulled that day, but I decided to press on. So there I am clawing my way up this wet, lose shale grabbing occasional rotting tree roots, and jamming my tripod legs into the ground. I eventually worked out a system of slowly jamming in my tripod above my head, kicking my boots into the ground and moving maybe 3 feet every 4 minutes. I eventually made it to the top and just laid there amongst the hemlocks for a while caked with mud, shins cut to hell by the shale, backpack still on. Eventually made it home about an hour after dark. Not an experience I'll likely repeat soon. Then again, there is a reason I carry basic climbing gear with me now.....

Oh yeah, and when I got home I botched the film processing.

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), January 17, 2002.

I think this could be called a "natural" embarrassing moment. I was shooting in Borneo for a travel company and was asked to visit one of the nature reserves for orphaned orang-utans and photograph some of the baby orang-utans being re-introduced to the wild. After about 40 minutes of trekking through the jungle to one of the pre-release stations, my partner and I and the representatives of the reserve (including the director of the research station) were surrounded by three young orang-utans who proceeded to delight us with their antics, walking along with us, swinging from tree to tree and even at one stage, taking my hand and walking along beside me. My delight turned to some concern though, when one of the youngsters decided he liked my tripod, grabbed it from me and took off through the rainforest with it and with me in hot pursuit.

These little blighters can run pretty fast and he was able to move through the thick rainforest quicker than I. After a few minutes I gave up and thought that I'd probably end up having to balance my camera on a tree or something or give up the shoot. Arriving back at the trail my companions were still buckled over with hysterical laughter. We decided to carry on and fortunately, as we rounded the next bend in the trail, there was the thief, standing with my tripod (I'm sure he was laughing).

I gingerly edged closer to him and when I got within striking distance I lunged for the tripod, managing to grab one of the legs. Now I don't know if any of you have tried having a tug-of-war with an orang-utan, even a baby one, but these guys have muscles that'd put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame. He almost hauled me into the jungle along with the tripod until the reserve director came to my assistance and we were able to wrestle my tripod off the "delightful" little creature.

The shoot went on according to plan and I have nothing but praise for the solid construction of the Manfrotto tripods - a lesser tripod would have broken in two and ended it's days as a plaything of the young orang-utans of the Borneo jungle.

Peter Brown

-- If at first you don't succeed - skydiving is not for you.

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 17, 2002.

The third trip to a location up the side of a butte in the Missouri River Valley to finally get the right shot. Lugged all the equipment up the hill about a mile and a half, set up the tripod and the camera and realize the reason I didn't like the view of the first two trips up to this spot is that the place I parked my car was right in the middle of the picture. The light for this shot is only good for a short period of time as dusk, the spot is 600 miles from my house. Maybe next summer I'll try again.

-- Dave Schneider (dschneider@arjaynet.com), January 17, 2002.

I went out on a cold winters day with a dozen film holders (no readyloads)and took a variety of shots. Froze my fingers and fogged the ground glass frequently but did the best that I could and kept shooting throughout the day. The next day I went into the darkroom and began to develop the film that I had exposed the weekend before. Much to my surprise the films were coming out clear. I went through another batch being extra careful, mixing new developer, and taking every precaution I could think of.

Same results with completely blank film. I decided to try developing the film I had shot the day before. The film developed but was very dense and seemed to have ghost or multiple images. Suddenly I realized what had happened. I had confused my film holders and instead of taking out the newly loaded holders the day before I had ruined most of both weekends shootings by shooting the same films twice.

-- James Phillips (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), January 17, 2002.

Come to think of it, I do have a story involving large-format photography. Perhaps not as embarrassing as some of the other ones, but I'm certainly not that proud of it.

When I was just starting out in photography I used a manual-focus Nikon with a fairly soft lens. Around the time I learned how to preset the depth of field I became frustrated with the lack of sharpness of the lens and the format. I wanted a 4x5.

I saved for quite some time, and then spent a few thousand dollars on a Toyo 45AX, a Bogen 3036 tripod, a 90mm f/4.5 Nikkor SW, film holders, and film. The Toyo came with a free Sekonic L778 meter.

I may have been a bit intimidated by the stuff because I didn't make photos with it. Ever. Not a single one.

After about a year my photographic interests changed a bit and I sold it all for about half of what I had paid. I bought a Nikon N90s, an 80-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor, a smaller tripod, a bag, and some film, and I visited Paris.

Now, after a couple of years of using the N90s I am fed up with the small images that will look unsharp when I enlarge them. I am seriously considering buying another Toyo, another 90mm lens, a Quickload holder, and another bag. I would be thrilled to have the setup that I had before.

This time, however, I'm not selling the Nikon.

-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), January 17, 2002.

I was trespassing on government property in Malibu, California, doing LF architectural assignment for school early one morning. A park ranger appeared in the distance, but I decided to continue shooting. I must have stay on the property shoot another 45 minutes, (LF ain't quick.) with ranger looking at me from distance. Just as I finished all the exposures, she approached me and questioned me. She then told me never to return or to face risk of arrest and forfeiture of my equipment if I did. I apologized profusely.

I left shaken, but content knowing I had the nerves to complete the job. Unfortunately, upon return to driver's seat of my vehicle I realized I hadn't the nerves of steel I thought. I discovered that I had, at some point during the shoot, shit in my pants!

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), January 17, 2002.

1. Bringing Quickloads but no Quickload holder.

2. Bringing my entire kit to a shoot...except the tripod.

3. Shooting with empty film holders.

4. Double exposing film.

5. While doing extreme macro work, I managed to slowly peel the bellows off the front standard. I didn't notice it until I was done shooting (of course).

6. In 35mm, I really like how quiet my Canon Elan 7 is. The film advance is even quieter when you forget to put film in it. I didn't realize it until I was done shooting (of course).

Give me time. I'll think of more.

-- Tony Karnezis (karnezis@aecom.yu.edu), January 17, 2002.

Several years ago, just after I first started shooting large format, my wife and I were out at Mt. Rainier National Park and I was shooting reflections of the moss-covered giant Douglas firs in some very still water.

Being new to large format, I was taking quite a while to compose the image just right under the dark cloth. I finally got the exact image I was looking for and was making a final check of the corners when the entire reflection broke up with little waves.

I stayed under the dark cloth and waited and watched until the reflection was back and was agian just pulling out from under the dark cloth when the waves started again. I started swearing and when my wife asked what was wrong, I yelled that I just couldn't get the pic that I wanted and was going to try one more time.

After about five more minutes, the waves stopped and I was again just pulling out of the dark when the waves again destroyed the reflections. I muttered something unprintable here, and jerked the dark cloth off the camera and the tripod out of the knee-deep water that it was standing in. I turned around with the tripod to leave, knowing that I was never going to get the shot when I see my wife standing on the shore tossing little rocks into the water just out of my field of view under the cloth -- she had gotten bored because I was taking so long to make the shot!

-- Randy Redford (redford01@attbi.com), January 17, 2002.

I had a job to photograph a bridge out in nowhere in Maryland. My wife had nothing to do so she came with me. We arrived at the bridge after a night in a nearby motel at 9am, I took out my Linhof, lenses, tripod, cloth, and vest with loupe, Polaroid back, Polaroid film, Readyloads, meter, computer, filters, and tools, set it all up, checked everything, and gave my wife the car key. She asked if I was sure I had everything. I checked again, said yes, put the vest down, gave her a hug, shut the trunk, and sent her on her way. She loves to shop and was going to a nearby town to find a mall so that I could have the whole day to myself to shoot everything about the bridge.

Just as she rounded the bend in the road I realized that I had put the vest down IN THE TRUNK and sent it off with her. I sprinted after her but she was gone. So I spent the whole day until dusk waiting for her to return. This was before I owned a cell phone, by the way.

-- Rob Tucher (rtphotodoc@hotmail.com), January 18, 2002.

The worst: I was photographing brown bear tracks along the shore of a lake in Katmai at sunrise, and suddently I noticed a brown bear just behind me. I did not have the thought to grab my equipment, and as I backed away, the bear played with my super trekker, taking apart each divider and rolling each piece of gear in the sand, as I stood watching, helpless. The most embarrassing: I made a 4x5 group photo at my own wedding, but in the rush forgot to remove the dark slide.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), January 18, 2002.

I've had a few of these types of things happen to me, and have witnessed a few as well....my first major goof was early on in college...I was shooting an architectural shot of a building that was one of those split exposures--where you expose in daylight the building, and then wait until dusk to complete the exposure (a double exposure really) so you get this nice shot of the builing with full detail & basking in the lights at dusk with the sunset of course!....ah, so I do the first exposure and then wait & wait for dusk to come, and do the second shot....I close the shutter & am feeling pretty good about it all and then realize I forgot to pull the darkslide....ahh....too bad it was the night before the assignment was due! Learned a good one there.

I also had a string of crap jobs after school loading holders and doing general schlep work at studios...one of my jobs was to load holders for hours on end...and then off-load more holders...hundreds of sheets of film....you'd get all spaced out in the loading room doing this zombie work. I told one of the first assistants that I had this anxiety that was driving me crazy, making me double-check everything, that I was gonna forget to load a sheet or something....so a couple of days later this guy slips in an empty holder into the shot box...and tells me to unload this huge stack....I almost passed out in the loading room when I hit that empty holder....and sheepishly came out to fess up....the owners started chewing me out for a few minutes and then they all started laughing....hardee har harrrrr!!!! I guess this would be a good story actually, because I never did miss a holder, and haven't to this day...knock on wood here....

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), January 18, 2002.

How about the time I the wind knocked my Cambo 4x5 over into a roaring mountain stream in front of 30 school kids that happened by on a class field trip.One of whom asked me,"Mister did you mean to do that"? Marflex charged over $100 to wring out the water from my lens! Dont ever turn your back on a tripod mounted camera in any wind!

-- Edsel Adams (mrchippy628@aol.com), January 22, 2002.

Best? just about every time I get film back and see that everything worked as I wanted it too and that the result surpasses my expectations.

Worst? Arriving on a location and realizing I had forgotten something small but critical.

Some days 9today is one of those days) it seems like the most embarrasssing I did was decide to be a commercial photographer in the first place.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), January 22, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ