Can't get motivated -- : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Well, I have chuckled at some of the phylosophical (sp?)posts here in the past - you know, the "why do we do this?" kind.
But I've got to say, right now I am asking myself the same questions.
I have been shooting 35 and medium format for a long time, and still do, but have always loved and longed-for the crisp-sharpness of the large format, large print.
Several years ago I took the plunge and bought my first LF (5x7)camera. It was an old B&J that I completely rebuild/restored (and have since sold). Then it was a new lightweight 4x5 wood field.
Now the inventory is the field, a Calumet, an 8x10 pinhole (lovingly built of wood w/spring back), and an old B&J Press. I was very excited and active at first - at least one or two days a week was dedicated to packing off to anywhere to shoot as much as possible of nearly anything that caught my eye.

But what I found out was, that with LF gear in tow, I was an event to be investigated by every curious passer-by. At the river bank, people would stop just so they could watch me and ask questions, stand around or even want to pick up and examine the lenses, etc. Along the trail, every hiker did the same. I found it difficult to focus (no pun intended) on what I was doing. With the tripod set up, lens mounted, and meter et al. sitting about - it is difficult to just pick up and move on (away).

I have to admit, I have always been a "gear junkie". My house bulges with cameras, bags and stacks of photo junk. There is nearly as much room in the refrigerator dedicated to film storage as food.
So, I have all the LF gear I can use, the wilds of the Idaho Bitteroot Mountains just minutes away, and when I want to shoot - I take the Minolta 6x7 or the 35 because I hate packing all that LF gear (and trying to keep track of it all), and not having the anonymity (sp) to shoot in peace and the mobility/freedom to move on when I feel the urge.
All that gear, and all that investment sits unused for nearly 4 months now. Not one single LF neg! Mostly because I like to move around alot and like the freedom smaller cameras give me, and hate the hassles of the bigger gear, and the people who distract me.

The other night I was looking at the images on my walls - the ones in the "public areas" of the house. The living room, the family room. And I realized, that the images that I consider my best - the ones I am most proud of, are all medium format. Not that I have not taken some reasonable photographs with LF, but the best ones are all MF.

So I've come to this question - (GASP!) maybe I'm truly just not a LF guy.
Then I wondered, how many people out there are suffering through all the hassles of packing all that gear around - messing around with changing bags, sheet film, film holders, lensboards, huge tripods, heavy backpacks, large lenses, curious on-lookers and all the rest of the inherent problems with LF photography - and having their photographic creativity suffer in the process? All for the sake of a larger neg. What kind of images have you lost, but could have made, because of the logistics of gear?
Are there REALLY any of your images that could just NOT have been done as well in 6x7 or 6x9?
What COULD HAVE BEEN with the mobility of a smaller camera? What did you miss because of mobility?


-- Matt O. (, February 26, 2002


Unless you're making Clyde Butcher size prints, the purpose of Large Format cameras isn't to get sharper negatives, it's to enjoy the LF experience. Setting up the tripod, having a large enough screen to see the whole image with both eyes, and so forth. If you're not getting the pleasure from LF, (it doesn't matter whether your pictures are any good), and you enjoy MF photography, then do it. That's what life is all about.

-- (, February 26, 2002.

A larger negative isn't the only reason to use large format. There are the other two oft cited reasons - availability of movements and ability to individually develop each negative. But the main reason is that some people just enjoy the whole large format process. Others don't. It sounds like you don't, which is certainly fine for you, so why not just give it up? Unless you do this for a living, the idea is to enjoy yourself in whatever format you use.

-- Brian Ellis (, February 26, 2002.

I find that the smaller and more portable the camera is the more I use it. In any of the formats. Leica 1lb,Rollei 2lb,Veriwide 2lb,5x7 Anba 3.5 lbs,12x20 Korona 18lbs.Today the Leica went out to the beach with my wife and I.....I had a great time and with pan f, 3 rolls taken, smooth and quick with a clear mind.Couldnt have done that in medium or large format.If I was by myself and had all day the 5x7 or Rollie might have made the trip!The right tool for the moment is important...they all have a certain look and feel and to me ...5x7 looks different than 2x3...I need all the formats to be available to accomodate the mood I'm in.

-- Emile de Leon (, February 26, 2002.


I think quite a few people who take the plunge into LF from other formats are at first disappointed. They envision Westonesque masterpieces but not the effort involved. For me the effort was more then the physical, it was learning, really learning, how to use LF as a tool to produce certain images and understanding its advantages in certain situations.

A LF camera, no matter what brand or lens is simply a tool. As photographers we need to evaluate what it is we want to communicate and then choose the tool that best makes that image. A prerequisite is you need be comfortable with your gear. If medium format produces the results you are happy with, then stick with it.

-- James Chinn (, February 26, 2002.


I switched to 8x10 a short while ago. Didn't quite enjoy it. I'm back with 5x7 now. Still like it a lot better. I took the good advice from previous contributors to drop what I didn't enjoy doing (at least for a while). It helps.


-- Aaron (, February 26, 2002.

>But what I found out was, that with LF gear in tow, I was an event to be investigated by every curious passer-by. At the river bank, people would stop just so they could watch me and ask questions<

You have come to the right place, because this is what I excel at-avoiding people, or making them feel unwelcome if they dont avoid me ;-). I never unpack my gear if there is a chance a humanoid will approach. if one does anyway, I either stand with my back towards them and look VERY busy so they get "the point", or (more likely) start packing up and leave for a humanless place as soon as I see them coming. I'm quite unsocial when I'm photographing-its just not a social activity for me, I cant get anything done with people around bothering me, and I cant get into the mental zone I want to be in. I dont try to photograph along trails unless theres one car or fewer at the trailhead; I dont photograph in National Parks except on the rarest occasion (and certainly not state or city parks! dont worry, none of those places are going unphotographed); I look for good potential destinations on road maps and then head for a place thats as far from it as possible (other people can read road maps too); I live near the biggest wilderness in the eastern US, and its the last place I'd go to get away from people...are you getting the drift yet? I can ramble on in this vein for...well, you've probably heard more than enuff already.

>> I have to admit, I have always been a "gear junkie". My house bulges with cameras,bags and stacks of photo junk. <<

This is a serious psychological problem that I cant help you with. I learned years ago that I need few things-one camera (at a time), 2 lenses, one meter, one set of mido holders. This is hardly an insurmountable load. You dont need to carry all the junk that you dont use! (I have loads too, but I've never felt the need to carry it all. I havent used my 90mm in 5 years or more. If I ever really miss it, I'l start bringing it again).

-- Wayne (, February 26, 2002.

In love, out of love, crazy about or sick of cars, cameras, women, whatever, you get rid of them or they get rid of you, they're missed the most when they're gone.

Many a guy has gotten rid of good camera or a good women becuase of boredom or a 'downhome funk', and lived to regret it, me included.

Take you gear out of the 'doghouse' and put it in the closet and forget about it until you start to miss it again.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, February 26, 2002.

Matt, What can I say . Every one needs to find their own path to walk down. LF & MF both have thier own set of advantages and disadvantages. I am some what like you in the sense I get nervous when some South Florida tourist creeps up a little to close behind me to stare at the three legged contraption. Fortunately, I shoot most of my images where only big foot hangs out.

Try this... Just shoot MF for a good while and get your self a good dose of mobility and moving around. Let your LF equipment sit dormant for a time. Trust me and dont sell it. After about 6 months or so, take a good look at all your MF negs and maybe, just maybe you might say to your self; I'll be dam! What COULD HAVE BEEN with the resolution of that large negative. Some times you just have to do something differently for a while.


-- Dan Kowalsky (dank99, February 27, 2002.

Something to consider is using your MF when you are on the go and out in the public. Use your large format for indoor shooting of still life, abstracts, multiple exposures, portraits of friends, family and dogs. The quality is fabulous and no packing anything around. All of this can be done with available light. So there is a compromise. But, man if you hate dragging all the equipment around (it is a pain sometimes isn't it?) then don't do it for sure. It will kill your photography....


-- Scott Jones (, February 27, 2002.

Re: 'I hate packing all that LF gear'.

There's an answer to that, never unpack it. I leave the working set in it's rucksac. All I have to do is pick it up. Charlie Skelton

-- Charlie Skelton (, February 27, 2002.

"All for the sake of a larger neg(ative)."


A larger negative of course opens up new possibilities unobtainable in smaller formats, esp. contact printing (whether alt. process or not) and super-sized enlargements of appropriate subjects. And don't forget the movements that come along with the larger camera that takes those larger negatives. But, in general, I would agree that if it's just for the sake of a larger negative, LF doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a purely practical point of view.

But who's being practical? Lots of things that people do don't make any sense, practically speaking. IMHO, it comes down to two intertwined factors--self-concept and place in a tradition. I wouldn't go to all the trouble and expense of LF photography unless I could picture myself with that big ol' 8x10 on a tripod; but I can and do, since for starters my father was a professional LF portrait photographer. And I can also mentally place myself in a long line of famous LF field camera shooters, even though I may very well never produce a truly fine image--that's not the point.

This morning I'm going to lecture to my Greek History class at the University of Pittsburgh on the "qualities" of the ancient Athenian democracy. Man, that was 2,500 years ago! What sense does that make? Well, it makes a whole lot of sense, as I hope my students will see. But you have raised the question of motivation. Matt, you simply have to believe in what you're doing and see its value. I believe in the value of my professional academic work with all my heart and soul. Bring on the critics! And when we're standing there at Valley View in Yosemite Valley with our 8x10, just as we did at Niagara Falls, if strangers come around, we're going to explain what we're doing, let everybody who wants to look through the ground glass- -and I hope get off a good shot or two. Who knows, maybe some of the onlookers will be inspired to take up LF shooting themselves--and that would be a good thing for all of us.

If you don't look at it this way, then maybe you should re-evaluate and consider your other options. All the best, and good shooting, Nick.

-- Nick Jones (, February 27, 2002.

Matt, I'm like you -- I can't stand to draw attention to myself. Unfortunately, using a big camera is like carrying a neon sign that says "Look at me!" To avoid people, I try to shoot during weekdays (if I have the day off from my job), when most people are at work or in school. I also try to shoot very early in the morning, especially on Sundays. Most people aren't early birds.

-- Ben Calwell (, February 27, 2002.

Matt: There is certainly a case to be made for MF with modern emulsions. A 6x7 neg can make a print that is hard to pick out next to a 4x5 neg print in moderate enlargements. That is not the point. The camera is a tool to make images, and you may be better suited to MF cameras. I am not. I like the whole LF process, and I love the control it gives me. I also like to shoot with the old Rollei at times. Personally, I rather enjoy people coming by to chat and looking at that "ol' timey camera" on the tripod. I usually let them take a quick look under the darkcloth at what I am looking at. It has never cost me a shot, and I have learned of some neat places to shoot from the locals. The LF gear on the tripod seems to say to them that you are serious about your photography, and the locals want to help out. If I need to get the shot right away before it changes, I ask them to give me a couple of minutes to get the shot then they can look at the ground glass. Two of my better selling photos have come about because I took the time to be cordial and listen to what they were telling me. I look upon a shooting session as fun, and sharing it makes it even more fun. I have never had anyone interfere with what I was doing, but I have had them help.


-- Doug Paramore (, February 27, 2002.

The wilds of the Idaho Bitteroot Mountains just minutes away? AND YOU CAN'T GET MOTIVATED!!?? Wanna trade places??? What destinations I have that are minutes away form my house in the great congested city state of NJ are a few lighthouses, beaches, strip malls, strip bars, and maybe a firehydrant. How about lugging around an 8x10, a 4x5 around NYC and shooting the great canyons and skyscrapers of concrete, neon and glitter, all the while looking over your shoulder for for muggers or terrorists?

Appreciate what you have and get out there and make pictures!

-- Rob Pietri (, February 27, 2002.

I love to shoot LF, but don't often have the time or energy to do it. My 4x5 can sit on the shelf for months or a year between sessions, but so what? Shoot 35mm or MF when you want, and 4x5 when the need strikes. There is no moral issue here; the cameras don't care and you shouldn't. Some people are a bother, but the ones who show an interest and curiosity are worth all the rest.

-- Conrad Hoffman (, February 27, 2002.

I tend to divvy the photography into 2 categories. Shots for me, just for the pleasure of the quality. Most are never seen by anyone else. I just enjoy the experience. And of course project or job shots. I'll be darned if I'd grab anything bigger than a Nikon to go make a picture that some magazine is going to print at 3X4 inches. I'm just finishing a series of 14 20X30 color prints of Nevada places and people are falling on themselves over the quality that my old Mamiya 6X9 produced. But then there's the "other" pictures. Just for me. No rules, no deadlines, no one else to please. Someone else mentioned "mood." When those days finally come when I just get to go play, I'll throw 4X5, 5X7, 8X10, and most of the lenses I own in the truck and head for the high country. Then I just set up whichever meets my mood for the moment. These are obviously not week long back country trips. Typically a morning walk with one format, and then some afternoon things with another. I do enjoy "the process" and lately it's the 5X7 that gets used the most.

So if your photography is for your own pleasure, take the system that does that best for you. If it's for sales, take the system that's going to get the job done.

-- Jim Galli (, February 27, 2002.

You're not alone out there... :-)

I'm not a camera gear collector but there's a few reasons that I never sell anything and one of them is I never know what I need...very often when I go for a trip I pack 35mm + MF + LF... and sometines I come back without shooting a single my opinion it's not "lack of motivation" because I don't force myself shooting for the sake of shooting... I shoot because I like what I see... Of course LF take more time and energy to haul and set up and dealing with curious humanoids...

Motivation, interest, flame etc.. etc.. you name die down a bit time to time... when it happens just let it pass... if you like to switch gear then do it (but don't get rid of it... you never know), as mentionned above they are tools...don't feel bad because you should use "this format" instead of "that format".. A.Adams use MF... so?...

feeling better...? :-)

-- dan n. (, February 27, 2002.

Matt, I think i hear you saying that large format doesn't feel right for you, but you are experiencing some feelings of "peer pressure" to stay with LF. In other words, maybe someone has planted in your mind the idea that you're not a "real" photographer if you're not using a view camera. If this is true, I urge you to pull that idea out of your mind and flush it down the toilet!

The way I see it, using a view camera is a royal pain in the butt for a whole bunch of reasons (weight, cost of film, time required to take a photo, the attention the camera attracts, to name a few). And so the ONLY reason to put up with those drawbacks and use large format is if there is some specific need to have large negatives that relates directly to the personal vision you are trying to communicate. If you don't need large negatives, or if your work is better done with a smaller (or handheld) camera, then there is no reason to be working in large format.

Here's an analogy: You sound to me like an oil painter who is saying "I've discovered charcoal drawing, and love it, and I never really liked oil painting, but I'm not sure if I'll still be a real artist if I quit oils and take up charcoal." The obvious answer is, go for what works for you; the soul will carry through more clearly if you choose a medium you are comfortable with.

And, when all else fails, consider Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the greatest photographer in the history of the medium, who took every photograph of his career with a handheld 35mm point-and-shoot.


-- chris jordan (, February 27, 2002.

Matt, I have been using LF for about 30 years. When I use the 4 x 5 I am shooting for me. I'm not trying to please an art director, a finicky client etc. I am shooting for me. The quality of the images obtained with LF are superior in every aspect when compared to MF or 35. Believe me I have used them all and nothing delights me more then the finished quality of a fine print made from enlarging a 4 x 5 or contacting an 8 x 10. Should you lug the LF equipment, hell no!, not if you don't love it.

-- Ed O'Grady (, February 27, 2002.

Your remarks remind me how much I like my Press camera.. I can set it up in less than a minute since I keep the short column on it, it has a rangefinder so I can focus very fast, and a sportsfinder, and I only carry a few items besides, and ones not a focusing cloth. I carry a hyperfocal chart I made for every aperture and can handhold the camera or use it on a monopod quite easily. It all fits in a cheap normal size adult backpack with a Domke insert for the extras, and it's ready to go at all times. Now I don't shoot it all the time, but it's there for my Sunday morning outings, which are mostly to get me out of the house and into nature. As far as the passerby's are concerned, I love to talk, and find it a great time to hand my cards out. Maybe you just need to simplfy a little from an equipment point, and find thru conversation that those passerby's might just be a little more important than the picture your taking?

-- Wayne Crider (, February 27, 2002.

Thanks for the input from everyone.
I guess I gave the wrong impression when I mentioned my gear- addiction. I have a lot of stuff, but I only take what I consider the essentials with me -

-4x5 wood field camera (about 4 lbs.),one Scheider 210 and a 90mm, tripod, spot meter, a couple of filters and 5 or 6 holders, and a loup. That's about it. It all fits nicely into a LowePro backpack. So I don't really carry any more stuff than any of you would, it just seems like a lot sometimes.

Rob -
Your right. I am not the type to be able to function with LF in an urban setting. It's all a matter of perspective - if I run into 4 or 5 people during the course of a day in the country, I feel crowded. That's one of the reasons I have stayed away from Nat. Parks.
Chris,Wayne and ED -
I DO love it! But I also hate it at times.
Maybe it seems that way because after all the effort and time involved in getting a few negatives, that they don't quite equal my expectations.
I am not a professional by any definition, so everything I shoot I shoot for myself.
Thanks again for all your responses - I'm not going to quit -

-- Matt O. (, February 27, 2002.

Matt: So if you take your best photos with a medium format camera go take some medium format photos. It's the pictures that count.

PS: Possibly interesting observation on this thread...when I first discovered this site there was a long thread about famous LF photographers and how friendly or grumpy they were when you bumped into them in the wild. People don't now seem to be so interested in extending that same generosity and spontaneous friendliness to those who seem at least vaguely interested in LF photography. ("Hey would you mind putting those Prest-o-logs a little further to the right? A little more. A little more.") There certainly is no end to the innane comments people on the trail can come up with, and I had a guy (who had no idea what I was packing) on a 104 degree day half way up the Canyon de Chelly trail lecture me on what an idiot I was for using a tripod which is "way too heavy." I've never had somebody start touching my stuff, which is going a bit far. I've invited many kids to take a look under the cloth, and they find it exciting. It can't hurt to create a positive impression about what we do, since 99.9% of people have no idea there is such a thing as a modern LF camera.

-- Kevin Crisp (, February 27, 2002.


I go back and forth a lot between Pentax 6x7 and my 8x10. Every time I get a good shot with the P67 I take a look at the print and think, "you know, that's a good picture, but it's too grainy and the focus isn't quite right. I'll have to go back there with the 8x10 . . .."

And every time I get a good picture with the 8x10 I think "You know, that's a good picture, but the exposure's just a little bit off and that film holder seems to be leaking a bit on the one corner . . .."

You might try the Lemhis for a little diversion. And there are some real good opportunities north of Howe this time of year in the Lost River Range, too. Once the passes open up it gets even better.

Good luck.

-- Erik Ryberg (, February 27, 2002.

Fnally, you will always be unsatisfied if you second guess. Use the gear you like to use and appreciate your results for what they are. These days, I shoot only 8X10 and larger, much of the reason simply being that I enjoy using those cameras, they suit my personality and approach to photography, and I am consistently enough pleased with the results that I don't ask "could I get better shots with (Fill in the blanks: a Cirkut camera, digital back, a Holga, etc)?"

If you want a "practical" reason to shoot 8X10 and ULF (I'm shooting 90% 12X20 these days), try Platinum printing and any other "alternative" or contact printing process. Pt/Pd is what keeps me wedded to 12X20 for the foreseeable future. That, and the horizontal aspect ratio, which I am falling in love with.

Happy shooting


-- Nathan Congdon (, February 28, 2002.


If getting bothered by people in the mountains is stopping you from shooting LF then try shooting LF in a place where there are no humans: the studio.

Illustrative still life and table top photography is ideally suited to LF and can be very solitary and very, very challenging. For inspiration try this URL:

Dominique Malaterre (cool name :-)) does some very complex work and was recently profiled in the Jan/Feb 2002 issue of Communication Arts.

Good Luck!

-- Dominique Labrosse (, February 28, 2002.


What you said about being noticed. I feel that way about even medium format. I used to have a Pentax 67 with the wood handle affair. This is not something you can just carry around like a 35mm and be spontanious in shooting when something catches your eye without being noticed. Even a Mamia RB that I also had; by the time you get a prism and handle trigger on it, everyone thinks your a newsreporter on something.

I'm talking about carrying the camara around in public, not in the woods. I've always felt that I had to go for the shot I was after knowing pretty much what I wanted to get. Get in and get out.

The quantity vrs quality issue you have is very much why most of my shooting is now 35mm. Its a true catch the mood or moment or seen record thing for me.

Strangely enough I'm a darkroom nut and believe even in 35mm most of the quality in in the printing. MF for me is important for studio. I'm no longer a pro but a 2x3 roll gives you a huge quality jump and a good amount of workflow advantage compromise with the less time and cost vrs LF.

I would not consider a darkroom w/o 4x5 enlarger. Though I don't currently have 4x5, I will again. For me its the ultimate for studio.

I plan and gather and set up a still life for days and then I shoot. Is it spontanious?... Very. Even after all the set up and the planning. I get goosebumps knowing that with a good frenel reflex view finder I will be not only be in total control but can come very close to visualizing the finished print. And, knowing that I always wish I had loaded more filmholders at discovering yet another variation or framing. I usually end up with the best shots much different that I originally planned on. Its great.

So consider the large format for controlled indoor or enclosed outdoor or available light. Schedule some time. Set it up a still and leave it up for a while. You'll get new idias each time you come back to it. B/W will give you a renewed interest if you need more reasons for LF. Or, try positive transparency printing paper in your film holder. I may even try 8x10 for contact printing if I can find the time. Keep the camara!

-- Mike Felber (, March 07, 2002.

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