How often do you not expose? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

As someone new to LF, I am learning a great deal about how I approach subjects, and view light, tone and composition. On several recent outings I have returned without exposing a single frame. Even a single frame of 35mm, which I use as a meter, but always has film loaded. I never banged away in motor drive with my 35mm, and had hoped LF would lead me to be more critical of how I compose and shoot, but I feel I may be going too far the other way, and possibly missing "good" shots. All this relates to landscape photography by the way.

So, my question is: How often do you return from an attempt at a landscape without any exposed film?

-- Jonathan Bundick (, March 07, 2002


Personally, not too often. If the day is uninspiring, or I am not in the mood, I stay home and do other things. It really depends on how you approach your subject. Case in point.

I was shooting for a client in a botanical garden with my Hasselblad, 80mm lens, no meter, velvia in the back, no bag and no tripod. I walked quickly around a water garden and within a few minutes, saw a workable composition. I lay the camera on a smooth, level concrete slab, composed and focused and shot off some frames. The client loved it and published it.

There was also another photographer roaming around the same area, longer then I was. She had her camera around her neck, finger on the shutter, but was walking around like a nun in silent prayer. My impression was that she was looking or waiting for the inspirational bolt of lightening to strike. As I was leaving, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw her going over to see what I had shot. Whether she had already shot it, I do not know, but it seemed as if she had not.

The point is, there are times you will come home empty handed. But maybe you should think whether the reason is, you didn't see what was there vs nothing there at all. The best way to learn is to shoot film and make pictures, keep good records. Then analyze the results. If you don't like the results? Figure out why. If you do like what you did, figure out why. Go back to the same location repeatedly and take more pictures. Sometimes you have to force yourself. Film is the cheapest part of this business but sometimes what is least used. If you don't shoot, you won't learn.

-- Rob Pietri (, March 07, 2002.

Never....I at least take one shot.

I agree with Rob in that it is practice. If you like the shot or don't like the shot, you figure out why and learn from that. I took 20 shots when I went to Death Valley and not many of them came out right, but I'm going in 2 weeks and I know now what I didn't know then.

-- Mark Wiens (, March 07, 2002.

I'm really new to LF, and although I've yet to go out and come back with no film exposed, I find, to my amazement, that it really takes a long time to make each exposure, so coming back with more than a couple of exposed sheets of film means that I've been out a long time, or conditions have been optimum. In an out during which I might have exposed two 36 exp. rolls with 35 mm (on a tripod and methodically,) I find that I'm shooting maybe a maximum of 6-8 sheets of 4x5 film. I'm shooting black and white for now to keep expenses down as I learn the craft, so cost per sheet is not that great (especially as I'm developing the negatives myself and digitally scanning them). The cost of color film and processing would probably make me more careful and I could foresee conditions (bad weather, particularly)where I might not make an exposure. On the other hand, not exposing film means I have no results to learn from, so I do try to come back with something, even if only to learn from it. It took a couple of sessions in the field, for instance, to get to the point where I feel I begin to understand focus and depth of field with movements on a view camera. So in that sense, coming back empty handed would slow my learning process.

-- Tony Galt (, March 07, 2002.

Since you are new to the format, you should always be exposing some film when you are out with the camera, if for no other reason than to learn. Use the time to try new film, or shoot anything with the idea of exploring how LF film records light and tonality different than 35mm. Think in terms of everything around you and not just a generic type of landscape image. Sometimes it is better to go somewhere and explore what is within feet and not miles of your camera.

Also carry a composition card, a piece of cardboard with a 4x5 hole in the center, held from the eye at various dstances equavalent to the focal length of your lens. It allows you the ability to explore the scene without having to set up the camera and use the ground class all the time.

There are times when I will go out to photograph a particular subject and when I get there the light isn't right, or the winds to high etc. From experience I know I would just waste film so why expose any? But I usually try to explore somewhere nearby and usually find a surprise or two.

Keep at it. As you gain more experience, you will begin to see many more opportunities and subjects that are there now, you just don't recognize them. You will expose more film and each sheet will be how you planned it.

-- James Chinn (, March 07, 2002.


I, too, am new to large format, although I've used 35mm for years. One of the things that I've found necessary with LF is to practice my close-up technique. Calculating the exposure with the addition of bellows-extension factor, reciprocity failure, and filter factors takes practice. This has proven very helpful in photographing landscapes, as well, because I am more aware of the bellows and how compressed it is.

Also, before I took everything outside I practiced quite a bit indoors. Once I did begin to photograph outdoors, I was not always pleased with the results because they didn't seem as precise as when I had used a 35mm camera. I'm getting the hang of it, though. Keep going, and remember to enjoy the process.

Whatever you do, I would recommend not turning up your speakers and visiting the Toho site. The music could get stuck in your head.

Good luck!

-- Matthew Runde (, March 07, 2002.

I think Mark has a good point. I'm not very good at landscapes, but I recently started going back to the same spots (when possible) to try again. This has paid off both visually and processwise. I can get the angle I should have tried the first time, possibly catch better lighting, and get the contrast just right. For whatever reason I never used to make multiple attempts, and that was a mistake! Works for any format, too!

-- Conrad Hoffman (, March 07, 2002.

I agree with J. Chinn and of course Conrad. If you are out and something doesn't strike you in the overall picture, look down. Yes, macro to some extent. I was out shooting dunes and I didn't like what I was seeing so I looked down and I came upon an image of a blade of grass being blown by the wind in an arch. I shot close and came up with a composition of a smile in the sand. It was stunning. Look ALL around you and you WILL see images. Slow down and feel the area and you will be amazed at what you will come up with. Don't get me wrong. I'm a technical commercial shooter and struggle for the artsy pictures but I have been told my work is unusually beautiful. Cheers

-- Scott Walton (, March 07, 2002.

It happens; I just don't let it bother me as I enjoy the outdoor experience as much as the picture taking. I do prefer tho to shoot at least a couple at a time if possible, as I can't get motivated to develop unless there's a couple of sheets. If anything, shoot a cloud formation or try out a filter. What about a portrait? Send it to your Mom.

-- Wayne Crider (, March 07, 2002.

Jonathan, there are a couple of things I do that my help you. First before I start out for my trip I mount my LF on the tripod with the darkcloth covering the camera held on by a bungee cord. It rests in the backseat of the car with a seatbelt in place, almost like another passager. I find it all too easy to talk myself out of a shot if I think of all the hasel of setting up. Next, I don't consider the first 5 images I take will be anything more than an exercise in composition. It really takes the pressure off you if you know the first couple of shots are just to get your juces flowing. I find that I fumble around alot with the camera as if I have never seen it before. I think the MOST helpful advise I can give is to go shoot with another LF photographer. The camaraderie that comes with photographing with others can help you see things you may have missed, plus it can be more fun than being alone. Good Luck, Joel

-- Joel Brown (, March 07, 2002.

After shooting 35 for a few years I bought a Rolleicord. After a few rolls of 120 I saw what a larger neg could do, and really discovered how much a tripod helps. That slowed me down a lot. As I got better I stopped taking shots I knew would turn out poorly and concentrated on "good" shots and shots I couldn't decide on. A lot of the in between shots actually end up being better than my "good" shots. So I had already cut down a lot between slowing down and being more selective. I've recently picked up (cheaply) a 4x5 and a 5x7. Trying out the 4x5 I find I am slowing down even more and only shooting 1 or 2 shots, with one bracket shot each, in an entire day. The only exception to all of this is when my girlfriend is with me. If we drive around or hike all day and I don't at least take a shot or two I never hear the end of, "why are you carrying all of that crap if you're not going to use it?" Somehow, responding with, "why take the shot when I know it's going to suck," never satisfies her.

-- Terrance McDonagh (, March 07, 2002.

Don't worry about it, Jonathan. Two extremes: Some days I have exposed over 40 8x10-inch negatives (all different pictures); late last year I exposed only about 24 negatives in two weeks. Why the difference? Mainly the light, I think--sometimes it is just not right. But whatever the reason, there it was. I do not recommend exposing negatives just for the sake of doing "something." The photographs are not the point anyhow, when out with your camera, is to have a deep and genuine experience. Consider the photographs to be a bonus. The photographs will come of their own accord when they are ready. No need to rush them.

On the other hand, if you are very new to LF, you do want to make enough exposures so that you are confident you know what you are doing.

-- Michael A. Smith (, March 07, 2002.

Don't worry....

You said it yourself, you are new to large format, give yourself some time, this is a new way to take pictures. get aquainted with the experience of seeinf the image in the ground glass, if you cannot "see" , this is part of the process. It might seem to you to be stuck but inside you might be brewing something. Be aware of what is going on inside, and sometime don't force yourself to take pictures, the best images come when you are letting always, ALWAYS works. It is a frustrating place to be, but ,as i said, it is part of the process.

-- domenico (, March 09, 2002.

If I come home from a landscape expedition without any exposures, it's usually because the light doesn't work for me. At home, I generally don't go out on such days and try to work on other things, but if I'm travelling and had planned to make photography an important part of my trip, then I try to make do with the light I have.

If that's the case, I look for details in the landscape, where flat light might be to my advantage before packing it in. If the clouds aren't happening, then I think about what I can do without including too much sky. Sometimes the photograph I hadn't planned to take is better than the one I was looking for.

-- David Goldfarb (, March 09, 2002.

Jonathan, FWIW I often return from an outing without shooting a single sheet if I can't find anything I really want to shoot. On the other hand, I often go out specifically to make test shots with a different film, unusual lighting conditions, seeing if a "new" old holder leaks, experimenting with film speeds etc...and expose six or twelve sheets of film with no expectation of getting one of THOSE pictures, just learning what my stuff and myself can do, and provide exposed film for practicing my darkroom developing skills. This is actually FUN! Maybe not as much fun as capturing the moonrise over a clearing storm over Mt Bullwinkle, but fun none the less. Don't get discouraged. IMHO, I approach landscape photography much like being the tourist I am. I want to explore. If I find something that causes me to say WOW! I'll shoot, or maybe come back and shoot when the light is better or the clouds are more dramatic or something. The trade off between the excitement of the instant of seeing something for the first time and the more diliberate act of waiting hasn't seemed to effect my negatives so far. There are probably better ways of approaching landscapes, but this works for me so far. Good luck!

-- John Kasaian (, March 09, 2002.

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