What is the absolute worst piece of advice aboutLarge Format you have ever gotten, read or over heard?

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What is the absolute worst piece of advice about Large Format you have ever gotten, read or overheard?

What piece of 'common knowledge" turned out to be just plain dumb when you looked into it?

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), April 16, 2002


Without any doubt,Merklinger's focusing tome!("Focusing the View Camera")What a long winded pointless piece of literature!Page after page of formulas & charts & graphs,all trying to tell you to tilt the front board a bit!IMHO,this is a concise compendium of stale bullsh-t! Ive yet to meet any one that has benefited from the good profesor's words.

-- Edsel Adams (mrchippy628@aol.com), April 16, 2002.

I did a stupid thing yesterday out at Lake Travis in Central Texas. I pulled out the dark slide and set it on top of the camera to help block light from the film holder. I turned my back for a minute, looked up, and it was gone. I didn't want to admit that it could have blown into the lake, but it had. Thankfully, I managed to retrieve it before I left.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), April 16, 2002.

I would have to agree with Edsel... the thought of a bevy of photographers in the field, debating whether to use the hinge rule or the Scheimpflug rule, and trying to estimate "J" is frightening.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), April 16, 2002.

Merklinger's book, which I read and enjoyed (his other one, "Ins and Outs of Focus" is even better), would be totally unnecessary if it weren't for the fact that EVERY other large format book that mentions the Scheimpflug rule fails to mention that this rule gets you only half the way to where you want to go. Like every other large format photographer, I focus by eye, and not charts, but some understanding of the theoretical underpinnings is helpful when you are first trying to grasp what is happening on the ground glass. Unfortunately, most books stop at the Scheimpflug rule. All that rule tells you is your plane of focus will be somewhere in all the universe of possible planes that intersect with the lensboard/camera back intersection. It doesn't tell you anything else, and it is completely useless (by itself) for teaching anyone anything about how to focus a view camera. This was extremely frustrating to me, because I knew there had to be another factor, but all the books (including Stroebel's) acted like the Scheimpflug rule was the end of the analysis. I couldn't tell if I had a massive brain tumor or all the books were wrong -- each was equally (un)likely.

Merklinger proved the books were wrong, and gave me the other half of the equation. Of course by the time I found his book I had given up on the theoretical underpinnings and was just focusing by eye, but his book explains very well what happens. His other book is great at resolving that other problem: why whenever I use the hyperfocal distance scale on my roll film cameras my pictures are fuzzy. And no, he doesn't just do the standard circle of confusion math and conclude you should use the f8 scale when you are shooting at fll. Both his books are excellent works, but I agree, you wouldn't want to apply the theory directly to practice. Nobody really does that, I suspect: the book is about teaching you the why and how of what happens, so you can apply the theory in the field by eye.

The worst advice I ever got was to buy stuff new. Or wait, maybe the worst advice was to use TMAX.

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), April 16, 2002.

I know I'm in the minority, but I much prefer a reflex viewer to a dark cloth.

Someone told me early on that reflex viewers were worthless, and that no serious photographer would use one. Rather than trying it for myself, I struggled with a technique that didn't suit me.

On the positive side, that experience helped evolve Rule #0: If it works for me, it's good. Phooey on what everybody else thinks.

-- Kevin Bourque (skygzr@aol.com), April 16, 2002.

Early in my 4x5 experience, I attended a weekend workshop during which I set up a shot in which there were a series of perfectly vertical trees in the foreground flanking a steep downward slope leading to a waterfall. I wanted to get the slope and the waterfall in perfect focus and so tilted the rear of the camera to establish a Scheimpflug relationship. Noticing that the tops of the trees were now way out of focus, I asked the teach how I could correct the problem. His response was to tilt the front of the camera in the opposite direction to compensate for the rear.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (info@razeichner.com), April 16, 2002.

That LF makes you better, you make yourself better, 35mm brings out one quality, MF brings out another, using LF, you rise to the occasion, but it was always in you, the demands of LF are just an excuse to bring it out or you wouldn't have voluntarily bought a LF in the first place.

Also the idea that Kevin touched on, that some folks scoff at the idea of using a reflex viewer with a LF camera. My binoc. reflex hood works for me, besides, I grew up in LA, so bending over and then putting a dark hood over my head is being too trusting a soul for me, although my hat's off to anybody who does it that way.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), April 16, 2002.

I also read the Merklinger articles, and they are a nice explanation of why things work, but I still just eyeball the glass. It's faster and easier. I don't care how big angle J is. My bigger problem is with Zone System "gurus" who go into excruciating detail without telling you anything. For instance they may say "decrease the f- stop" but never say if you are to use a smaller aperture (higher f- number), or use a smaller f-number (wider aperture). Then to compound their crime, when you do the math, the effective EI always seems to go *down*, no matter if they are talking about N+2 or N-2 (or whatever). I'm not dumb. I understand that pushing film increases contrast, pulling film decreases contrast. So why all the double-talk?? Of course many are just trying to hook you into buying their latest book (probably more double-talk).

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@htomail.com), April 16, 2002.

"Don't bother with large format. You can do everything you can do with sheet film with medium format better and cheaper. Large format is dead."

I originally received several comments like this from "enlightened" individuals when I was first considering moving up to 4x5. I wonder what they'd think if I told them I was doing all my personal work in 8x10 now.

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), April 16, 2002.

I've gotten this one more than once, and 2 of my personal best pics are the results. A workshop teacher says "you're wasting your time, that shot will never work, the highlights will be all blown out", and a second one, I'm setting up for an interior shot by tipping my lens through a broken window pane of a long abandoned pipefitters shop that has stopped in time and a couple of guys with medium format's and tripods are saying "What the hells in there to take a picture of??" So come on you nay-sayer's, I need another good shot!

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), April 16, 2002.

"It's not worth the trouble and expense."

"Nobody can tell the difference unless you make ridiculously large prints."

"No one does that these days."

"Why would you want to use that camera?" (A Sinar Norma) "It takes terrible pictures." (True enough, if you insist on only using three-year out of date polaroids)

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), April 17, 2002.

In 5 or 10 years there won't be any film...everything will be digital.

-- Don Sparks (harleyman7@aol.com), April 17, 2002.

.1 over film base plus fog. That, and filling out little notecards on zone placement for every exposure I made. The first piece gave me marginal negatives for years, and the second just wasted a lot of time.

But Ellis, need to do the flip side on another thread - What about the best advice?

-- Joe Lipka (joelipka@earthlink.net), April 17, 2002.

Im always amused by the "techies",that shoot LF.They would have you believe that only a yaw free camera with a modern($)multicoated piece of glass will do.The truth being that an old battered bellows & a funky single coated,vintage lens can give you the same or better results!The smaller formats & (of course digital),is all about technology.Fast glass & automatic everything is great,when you need it.There is a simple purity to LF work,that the other formats dont have.Trying to modernize LF is an effort in futility.LF is all about the images,not the cameras!Seeing those gorgeous prints is what its all about.Sure a yaw free body & a $2K lens are nice,but unnecessary!

-- Edsel Adams (mrchippy628@aol.com), April 17, 2002.

I can't resist this one. About 3 weeks ago I was taking some nightime shots at a university campus and a japanese exchanage student sees me fiddling with my 7x17. He began berating me. 'What are you doing! There is no picture here. This is nothing. Why are you doing this!' He walked away and actually spat on the ground in disgust. Needless to say, the photo has now been printed in palladium and is beautiful, in my opinion. This is the first time I've actually encountered hostility about a composition.


-- clay harmon (wcharmon@wt.net), April 17, 2002.

Im always amused by the "techies",that shoot LF.They would have you believe that only a yaw free camera with a modern($)multicoated piece of glass will do.The truth being that an old battered bellows & a funky single coated,vintage lens can give you the same or better results!

Not necessarily. It depends on the work you are doing atthe moment. But for most fB&W landscape and portrait photograsphy I have to agree with you.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), April 17, 2002.

Usually advice given is meant to help someone, but if I had listened to and implemented all the ideas proffered about photography and life in general, I would either be a lawyer, or someone who is strapped in a hospital bed feeling the spittle inch down my chin. Here is a sampling of well-meant advice that my poor life has received throughout the years :

“Why do you read so much? You should watch more TV”.

“Your going to give her this for her birthday? It’s a picture of weeds! I’d dump a man if he gave me this!”

“With the amount of hours you spend in the darkroom, your going to burn out.”

“I wouldn’t buy an expensive camera if I were you. You will probably fiddle with it for a few months, and then never use it again.”

“Your overexposing your film by 3 stops?!” followed by incredulous laughter.

“Leave the print in the developer between 1 1/2 to 3 minutes.”

“I use wood glue when mounting my prints.”

“Get a job.”

-- James Webb (jwebb66@yahoo.com), April 17, 2002.

Worst piece of advice - Start and stay with 4x5 as it is the most popular format and is the only possible remnant for conventional photography in large format. Buying a 5x7 camera? Have you heard of the Edsel? 8x10 and larger is completely unnecessary in every aspect.

Worse piece of "Common Knowledge" - Use film/developer combinations that the pros use as they have done all the work for you.

-- Michael Kadillak (m.kadillak@attbi.com), April 17, 2002.

'An uncoated lens isnt good for color'.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), April 17, 2002.

This isn't a single piece of advice, but a pattern of advice that is insidious, and it comes from the great Adams, whom I love to pieces in general: The advice, diffused throughout all his instructional writing but concentrated in The Camera, is to have a bunch of lenses to get you through all these kinds of situations that arise. This is bad advice for beginners, and it can get the most experienced LF photographer off-track. Beginners should be told to get "a" lens and then get their heads under a darkcloth. Money should be spent on film, chemicals, and printing paper. -jb

-- jeff buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), April 17, 2002.

Can't take a picture in the wind.

I just got back from California where I took some pictures in considerable amounts of wind (on the coast, where I almost lost my balance due to wind on one occasion). Using a Tachihara (which I've heard is not rigid enough for windy conditions) and no umbrella (because the umbrella I had was about to collapse in the wind) I took pictures anyway. I even had to steady the quickload envelope with my hand (touching the camera... ooh! bad!). Slides came out acceptably sharp anyway.

-- Noshir Patel (nosh@bigfoot.com), April 17, 2002.

ha!! what a great thread. well my contribution is not a bad piece of advice, just the best comment i've ever gotten by a passer-by. over the years as i stand next to my camera at night in downtown Seattle, making multi-hour exposures of urban trees, i've gotten quite a number of hilarious comments, wierd looks, people thinking i'm everything from a cop doing surveillance to an astronomer shooting the stars. but the best one was this 17-year-old punk-looking kid with his girlfriend who walked by with all their earrings and raggedy clothes, and without even slowing down he looked at my camera, and up into the tree, and said "oh yeah, tree shots" and they kept on walking. HA!!!!


-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 17, 2002.

That you can't make images that are worth a darn shooting in mid-day light.

-- Tim Klein (timklein@qwest.net), April 17, 2002.

jeff, i couldn't agree more. it's always amazing for me to see guys out with their massive 35mm rigs-- several camera bodies, a whole collection of lenses, a linear foot of filters, a bunch of different kinds of film, all in an enormous padded bag that's twice the size of my 4x5 bag (which is an old rucksack that contains my camera, one lens in an old cardboard box, 5 filmholders, light meter and some knicknacks). i shot for 7 years with only a 210mm lens, then four years ago bought a 135mm lens that i have only taken one picture with so far-- i see everything in "normal" perspective so i have little use for additional lenses...!



-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 17, 2002.

The all-time worst advise must be the stern admonition that Kodak used to make in the instruction sheet packaged with all their film, "never make pictures within 2 hours of sunrise or sunset," followed closely by "Always have the sun behind you."

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@comcast.net), April 17, 2002.

Shooting large format is superior to everthing else. What a load of crap. I have the same attitude towards those who expound 35mm or digital only. Elitism and dogma should never be encouraged.


-- floren (flcpge@yahoo.com), April 17, 2002.

Worst: "It's just like 35mm."

Best: (Trueism) "A large format neg of a crappy image is still a crappy image . . . with a lot more information."

My own contribution: "Common knowledge is not common." (Same for common sense.)

-- Steve Feldman (steve@toprinting.com), April 17, 2002.

"sticky shutter? just stick the little red straw of a WD-40 can in the hole and pffffffffff..."

end of shutter.


-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 17, 2002.

there are so many of them that I don't want to remember..for my sanity sake... but here are the 2 most recent ones...

(about LF) - "the time you make one picture I finish 2 rolls (of 35mm) and having lunch.... " (about 35mm) - "In my opinion the quality of the picture is in the camera body.." (he has the latest 35mm reflex with a generic 28-300mm zoom lens..)

one world of advice...please refrain to argue...it doesn't worth it...

-- dan n. (dan@egmail.com), April 17, 2002.

Oddly, most of the time I am in the field people are pretty much fascinated by my camera and seem to love the idea of someone using what seems to them to be an antique. The worst advice that I've ever received has nothing tot do with LF so much as it does with photography in general, e.g.:

(1) The rule of thirds. (2) A good b/w photograph must have tones from pitch black to solid white. (3) Always place the darkest part of your photograph on zone 1. (4) Exposing a negative past zone 10 is pointless (5) Keep a $3 UV filter over your $1000 lens (6) You need a camera with a lot of movements (7) The heavier your tripod, the better it is. (8) A $30 gadget is better than a free piece of cardboard that does the same thing. (9) A backpack designed to haul cameras is worth the cost. (10) Densitometry is a worthy exercise, not a pointless penance.

-- Matthew Cordery (cordery@sonic.net), April 17, 2002.

LOL....great thread Ellis, my worst advice "place the shadows you want with detail on zone III" subsequently I pregressed to have a morass of black on my prints for years! lol.....

-- jorge gasteazoro (rossorabbit@hotmail.com), April 17, 2002.

The WORST ----
"Anything more than 500 yds from the car just isn't photogenic."
-Edward Weston

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), April 17, 2002.

Matthew, Glad you brought up the "rule" of thirds, That one has always baffled me...Steve

-- Steve Clark (agno3@eesc.com), April 17, 2002.

You are correct about the older single coated glass.Once color is added to the mix,the newer glass wins.However,I do have some 1950's German LF glass that is sharper & more contrasty than any modern glass!I guess it all depends on what you like.BTW,great Houston skyline shot!(Of course in NY we pronounce it "How-ston")

-- Edsel Adams (mrchippy628@aol.com), April 17, 2002.

"you should turn the dark-room into a nice spare-bedroom"

-- adrian tyler (tyler@nova.es), April 18, 2002.

"Shouldn't the sun be behind your back."

-- Ben Calwell (bcalwell@aol.com), April 18, 2002.

"Don't you already have two 8x10 cameras?"

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), April 18, 2002.

The summary of Merklinger's stuff on the net stuffed me around greatly. It definitely has cost me more time and probably a few shots than any other piece of advice.

My best onlooker comment was 'Why do you carry your projector with you?' about my 4x5 when I opened my camera bag.

-- Matt Brain (mbrain@postoffice.utas.edu.au), April 19, 2002.

That we need to drill in ANWR because film is plastic

-- Wayne (wsteffen@skypoint.com), April 19, 2002.

This exerpt from one of our beloved posters.

"forward or backward." Does not change the perspective. Only changing the angle of the camera to the subject will change perspective.

Moving a caamera forward or back is exactly the same thing as changing lenses. You get more or less into the picture and if an object is enlared or reduced in the print so they are the same size the perspective is identical.

-- Wayne DeWitt (wdewitt@snip.net), April 21, 2002.

Shadows and highlights must always have detail. Everything must be in focus.

-- John Sarsgard (sarsgard@yahoo.com), April 22, 2002.

A new camera will take better pictures.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), April 28, 2002.

2 Deardorff's are enough!??

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), April 29, 2002.

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