What subjects do we NOT shoot (and why)?

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A poster recently asked what subjects do we (LF photographers) shoot, and it seems to me that the answers give a pretty good profile of LF subject matter, at least for outdoor folding field camera shooters. But it’s obvious from several of the posts, and from innumerable posts in the past, that we shoot what we shoot partly as a consequence of what we simply can’t shoot—the subjects we would shoot with a hand-held camera that can’t be shot with an LF field with tripod, dark cloth, etc.

When we go out with the 8x10, well-meaning passersby often comment on our “old” camera. Apparently, they don’t realize that, except for movements, our “old” camera is fundamentally identical with any other film camera--however recent in design or manufacture—were it not for its fixed lens and film planes. Bellows, dark cloth, wooden box—all seem to take them back to the 19th c. and to give them the impression that what we’re doing is something like a Civil War battle re-enactment. I can’t think of a single time when the observer revealed any awareness of the optical advantages of our big field over 35mm point-and-shoot.

When this impression is put together with decaying barns or a Nat’l Park lodge building or an idyllic farm scene (all among my very favorites, but for reasons unconnected with my practice of LF photography), the result is photographer as antiquarian re-enactor. Actually, for myself (and I certainly hope I speak for many others) modernism is an equally, even more, attractive orientation than anything that went before, since form, line, texture, and so on are rendered so appropriately and convincingly by the monochrome two-dimensionality of the b&w printed image. I’d rather shoot a still functioning steel barn (in fact, I already have) than its ruinous wooden counterpart built according to Sears & Roebuck (or was it Montgomery Ward?) standardized blueprints from milled lumber (the really fine hand-made barns I’ve seen have been in private ownership and still in use). But that’s merely a personal preference I mention just to establish the point that at least one of us has something going on in his mind when he shoots LF other than Matthew Brady, collodion emulsion glass plates, and Wm. Henry Jackson’s horse-drawn wagon.

It’s easy to think of things that we can’t photograph at all (e.g. military installations, certain religious services, the Amish), but I’m interested in things that are normally photographed with small cameras but not with LF gear with the result that LF field camera photography may have acquired distinctive characteristics, if any, at least in the minds of the public.

So, my question is: What subjects do we NOT shoot (and why)?

-- Nicholas F. Jones (nfjones@stargate.net), June 02, 2002


Nicholas, the first thing that came to mind was underwater photography. Difficult to do with a camera that has a bellows. Second, would probably be shooting in outer space, although a hand held Speed Graphic could be used to photograph through the window in the space shuttle. Probably would feel quite light to hold in a weightless environment.

-- Eugene (TIAGEM@aol.com), June 02, 2002.

Snakes with big sharp teeth. I hate snakes with big sharp teeth.

-- John Kasaian (www.kasai9@aol.com), June 02, 2002.

thins that are moving fast...any sport events...

-- dan n. (dan@egmail.com), June 04, 2002.

I don't think that I've seen an LF photo of a medical operation (blood and guts). It may be that the photographer and camera would get in the way, but there probably are situations where someone could make an LF photo.

I once stood across the table from a vet who single-handedly spayed a dog. About the only thing he asked me to do was to turn up the gas a little when the dog was too alert. For the rest of the time I watched and asked questions. I probably could have used a 4x5 camera without causing a huge distraction.

Come to think of it, the lights in those situations can be quite bright. Dentists, too, use such lights. This bright light could make it easier to focus and use a faster shutter speed, if the subject were moving.

-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), June 04, 2002.

Snakes and all sporting events were shot using Grafic cameras, also used to stop airplane props in flight, any thing you can shoot with a 35 can be shot with a LF, its just a little more trouble and sometimes harder. Pat

-- pat krentz (patwandakrentz@aol.com), June 04, 2002.

I'll say it again - if it moves at all, it's too fast for me. It's amazing how fast a snail can be when seen through the ground glass of a Linhof Color...

-- Ole Tjugen (oftjugen@online.no), June 04, 2002.

Birds. Definitely birds. They are small, you need mid to extreme telephoto lenses so as to not scare them away by being too close, fast film, and after you get all set up you find out they are too darn fast moving anyway. I've been trying for years with the "right" equipment and it's still difficult.

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), June 04, 2002.

This is pretty rhetorical. When my daughters were playing baseball in High School I'd go to the games several times a season and enjoy capturing the kids with a Nikon, Velvia (yes absolutely Velvia) and a 300mm f4 Nikkor. Usually I'd shoot 2 36 exposure rolls. Decisive moment and cost are just the tip of the iceburg as to why the Nikon was the right camera for the job. I took my 5X7 on an expensive rail opportunity at the Nevada Northern RR and wish every day I'd taken the Mamiya instead. I can't get my toddler grandson to hold still long enough to use a view camera. If someone wants color work I almost always use the Mamiya unless end results NEED to be bigger than 20X30 just because of costs.

Sure you COULD do any of these with LF (as the govt has proven for years taking 18X18" recon shots while moving at great speed), but that wasn't the question.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), June 04, 2002.

Snakes are OK shooting with a 4x5 technica. Have a few good images of them. Sports are just fine with a 4x5 monorail at times. Shot basketball for a small paper when all I had with me was the monorail & a polaroid back. Was in town & knew the sports editor & the playoff game was right on their deadline & they couldn't get film processed in time. So, shot it on polaroid with a 4x5 calumet, on polaroid. Zone focused near the basket & when action happened, shot using a big Metz strobe, processed the polaroid & the editor approved the shot & it was run to the paper to meet deadline. Quick & simple. As for birds, the older Big Bertha and Little Bertha cameras have been used for years by some nature photographers for this task. There is little a LF camera cannot do if you work at it.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), June 04, 2002.

I tend to stay away from ugly and depressing things, moving or still, I don`t feel the need to record them...

-- Steve Clark (agno3@eesc.com), June 04, 2002.

If the dig at old barn photographs and a vision of large format photography as reeanactments of the past were a shot at me, an old barn photographer, let me just say you got me.

The original question I thought was more a question of what we liked to photograph. I also use my large format gear to photograph a new digital signal processing industrial controller my company is using. Large format was the perfect way to get a circuit board full of SMCs in a plane of focus while having the complete assembly visible as a background. That's the first time I've used LF for my company literature.

-- Dave Schneider (dschneider@arjaynet.com), June 04, 2002.

I've shot Civil War Reenactments in 35mm and 8x10. 35mm first so I could get an idea of where the best location was for the calvary, plus shots taken at 5 frames/second to capture some of the faster action. I then came back the following year hauling the 8x10 Wisner. Everyone was asking me if it was a civil war period camera. They mistook me as a player in the reenactment. I used 8x10 Astia film to take in the whole scope of a battle, showing action with 1second exposures. Only problem I had was my tripod was up against a rope fence and kids in the viewing audience were moving the rope, causing some of my pictures to get blurred. Their parent would ask them to stop, but 5 minutes later I would see hands reaching over to brace themselves with one hand on my tripod and the other hand on the rope along with their foot on the lower rung rope. And, the reenactors changed the battle plan somewhat and didn't have the calvary clash where I expected it. At any rate, I still got some interesting shots.

I've also used medium format which allows more mobility and is a compromise between 35mm and 4x5, with trade-offs that have been well documented at www.photo.net discussion groups.

This year I plan on using LF again for the next reenactment. May try 5x7 black and white with 150mm lens this time.

-- R Urban (roger_urban@yahoo.com), June 04, 2002.

I'm with Steve, above, on birds. Hard enough to do it well with 35mm. Occasionally I try with 6x6, but the lenses that would make it feasable to get something close to a full-frame image of anything other than a large, relatively stationary wader, just don't exist and would be too expensive and cumbersome if they did. This 6x6 shot is okay, but I'm fairly sure I could have done it better in 35mm:


The film area there is bigger than 35mm, but not close to full frame.

Older photographs of birds made with LF equipment just required vastly more work to get a usable image, and the images aren't necessarily better than modern images made with 35mm equipment.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), June 04, 2002.

I won't shoot human misery, suffering, despair,....there's gotta be something the shot that gives the subject some dignity.

I won't shoot something if it isn't somehow uplifting to whoever sees the image. I've shot people down on their luck, but there was some gesture, something that said there was at least the smallest bit of 'hope';, I've also given them a couple of bucks for a burger as a gesture, and certainly they could've gotten some wine with what I gave them, but at least that I way I was giving back as well as taking.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), June 06, 2002.

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