All of my work originates from a film negative or positive. I shoot with 8 x 10 or 4 x 5 wooden field cameras. When the weather is wild I revert to medium format camera as they are much more stable in windy conditions.
Typically I choose my subjects long before I’ve taken the shot. I choose the weather conditions that would enhance the subject to its fullest extent, then after several test shots at various angles in different weather at different times of the day, with a digital camera, the final decisions are made. These include, which camera to use along with lens selection, Filter selection, and film.
Camera selection is based on weather, available light, composition, desired effect and final output size of the print. At this point the camera is just a box or a foundation on which to build. Wooden large format cameras are just that, large and unwieldy monsters that take considerable time to set up. They are completely mechanical, No light meter, batteries, or automatic focus. The image is projected through the lens onto a piece of fresnell glass, which is the same size as the film at the back of the camera. The image appears on the glass both upside down and backwards which really makes you think before you shoot. Light readings are taken with a hand held meter calculating ambient light and filter factors for a proper exposure. Film is loaded into the camera one piece at a time. Because of the considerable cost of film test shots are often taken with smaller Polaroid’s to ensure that the exposure is correct.
Medium format cameras are quite similar to the old 35mm cameras but twice the size. The biggest advantage is that the film size is two and one half times the size of 35mm film that allows for a much larger final print. They are also rather stable on a tripod in foul weather.
All of the lenses that I use, and there are several, are of top quality and range in focal length from 18mm to 1,200 mm. Inexpensive lenses compromise quality and render an inferior product. Lens selection is also important, as you want to limit the amount of cropping later on in the process.
Film is as important to me as lens selection. I prefer the slowest film that I can get away with. Slow film (50 to 100 ISO) Produces a much finer print, less grainy, but also increases exposure time. Depending on light conditions exposure times vary from ten seconds to ten minutes. Inclement weather requires a much faster exposure time, therefore a much faster film. Combined with smaller film size and higher ISO, or faster film, these images tend not to be as large.
After the film comes back from the developer it is then run through a fluid film scanner. As film has a tendency to curl or not lie flat, the result on a conventional flatbed scanner would be a scan that was not entirely in focus because scanners read information on one level plane. Fluid scanners assure that the film is perfectly flat, and on one plane, resulting in a perfect scan. These scans are done at a very high resolution, often rendering a file size of between 3.5 and 5 gigabytes. This large file allows for printing at a much larger size. A single 8 x 10 piece of film can be printed out to ten feet without loss of detail.
After the film is scanned it then becomes a file that is imported into Adobe Photoshop where some would believe “this is where the magic begins” On the contrary! The magic came from everything discussed in the first six paragraphs. I rely on just the right light, equipment and film to capture all of my images. These become indispensable elements when you’re colorblind as I am. All that remains in the end is sizing the image, cropping, and a few minor contrast and exposure adjustments before printing.