I start my History of Photography classes by building a camera obscura room. The windows of the room are blacked out and through a single small hole in the window covering an image is projected onto the opposite wall, it is reversed and upside down. For me this is the camera at its most fundamental level and it is quite amazing to witness. When a car or bus goes by and is projected onto the back wall the room erupts in gasps, my students are amazed at this phenomena.
The same is true when I show my students the large wooden Deardorff 8x10 view cameras, they are always amazed that they still work and produce photographs. For many of my students the cameras, most likely produced after the 1950s, appear to be from the dawn of photography. The size of the camera is also astounding to most and as one student put it “almost magical” when the world is projected on the ground glass at the back of the camera, reversed and upside down. Encouraged to try different photographic process by my MA tutor and curious to see what kind of reaction and interaction I would get if I used the 8x10 camera, I decided to go out and photograph random people on the street. Would the sense of amazement elicited by my students be duplicated by people in the street and how would this effect the photographic process.
After setting up the camera on the street I quickly realized that it would elicit that sense of amazement; people did a double take and stopped to ask questions, wanted to see the projected image, know the camera’s age and what I was doing. For most people I engaged with the camera was a little surreal to see in use, and this hook did make it easy to get people to pose for a portrait. Another thing I noticed was that the rather rigid and laborious process of taking a photograph, with an 8x10 view camera, created a more intimate interaction with the subject. My initial assumption was to rush the picture taking process so as not to bore or loose the interest of the subjects, however, slowing down and explaining the process while doing it increased the engagement. The subjects continued to be very curious about the process, the film itself, and the project. The more care and thoroughness I displayed equaled an increase in reverence for the process and the experience by the subject. It also gave me and the subject more time to talk which was very enjoyable.
To get a sense of the exposure process with an 8x10 view camera here are my steps, I firmly hold true to the carpentry adage, measure twice and cut once to get a desired result.
- Pre-focus on marked spot in frame before subject is there.
- Take a meter reading.
- Measure bellows to account for any exposure compensation.
- If compensation is needed perform calculation and adjust exposure.
- Take notes of exposure and any compensation.
- Ask subject(s) to stand in marked spot and not to move to much.
- Open up the lens to focus.
- Under the dark cloth re-focus.
- Quickly re-measure bellows to see if any further exposure compensation is needed after focusing.
- Close down the lens.
- Set exposure.
- Insert the film.
- Adjust exposure if needed.
- Pull film slide.
- Click shutter to expose.
- Re-insert film slide, black side out.
- Tape down film holder top, label and put inside camera bag.
The 8x10 view camera is a very interesting photographic tool it definitely has a certain presence, the process of taking an image with it slows you down and elicits a unique interaction with a subject. The large negative produces a lot of detail and has an amazing exposure latitude. The drawbacks are it is a slower process to meter and confirm exposure, you need a lot of light because the depth of field even at high apertures is very shallow, and the cost of film and processing, while not excessive is still something to consider. The cost of one photograph including film processing is $9.80 CAD. This does not include scanning or printing the negative, scanning from a lab can cost $5 CAD for a flatbed scan and $40 CAD for a higher resolution drum scan. The technical drawbacks are easy to work around by pre-scouting locations and using lighting and/or reflectors and to confirm exposure and depth of field is a lot easier to do now using an iPhone app, PhotoBuddy.
For me the drawbacks are interesting challenges and with a little pre-planning and research are easily overcome, which then makes taking photographs with an 8x10 quite enjoyable, it also reaffirmed many things about the craft of photography for me. First, that no matter what tool a photographer uses the act of photography is really about a relationship between the photographer and the subject. Second, whether it is a landscape, product or a person a photographer should actively engage with and/or understand something about the subject. Lastly, slow down and get the portrait subject to participate in the process, this gives ownership to the subject and gets them more excited about the photographic process. This excitement and reverence for photography is something I think can get lost in this age of digital photography and Instagram.
Thanks to all those who stopped for a portrait, there is more to come.
Figure 3: Camera setup and focused to the maximum distance based on the 360mm lens, without need for exposure compensation. 360mm lens is about the equivalent of a 50mm lens on a full frame DSLR. The large reflective building to the left of the camera fills in some light, lightening the area.
Figure 4: I like photographing with a background that has a lot of linear perspective. It focuses the viewer’s attention attention on the subject if placed at the vanishing point and I like that it enhances the shallow depth of field.
Figure 5: Traveling with a rolling bag helps as the gear is very large and heavy, and a lot of accessories are needed to make the photography go smoothly i.e. a clamps, dark cloth, meter, tape, measuring tape, etc..
Machinski, J. (2018) Mr. Ulrich. June 2018. Unpublished.
Machinski, J. (2018) Marie-Éve & Ian. June 2018. Unpublished.
Machinski, J. (2018) Camera Setup. June 2018. Unpublished.
Machinski, J. (2018) Perspective. June 2018. Unpublished.
Machinski, J. (2018) Gear. June 2018. Unpublished.