The Modern Camera and the Dilution of Effort

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Allen Friday

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The right tool for the job

I believe in choosing the right tool for the job. I would not use a sledge hammer to pound in a penny nail, nor would I use a ball peen hammer to drive a rail spike. I think the same applies to choosing cameras.

I have access to cameras from 35 mm to 20x24. I choose which to use based on the desired print. I would not shoot a 20x24 to capture my son's soccer game, nor would I use a 35 mm to create a 20x24 platinum landscape. They are different tools, which have different primary purposes.

The last few years I have worked primarily with 5x7 and 12x20, 16x20 and 20x 24. The last time I photographed an action scene, my son's marching band in a parade, I felt out of my element. I photographed the parade for the school. The band instructor loved the pictures and even asked if I do photography as a professional. She did not, and could not, see the photographs I missed because I was not as fluent with the equipment as an action photographer would be. The instructor was happy, but I was not because I knew how much better the pictures could have been.

The photographers for Sports Illustrated have all switched to digital "do everything" cameras. They use autofocus, vibration reduction lenses, etc. Does this make them bad photographers? No. They are using the right tools for their job. And they know how to get the most out of them.

Jackson used a 20x24 inch camera. That was the best tool to produce the prints he needed--big prints to show congress. He could have used a half plate camera and made contact prints similar to those from a modern 4x5, but he did not. Jackson knew his equipment, used it efficiently and productively.

I think that is a key, know your equipment, how to use it to the best effect, and know its limitations. Few photographers have access to a 20x24. But many on this forum have 4x5. I know that the result from a 4x5 enlargement will not be the same as a contact print from a 20x24, but that does not mean that the final image made from the smaller camera will not be more satisfying to a viewer. I personally rarely enlarge a 35 mm negative over 5x7. But, I have seen some beautiful enlargements bigger than that from 35mm. I choose to use the 35mm camera one way, another photographer chooses to use it differently. Who is right on how they use the camera?

I do think there is a great benefit to learning to use a manual camera, or a "do everything" camera set to manual. Once manual operation is learned, the photographer can then add in the automatic features that help get the image the photographer wants. The decision on what to automate is made from knowledge, instead of using the automatic functions because one is ignorant on how to otherwise get the photograph.

I suppose my last few paragraphs point to the issue: how do we define "photographer." The English seem to divide camera owners into snappers and photographers. The "auto everything" cameras make it possible for snappers to get acceptable photographs. But that has been true for 30+ years--remember the Kodak 110? But, once again, the snappers are using the rigth tool for the job. They want snaps to put on the refrigerator or in a scrap book etc. Do they need a 4x5 view camera to do that?

The "do everything" camera is great for the great majority of picture takers--it allows them to get the results they want, i.e. snaps of the family around the holiday table. Some of the snappers will take a greater interest in photography and will spend the time to learn its craft. A few of those will decide they want to make art using their camera. Some art photographers will use 20x24 to make platinum prints. Some art photographers will use a 35mm camera to shoot color transparencies. Who is the better artist? I think it will come down to who uses their tools the most effectively to create the result they want.
 

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William Levitt said:
For years I shot fashion and it was not uncommon to shoot 2-120 rolls per shot and then say, "atleast one good one has got to be in there..." and then move on.
Because if you don't get the shot, the model will have moved on...back to the "parades and fires" analogy. Landscapes don't move very quickly - though lighting does change.
We'll try the other kind of shooting analogy (as I'm in the Marines) - I've shot long rifle at 500 yards; you can spend forever getting a good position with a tight sling, resin the stock, sand your fingertip down, then, while carefully controlling your breathing and moving your eye from the target to the front sight, devote a good 30 seconds slowly pulling the trigger. Nice shot. Different story in a 7 yard quick draw pistol encounter. Is one "better than the other?" No. Depends on what you're doing; I always carry a pistol AND a small P&S camera; but if I want to do some deliberate shooting, well, that's what LF or long lenses (and rifles with giant scopes) are for.
 

df cardwell

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Great points !

AND it's helpful in all cases to know what you're shooting: to be able to see your target.

( I kept an air pistol in my studio, practiced every day. Never got 'good' by air pistol standards, but it did wonders for my Leica work. )
 

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Bruce I am very much in agreement with your views. As a child, my first generation American parents of Geman ancestory were always admonishing me "If something is worth doing it is worth doing well". Well although I use 35mm I am so tedious in my photography, particularly camera placement on a tripod more suitable for 8x10 use that I wonder if I have not corrrupted that advice to "If you are going to do something you may as well make a big production out of it".

At they were least it has saved me money on film.
 

Dan Fromm

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Ah, come on Claire, loosen up. If it is worth doing at all it is worth doing badly.
 
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First off, thank you to Bruce Wilson for starting a well thought out posting. Lots of excellent comments here. The implied message I see in this is to slow down and think before releasing the shutter. This to me has less to do with equipment or format choices, and more to do with approaches to a scene or subject. Not everyone is doing photography to create a compelling or artistic image, some just want a method of recording history, or sharing personal moments with others. Another just as valid use of photography is to convey an idea or concept for commercial purposes, things few would ever call artistic.

My background is fine art, specifically oil painting. I could just as easily go to a location and draw it, as I could take a camera and photograph it. My paintings have all been done in studio, working from either drawing, rough sketches, or sometimes from photographs. While I paint in colour, my drawing and any photographs I use to create those painting are always black and white; the reason is that my interpretation of an idea, concept, scene or subject comes from my mind. This is an approach to imaging that I carry over to my photography.

If we looked back at art history, we can see that some painters of the late 1800s felt that photography freed them from the need to be realistic in their works. They could be expressive, showing in any manner they felt proper to convey their ideas, sometimes successfully, though often criticized. Early photography was largely about realism, or sometimes simply recording history. Only much later in the history of photography did more representational, or even abstract, works become more common. The history and realism still survive in photography today, though is less common in painting.

When I consider the best of skills that help me in my photography, I find that my drawing ability has helped me the most. Partially that could be just the fact that I need to slow down to draw a scene, though a big part of it is just the compositional skills. Maybe that influences my choices in camera gear, since the only autofocus camera I own is an SX70, and the only autoexposure I use is aperture priority (rarely), and I don't currently own anything with a motordrive, nor even so much as a zoom lens. My overwhelming preference is for manual cameras, but I cannot state that is the best choice for others.

I can sketch roughs, quick little drawings of ideas; then I can later use a larger sheet to make a more detailed drawing. I don't approach photography that way, using 35mm as roughs, then moving upwards to medium format or large format. What I sometimes do is sketch something, then photograph it; which is an approach that I often feel comfortable using in my commercial work.

Someone else mentioned Henri Cartier-Bresson. One comment of his that I recall was that he thought and saw as a camera, even when he did not have a camera with him. He was also formally trained as a conventional artist, and I do find some of his drawing to be as interesting as his photos. He also seemed to want to distant himself from calling his photography art. When I have any of my cameras with me, I try to use them with the idea of seeing like a camera. When I am without a camera, I still try to think in that manner. Lately I have been carrying around a viewer that is close to the same view as one of my 4x5 lenses, I can look at a scene through that, and think about how I would photograph it; then I could go back later and approach it that way, or try something different.

Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts on this. There is no one answer to approach, just as there is no one camera. Each of us will find different ways to achieve what we want to express in our images.

Ciao!

Gordon
 

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Something that wasn't really stated here is the concept of "forced".

Also the concept of the perfect tool.

Someone mentioned the fact that they could take a 35mm shot of a scene then come back and take the "real" picture with large format. This to me is more about using the "perfect" tool. Bigger negative, camera movements etc will certainly produce a better end product than the 35mm but that does not necessarily negate the 35mm shot as a great shot.

To the subject of "forced".

In our fast paced world we sometimes need to be forced to slow down. Large format does that and we really can't get around it. It's like driving across country in a Ferrari compared to a slow old truck. In the Ferrari you'll fly. Why, because you can. You could drive at 50MPH but probably you would not. In the old truck you are "forced" to go slow and the benefit is that you are able to see far more of the scenery around you.

In short, the discipline is forced on you.

As someone stated previously, you could be just as deliberate with a 35mm when taking the shot. BUT you probably won't. So I think that is more the reason than anything that large format is more contemplative, but does that alway translate into better pictures?

So what the hell is my point.

I don't remember because while I was typing this I had to changing the ribbon on my typewriter, my mind wandered and I forgot.



MIchael
 

reub2000

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When doing macro work, the majority of your shots are out of focus. Taking as many pictures as possible means that you have a higher chance of getting one that is in focus.
 
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Most British pros of my generation were regaled at some time during their training with the story of the photographer working for Fox Photos who "covered" the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (in 1953) with 2 half-plates. His role was to be at a high vantage point with a 1/2-plate reflex and a 40" lens and photograph the Queen's coach as it passed down the Mall in London. Being highly dextrous, he managed to turn the plate holder over and get off a second shot before the moment passed - the picture was used (as planned) as the full front page of a broadsheet newspaper. A great example of when to use lots of planning and little film - of course, this photographer was one of a large team, most of whom were working at ground level and shooting lots of 35 mm and 120.

It has been my experience that mindlessly burning film of any format does not work, particularly not with LF, where success depends on a lot of manual adjustments which do not mysteriously make themselves even if you shoot 20 sheets of film of the same subject. On the other hand, shooting a lot of frames often has a justification - for example, if you are working as a pressman in the usual scrimmage (which I fortunately seldom do these days), you may well have to hold your camera above your head to get a clear shot - auto focus, auto exposure, motor drive and TTL flash very useful in this situation.

Similarly, as expectations of sports photographers have increased over the years (pictures of football games taken with standard lenses showing 4 players full length filling no more than 1/3 of the frame height are not popular with editors these days), auto focus used in trap focus mode is very good for increasing hit rates with lenses of 400 mm and more on 35 mm (and also for the macro photography of nature subjects out of doors mentioned by another poster).
 

David A. Goldfarb

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reub2000 said:
When doing macro work, the majority of your shots are out of focus. Taking as many pictures as possible means that you have a higher chance of getting one that is in focus.

This is true of bird photography particularly, which is macro photography of an uncontrollable moving subject at a distance. It is still true that great bird photos are "made" as Bruce said in his essay--you have to know where the birds are, orient yourself so the light is in your favor, get as close as you can without disturbing the subject, use a big lens and a big tripod and slow film with the best possible long lens technique, and wait around usually for a long time--but still there are many factors that are beyond the photographer's control--wind, subject movement, a certain degree of camera shake. Burning film increases the probability of overcoming those random factors, when you're doing everything else right.

I still do it with film, manual focus, and TTL spot metering, and I shoot about 6-8 rolls on a good day of bird photography, which is relatively conservative. I only shoot at 5 fps, if I'm trying to do a flight sequence. When most bird photographers shot film, 10-15 rolls was probably more the norm, and digital has probably pushed the exposure count up a bit.

I usually discard about half of my bird slides right out of the box for technical reasons--not sharp enough, bird's head moved and lost the catchlight, not close enough and there's a closer one a few frames later--and that's just the first edit, before I think about things like "I've got a better one of that bird from three years ago."
 

Claire Senft

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Mr McBlane. why is having a bigger negative an assurance that the end product..the photograph..will be better?

Case in point: I do not own any zoom lenses but lets us assume that I did. Further let us assume rhat I have within my cameras bag 4 zoom lenses that cover seamlessly a focal length range from 16mm thru 400mm as it applies to the 35mm format. Additionally I have in the camera bag a 1.4x and a 2x conveters. Again I am going to state the perspective..in the case present..meaning the spatial relationship between 2 object seperated in space by depth.... is what is most important in the photograph that I wish to create.. I would have the option to exercise great choice in how I wished to to portray the spatial relationship of those objects the is etremely hard to come by larger format...aAt least if one wishes to make good use out of the film area available on the larger negative.

Case in point: I wish and you wish to make a photograph of an subject that we both conclude will be best presented in a size of 4x5 inches. Adament are we both that as much of full negative be used as is possible. You have a 35mm camera and I have an 8x10. We make the print from the negatives. Are you certain my print would be superior to yours?

Case in point: We are both photography children at play for a project that will involve 100 prints from different negative. We have both have concluded the the job calls for a camera with 3 lenses by Zeiss.
Your choice is a Linhof Master Technika V with a 75mm Biogon, a 135mm Planar and a 250mm Sonnar. My choice is for a Contax RTSIII with a 21mm Distagon, a 45mm Tessar and a 85mm Planar. I am using a camera where one can more easily change lenses quickly but being fumbled fingered it is possible the nimble digits of McBlane can change lenses, cams and reset the infinity stops more adroitly and more quickly than can I. I have a 5 frame per second motor drive. You have a camera that can beat the pants off mine but requires very agile hands to photograph at 5 frames a second. I would be willing to bet a large amount of money, say a nickel Canadian, that in the ending project at least one of my negatives would be capable of making a print superior to yours. In the cases where your prints are superior they beat my pants off.

I do so love to argue.
 

Claire Senft

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My photography has long been insufferable but I am unaware of any purification of my soul. Unfortunately, bad was my soul's state before first I touched a camera. Hard may it be to believe that it has not improved with age much less going in reverse.

This is not meant to dispute Mr Hick's remarks.
 

blansky

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Claire Senft said:
Mr McBlane. why is having a bigger negative an assurance that the end product..the photograph..will be better?

Case in point: I do not own any zoom lenses but lets us assume that I did. Further let us assume rhat I have within my cameras bag 4 zoom lenses that cover seamlessly a focal length range from 16mm thru 400mm as it applies to the 35mm format. Additionally I have in the camera bag a 1.4x and a 2x conveters. Again I am going to state the perspective..in the case present..meaning the spatial relationship between 2 object seperated in space by depth.... is what is most important in the photograph that I wish to create.. I would have the option to exercise great choice in how I wished to to portray the spatial relationship of those objects the is etremely hard to come by larger format...aAt least if one wishes to make good use out of the film area available on the larger negative.

Case in point: I wish and you wish to make a photograph of an subject that we both conclude will be best presented in a size of 4x5 inches. Adament are we both that as much of full negative be used as is possible. You have a 35mm camera and I have an 8x10. We make the print from the negatives. Are you certain my print would be superior to yours?

Case in point: We are both photography children at play for a project that will involve 100 prints from different negative. We have both have concluded the the job calls for a camera with 3 lenses by Zeiss.
Your choice is a Linhof Master Technika V with a 75mm Biogon, a 135mm Planar and a 250mm Sonnar. My choice is for a Contax RTSIII with a 21mm Distagon, a 45mm Tessar and a 85mm Planar. I am using a camera where one can more easily change lenses quickly but being fumbled fingered it is possible the nimble digits of McBlane can change lenses, cams and reset the infinity stops more adroitly and more quickly than can I. I have a 5 frame per second motor drive. You have a camera that can beat the pants off mine but requires very agile hands to photograph at 5 frames a second. I would be willing to bet a large amount of money, say a nickel Canadian, that in the ending project at least one of my negatives would be capable of making a print superior to yours. In the cases where your prints are superior they beat my pants off.

I do so love to argue.

I had a hard time plowing through all this, but my point about the perfect tool was in reference to what someone said about doing lots of shooting with different formats and happening upon a scene that he may or may not shoot with his 35mm, but that if it was a great scene he would come back with his LF.

All things being equal, the larger neg would almost always be preferable, even if only enlarging to 8x10. Probably because you could one day if you wish, enlarge to a very large print. The large neg gives you more options.

As for your children at play, obviously LF may not be the perfect tool.


MIchael
 

Jim Chinn

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Specific tools or cameras for specific subjects. Eugene Smith, Winnogard or Frank could never have produced the work they did without the use of a small unobtrusive rangefinder.

One intersting thing is I remember about reading an interview with John Szarkowski (sp?) about Gary Winnogard's work is how Winnogard's contact sheets would usually have 23 misses and one hit or keeper. I don't think that is a dillution of any effort, just how a street shooter works. I read an interview once about one of the great street shooters (IIRC either Frank or Friedlander) discussing technique and how their was a "sweet spot" in a roll of film where it just seemed that the first few frames were sort of like warming up and the best images were always on the second half of every roll.

With myself when I shoot LF I find that the first image is usually the best and that I end up wasting film with another angle or lens.

Tehcnology definitely makes the effort to get to a final print much simpler and in many cases easier. But even a simple dgital P&S will produce outstanding art in the hands of a master.
 

Claire Senft

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Well Mr. Mcblane we are esserntially in agreement except the part about the very large print. The rendition of the scene provided by the larger negative photographed so that it produced a much larger image upon the negative certainly should have and may well actually have better clarity and should almost certainly have better gradation. However, If I were to be using my Dust S45 and a 35mm negative with an appropriate lens then I would without a douibt be able to project an image from which one could make a very large print..the enlarger allows tilting the head by 90º. The baseboard itself can hold an easel to use 30X40 paper.

I tend to highly appreciate the capabilities of larger formats than 35mm. I have just decided to use a different set of tools. Actually, in some cases the 35mm camera and lens could result in more effort being used.
 

blansky

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Claire Senft said:
I have just decided to use a different set of tools. Actually, in some cases the 35mm camera and lens could result in more effort being used.

The fact that you've decided to use whatever tools that you want is all fine, but the "perfect" tool is what was discussed. I could use a hand saw to build a house and it would work just fine, but a "power saw" would probably be the "perfect" tool.

The fact that you work very hard with a 35mm still does not make it the perfect tool to end up with 30x40 even though you put a great deal of effort into it.

The "perfect tool" would probably best be described as the one that allowed you to work the "smartest" not the hardest.




MIchael
 

Michel Hardy-Vallée

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Jim Chinn said:
One intersting thing is I remember about reading an interview with John Szarkowski (sp?) about Gary Winnogard's work is how Winnogard's contact sheets would usually have 23 misses and one hit or keeper. I don't think that is a dillution of any effort, just how a street shooter works.


Funny you should mention that, because in the May issue of Art in America there is an interview with Szarkowski, and apropos Winogrand he says: "Winogrand certainly did expose a great deal of film, and until his very last years he had an astonishing percentage of successes even by his own high standards. The proof sheet containing the famous picture of the crippled beggar at the American Legion Convetion includes three or four other pictures--never printed by Winogrand--that most photographers would count among their prizes."

We may never know whether great photographers are just great editors or intrinsically gifted. We only know that they published great photos, regardless of what it took them to get there.
 

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Claire Senft said:
May I opine that the perfect tool is but a compromise?
Life is full of compromises.

One could argue that 2 1/4 is a "compromise" tool entirely.

But the argument was about the perfect tool for the job. And granted perfection is rarely attained, but then we still must try to get as close as possible to the perfect tool or else our compromises will reach such a level as to make them useless.

Large format at a fast moving sporting event, or a scenic 35mm-30x40 print sitting beside a 8x10-30x40 print.


Michael
 

Claire Senft

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Would it be fair to say that the perfect tool is largely difined by the desires of the end user's goal.

Say that you had an older person, me. Say that while he was still employed he realized that while he could at that time afford a good sized expenditure in equipment but that he realized in the near future he would become, as has now happened, retired and be able to spend less on his photography. This person has thought carefully about what he wants as an end result..6 1/2x9 3/4 inch prints on 11x14 mat board. Some prints being trimmed to a different aspect ratio due to the way he interepreted the subject at the photo's taking.

Would you conclude that he should have chosen 8x10 over 35mm?
 

blansky

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Claire Senft said:
Would it be fair to say that the perfect tool is largely difined by the desires of the end user's goal.
I would suggest that in almost all cases this is the definition. And in your scenario I would suggest that 8x10 is overkill. Perhaps even 4x5 is overkill unless movements are needed.

If that scenario were my choice, I would use 2 1/4. On the other hand if financial constraints, physical constraints, etc were the order of the day, the "perfect tool" would then be the "tool" that he has.

But, in my opinion, given the choice, 35mm would, and almost never is the choice. (sporting events, trekking up Mt Everest etc being the exception)


Michael
 

Claire Senft

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Underwater photography with a variety of focal lengths? Copy stand work? Scanning macro photography. Slides taken for audio-visual work? Court room reportage? Available light photography?
 

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Claire Senft said:
Underwater photography with a variety of focal lengths? Copy stand work? Scanning macro photography. Slides taken for audio-visual work? Court room reportage? Available light photography?

I never do that stuff, so it does not apply to me.

Available light in 6x6 works just fine.

I did say "in my opinion". But if 35mm works for you, then its your perfect tool.



Michael
 

Claire Senft

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Well we have both found our own best choice. Even though the choices are different I somehow feel this is a memorial day..or is it a Memorial Day?

Mr McBlane appreciated is your taking the time to amuse an old man. Thank you Michael.
 
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