PROCESS AND MATERIALS
I use a Linhof Kardan Color 4”x 5” large-format, monorail view camera with a 150mm Caltar lens. This West German made camera was produced from 1964 to 1975. The camera is referred to as a 4”x 5” because it requires film that size, as opposed to a much smaller size film for a 35mm camera. Stated differently, a 4”x 5” camera produces a negative more than 13 times larger than a 35mm camera negative. With this significantly larger negative, the common measures of photographic excellence - sharpness, resolution, tonality, and contrast (which is the relationship of all tones between whites and blacks) improve dramatically. Improved print quality is one significant advantage of using a large-format monorail view camera.
The camera is referred to as a monorail for the supporting shaft or rail at its base. This rail provides the means to support the camera, which includes two standards that fulfill different functions. The lens (or front) standard holds the lensboard mounted with the lens and shutter. The film (or back) standard contains the camera’s spring back to accommodate a film holder, and the ground-glass to determine focus. Both standards can move in a variety of ways and independently of each other. They can rise, tilt, shift, and swing, providing a degree of image control only available with a monorail camera. The rail also supports the bellows, which is the accordion-like tube of material held in place between the front and back standards. It serves to keep the enclosed space lighttight without restricting the movement of the standards for image control or focus.
Because of its design and standard movements, a large-format monorail view camera produces architectural photographs superior to those made by smaller format cameras. These movements affect depth of field and distortion. Depth of field is the distance between the near and far limits of what is seen in an image that is in focus. Using a large-format monorail view camera expands depth of field. By expanding depth of field, a large-format monorail view camera produces an image with sharper focus in both the background and foreground. This larger focused image area rewards the viewer with a more compelling photograph.
Distortion is the lack of proportionality in an image. An example of distortion is vertical convergence, otherwise known as the keystone effect. This distortion appears in a photograph of a tall building as the narrowing at the top of a building’s vertical lines. Adjusting the view camera’s movements by tilting the camera back standard to where it is parallel to the building’s vertical lines corrects this distortion, resulting in a more accurately rendered skyscraper.
My camera’s size and heavy weight necessitates a very sturdy tripod. A tripod is a three-legged stand, typically made of aluminum, adjustable in height, and provided with a tilting and swiveling head on which a camera can be fastened for support and stability during use. I use an Italian-made Bogen tripod which weighs about 40 pounds.
Every film has a speed rating known as its ISO, which indicates its characteristics. The range of 4”x 5” film speeds is from 25 to 400 ISO. Films with faster speeds (and higher ISO numbers) are more grainy, more sensitive to light, less sharp, less contrasty, better suited for indoor or poor lighting conditions, and for capturing fast action. Films with slower speeds (and lower ISO numbers) are less grainy, less sensitive to light, more sharp, more contrasty, and better suited for outdoor photography. For my film, I use Ilford Delta 100, a slow film with a 100 ISO.
I rely upon two sources to generate ideas for photographing architecture. The most valuable and abundant source comes from the simple act of observing or what I call scouting. I make these observations when I’m in a car (although I definitely prefer to be the passenger rather than the driver), when I’m walking, and when I’m riding my bike. Relying on my observations for inspiration has benefited me with a heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings, which I greatly value. When I observe something of interest, I record the location, building or buildings, light conditions, and compositional possibilities in a log I carry with me.
The second source of ideas is reading material. I find architectural guidebooks are particularly worthwhile. Other types of rewarding material include books and newspaper or magazine articles about an architect, a school of architects, a building, an architectural style, or an individual city’s architecture. I also profit from books on architectural criticism. I will include in the log I previously mentioned any ideas I acquire from my reading.
Frequently, I already have an idea of how I would like to compose the image based upon my original observation or reading. If not, I return to the location to further observe and refine the idea I have for a possible composition.
Another purpose of returning to the location is to more closely observe the lighting, as I only photograph architecture when particular lighting conditions exist.
First is the condition of the sky. I photograph only when the sky is mostly sunny. A sunny sky offers me rich opportunities to create interesting effects that advance my objective to artfully capture architecture. It generates the bright and intense light I need to produce the shadow effects I want. A brilliant, cloudless sky also generates a striking dark background that allows me to dramatically frame the architectural subject. And finally, a clear sky enables me to produce a stunning image by using it as an integral compositional element that accentuates a building’s shape or contour.
Another critical lighting consideration for me is the time of day. I only shoot at approximately ten in the morning and two in the afternoon. At those times, the sun’s position generates lighting conditions ideally suited for me to capture in an engaging way, the play of light and shadow on a building’s surface. The sun’s position at other times of the day creates unfavorable lighting conditions that undermine my aesthetic vision to record architecture in an engrossing way. At earlier than ten or later than two, the sun’s position produces so many shadows that few if any light areas remain on a building’s surface. And closer to noon when the sun is at its highest position, it casts so much light that few if any shadow areas remain.
Additionally the final lighting preference for me is the time of year I shoot. I typically avoid photographing in summer wherever the climate resembles St. Louis’. Frequently during summer in cities like St. Louis, there is much haze and humidity in the air that adversely affects the quality of light. Instead of sharp, clear light, summer in St. Louis-type climates produces diffused, muted light that for purposes of photographing architecture, create less flattering, less captivating images.
And finally, if the building that I want to shoot faces north, there is never light directed at the structure. That means that there are no shadow or highlight effects, which renders the image very flat. So unfortunately, I can't photograph those buildings to meet my lighting standards to produce an evocative image.
Focusing the Camera
I focus the camera from the back or film standard ground glass. I cover my head and upper body, along with most of my camera, with a focusing cloth made of black fabric. This cloth (and its color) reduces the light that can impair my ability to focus the camera. Looking through the ground glass, the image will appear upside-down. All lenses, including those used on a large-format camera, invert the image they form. But certain cameras, such as a reflex, are designed to correct this effect and reinvert the image. To help me achieve the sharpest focus, I use a Hoodman Hoodloupe, which is a magnifier that enlarges the area on the film standard ground glass that it is placed on. I begin by placing the loupe on the ground glass and turning the focus knob to move the back standard along the rail until the image is in focus. I then do fine focusing by turning the knob slightly back and forth past the point I think is the best focus. Each time I turn the knob, I’m turning it less and less until I determine the exact position for sharp focus.
Exposing the Film
To expose film, two settings on the camera require adjusting. The first setting is the f-stop. The f-stop refers to the size of the opening or aperture of the lens, which determines how much light is exposed on the film. The f-stop setting also affects depth of field, which as previously mentioned, is the distance between the near and far limits of what is seen in an image that is in focus. The second setting is the shutter speed. The shutter speed refers to the length of time the lens shutter is opened, which determines how long light is exposed on the film. The shutter speed also affects ones ability to stop action or create the effect of motion.
When shooting with a monorail view camera, the correct exposure for an image is most easily determined by using a reflected hand-held light meter to measure light intensity. A reflected light meter is used by pointing it at the subject from the camera position to measure the light reflected from the subject. I utilize a Minolta Auto Meter IV F light meter. In order to use it as a reflected light meter, a viewfinder attachment is necessary. This invaluable accessory (mine is a Minolta five degree viewfinder) can precisely measure all of the different light intensities contained within the same image. With these various light measurements, I am able to correctly determine the exposure.
There are four steps involved in determining the correct film exposure. The first step is pointing the light meter at the brightest area of the image that I want detail in and taking a meter reading. The second step is pointing the light meter at the darkest area of the image that I want detail in and taking a meter reading. For each of these areas, the meter produces an accurate f-stop and shutter speed setting. The third step is averaging those two readings for the correct exposure. A correct exposure generates an image with a wide tonal range that contains detail in both the dark or shadow areas and the light or highlight areas. The fourth and final step is adjusting the f-stop setting of the averaged exposure reading to insure proper depth of field in the image. When I want more depth of field, I adjust the f-stop setting to decrease the lens opening, which produces sharper focus in both the background and foreground of the image. When I want less or no depth of field, I adjust the f-stop setting to increase the lens opening, which produces sharper focus only in the foreground of the image. My meter, upon making the f-stop adjustment, will adjust the shutter speed correspondingly to produce the correct exposure.
Composing the Image
Once the film has been exposed and developed, I create a contact print. A contact print is made by placing the film directly on a piece of photographic paper and using a diffused light enlarger with a 150mm lens to produce a 4"x5" photograph. I use silver gelatin printing (which will be described in more detail below) to create a contact print.
A contact print allows me to experiment with and determine the image's cropping. The crop of an image refers to what part of the negative, or how much of it is printed in order to achieve the desired composition. It is one of the most exciting and fulfilling components of my creative process. Many photographers believe for artistic integrity and aesthetic reasons that a negative should never be cropped, but printed full, or in its entirety. I disagree. For me, it is almost always necessary to crop my negative to realize my creative goal of imaginatively recording architecture.
To assist me with cropping, I utilize a cropper, which is a simple tool made out of two pieces of cardboard with a rectangular opening cut out of the center. The opening's dimensions can be increased by pulling apart each piece of cardboard or decreased by pushing in each piece of cardboard. By putting the cropper on top of the contact print and adjusting its opening and placement, I am able to visualize all kinds of compositional possibilities that I consider in making the most provocative photograph I can. Once I have determined the composition using the contact print, I reference it as a guide when printing a negative.
Silver Gelatin Printing
I print my images utilizing the silver gelatin process, a technique developed in the 1870’s, which had become the most popular means of making black and white prints from negatives until the introduction of digital photography. This chemical process involves paper coated with a layer of gelatin which contains light sensitive silver halide crystals (salts). There are three steps involved in printing my black and white photographs. The first step is projecting and enlarging the negative onto the silver-gelatin coated photographic paper. I use a diffused light enlarger with a 150mm lens. A diffused enlarger (unlike a condenser enlarger) prints images with softer contrast and less graininess. I use printing filters to control image contrast.
The second step involves dodging or burning a print. If my first attempt to print the image produces dark or light areas that lack detail and tone, I will print the image again. For the second printing, I will dodge or burn those areas to improve their detail and tone. Dodging involves blocking some of the light cast from the enlarger onto the print area that originally appeared too dark. This reduced amount of light on the dodged print renders the original dark area lighter in tone and more detailed than it would otherwise have been. Burning involves increasing some of the light cast from the enlarger onto the print area that originally appeared too light. This additional amount of light on the burned print renders the original light area darker in tone and more detailed than it would otherwise have been.
The third step is hand-processing the prints in trays of chemicals (which are described in the Materials section) and then extensively washing them to ensure their archival quality. Archival is a technical qualification regarding the life-span of a developed photograph. For fiber paper silver gelatin prints, the surface is estimated to remain unchanged for at least 100 years. I do not digitally alter my photographs. Although digital manipulation enables a photographer to modify, correct and embellish his images, I do not rely upon it.
Digital printing enables me to make much larger print sizes than the silver gelatin process allows. With digital printing, I am able to produce dramatic, striking, sharp prints up to 4 by 10 feet. I am also able to create unique effects with various papers and digital toning techniques. An example of the latter would be digitally rendering a sepia tone to the print.
The first step in producing digital versions of my photographs is to scan the negative. I have negatives scanned utilizing a virtual drum scanner, which contains a holder that the negative is inserted into. This holder bends the negative so that it can be rotated within the scanner while light is projected onto it. This process insures the highest-quality scan possible. The light passing through the negative is captured on a digital sensor (also referred to as a charge couple device (CCD). The CCD captures the light and translates it into a digital scan. Image resolution is controlled during the light capturing and translation process. Before digitally printing the scan, it is cropped to duplicate the original silver gelatin print composition. The final step before printing is matching the tonality and contrast of the scan to the original silver gelatin version.
Lightjet Print Lightjet printing produces a digitally rendered image using photographic chemistry and coated silver emulsion paper. Essentially the lightjet printer takes the place of an enlarger and instead of exposing light through a negative, the lightjet utilizes a digital scan. This process of converting a scan to a light exposure is the only actual digital part of the lightjet process. The lightjet printer projects a red, green, and blue laser light from the scan that exposes the paper pixel by pixel. A pixel refers to an individual picture element, and it’s the smallest element of a digital image. To produce black and white images using lightjet colored laser lights requires the color levels to be balanced and the duration of light be adjusted so that they form white light identical to the light that is created with a black and white enlarger. After the paper has been exposed in the lightjet printer, it is run through rollers in a transport processor through a developer tank, a bleach/fix tank, and a water wash. The paper is then air dried and comes out the other end as an exposed lightjet print.
Inkjet Print Inkjet printing produces a digitally rendered image by spraying a fine stream of one of two inks onto various papers or media. The two different inkjet inks are dye-based and pigment. Dye-based inks capture a wider color range or variation than pigment inks, but are much less archival thank pigment inks. Pigment inks are pure color and are significantly more archival than dye-based inks. Inkjet media include photo quality paper, canvas, and fine art cotton rag paper (of which the last two are significantly more archival). The digital photographic industry has designated the highest-quality digital prints as Giclee prints. Giclee is the French word meaning sprayed, and Giclee printing utilizes the most archival ink (pigment) and media (including fine art cotton rag paper or canvas). All of my inkjet prints are Giclees.
For both silver gelatin photographs and digital prints, I use archival mat board. For silver gelatin photos, I use a tacking iron to adhere archival mounting tissue to the photograph. I then mount the photograph to the mat board by using a dry mount machine with low heat.
Ilford Delta 100
Silver Gelatin Enlarger
Beseler Dicho 45S
Silver Gelatin Paper
Ilford fiber, double-weight, multi-grade glossy
Silver Gelatin Chemistry & Processing:
-develop print for 2 1/2 minutes in Ilford multi-grade developer
-use Kodak stop bath for 30 seconds
-fix the image for 2 minutes in Kodak Ektaflo
-use Heico Perma-Wash for 5 minutes
-final rinse for 20 minutes
Imacom Flextight 949
Océ Lightjet 430
Fuji Crystal archival paper
Lightjet Transport Processor
Roland HiFi V8
InteliCoat Arches cotton rag paper by Magic Fine Art