My Precious

4x5 Format: One Picture at A Time

Toyo 4x5 A2 by Toyo
Toyo 4x5
Ground glass reflection
150 mm lens
Looking Out
Old Tree and Falls
Otay Lakes Sunset

The 4x5 inch green box of Fuji Provia slide film contains ten unrecorded personal perspectives waiting to be shared with the world. In darkness, I load each precious sheet into individual film holders, feeling the film reference marks to ensure that the emulsion faces outward. The holder will be inserted into my Toyo A2 4x5 large format view camera on location in my garden, at a nearby lake or perhaps the Eastern Sierra Mountains.

Nearly a year has past since my friend Gary encouraged me to pursue large format photography. Gary brokered a deal to purchase a camera from another friend, Sam. Along with the Toyo, Sam included 150 mm, 210 mm and 300 mm lenses. It would take some training and practice to learn to use the new camera but I was enthusiastic to learn a new way of studying the world.

Held to the light, the details of a sharply focused 4x5 inch slide image capture my attention and even offer the possibility of crafting a mural-sized print. The view camera's tilt and shift movements enhance creativity.

But, there is another reason that I put my 35 mm camera on the shelf, bypassed the digital world and focused on the view camera. The view camera forces me to slow down, to dedicate each shoot to a single image, or possibly two, to tell a story in a special way. My 35 mm camera and zoom lenses provide the ability to move quickly and capture many perspectives of the landscape, maybe too many perspectives. The Toyo's workflow allows me to interject more thought into a single perspective, to try to tell a story in a special way.

I focus on the big picture, the quality of light and color on the land. I find landscape details during hikes and often return to favorite locations. I arrive with the Toyo and merely have a feeling about a spot, trying to prevent preconceptions from tainting my composition.

On location, I am ready to shoot. A composition is isolated, my tripod leveled, camera mounted and lens attached. I study the upside down inverted image on the ground glass and focus the bellows mounted lens. Tilts and shift are used to capture desired depth of field. Then I stop down the lens, set the shutter speed, close the shutter and insert the film holder. Finally, I open the sleeve of the film holder and release the shutter to capture the cool blue light of predawn. I capture the moment as I gaze upon a window-like portal in a rock formation along California's Big Sur coastline.

It is not this photographic process that is important for me. Actually it is not even the final image that drives me to photograph with the Toyo. The Toyo simply allows me to interact with the simple details of nature, to imagine and create in a personal and rewarding way by slowing down and enjoying the beauty before me.

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26 responses

  • Rachel Mckinnie

    Rachel Mckinnie gave props (10 Nov 2008):

    Great, fantastic, super beautiful fun story Chris!!!

  • Penny Nannini

    Penny Nannini   gave props (10 Nov 2008):

    my vote!

  • david ong

    david ong gave props (10 Nov 2008):

    BRAVO!! love the story, i think i gain something today, thks Chris. a Fav n a vote

  • Nelson Campbell

    Nelson Campbell (Deleted) gave props (11 Nov 2008):

    This is a beautifully written and thought provoking essay. You nail one of the main downfalls of digital - to see so much is to sometimes end up seeing nearly nothing at all...really enjoyed this Chris.

  • Ed Steinerts

    Ed Steinerts said (11 Nov 2008):

    Great story, I'm starting to miss shooting large format now. Every photographer should go through that experience, I'm glad you expressed that so well. There's a great satifaction in shooting 4x5 or 8x10, and tray processing the negative in total darkness. After that experience, it's easy become one with the imaging process, film or digital.

  • Jason Barnhart

    Jason Barnhart gave props (11 Nov 2008):

    Well done! You have really captured the feel of large format shooting.

  • Craig Fraizer

    Craig Fraizer gave props (14 Nov 2008):

    such an awesome, incredible essay! my vote

  • Siim Vahur

    Siim Vahur said (28 Nov 2008):

    Button says: "Yeah! It rocks!"

  • Lenni Gisser

    Lenni Gisser said (8 Feb 2009):

    I want to try this, too!

  • Richard Seah

    Richard Seah gave props (13 Jul 2009):

    beautiful images and great story - with a good moral behind it - yes we all can do with some slowing down and careful thought before simply shooting.

  • J. Harris Blacklist

    J. Harris Blacklist gave props (28 Jul 2009):

    Congrats! Hey it must be nice to slow down and really take in every detail before using the A2! Great Concentration and Super imagery as only you can do...

  • Paul Lavallee

    Paul Lavallee gave props (29 Jul 2009):

    what a camera! you create such stunning images with it!!!

  • adniloj

    adniloj gave props (30 Jul 2009):

    Incredible beauty and that wonderful Chris Whitney colour!!

  • Lynn H

    Lynn H (Deleted) gave props (2 Aug 2009):

    Very well done, Chris! Super photos as well!

  • Alexander Tkachev

    Alexander Tkachev gave props (6 Nov 2011):

    A good story and I understand author's feelings.My vote

  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield gave props (26 Aug 2012):

    I'm so glad you linked your most recent image to this story. Fascinating! Definitely voted!!

  • James Wiley

    James Wiley gave props (26 Aug 2012):

    Great story. Know exactly what you mean. Being a 35mm person all my life, I have always admired the patience of those working in the field with view cameras. Good for you!

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (3 Sep 2012):

    Congrats on getting the story of the week!

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (3 Sep 2012):

    congrats on story of the week - my vote!

  • Pedro Teixeira

    Pedro Teixeira gave props (3 Sep 2012):

    Wonderful work.Congrats!..My vote!

  • T ~

    T ~ said (4 Sep 2012):

    I'm about to embark on a similar learning experience using a large format Sinar.... and I can't wait.

    Well written and palpable story... kudos on stellar photos... and wishes for continued success!

  • Sarah Springer

    Sarah Springer (Deleted) gave props (5 Sep 2012):

    So very great to see and read...I used one in a photo class a fabulous experience

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (5 Sep 2012):

    congrats on story of the week - my vote!

  • Massimo Bardelli

    Massimo Bardelli   gave props (6 Sep 2012):

    Beautiful story great work!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (6 Sep 2012):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (6 Sep 2012):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

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