Working with a Medium Format Camera

Working with a Medium Format Camera

This is a brief post as a follow-up to my promise to myself  at the end of my previous one responding to my tutor’s feedback on Assignment 3 of P&P

My road towards medium format has been a slow one.  It began back in 2011 when I began studying with OCA and first went on Study Visits. I noticed that most of the images were large format prints and so clear in the detail.  I acquired a 35mm film camera but still had that yearning to try medium format. Towards the end of last year I succumbed and bought a Fuji GA645Zi with a 55-90mm zoom lens (35mm-55mm) (there’s a review here)  This camera came out in 1998; so it’s relatively modern, with autofocus and automatic wind-on, which is good for me as a nervous newcomer and means I haven’t created double exposures or even, yet, taken a photograph with the lens cap still on.  I do tend to circle cautiously around anything new and so only used one roll of film in several months with the camera in program mode.

However, as I wrote previously the visit to the Landscape Exhibition at Somerset House gave me some new inspiration/enthusiasm after looking at some of Simon Roberts’s landscape work . I know that this is large format but at least medium format is along the way towards this, and so I went off to the Common to make some more photographs. The film is Fuji Superia 400 120 and,  this time I used the camera on aperture priority, which is more adventurous.  Here are some of the results:

I took some A4 prints along to the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting a couple of days ago and got some positive feedback and encouragement to do a longer term project along the lines of ‘figures in a landscape’. Of course, I was asked, “Why film; why medium format?” It’s because of the soft clarity that medium format film can give.  I know that there are filters I can use in Photoshop, e.g. in Nik software, to achieve similar effects but they’re not quite the same as actual film.

I have another location in mind to visit and gradually want to put together a series.  I can’t envisage this being for P&P because of the time element but this will be a personal project to undertake alongside my coursework.  I recently emailed my tutor to update him on progress on my next assignment and he has suggested that I also have a look at  Peter Bialobrzeski . who was also shown at the Landscape Exhibition and I’d made a note of his series Heimat   which had examples in the Pastoral Section. Bialobrzeski uses an analogue “Box” camera for his large scale landscapes and focuses upon the way in which cities and landscapes are changing.

22nd April 2013


14 thoughts on “Working with a Medium Format Camera

  1. Like the concept of people in the landscape—and a good idea to develop it as a personal project. Also like the way the Thames Valley Group maker you justify, and therefore clarify in your own mind, decisions on format, film, etc!

  2. A worthwhile and interesting project and well worth following up. Have you looked at the work of Ian Beesley and Fay Godwin? If not, you may find more inspiration there – Beesley particularly.

  3. Have you noticed that of the five that contain people 3 frame those people between two largish trees? The other two with people in them, it could be argued, trees also provide a framing device. Think there could be something there to consider …..?

  4. I was immediately taken by the fact that there were so many people in these landscapes. The photographs work together well with the idea of people interacting with the woodland coming through strongly (as others have already noted). When we met at Somerset House I think I mentioned the portrait of a hermit by Alec Soth which is almost all woodland with a very little figure. The photograph is part of a larger body of work called ‘The Black Line of the Woods’. There is an interesting video which explains the background to the work and shows a few of the pictures here:

    As to why does one use film rather than digital for a project. One could just as easily ask why use digital rather than film. Your rationale sounds very solid to me – it is about the look and feel of the resulting images – the colour balance, tonal range, and smoother graduation of tone and colour. In this respect it it worth trying a few different films to see which produces the kind of results you want. I also like using film because it slows down the photographic process, making it a more thoughtful experience – others may not agree with this. I find I spend more time pre-visualising how things are going to turn out rather than simply clicking the shutter and looking on the back of the camera. With medium format you also have a very big negative so if you want to print large you have that potential. I also still believe that when photographing people using a larger format camera demonstrates to the subject that you are serious about your photography and that you are not just after a snapshot…with luck this engages a more serious and considered response from the sitter.

    Good luck with the project.

  5. Catherine, I love your idea for this personal project and am really interested in your use of a medium format camera. The thing that really stands out for me when looking at your images is the front to back sharpness and a quality that we don’t see within digital no matter how hard we try. I played with a very, very old medium format camera last summer and enjoyed it immensely and am about to play with a very, very old large format camera with a friend of mine who owns it. We’ve just spent a ton of money on film!

    I agree with Keith … the question could so easily be reversed about why use digital rather than film and I guess these days the answer is about availability and cost and the fact that as a population we have lost so many camera skills. I also agree about the slowing down process – absolutely support this! I really like what you are doing and intend to do and shall look forward to more! 🙂

    • Pleased you like it. My husband has also acquired a large format camera (Sinar) and it produces some wonderful images – portraits so far. In time I’d like to use it for landscape – a bit heavy to lug around though. Cost is definitely an issue and I can envisage home developing at some point.

  6. Pingback: People & Place Assignment 4 : A Sense of Place | People & Place

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