A while back, I bought myself a new camera. Then about a month later, I figured out how to attach the lens to the lensboard. So, for a while I had a camera without a lens. Things were improving after adding the lens, but I still had no idea how to put film into it. Obviously it involved the “film holders” I bought. Clearly, I had a lot to learn.
Today, I embarked on my “Spring of 100 Mistakes” as I teach myself the practical techniques related to large format photography. We’ll see if I actually make it to 100 mistakes, or perhaps I’ll blow right past. My goal is to have a pretty solid intuition for how to operate my camera before taking it on our month-long summer trip through the American Rockies.
(Short side-story: I first started photographing in the summer of 1990 when we moved to Wyoming. On part of the six-hour drive from Casper to Yellowstone, I read the whole manual for the family’s mostly abandoned Sears KSX-P camera. By the time I got there, I was shooting Kodachrome slides without fear, just like everybody else. That was a great little camera with a Pentax K-series mount. I’ve been telling myself that I should sell it; I haven’t used it since buying my two Nikon rigs a couple years after graduating college, but there’s still a soft, squishy place in me for the camera. Anyway, I like the historical echo of going back to Yellowstone with a new camera and working without a net again.)
So here are the first few mistakes:
One: When loading film in complete darkness — a nonnegotiable requirement — know how to determine which side has the emulsion. The film is right side up when the notched corner is the upper-right-hand one.
Not a mistake I made, but still a helpful hint: The dark-slide, which blocks light from hitting the film until you pull it, has an “exposed” side and an “unexposed” side. Before turning off the lights, know which is which. The handle of the “exposed” side feels different.
Two: Know how to load the film before you get into the pitch black
laundry room darkroom. There’s a flap on the end of film holder — it’s on the opposite end from the dark-slide handle — and it flips open for loading. You slide the film into this end and then flip it closed after loading. Load gently without actually touching the film. You figure that one out.
Three: Have everything between the camera and the ground tightened down as much as possible before loading the film holder into the camera. Unlike 35mm cameras, you load the film at the last moment by pulling the spring-loaded ground-glass away from the camera and sliding the film holder between it and the bellows. If something isn’t tightened down, the scene that you photograph will look different than the one you composed. In my case, I locked down all of the tilt, shift and swing knobs and the tripod pan, tilt and swivel controls, but I hadn’t adequately tightened the quick-release plate onto the camera before mounting it to the tripod, so the whole camera turned quite a bit while I loaded the film.
Four: Know your film’s ISO speed in the field. There’s no ISO dial to set, just a number that you enter into your handheld lightmeter. I couldn’t even remember what kind of black and white film I had: T-Max 100 or Tri-X, which I thought was 400. I split the difference and said 200 ISO, which was close to the real value of 320 but not perfect.
Now I just have to figure out how to develop the film that I exposed today. . . .