Large Format Photography 2011

The Best of 2011 Part 2

January 11, 2012

Last summer I was having a conversation with my good friend Evan Baines about my and Jackie’s approach to shooting weddings.  I always get worried about “doing the same old thing” and “falling into the motions” so I was discussing how to keep things interesting but still be ourselves.  He told me to put everything aside that would normally “limit” our vision as photographers and envision the perfect way to shoot a wedding.  I sat down shortly after the conversation and jotted down some notes about what I think would be the “ideal” setup and how to keep that true to our brand and style.  First and foremost I did not want to lose sight of the fact that we tell the story of one of the most important times in peoples lives through our imagery.  We work hard to capture the relationships between our couples and their families in our pictures and I wanted to continue to do so no matter what we might do differently.
So…what to do?
We looked to our favorite photographers for inspiration.  Now I have to say all of this was spear headed by me (Doug) but without Jackie to keep me grounded and accountable we would not have accomplished what we did!  She is as much a part of this “change” as I am even if she is not the crazy technical person like I am!
If you really know me you know I am, and like things that are, “over the top”…if you want me to explain that will have to be done separately because we do NOT have room here!
So based on what I liked from my favorite photographers I came up with the idea to start shooting essentially what I would call large format documentary portraits.  Essentially when shooting film you have 3 different sizes to choose from: 35mm (what a normal camera, the old kind, would take), medium format (2-4 times as big as a 35mm piece of film) and large format (either 4×5 inches or 8×10 inches).
So of course, liking things that are slightly impractical and over the top, I decided to start experimenting with large format portraits using a 4×5 camera.  For those who are not camera people it basically takes me 50x longer to shoot one picture than with a digital camera like we normally use.
Here is a rundown of the process:
I first have spend 15-20 minutes in complete darkness loading film into holders, 2 pieces of film per holder (yes only 2 shots per holder!).   After loading 5-7 holders for a total of 10-14 shots I have pick a perfect time during the engagement session or wedding to setup a shot, load the camera, focus the camera, uncover the film, shoot the film, recover the film, then switch the film holder for the next shot.   That is not counting the 1.5 hour process it takes me to hand develop each batch of shots in my kitchen sink with highly toxic chemicals AND THEN after they are dry, scan them into the computer with my scanner to proof each shot for the blog.
So you are probably wondering why I thought this would be a good idea…!
Well here is the answer (in shortened form):
Jackie and I both started our photography careers in the darkrooms at OSU hand developing photos and prints.  With the advent of the digital camera a lot of the “art” of photography has been lost.  Basically anyone with a decent camera and semi-decent computer can “be a photographer”.  Of course it is not that easy to be a great photographer but you get the point I am trying to make.
If you are familiar with the online wedding scene, blogs like Style Me Pretty/Grace Ormonde/Rock and Roll Bride, you know that A LOT of photographers are starting to shoot film again.  It is making a mini-renaissance especially in the wedding photography market.  Our choice to shoot film had little to do with this trend.  Shooting large format can really only be done with film.  The technology for doing it digitally is there but the price would be astronomical.  Our decision was not about being trendy or trying to fit in.  In fact what we are producing does not fit in at all with what the popular kids are doing!
Then why?
First of all shooting large format portraits makes us better photographers.  We have basically one shot to get everything perfect.  Exposure, focus, the connection between our couple, the developing, etc.  To me the pictures have a much greater and more real meaning behind them.  It is not just one snap out of a thousand.  It is one shot that we worked so hard to perfect…it is tangible.  When it is all said and done and you can hold that 4 inch by 5 inch negative you know you have something really special.
The look of the large format camera is also unmistakeable.  The sheer amount of detail it can capture is stunning.  For example.  Your normal point and shoot camera takes probably a 12 megapixel picture.  That is 12,000,000 pixels that make up the picture.  When I scan the large format shots into the computer at a medium resolution I end up with something like a 100 megapixel shot or close to 100,000,000 pixels!  Suffice it to say that I can  easily make larger prints than anyone has ever seen with more detail than they have ever seen.
They really are one of a kind shots.   I have special developing processes that I have developed and use so that our photos have exactly the look I want.  We also have very unique cameras that allow us to capture the images as quickly as possible (art is great but we don’t want to keep people waiting around too long!).  From an artistic standpoint we can offer our couples something truly original and unique.  Go ahead and think…have you ever seen anyone actually using a camera like the one shown below?

All in all the decision to start incorporating large format photography into our normal shooting setup has truly been amazing.   We have had the oppurtunity to use the cameras to shoot some amazing couples in some amazing places all while capturing our favorite images!  We are still able to capture the story as effectively as before and have added an artistic and truly unique experience that really sets our work apart.  As we continue to the future we are really looking forward to making this an even larger part of the wedding photography experience we provide to our couples.

The first image below is of Kathy and Matt (during their wedding in Montana) checking out one of our large format cameras!  Yes it is quite a contraption but is absolutely my favorite camera!  We have 3 large format cameras that we normally shoot with.  Which one we pick largely depends on the shooting situation we are presented with.
The camera you see below is almost exactly like the camera Dorothea Lange (one of the photographers that inspired us) shot with.  She was a photojournalist during the Great Depression Era documenting people in the “dust bowl” area of the country.  Her photo “Migrant Mother” is one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

Jackie and I are extremely grateful to everyone that let us “shoot” them with our large format cameras.  I can only imagine what some of them thought seeing me standing there taking their picture with a camera that is close to 100 years old!  We are also happy that the images really do add a very unique element to our storytelling.  Below are the best of the best!

Kathy and Matt checking out the Graflex 4×5 SLR Camera!