Philosophy and Philm

Waiting for sunet @ Badwater

Transitioning from digital to large format film was a paradigm shift in my photography.  This format provides a very zen-like shooting experience that is difficult to put into words. It has sparked many discussions with friends, and a lot of thinking on my part.

Although the sheer image detail of large format is impressive, it will not magically transform a mediocre subject into a brilliant photograph. A spectacular sunrise shot on large format will also be spectacular when shot on a digital SLR. A boring subject shot on a digital SLR will be equally boring when shot on large format. The camera itself has no super powers. It is just a camera — a tool.

Imagine going to Home Depot, and being told that the DeWalt would give a more zen-like drilling experience. Although this might sound absurd, it is not far from the truth.

A master woodworker’s tools are a more appropriate analogy. The hands-on approach to planing a piece of wood must also be a zen-like experience. The tool and the operator seamlessly become one.

In this sense, we cannot differentiate between digital and large format film. Each format provides a hands-on approach — both literally and emotionally. There must be something else.

After much thought, I attribute the large format experience to three simple, all encompassing principles of human nature.

  1. The less you have of something, the more you respect it.
  2. The harder you work for something, the more you respect it.
  3. Lists with three items are much better than those with two.

These principles are instrumental for my love of large format photography. I shoot far less photos, but I have more respect for each photo I take.

Perhaps I should have just stuck to my 1Ds3 and a single 128MB memory card?  🙂

5 Responses to “Philosophy and Philm”

  1. bob francella Says:

    Get with it big guy, you will have to do it sooner or later so jump in it now, you are good and will take pictures just as good as before. Only you will know the difference. Its the eye, the camera is just the tool to take the picture and you have one hell of an eye.
    Ciao Ciao

  2. Bob Duff Says:

    4. You’ll be fitter by schlepping large format gear. 🙂

    • Ben Horne Says:

      That is sure true!

      That leads to the topic of a future blog post — the catastrophic failure of my Gregory backpack just days before my next shooting trip. That one has yet to be resolved though.

  3. Leo Says:

    I’ve been building a large format kit for about 16 months now, and yesterday I was finally able to go out and take some photos and test for light leaks and get a workflow going.

    My camera is a Cambo Legend 4X5, which is heavy (13.5lbs without lens), but I got a great deal on it, so I can live with the weight.

    Anyways, even though I was just “testing”, I still found that I was far more intentional with my composition. I was looking for light, shadows, shape, colour and perspective. I was thinking about my exposure and I was thinking how the negative was going to look when printed.

    It was a big eye opener for me, and I loved it…granted, my back didn’t love it as much (and walking in the equatorial sun and heat wasn’t much fun either), but I have to say, I am glad I did it! My next purchase – a sombrero! 😀

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