If there is one thing I have learned while shooting large format, it is you have to practice your craft.
I was out last weekend for the first time since Memorial Day weekend. I had been waiting for the new Ritter camera to come in, plus work and life in general kept getting in the way. So, I found a scene of interest and set up the camera. It looked great on the ground glass, I moved around to make sure I have composed the scene so that it fit what I was seeing. It was an indoor shot, so wanted to make sure I had the light just right – the main part of the image was a group of wooden chairs that were hanging from the ceiling of an old store. Did not want too much of the light coming in the windows to show.
Check, rechecked the ground glass for focus. Took several spot meter readings, and felt I had the exposure down – f/45 for 8 sec. Test fired the shutter a couple of times, made sure the legs of the tripod were extended and not going to move at the wrong time. Loaded the film holder, closed the pre-focus lever on the lens. Pulled the darkslide, cocked the shutter and made the exposure. First one with the new camera, replaced the darkslide and removed it from the back. Off to find another image to expose.
Fast forward to when I made it back home. Had 2 sheets of 7×11 film ready to develop, and even though I was beat – have been fighting a sinus infection for a month, wanted to see the first negatives from the new camera. Mixed the chemistry, unloaded the film in the dark and processed it. After about 15 min, the moment of truth was at hand, started washing the film and pulled the first sheet out – really dark, dense negative. Hmmmm, what went wrong – development? Looked at the other sheet of film, nope it looks good (except forgot to correct a problem with the bellows intruding in the image area). Went ahead and finished washing the negative and hung it up to dry. After it dried, kept looking at it, what went wrong – did the holder have a light leak – not this bad. Looking at the background could not figure out what I was seeing until it hit me – the only thing in focus were the chairs and anything in the same plane of focus. I forgot to stop the lens down to f/45.
It is important to keep making exposures, finding time to get out and ‘practice’ the craft of photography or it is easy to forget the little steps we go through to make an photograph. My good friend Matt Magruder seems to be going out and shooting photographs ALL the time. It is what keeps him going. Of the really good photographers – professional or amateur, the one thing I have noticed is they are always creating new work. They do not sit in front of a computer wishing they could make an photograph like so and so does, they are sitting around wishing they were better – they are out there, making photographs, creating new work…creating Art.
It isn’t easy, many of us have day jobs and family’s which demand part of our time. Yet these are the same demands that the really good photographers have as well. They just managed to get out, they have the motivation and disciplineto go out and make a least 2 or 3 exposures when they can. They are not all great photographs, but they have more keepers than I do. Do they make the same mistakes I do, like pulling the darkslide before they have closed the shutter pre-view lever? Sure, they will do it once in a while, but a lot less often than I will, because I have not been ‘practicing’ .
And so it goes, if I want to make fewer mistakes – make better use of the time I have to photograph, then I need to practice more, so that the little things I need to do to make a photograph are second nature and I can concentrate on what i see, and not a film holder, darkslide, tilt of a camera, shutter settings on a lens.
Practice, Practice, Practice