After a lot of thought – about 5 minutes – I decided to start a new personal project I am naming 4x5x365. Basically my plan is to shoot at least one sheet of 4″x5″ film every single day for a year and see how it turns out.
If you are not familiar with 4″x5″ photography, it is basically a great big view camera where a photographer must look through the back onto a ground glass screen, where the image is projected upside down and backwards. Once everything is set up, I insert a sheet of film measuring 4″x5″ and expose it with the click of a shutter. Simple, huh? Other than the upside down and backwards.
It is anything BUT simple. I have shot 4×5 photography since 1999 and it is exceedingly hard to do well. The technical aspects are daunting, with SO many steps along that way, and a mistake at any one of those steps can yield an unusable image. In fact, my discard rate with 4×5 photography is close to 80%-90%. Yea, I keep maybe 1 in 10 images. At over $1 and one hour of time per sheet, that gets expensive really quick.
So why do I shoot 4×5? Good question. I am not really sure what draws me to the medium. I actually shoot 99% digital. ALL of my client work is digital. My personal photos are mostly digital but lately I have been pulling out my film cameras to shoot a bit and really enjoying the process. Back when I started in 1996 I shot all digital and developed and scanned my own film. I eventually sold nearly all my film cameras and was very successful at shooting digital, working for a number of clients and having my work published worldwide. Yet I still had an affinity for film, which has increased even more in the past year. I started buying some old film cameras and discovered the Pentax 6×7 system, which has turned into one of my favorite film cameras. It handles like a DSLR yet shoots on huge 6x7cm negatives. Even with the ease of use of the Pentax system, I still enjoy the challenges involved with shooting 4×5 film. It is much, much more difficult than my Pentax. Most importantly, I can easily do swings, tilts and movement with my 4×5, which is much more difficult to do on a DSLR and impossible on my Pentax.
And the negative. Oh my. When I get a good shot with my 4×5, the negative and resulting positive image takes my breath away. There is SO much detail in a 4×5 image. When I scan it at only 1/2 the resolution my Epson V750 scanner will perform, I get a 170+ megapixel image! Holy cow! Of course I can’t really show that resolution on the internet, but my oh my when they are scanned into my computer they look stunning when done correctly.
Of course, that is the problem. Did I mention 4×5 is very, very difficult to shoot properly?
What I have discovered is the more I shoot with my 4×5, the better I get. The lengthy and involved process becomes more ingrained in my head and I make fewer mistakes.
Hence my 4x5x365 project. I want to shoot at least one sheet of film every single day for the next year. I will show the best shot each day. Most days I plan to bring one film holder, which contains two sheets of film. I will expose it somewhere, somehow, hopefully with some artistry, but sometimes not. And I will scan and display the best image here. Sometimes I hope the result is stunning. Other times – actually most likely often – the results will be mediocre at best and maybe even downright horrible. I fully expect to end up with at least one unexposed image. We will see. Hopefully not.
I hope to grow, get better, and learn from the process, and share my journey with you.
Well, Day 1 didn’t start out so good. I shot with my Toyo 45a view camera. It is fairly new to me and I haven’t shot that much with it, prefering my Toyo VRX-125. But the 45a has been just sitting around so I loaded it with a lens, tossed it into a bag, and have it all set up to carry with my daily for my 4x5x365 project – kind of like my 4×5 pocket camera if you will.
I exposed two images today. I was hopeful that my picture in the barber shop would be my best. I cajoled my barber into letting me include her in the image. I really like to include people in my photos and she was a likely subject. After a bit of talking she agreed. I set up the camera on a tripod and had another barber trigger the shutter so that I could be in the picture. Little did I know I was going to get the photo below. I developed the picture 4 days later and this is when I realized I have some type of problem. Is it the camera? The film? My processing. How I handled the film? I don’t know, but this problem also shows up on some other images I shot during the first three days of my project.
The day was getting late and I decided to expose another sheet of film just in case my first didn’t work out so well. I stopped at Braum’s for an ice cream and set up my tripod to capture this image right after sundown. It is not quite as over-exposed in the bottom of the frame, but still you can see I have a problem. I included it here so you can see what I see – two images, two failures. Darn it. Not a good start to my project.