Destination: Santa Barbara – Mission: Large Format Photography

SB Mission Church(Click image for a larger version)

This past week, I took my first seriously considered shots with my newly acquired Tachihara 4×5 field camera. I recently purchased it from a good friend who does marvelous landscapes, but says that she is “too old” for film and 4×5 now. Mine is a neutral wood color with chrome fittings. The bellows are a little crumpled at the lens end, but light tight. I have two lenses. The 180mm is considered a normal lens, somewhat equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. The 90mm is a wide-angle, equivalent to a 30mm. I updated the ground glass, which is what is used to focus the image, with a hand made borosilicate glass from Steve Hopf.

My first destination was the Santa Barbara Mission. The Santa Barbara Mission is actually quite small, and not much of an opportunity, outside of the church itself. Unfortunately, the front is under some restoration and was covered with scaffolding and surrounded with ugly green fences. My sights were set on the church interior. I carefully setup and initially pulled out the wide angle, but soon realized that the normal would do. This image is the kind of image that is made for large format photography. I took two more in the courtyard, but they really just can’t compare.

I must admit that I felt a little self-conscious under the dark cloth, a little like an impostor. I recognize this feeling from when I first started doing street photography. It is a kind of I’m not good enough self-editing that will go away with a few more clicks under my belt. It was also fun to see people stop, as if they were going to wait for me to take the picture, even before I had the lens on the camera. I politely waved them through.

SB Pier(Click image for a larger version)

My second destination was the Santa Barbara Pier. It was a little later than I had anticipated and a bit of a race with the sun. With more experience I might have felt the adrenaline of Ansel Adams rushing to get his one shot of Moonrise Over Hernandez, but I just kept muttering “not the way for a novice to try large format photography”. None-the-less, I lined up a nice shot of the pier. I waited a while to avoid some people, but then the kids came into the scene. As the sun was setting, I had no real choice but to work them in, which of course makes the picture.

I’m using Ilford FP4+, rated at 125 ISO, but I’ll be honest, I just metered as if it was 100 ISO to keep things simple. I used the modern equivalent of a Polariod back to check my exposures, my Olympus OMD. It is really no larger or heavier than a spot meter and far more flexible. My developing was with Clayton F76+ using his published times and agitation method as described in a sheet he sent to me. 7 1/2 min @68 degrees; agitation for the first 10 seconds followed by 1 turn every 30 seconds. I scanned with VueScan with no adjustments. Post-processed with a little dodge and burn in LightRoom. The thing to note is that there was no overall tone curve or levels adjustments, the tonalities of the film was just right-on. The image of the pier was cropped vertically to a 16:9 aspect ratio.

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