Photography after the Vancouver Camera Swap and Sale.                   

Last October I wrote, “There was a discussion. For a photographer; Granville Island rain or shine was the prefect place to wander with a camera”.

“Buildings filled with expensive artwork, a food fair, farmer’s market, artist studios and, of course the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, are all exciting places to take pictures”.

The Camera Swap and Sale was a success and we tried to sleep in the next morning. But Jo was up with the seagulls, full of energy and rearing to go to Granville Island. I was lucky she even gave me the time to eat the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.

I had told her we would spend as much time as we could doing photography on Granville Island. We had stopped for a short time on Saturday night (before Sunday’s event) so Laurie could photograph buildings across False Creek in the setting sun with his big 4X5 sheet film camera.

That night the light was dropping fast when we got there and we spent most of our time setting Laure’s camera up in different locations. There wasn’t much time for Jo to wander so she was excited to go back when the island was packed with people in the bright sun.

It rained the two last times Laurie and I were there.

Parking was tight on Sunday and it was a chore for Laurie to squeeze his truck into a parking space meant for small compact cars. But after what seemed like a lifetime he finally did, and without hitting the cars parked tightly on both sides. Hey, Laurie was a Canadian farm boy. I am sure he was driving a truck as soon as his feet could touch the gas pedal.

The place was packed with all kinds of people, and the colors were wild, inviting and perfect for photography. Seagulls posing on benches, street performers, fascinating buildings, an exotic and animated farmer’s market, the scenic Granville street bridge with snow capped mountains in the distance behind it, a cityscape of Vancouver across a boat filled waterway, and, of course, the four of us laughing and posing for each other.

For those that didn’t read my last article, “Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in VancouverBritish Columbia. It is located across False Creek from Downtown Vancouver. It was once an industrial manufacturing area. However, now it is mostly comprised of remodelled warehouses and has become a hotspot for tourism and entertainment. The area was named after Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville.”

We wandered and lost the world as we discovered and photographed everything on that cool, clear, coastal spring day.

American photographer, Harold Feinstein, referred to as the “Unsung chronicler of Coney Island” wrote what I think is in the thoughts of many photographers.“I love this life. I feel like I am always catching my breath and saying, ‘Oh! Will you look at that?’

Photography has been my way of bearing witness to the joy I find in seeing the extraordinary in ordinary life.

You don’t look for pictures. Your pictures are looking for you.”

Considering a 4×5 View Camera?

Photographers are always looking for the perfect camera, even in these days of high megapixel, large sensor, programmable cameras.  The selection for many has become more than just a choice between manufacturer loyalties, as it extends to technical demands, and practicality when approaching a particular subject.

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the finest landscape and scenic photographs have been produced, and continue to be made, with the type of camera that is a design that has been with us for over a hundred years, the “view” camera.  The great nature photographers Elliot Porter, Ansel Adams, Imogene Cunningham, and Brett Weston used them, and many publications still prefer the quality of 4×5 inch, or larger, sheet film (some readers may never have even seen film).

A local photographer, Peter, stopped by the other day to talk about a 4X5 Burke and James view camera he had purchased. Photographers can easily obtain moderately priced, used, 4×5 inch format film camera by manufacturers like Burke and James, Graphic, Sinar, Linhof, Calumet and many more, that, depending on the use, are similar in application to DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras in that there is an extensive array of lenses available, but unlike DSLR’s there is not a limiting lens mount.  One must merely find a lens board that has a hole in it the size of the lens you want to use and voila, the camera is ready to go.

For those unaware of just what a view camera is I’ll describe it as an accordion looking contraption, consisting of a flexible light-tight bellows with a focusing screen and film holder on one end, and a lens board and lens on the other. This assembly is usually mounted on a rail or platform and uses a rack and pinion system to move the bellows back and forth for focusing.  The main advantage of view cameras is the technical control that one can get because both the front and back have the means available that allows for up, down, and lateral movement. At one time some cameras like his were called “press” cameras because they were the camera of preference for news photographers (seen regularly in old movies), so depending on what the source is the camera might be called a press, field, or large format view camera.

I know that may be confusing to those that have only used DSLR type cameras, but volumes have been written about using view cameras and if you are interested information is readily available and I suggest starting with

Simply put:  Consider being able to move a digital camera sensor and lens at different angles. Light certainly doesn’t go around corners, but with a view camera one can change perspective, control distortion, and sharpen an area of focus just by aligning film, lens and subject.

For example, walk up close to a tall building, aim the camera upwards, and release the shutter.  The resulting image will show the building having a wider bottom and narrower top. With a view camera one can adjust the film plane and lens plane positions parallel with the building’s wall, and of course this would be easy to accomplish because between the film and the lens there is a bellows that bends easily. This time the resulting image would not be wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, but whatever, the photographer set it to.

It is this control, and not so much the large negative, that draws serious photographers to view camera technology. However, the large 4×5 inch negative does produce impressive results. Although one would traditionally need a photography darkroom with enlarger, chemicals and trays for processing and printing, many modern photographers now use scanners.  The film still must be processed, but once done just scan that beautiful, large sheet of film into a computer and then proceed as usual into PhotoShop for image enhancing and printing.

Peter plans on taking his 4×5 on some hikes in and around the British Columbia interior. That’s a neat thing about these foldable cameras; they collapse nicely into a portable box. With a lightweight tripod, a few sheet film holders, and a camera that is easily stuffed into a small backpack, he’ll be on his way.  The hills are covered with snow, but if the light is good I know he’ll have a great time there and I look forward to seeing his resulting pictures.



How far we have come since photographer Margaret Bourke-White

The other night I was rummaging through my collection of old photo magazines and I came across the 1964 issue of “US Camera”. As I casually thumbed through it amused by the ads on equipment and how-to tutorials on printmaking I came across a very interesting story by the famous photographer Margaret Bourke-White about her beginnings as a photographer in the 1920’s. 

The short story was an excerpt from her book “Portrait of Myself”. Specifically, I enjoyed the part about her trials and successes photographing the Otis Steel Mill in Cleveland. She talked about how hard it was to capture the interior of the mill that to the eye was more than illuminated by the molten metal, but was extremely underexposed and unrecognizable on her film. In those days film and photographic paper had little latitude and the film emulsions were very slow, probably 50 ISO at most. She further talked about how excited she was when she was able to borrow a “fast” f/3.5 lens. And even then her exposures were inconsistent, sometimes over exposed, sometimes under exposed. Her success finally came first by using big magnesium flares for illumination, then with new photographic print technology for that time that contained very heavy deposits of silver therefore giving it a “long gray scale”. Her amazing photographs in 1928 were probably the first pictures of those kind ever made.

All this got me thinking about how far we have come since those days of heavy view cameras accompanied by large, unwieldy tripods, Sheet film was barely light sensitive and had to be carried in special holders, and lenses normally had their widest apertures at f/6 and were thought to be wide opening if they had apertures of f/3.5. The lighting equipment was extremely dangerous, inconsistent and consisted of either magnesium flairs or flash powder.  And after all that a photographer needed to have extra processing skills when using crude printmaking equipment that more than likely was a combination of home made enlargers and shelves of chemistry to mix different developers.

Today depending on how large a print we want to make we can either select a camera with a large sensor or upsize our image in programs like PhotoShop and Genuine Fractals. Tripods have become lightweight, durable and strong. We select the best tripod head for the camera and lens combination we are using and install that.  Many of the super telephoto lenses have apertures of f/6, but lenses at 200mm or shorter with apertures of f/2.8 are common. And remember using that 200mm on a digital camera may give a crop that is effectively 300mm.  Lighting equipment has  become amazing and we have just as much choice with electronic flash as we have with digital cameras, maybe more. I am amazed at the process Bourke-White had to go through to get a clear, well-exposed image in those steel mills. 

As I read that article I thought about how far we have come since those days and how easily it would be to photograph those scenes with today’s equipment.

We could first select a camera that allowed a high ISO and a lens with an f/2.8 aperture. Wait, many of us have f/2 and f/1.4 lenses, so they would allow even more light gain.  Heavy cameras and tripods are no longer an issue. Together the average DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera with a “heavy” f/2 lens and tripod probably weighs less than four pounds. Lastly there is lighting that is now easier with light meters and digital cameras. Some photographers may use powerful studio equipment while others could make do with several small flashes positioned around an interior using slaves to fire them off.

This is a very exciting time for photographers. Photography has become so accessible and the advancements in technology can free beginners from the tedious mathematics, expensive film testing, and dark chemical filled rooms. Yes, I think this is a very exciting time for photographers.

 Margaret Bourke-White spent close to 30 years as a staff photographer for Life magazine and had her photography published in numerous books and magazines. If interested check her out, there have been several books written about her and much about her is easily accessed on the internet.