Winter evening Yosemite Tunnel View on 4×5 film, by Intrepid 4×5 large format film camera, Caltar 150mm f/5.6 lens, Ilford HP5 Plus film

The past week, Yosemite welcome its first snow of the season. We did not get a chance to go there until the snow stopped, and thus missed the best moment when the valley was blanketed by fresh powder. However, clear evening brought an opportunity to shoot the Tunnel View under moon light with large format film camera.

For people unfamiliar with large format photography, it was commonly accepted that night is the enemy for this form of photography due to a few limitations. First of all, it is extremely challenging to focus and compose with the ground glass in evening because there was virtually no image to look at on the ground glass. Secondly, film has a notorious problem for long exposure, namely reciprocity failure. It means that a long exposure in digital world need to be extended to an extreme length.

Fortunately, our experience had told us we could try to focus on the moon or bight stars in the evening. And in this evening, we had a clear sky with an almost full moon. It was relatively easy to focus on the moon on the ground glass because it was a big and bright circle on the sky. Bright moon light also created a not-so-bright image visible on the ground glass. It made composition possible.

The other benefit of bright moon light is that it brought down the exposure time to several minutes at a relatively low speed of ISO 400, a common speed for fast films. Reciprocity table pointed to at least 4 times of the exposure for the Ilford HP5 Plus film we used. And we decided to push it to 10 times longer, which gave us 60 minutes exposure in the end.

The result was surprisingly good. The film responded to the moon light very well, and held a great deal of details with barely visible grain. Whether this was the first attempt to capture the evening Tunnel View on large format film, we do not know. It surely was a rare one.

Dual Milkweed Trees, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Santa Cruz island features many milkweed trees, a specific plant that provide food source for larva of the famous migrating monarch butterfly. We didn’t find any monarch butterfly on those trees on the island. Nevertheless, the trees were a wonderful subject to photograph on black and white film, just like oak trees.

These two milkweed trees were at the edge of a campground on the island. When passing by them, we were attracted by the shape of the trees with their far-reaching branches and bare barks. We set up our Intrepid 4×5 large format camera, and captured this photo on a sheet of Fomapan 400 film. We positioned the tree in the front and let it play a dominant role in the frame. The tree in the back, while smaller, provides a sense of depth and balances the weight in the frame. At a small aperture of f/32, both trees retain the sharpness we wanted.

First impression of Santa Cruz Island on film

This is our second time to visit Santa Cruz Island, the largest island of Channel Islands National Park. A few years ago, we planned to visit Anacapa Island. However, strong wind forced us to change the plan, and we ended up on Santa Cruz Island instead. It was a short tour of only a few hours. This year, we decided to camp on the island for two nights and explore it more throughly.

By the sunset of our second night, we were on the west side hill next to the boat landing dock. It offered a beautiful view of the sea stacks near the dock. We set up our Intrepid 4×5 camera, and made a 15 second long exposure of this view on a sheet of Kodak TMAX 100 black and white film.

The Make of the Picture Merced River Reflection

We carried our new toy, the Intrepid 4×5 large format camera to Yosemite in the past weekend. With this modern day remake of the old technology, every step of photography leaped back like good old school days.

There’s no WYSIWYG viewfinder but a half-transparent ground glass on the back of the camera — we had to wrap it with a silly black cloth in order to see the scene.

There’s no auto-focus but a nob at the bottom of the camera and a magnifying glass — we turned the nob and peeked through the magnifier on the ground glass to make our best guess of the focus.

There’s no metering system on the camera — we had to hand hold a light meter to measure the exposure readings of different areas of the scene and make our best judgment of the appropriate exposure.

There’s no memory card to store the images — we need to mount a pre-loaded film holder to the back of the camera in order to take one single picture. Taking a second picture requires a new film holder.

There’s no room for errors — we had to adjust the focus, the aperture, the shutter speed on the camera, check and re-check every setting, test fire before taking the actual picture. And there’s always a haunting thought afterwards about forgetting to set everything correct.

With every press of the cable release, a half cup of Starbucks coffee was gone. Thank goodness, we only “drank” one full cup of coffee that morning.

The result is hardly satisfactory. Nevertheless it was a fun experience.

Revealing First Large Format (4×5) Photo

Twenty years ago, before I purchased my first SLR camera, Canon Rebel 2000, an old friend, my college roommate had pointed me an humorous online article [1] about the danger of entering into photography — it will be a long and costly journey. At the moment, I didn’t think too much about the warning signs ahead of me. But today, I come to report that everything told in that article became true.

If there is one takeaway in the article that has left the deepest impression to me, it is the size of the photographic negative decides the most about image quality. In order to pursue better image quality, starting from 35mm film camera, I’ve come through Xpan, 645, and 66 medium format cameras. But there is always a dream hidden in my heart — large format.

Large format is the ultimate crown jewelry. After two decades of photography, I finally step into this world, and purchased my first large format camera, the Intrepid Mark IV 4×5 field camera. I used it once during the recent trip to Eastern Sierra, and took the picture, North Lake Morning Reflection, with two sheets of Ilford Delta 100 4×5 black and white film. The result is phenomenon — the amount of details captured by this primitive camera far exceeds the pictures made by state-of-the-art Nikon D850 digital SLR camera. Please forgive the small picture shared here. It does not do justification to the real image.