Last weekend a workshop student got to use my 4×5 field camera. Earlier we had spent some time outside by the Canning River discussing the controls and movements of the camera, how to set it up and how to load it with film. We tried out several lenses and practised using tilts and swings of the lens standard and back, as well as the rise and fall of the lens board. Being outside in the real world made it easier to observe and directly practise a new technique rather than sitting down in a classroom only to discuss theory. Some people learn faster practising, and with good guidance you can always come back to theory later to refine your technique.
After lunch at the local cafe we spent the remainder of the afternoon photographing in the park. The bushland and river setting is an ideal location providing a range of subject matter. Without any previous experience with a 4×5, my student selected compositions, set up the camera, metered the contrast range of a scene (another new technique they were introduced to) and exposed their film. By the end of day 1 they had made 6, 4×5 film exposures and completed their introduction to the 4×5 camera. They now knew a lot more about how the camera works, its advantages in both format and controls over other cameras and what features to look for in their own future 4×5.
The following morning we processed the previous day’s images, going through the procedure of black and white film processing, discussing the minimal equipment involved. As the films dried we took a morning break and I showed completed prints which had been framed for exhibiting. This opened up the whole topic of presentation and conservation of your photographic work. Back into the darkroom before lunch and we completed making contact sheet proofs of all yesterday’s negatives. The importance of this stage was demonstrated later when we came to select and enlarge negatives to make a print.
After lunch, the remainder of day 2 was spent in the darkroom understanding the the steps involved in making a print. All of this was completely new for my student as they selected a negative of interest and with guidance produced their first prints. As their confidence grew they chose a more difficult negative which they had initially thought may have not worked out. Some intermediate printing techniques were introduced and their initial vision of the scene emerged into a print.
At the end of day 2 they left with their processed negatives and prints of the work they had completed over the weekend. In the darkroom as they saw the prints emerge for the first time they easily recalled what it was in the scene they were responding to and trying to capture on film, the challenges they met in achieving this, and to their surprise, how the materials and techniques could be employed to direct the print towards achieving that vision. The result was professional, clean, first prints that received more individual care and attention than what they would have received at some pro labs. Now they know what is possible and their next steps towards achieving a personal photographic vision.