Friday, March 30, 2007

Contemplation in the Digital Age

There has been an on going and and I would say lively discussion over at Musings on Photography about the contemplative nature of using a view camera, or how to transfer those contemplative qualities to a digital camera, personally I don't think it really matters what kind of camera one uses to be more "contemplative" while making images I think its more of a state of mind. I know in this high tech present digital age that using film for some is ancient technology and a few might find reading this blog that there is not find much relevance in a photographer that is still shooting film and with a view camera no less. Although my photography is part digital I scan my negatives which are then enhanced in Photoshop and then printed via a ink jet printer. With that in mind,
here are a few simple ideas to try as an experiment to be more contemplative.

1. Set your camera to single frame exposure, many moons ago when film cameras had separate motor drives ( yes I am that old ) on my time off when I would photograph on my days off for my personal work, I would take the motor drives off my cameras, this helped me to not be so "trigger happy"

2. Try using just one or two prime fixed focus lenses, back in the film days when I supplied my own film camera gear as a daily newspaper photographer I carried everything from a 24mm wide angle to a 300mm telephoto, so again on my time off I would only take two lenses, a medium wide and medium telephoto . Very early in my photographic quest for inspiration I was introduced to the work of Henri Cartier Bresson who used mostly a 50mm lens for all of his work . Today for all of my view camera work, everything that is featured on this blog and my website I use pretty well two lenses , a medium wide and a medium telephoto lens.

3. Try using a tripod, of course this is more for shooting landscape photographs, I find that by having my camera on a tripod , I can be more thoughtful about my composition that is if the light is not changing too fast, one of the things I like to do is study my composition for a bit, and take a look at my surroundings, I have also found that when I take some time to look around, all sorts of other picture possibilities come into view that I was not even ware of. Sometimes I have found that the picture I thought was the "one" turned out to be secondary and I found a better image that I had not expected to take.

4. Try using manual exposure, this is a great way to "see" light and to learn how to use the light in a given circumstance to the best of your advantage, most digital cameras have this great little tool called a histogram, this can show where your high lights and shadows will lay, in my own case I use a one degree spot meter, I take a couple quick exposure readings of the shadows and high lights and calculate my exposure, being a B&W filmed shooter I expose for the shadows, if I'm shooting digital I expose more for the high lights.

These are just a few ideas to help one to be more contemplative, something to think about at least. The image posted was at Cavell lake in Jasper National Park, taken with a 120mm lens on a 4 x 5 view camera, in September of 1989.


janina said...

Hi Gary,
firstly, to show my ignorance, what is a 'view' camera? at the bottom you say it is a 4x5, which here we call simply a medium-format SLR; is it the same as your view camera? What brand do you use? And, by the way, I think there is nothing wrong with still wanting to use film and to get into the wet darkroom and use one's hard-earned skills to produce something one can be content to show to the world. B+W was always my preference as it provided better texture rendering and creating mood; after all, colour is just B+W with tonings added from the RGB range.

I agree that contemplative mind is a state of mind one goes into whilst 'seeing' the object, meaning light, and what it does. This state of mind is aided, of course, by one's imagination, and you need both aspects to create interesting images in-camera first. Training in photography helps, but natural talent must be there. Post-processing in the digital age is an 'extra plus' if you know what to do.

I like this image. I have no doubt the 'real' view is awe-inspiring in colour. You have transferred a mystic softness to the B+W version that does bring a sense of peace. Space is also what I sense here.

Gary Nylander said...

Hi Janina,

If you don't ask you don't learn !, a view camera is a common name for a large format camera, when I say its a 4 x 5 I mean that the image or film size is 4 x 5 inches in size. Medium format is generally 2 1/4 inch film or 120 film. My view camera is made by Tachihara in Japan , click on this link and it will take you to my tech page on my website an you can see what my camera looks like,

As you can see I love black and white, these days the only darkroom work I do is to process my film, after that I process film and scan my negatives, I work on my digitized images in Photoshop ( lots of fun ! ) then print them out on my Epson 4800 printer ( fantastic quality ).


Craig Photography said...

I am really enjoying reading your blog the contemplative focuses is something that is missing in most photo writing. Keep up your philosophical approach to photograph & writing.

Gary Nylander said...

Thanks,Craig Photography, I appreciate the encouragement!, in this age of high tech gear, its not always easy to capture the attention of people in regards to the thought process behind making pictures.