I will freely admit that I am in love with classic photography – the processes, the equipment, and most of all, the look. The way that many old photographs have such a dimension and such a distinct look serve to really make we want to make photographs.
At the beginning of my journey I collected a group of photographs that inspired me. I didn’t look at how they were created or what they were created with, just the final images. After collecting these images I began to research how they were created. It turned out that all of them were created using traditional processes and equipment. One of them was made using the wet-plate process, several of them were created using large format film and the rest were made using medium format. So, that started my journey of trying different cameras, films, processes and approaches. Naturally I began with large format. Go big or go home.
I have been shooting for many years so I was not a beginner at photography, nor was film new to me, so starting with large format I already had a base understanding of the traditional process of photography. If you are going to try large format then this is extremely helpful. Without this, large format can be kind of intimidating. But always remember this. A camera at its core is simply a dark box that holds a lens and your film. The size of it doesn’t matter at this stage in the process – it is basically all the same. Exposure is simply the amount of light allowed to hit the media via the combination of aperture and shutter speed and is determined by the sensitivity of the media (asa or ISO). A good meter is your friend. If you can shoot using a large format camera then everything else is easy in comparison. It is a lot of work but very worth it.
Next I explored the medium format film world. Roll film, hand-held, 10-12 images before changing film. What an easy format! Well, compared to large format anyway. The images were quite beautiful, detailed and easy to work with. I dig it.
I will admit that I fought working with 35mm for a long time. Once I felt like I had a general grasp on the larger formats I started the process all over again for 35mm. I searched for images and subjects that inspired me and have researched process, approach and equipment used to achieve it. I’m not great with 35mm yet, at least to my eye, but I have certainly found it to be a great tool to help me continue on my photographic journey.
I have acquired a group of tools in each format that I use for differing projects, subjects or needs and here is a general overview of how I use those tools.
35mm in my hands is more of an observation tool, a chance to catch great moments or things that I happen to see. Of course 35mm can be used for almost anything, but for me that is just the way that I approach it for now. The camera I carry daily is my Leica M4-2 with a 50mm Ziess Sonnar. Generally I’ll have Kodak Tri-X 400 loaded and shoot it at 200. For me, this is the best way to catch those quick-street-candid-grab-it-quick kind of moments. This camera is quiet, unobtrusive and allows me to approach situations a little more quickly and tactfully than a bigger camera. This camera, lens and film combination have been carefully chosen for the flexibility, ease and honestly, the way this lens renders is just beautiful to my eye. If a Leica was good enough for Cartier-Bresson, it is more than good enough for me.
For medium format I have a few options depending on the subject and requirements of the shoot.
Medium format natural light portraits: Pentax 67 with the 105mm f2.4 or the 165mm 2.8. Fuji Acros 100 shot at 50. The rendering of the 105mm f2.4 wide open is beautiful. It is the closest thing to the beauty of a large format portrait in my opinion. The Acros slightly overexposed renders skin beautifully. The Pentax’s form (like a big 35mm SLR) is easy to move around and vary angles and backgrounds to capture a variety of scenarios.
Medium format studio portraits: Mamiya RZ 67 with the 180mm f4 or the Hasselblad 500 c/m with either the 80mm 2.8 or the 150mm f4. Zeiss makes some wonderful glass! The reason I use these for the studio is the flexibility (changeable film backs, varying strobe sync speed) and I personally prefer the waist level finder for portraits as it lets the subject focus directly on the lens and not me. The sharpness and detail of both the Mamiya and the Hasselblad systems is phenominal. The Hasselblad can also quite easily be used handheld for more environmental portraits as well. I will also use Fuji Acros (smooth rendering) and Kodak Tri-X (classic look) for this work.
Medium format general travel or walkabout: The Rolleiflex TLR is a wonderful camera for so many things. I have the 2.8F and the way the glass renders is nothing short of delicious. I’ll often have it loaded with Kodak Tri-X 400 as it is such a flexible and timeless film. Another bonus with this system is the reaction of people when they see it. It starts wonderful conversations with people young and old. It opens doors to be able to make photographs of people who see it as old and quaint and completely non-threatening. The Rolleiflex is one of my very favourite systems of all time.
A large format negative is an incredible thing. I have worked extensively in 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 and seeing the information, detail and rendering on film this big is an experience all in itself. Depending on the film and lens combination, large format film renders transitions, detail and depth-of-field in a distinctly unique way. Actually it renders in exactly the same way as 35mm, and medium format (principles of light do not change) but it has so much more space on a larger sheet of film to do so that it appears in a quite different way.
Large format portraits: My primary system is a Deardorff 8x10 built in 1951. In all honesty I chose Deardorff just because I think that it is the most beautiful camera ever made. The bonus? It is a fantastically usable and well-designed piece of equipment. I primarily will shoot 4x5 but 5x7 is also a fantastic proportion for portraits. If you really want to take things to the highest level of (reasonable) quality then 8x10 is a treat. Here’s the thing with large format – the varieties of lenses is incredible! There is a lens for almost any look, purpose or need possible. Personally I prefer older glass (1950’s or earlier) as I love “imperfections” such as lower contrast and less than super biting detail. For portrait work my favourite lenses are my 1920’s Goerz 12” Dagor and my 360mm Voigtlander Heliar. Both of these lenses have a long reputation for beautiful rendering and they well deserve it.
My Thought Process
My process is to examine each project as I plan it and ask these questions beyond my subject matter:
• Is there a specific look I want to achieve? This is greatly affected by the format, lens, film and process.
• What is my final output goal? Is it a 5 foot print or a 4x5 print or an online jpeg?
• How big is my budget? This will affect the number of shots I can make and will help determine which format I can afford to shoot for this project.
The bottom line is that there is no wrong answer. You need to find which tool best helps exemplify your vision. Each tool has its pros and cons as well as its own unique strengths. The key to a “successful” photographs is knowing that I’m making a photograph through careful preparation, planning and process and not just trying to take a photograph because it’s handed to me. Those moments are wonderful but as the quote goes “Luck goes to the prepared”, a very generously interpretation of course.
Based in Los Angeles, CA, Tim Scott is an art director, creative director and photographer constantly seeking new inspiration and creative visions.
“I make photographs because it is what keeps me up at night, it’s what inspires me creatively and it’s what allows me share the world as I see it.
There is beauty and inspiration everywhere. I find the most inspiration in people. Faces are incredible. Stories written in every line, shadow and shape. But I also very much find beauty in “imperfect”. To me, nothing “real” is perfect and so much beauty is found in what makes everything unique. This is what I see and love.
I shoot using film – 35mm, medium and large format cameras with lenses from as early as the 1800’s as well as a few “modern” lenses (60’s era). Film to me is physical; it is challenging and full of surprises. But, through craft or happenstance, it also allows the creation of some of the most incredible art I have ever seen. This inspires me every day.
Ultimately, it is not the medium, tools or process that dictates a “successful” image but the strength of the image itself. This is what I will always strive for, experiment with and continue to be challenged by. This is my passion.”