Reflecting on Medium and Craft

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2020) unedited portrait of Oliver, which was buckled when loaded for processing – shown by the crescent highlight bottom right of the image.

I am having to really consider the medium I have begun to use for this module. I have identified that I am in need of re-learning the process of shooting and using the medium format full time. For example, since starting to shoot film again, I have encountered a number of technical challenges to overcome whilst processing and scanning at home (in part a challenge related to the current covid-19 lock down). I have buckled film loading (Fig: 1), underdeveloped once, and had an issue with light leaking film backs. Some of this could be attributed to the current pandemic, however I approached the medium with an assumed confidence that I had once used these materials so would be able to run with it again. Therefore, I have decided to go back to some of the basics to better understand this new apparatus that I have started to use to the point of properly keeping film temperatures and specific agitation for the film I am processing.

105mm @ f5.6
105mm @ f16
105mm @ f8
105mm @ f22
105 @ f11

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Depth of Field test using 105mm lens ranging from f5.6 – f22

One of the main challenges I have had, is some of the images that I have made are soft focus, which is something that I would normally check on location however instead I am making one or two frames of the subject. Depth of field is a very early lesson in learning the technique of photography and something that I aim to utilise in my own portraiture. A sharp subject and shallow depth of field creates effective framing to encourage the viewer of the image to remain looking at the subject, which I have placed value. This is one of the most effective tools to construct a dominant reading of the work subjectively by the photographer. It is also aesthetically pleasing in the way that it abstracts the way that we process information of the world.  Soft or missed focus negates an effective execution of the idea contained in the image, so I felt it fundamental to the execution of the project to re-learn the specifics of the 6×7 apparatus. I have been aiming for a shallow DOF of around f4, however owing to the larger size of the format over my full-frame DSLR, there is a difference in how the DOF translates into the image, which I did not consider myself. Ultimately, there is around a 4 times difference in sizes, which means that a 50mm standard lens size on full frame equals 105mm to cover increased format size. Without trying to get to far into the technicalities of it, what I have not been factoring in is that the 105mm lens will still give the same DOF results regardless of the size of the film, or emulsion; the f4 I have been aiming for is more like f1.0 meaning a significantly smaller amount of headroom to get the shot, especially as a glasses wearer using a camera without dioptre adjustment or autofocus.

These might be considered to be rudimentary and frustrating lessons to have to re-learn, especially studying at a MA level, however it is also really pushing me to consider my craft. As I have come to research the impact that apparatus and the subjective qualities of the materials and medium it is important to understand them as part of the process of creating an effective project. A well-researched and conceptually strong idea also needs to be well-executed which means a deeper understanding of those materials – apparatus is a key part of that execution. It will also be a good idea to better understand the materials of the chosen film emulsion, which will be an important consideration as although subtle, have a fundamental impact on my project.

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