Summer in the North Carolina Mountains can be a fascinating time. It usually gets muggy, the wildflowers are typically done, but the waterfalls have good flow and there is greenery everywhere.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to make some large format images in this region and wanted to share those here in that post:
Three rolls of film through the Kodak Tourist and I still don’t have the camera working to my liking. But that said, I now have a plan for the fourth roll — and it’s already loaded!
On the first roll through the camera, I guessed the distances and did not achieve my desired results most of the time. Given this, I decided to purchase a Walz rangefinder as I figured that knowing the distance to the subject would effectively eliminate the problem of guessing the focus. When I got the rangefinder, it wasn’t calibrated and there is very little on the internet about calibrating these Walz rangefinders. As I have now figured that out, I’d like to share how to calibrate a Walz rangefinder. It’s really quite easy. You remove the endcaps by unscrewing them. The only one you need to remove is the one to the right of the focus ring. Then there is a hole and you can take a 1/16″ screwdriver, insert it into the hole, and then do the calibration that way. Both vertical and horizontal calibration are done this way with one single hole. That is because this hole is merely the back of the mirror assembly on this side of the rangefinder. Do not treat this hole as a screw as it is NOT a screw. It is simply a divot on the backside of a mirror to move that mirror around. If you go here: https://www.rangefinderforum.com/classics/forum/messages/6900/5189.html?1126483174 you will see where two others have done this before. Dan Mitchell posted this picture, which is the Walz rangefinder disassembled:
So to take the whole thing apart, we need to look at the last diagram that Dan Mitchell posted as you have to start by removing the black plastic piece on the center of the focus knob. Once this is removed, you have to get a spanner screwdriver with two point bars connected by a bar across the top to be able to actually get enough torque to unscrew this knob. Once you have this unscrewed, you can slide the whole rangefinder assembly out and access everything.
If you do take it all apart, you have to get it back together in much the same way and you still have to calibrate it. Calibrating takes time as you have to move the mirror piece in the opposite directions of where you want the alignment to go. Further, it moves both the vertical and horizontal alignment and you want to get them both right.
So with all that out of the way, I happily loaded my second roll of film into the camera and went off to shoot 8 more photos! About mid-roll, I became concerned that I had the rangefinder mounted at the back of the camera and the focus must be off the front of the camera and so I need to add another 4-5″ or so to my focusing distance. Well, in hindsight, I should have thought that one through a little better. The focus is always the distance between the subject and the film plane, not the lens opening. The results of the second role, even the first half where I was focusing correctly, were not promising. The items that I had thought were in focus were not and so perhaps I had not calibrated the rangefinder correctly.
After calibrating the rangefinder again, I shot a third role and this role was better, but I was not entirely happy with the two shots that were shot at f/5.6. (Most of the role was f/11 or higher).
After seeing these shots, I knew that I needed to do more work to find out why my camera wasn’t working the way I needed it to. In order to do this, I knew that I could either continue to burn rolls of film and try and compare results to figure this out or come up with a way of actually seeing the image on the film plane in real time. Surprisingly enough, you can use scotch tape to make a makeshift “ground glass” on the film plane and accomplish seeing the image in real time! Within two minutes of having built my makeshift “ground glass”, I had measured a subject with the rangefinder, transferred the measurement to the camera, and then on the “ground glass”, I could see that the image wasn’t in focus. I focused the image on the tape and saw that the camera was quite different in where it was in focus versus what the rangefinder said. To figure out which was accurate, I measured the distance from the film plane to the subject and determined that the lens on the Tourist was not accurate! When I had thought I had been focusing on an object that was actually 6 feet away and set the camera’s focus on 6 feet, it was actually focusing roughly 8 feet away. This explains why the objects in focus were always behind where I was focusing.
Given this predicament, I have two ways forward for this particular problem. The first way would require a significant outlay of time and is something I’m not interested in at the moment. That would be disassembling the lens and shutter and resetting the lens with an accurate focus into the shutter mechanism. A detailed take down of this lens (The Kodak 105mm f/4.5 Anaston lens) is available on flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/149070754@N07/albums/72157695098524481 . The benefit of going through all of this work is that hyperfocal focusing would be accurate (It seems ok above f/11.) and I’d be able to use the camera without the rangefinder.
The second way forward and the one that I am choosing at the moment is to calibrate the rangefinder to the camera. For this, I have basically placed the camera in front of a subject and have the rangefinder patch on the subject. I then use a loupe on the “ground glass” and focus on the subject. I then took the focus reading from the camera, set it on the rangefinder and then calibrated the range finder to be “right” at that distance. I have since tested the camera with its “ground glass” on a number of different objects and at this point I have the setup accurate to a few inches, which doesn’t seem too bad given the rangefinder and the camera are completely wrong, tape buckles, and focusing on tape is nowhere near as luxurious as a real ground glass. 🙂 I also probably won’t use this camera under f/5.6 and at f/5.6 and close distances, you can get 3.5-4 ft in focus at the same time. Of course, this range of focus increases as the distance gets further.
So at this point, it’s on to the 4th roll of film, which is almost finished and ready to be developed! Here’s to hoping that I’ve overcome this problem.
I recently purchased a Kodak Tourist camera at an antique shop largely because it was in excellent condition and I’ve always been interested in medium format folders.
The Kodak Tourist that I have is the version 1, which was manufactured between 1948 and 1951. The lens is a Kodak Angston 105mm f/4.5 lens in a Flash Kodamatic Shutter that goes from 1/10s to 1/200s and features a bulb and timer mode.
It’s a great camera that’s not too large (considering the size of the film), but it does bring with it some difficulties that other medium format cameras simply do not have. Specifically, here are those difficulties:
- Takes 620 film.
- No rangefinder or focusing aid.
- Heavy enough to require significant effort in not shaking the camera while shooting.
The first difficulty, takes 620 film (which is discontinued as a format), is actually not too difficult to overcome. You can purchase hand rolled 620 film directly from B&H or the Film Photography Project Store. 620 film is 120 film rolled onto a spool that is a little shorter and skinnier. As such, it’s not too hard to find, but it does cost a bit more than 120 film, even though they are the same film as you are paying for someone’s time and effort in re-rolling the film. Another option that you have is rolling 120 film onto 620 spools yourself. Once you get the 620 film, the camera takes 8 beautiful 6cm x 9cm images, which are in a 2×3 format, or the same aspect ratio of 35mm film.
The second difficulty, no rangefinder or focusing aid, is actually quite a difficulty. Because of the lack of anything to tell you how far objects are from your camera, you have to guess this yourself. Hyperfocal focusing becomes important here (where you set the focus ring to have infinity at the f/stop you desire to shoot at). On the Tourist, hyperfocal focusing at f/5.6 is 25ft to infinity, at f/8 about 18 ft to infinity, f/11 gets you 14 feet, f/16 gets you 9 feet, and f/22 gets you 7 feet. But what happens if you need to photograph something that’s 5 feet in front of you and due to light need to stop down to f/5.6? At this point, you can dial in 5 feet on the middle of the focus dial and you’ll have a small area less and slightly greater than 5 feet in focus. But what if you miscalculated the distance to your subject? There is a great chance at that point, the image will be out of focus and you are out of luck. You can see how this actually poses quite a difficulty.
The third difficulty is one that I encountered when learning to use a Minolta Autocord as well and it simply requires that you train your muscles to be able to hold the camera steady while tripping the shutter. I’ve done some work with this on the Tourist and think I’ll have better luck on my next outing.
To help address the second difficulty, I’ve purchased on eBay a Walz Rangefinder that fits into the cold shoe. If this device is in good working condition as advertised, I’ll be able to use the rangefinder to accurately measure the distance to the subject and then (as the rangefinder will be uncoupled) dial that in on the focus ring. It was difficult to find information on auxiliary rangefinders in 2019 as these days, most models are laser rangefinders. For a good source on vintage auxiliary rangefinders, please take a look at Mercury Camera’s Range Finder Roundup.
And now, as promised by the title, here are 3 shots from that first roll of 8 images on Kodak Tri-X (developed in XTol) through this camera:
As 2018 has come to a close, I have decided to take a look back at my favorite images of the year. Most of my work this past year has been making pictures of the family and of that, there is a good bit of work. But this post is not about those images but rather about my landscapes and cityscapes. All of the images that I’ve picked for this year save for one are from North Carolina. The other image is from Dallas, Texas and is the only sheet of Cinestill 800T in 4×5 that I’ve shot so far. I suppose I should really shoot the rest of that box.
In looking at the work, I’ve learned that I really do tend to prefer color but I still love to work in black and white. Also, large format photography dominates this selection, with 35mm coming up next, followed by medium format. I picked up my first medium format camera, a Minolta Autocord, in August and have definitely loved the images that it’s created. Given that I’ve only had it for the last few months of the year, I’m not surprised that it’s a bit under-represented in this selection of images.
Kodak Ektar remains my color film of choice for all color work that isn’t focused on people or where a higher speed than 100 ISO is needed. This past year has seen the end of my Fuji Natura 1600 supply as well as my Fuji Superia 1600 supply and as they have been discontinued, I no longer have any more high speed color film. Given this, I started working with Kodak Portra 800 and pushing it two stops to 3200. This is rather finicky, but when it works, the results are amazing and the Deco sign at night in this collection is indeed this 800 pushed to 3200 combination. When it comes to 400 speed film, I’m still undecided between Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji Pro 400H. I’m also developing a real fondness for Kodak Portra 160, which does make an appearance in this collection as well.
I attended the Film Photography Project’s Workshop in Findlay, Ohio this past August and had an absolute blast while learning a few new things. The smell of Ether from Joseph Brunjes’ wet plate photography demo for one, but also that a sous vide makes an excellent temperature control mechanism for C-41. Post this workshop, I bought a sous vide and also switched from the Unicolor kit to Kodak Flexicolor chemistry for C-41. That has made a major difference in my home processed color film and I hope to have that process written up in the near future and on this website.
Moving from the technical to the artistic, I believe that my images from this year represent solitude. Maybe my work all along has been about solitude, but it’s a theme that definitely comes through in this 2018 set. The quiet places that recharge us and give us much needed rest are well represented, but also, those moments of quiet among the bustle of urban environments. These are the moments that I live for and the ones that I get the most enjoyment out of capturing. Every one of these images takes me right back to the place that I was at the time of capture. Every one of those places holds a special meaning for me personally. I hope that some of that comes through these images for anyone else who may view them.
Here are my top 12 from 2018 in no particular order:
I had a lot of fun visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina in April 2018 and even had the chance for a little bit of photography! I absolutely love the seemingly unspoiled nature of these beeches, the fresh seafood, and the remoteness of it all as you head south of Nags Head.
For this trip, we went all the way down to Ocracoke and stayed for a few days. It does take a little bit of time to get to Ocracoke, but once you are there, it’s very relaxing because there isn’t much to do! In Ocracoke, you can go to the beach, hang out on Silver Lake, stroll around in the village, or a handful of other related activities, but that’s pretty much it. If you like the hustle and bustle of the city, Ocracoke may not be for you. If you need flashy yellow buildings that sell all the latest beach knick knacks, Ocracoke may not be for you.
But….if you want to get away from it all and you find doing nothing relaxing, then Ocrcacoke may just be for you.
Here are a couple of my favorite images from this past trip to the Outer Banks:
On this trip, I actually got to climb the Bodie Island Lighthouse for the first time and owing to having two film cameras around my neck and looking extra interested in photographing all of the details, the park ranger gave me a quick look inside the actual fresnel! Enjoy the above two frames. That was certainly an exciting experience!
But on to Ocracoke…. Here’s the sunset over the Pamlico Sound:
The Ocracoke Lighthouse at dusk is a beautiful place to be, but also overrun with mosquitoes. Everything was going well and then they all came out. I honestly don’t believe that I’ve ever swat at so many mosquitoes before!
And finally, not one, but two spectacularly peaceful sunrises at the Lifeguard beach:
I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I enjoyed making them.
Silberra Ultima 200 is a panchromatic black and white film from Silberra in Russia. You can find more information on this film from their website at: https://silberra.com/films/silberra-ultima .
I picked up a roll of Ultima 200 and Pan 200 as rewards for backing them on their recent Indiegogo campaign and these shipped promptly. This was the only reward from the campaign that shipped promptly and all other rewards are supposedly still on the way. Such is the way with crowdfunding campaigns though.
I was excited to put this roll through my camera as I tend to really like medium speed (200 ISO) black and white film, with a special soft spot for Eastman XX (5222). When it came time to load the film in the tank though, I was shocked at how thin the film was. On the aforementioned page, they give you the actual number 0.06mm thick, but I glossed over that little detail. I had a very difficult time loading this roll and almost gave up on it. I developed it in Kodak XTol and was not disappointed at all. Even though I thought I had buckled this film in multiple places, there were no obvious issues with the developed negatives.
While I was loading that film, I was thinking about how to give away the Pan 200, but after seeing the results that I got with the Ultima 200, I think this film is well worth shooting, even as thin as it is.
Here are some of my results from an early evening of walking around Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.
Having grown up in Mississippi, New Orleans has always held a sense of mystique. From Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire” to the dixieland jazz funeral processions, to it’s reputation as a serious party destination, there is no denying that New Orleans has a palpable energy and a uniqueness all its own.
I recently was able to get back down to New Orleans with a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and my Minolta XD-11. The weather had been cold and damp, which is the opposite of hot and muggy, the usual New Orleans weather. The cold and damp had led to a bit of a fog over everything, which only helped add to the mystique of the place.
To me, it wouldn’t be a visit to New Orleans without a stop by Leah’s Pralines (http://www.leahspralines.com/ – 714 St. Louis Street). Pralines are a wonderful New Orleans treat and there are an abundance of shops that sell them. That said, I’ve tried many of the different shops over the years and have yet to come across a better praline than Leah’s. If you’re in the area, definitely go check them out and try both the traditional and the creamy varieties. You won’t regret it!
And lastly, Jackson Square, historically known as the Plaza D’Armas.
Have you ever read something before and been left with a nagging feeling that what you read discounted what you knew and made you feel like you weren’t doing as good as you could? And then did you spend months trying to rationalize that what you were doing was just fine and didn’t need to be improved?
If you have ever felt that way, then you’ll know how I felt when I first came across comparison statements made by a former Kodak-Eastman employee on the difference in C-41 with blix versus separate bleach/fix. This particular employee goes by the moniker “PE” on the popular site APUG (Analog Photography Users’ Group), which has recently been acquired by Photorio. He has made a lot of statements on this subject on this site, including such gems as this:
” However, I can say that use of a blix instead of a real bleach then fix cycle is the root of many problems.” (Comment #356 at https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/list-of-color-chemicals-and-where-to-get-them.79069/page-15)
The following discussion that another forum member started was very interesting to me:
“I used up developer from a tetenal kit I had on the go, so the biggest difference was using separate bleach and fix. After using blix for the last two years, I’m dumbfounded. These results are superior in every way. The biggest difference is the reduction in grain and increase in sharpness. It’s beautiful. 35mm almost seemed unusable before, but the results I just got here have true life. I even sense a larger tonal range, and deeper blacks. Very happy. Thank you all. ” (Comment #351 from Kuby at https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/list-of-color-chemicals-and-where-to-get-them.79069/page-15
to which PE responded:
” Thank you for posting this. It is what I have been saying all along!” (Comment #352 at https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/list-of-color-chemicals-and-where-to-get-them.79069/page-15)
There are many, many more places where PE and others tout the benefits of a separate bleach/fix over blix.
So what’s the dilemma? The dilemma is that most C-41 kits targeted to the home developer come with Blix. In fact, I can’t find a single site selling a kit with separate bleach and fix in the United States. (There are rumors that the Rollei separate bleach/fix kit can be purchased in Europe. Stateside, Rollei’s kit has blix. Everyone seems to use blix.)
So after sitting on this nagging bit of information that somehow separate bleach and fix is better than blix for months, I finally figured out how to move from using Blix to a separate bleach/fix combination. This post is about the how and some examples of my results of actually doing this.
DISCLAIMER: I cannot be held responsible for anything that you do as a result of following any infomation in or linked from this post. This post is about conducting a chemical process which could cause harm to you and others if not conducted appropriately. Please read all safety and MSDS specification sheets for any chemicals that you purchase for this and other chemical processes that you may decide to undertake.
To start with, I knew I’d need a lot more bottles than what I had. I ended up needing six 1L glass bottles plus 1 500mL glass bottle to store my C-41 chemistry in.
Here is the 1L bottle that I use:
and here is the 500mL bottle:
Here is how I use my bottles:
- C41 Developer
- Bleach (1+1)
- Bleach (Stock)
1 500mL Bottle:
- Bleach (Stock)
Starting out, I had a Unicolor kit ready to go, and since you can still use the developer and stabilizer from those, I simply mixed my developer and stabilizer per the instructions of the Unicolor kit.
For the stop bath, the formula is 5% white distilled vinegar at a 1+4 mix with distilled water.
For the bleach and fixer, I purchased the F2 kit from Unique Photo available here:
And this is where things get interesting because what you get is this:
So here you have Part 1 and Part 2 and because this is meant to go in a processing machine, there aren’t any real instructions for how to turn this F2 kit into a home developing kit.
Part 1 is 1L of C-41 bleach to be used as is. Part 2 is just over 2L of C-41 Fixer that has to be diluted at 1+1. Here are pictures of the unboxing:
As you can see, we have two tanks with chemicals. The green chemical (and smaller tank) is the bleach and the larger tank has the fixer. In getting the chemicals out, you’ll run into this:
That is the spout and chemistry will not come out of that unless you depress the piece in the middle. This is a terrible way to try and get the chemistry out unless you want chemicals all over you. This is not the way to go.
Instead, you’ll need to carefully cut the spout off of the bottle so that you have a place that you can carefully pour the chemicals into a graduated cylinder. See:
With a hole cut in the top, removing the spout, you can now pour the chemistry into a graduated cylinder and from there into your bottles.
For the C-41 bleach, this is straightforward. 1L of bleach in the bag goes into the cylinder and into a 1L bottle.
For the C-41 fixer, pour 1L into the cylinder and into one of the two 1L bottles for fixer. Repeat for the second liter. For what is left over, consult with your municipality’s regulations on chemical disposal. I have to take mine to the county waste processing facility along with my other used photochemistry.
At the end of this process, you should now have 3 1L bottles of chemistry:
Now when it’s time to actually start development, you can do the following per chemical:
Developer – Mix as the Unicolor kit instructs and take the finished liter into a bottle.
Stop Bath – I’ve used this a few times and it’s not really needed with C-41 developer, plus it can cause the bleach to not work correctly, so I’m discontinuing this recommendation.
Bleach – Use existing 1L bottle of Bleach
Fixer – Pour 500mL of Fixer into a graduated cylinder and move that to your 500mL bottle. Then pour the remaining 500mL from the bottle into a graduated cylinder, add 500mL of distilled water and pour that back into the 1L bottle. Relabel this bottle as Fixer (1+1).
Stabilizer – Mix as the Unicolor kit instructs and take the finished liter into a bottle.
When you have mixed these five chemicals, you should have something like:
and you are now ready to run C-41 with separate bleach and fix.
For development, you need to have a method to keep the temeperature of the development constant. C-41 developer has a 0.5F degree range, meaning that you can have the developer anywhere between 101.5F and 102.5F and be fine, but outside of that range, you will get color shifts and other issues. Keeping color chemistry at a stable temperature is beyond the scope of this particular blog post.
Here are the instructions and temperatures that the chemistry must be at:
- Developer – 3.5 minutes at 102F (range 101.5-102.5 F)
- Stop Bath – 1 minute at 75-105F — see above, discontinuing this recommendation.
- Bleach – 6.5 minutes at 75-105F
- Wash – 1.5 minutes at 75-105F (should be very agressive – enough to turn over the water in the tank four times.)
- Fixer – 6.5 minutes at 75-105F
- Wash – 3.25 minutes at 75-105F (should be just as agressive as the wash in step 4.)
- Stabilizer – 1.5 minutes at 75-105F
As for an agitation scheme, on the developer, stop bath, bleach, and fixer, I use 10 seconds initially followed by 10 seconds of agitation every 30 seconds. For the Stabilizer, I agitate for the first 10 seconds and then leave it alone.
You will need to burp the stop bath. “Burping” refers to opening and re-sealing the lid between agitations. If you don’t burp the stop bath, the pressure will blow the lid off and you’ll have a warm vinegar bath. In my experience, neither the bleach nor the fixer needed “burping” even though I did burp them a few times. This is in stark contrast to blix, which needs to be burped regularly as well.
One more note — I have not put a pre-wash in here as I have read that pre-washing C-41 film removes protective layers that are intended to be interacted first by the developer. Previouly I have pre-washed C-41 film, but this time I did not. I held my tank down in my water bath from the point that the developer reached 100F until it was at 102F. At 102F, I poured the developer into the tank, closed the tank, started the timer, and began the agitation. Afterwards, the tank went immediately back into the water bath.
Once you have done all of this, hang your negatives to dry and you can do a squeegee to get rid of excess stabilizer or use your fingers. If you use your fingers, you may wish to wear a glove and should definitely wash your hands and all of your equipment after this process. My film is usually ready to be sleeved at the 3 hour mark.
So having gone to all this effort, what are my thoughts on the process? Honestly, these negatives actually feel cleaner to the touch than those that have gone through blix. The reduction in grain and increase in sharpness are definitely there throughout the negatives. 35mm is a joy to shoot on with this method and they are absolutely the best 35mm film results I’ve ever gotten.
So here is the proof. I am going to show you two examples for two films: Portra 400 and Natura 1600. One with Blix and one that went through the separate bleach/fix process. Do bear in mind that I had not planned on going down this path when I developed film with blix and as such, I don’t have a picture of the exact same thing that was developed with blix and then developed with the separate bleach/fix process. That said, the results that I am sharing with you are not one-off. The examples that went through blix are indicative of my other work with blix and the examples from the separate bleach/fix process are indicative of what all that work looks like.
Both of these Portra 400 examples are 100% enlargements from a V700 using Silverfast to scan and process. They both were properly exposed with adequate light.
Fuji Natura 1600
The scanning settings for the Natura examples are the same as the Portra examples.
Effectively, with a separate bleach/fix, you do get sharper negatives, less grain, and better tonal qualities. The next set of negatives that I develop will definitely be with this method and then after that Unicolor kit is gone, it’s time to start looking at other C-41 delevopers! Stay tuned!
Over the years, my day job has taken me to a number of different places. As such, I have enjoyed the opportunity of getting to photograph a number of different places. Recently, I’ve been spending time in the Dallas metro area and this last time, I decided to take my large format camera along for the ride.
Flying with large format film is definitely an adventure and one that I have now done on three separate occasions. In the United States, you are presently allowed a hand check of all film, saving it from going through the scanner. This is especially beneficial when you are traveling with a 100-sheet box of Delta 100 like I was on this last trip.
To prevent security officers from randomly opening my film boxes (and exposing / ruining the contents!) I always tape all sides with gaffers tape. This actually works quite well, because if there is any concern from the security officer around what this box contains, this allows there to be civil conversation around how the boxes contain light-sensitive photographic film and opening them would ruin the contents. This conversation (if it even happens) is usually fast, cordial, and sometimes leads to more interesting conversations about analogue film and photography in general. I have been treated very well by our security officers in the United States and have no concerns traveling with this setup as long as I tape everything up.
For this, my first business trip traveling with the large format camera, the weather was all but a bust. The temperatures were in the 30s Fahrenheit and it rained a significant amount every day. There was one night where the rain let up and it happened to correspond with the night that I was out with one of my co-workers to specifically do large format photography. It was his first outing with a big camera and the conditions were certainly less than ideal. Even though it wasn’t raining, the wind was gusting quite a bit and it was a very humid cold, the worst kind in my opinion. That said, the bad weather had also made this a fantastic night to be out making images as the tops of the buildings in Dallas were covered by a fog and the Trinity River had flooded, making for a very unique composition with some nice atmospheric elements that aren’t usually there.
I have the following images to share from that night:
Both of these images were shot on Ilford Delta 100 developed in Perceptol 1+3.
Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Such was the case the last time that I went to Cowee Mountains Overlook in October 2015. This was a significant trip as it was the first trip my family had taken since welcoming our son George! This was my first opportunity to do large format landscape work since he was born and I was very excited about that. We located ourselves close to a lot of scenic spots in Western North Carolina and I subscribed to SkyFire as well and that service was predicting that the first night of our trip was going to be a good night to go up on the Parkway and watch the sun set!
I vividly remember the drive up the mountain — the color in the mountains was spectacular at the higher elevations and I almost thought to stop and shoot that color with the evening light. That said, Cowee Mountains Overlook was calling me. It looks almost due west and has a lot of layers of mountains, making it a popular overlook with photographers and anyone wanting to enjoy the beauty of the area.
When I got to the overlook, I was met by the DSLR army. It almost never fails that when I go to Cowee, there are a number of other photographers there, all with their digital cameras ready to take hundreds of frames of the sun as it goes down. As a large format analogue photographer, arriving at this scene is one that makes you wonder what will happen next (you certainly aren’t going to go unnoticed and something will happen).
When you pull out large format gear, a lot of people get really interested and want to talk. After all, it’s not every day that you see someone with one of these big cameras and a dark cloth. I very much understand their curiosity — I’m the one who is curious enough to be using the camera after all! That said, the time when you are setting up to photograph changing light is not the best time to be having a conversation about much of anything.
I had a few conversations with people around the fact that I had a big camera while I set up and then made this image on Kodak Ektar 100:
What happened next was unexpected and quickly changed my evening for the worse. I went to adjust my location and composition and did not have my tripod secured and then my camera took a tumble! Thankfully, it didn’t go very far. Unfortunately, a small stick went right through the bellows, rendering the Crown Graphic unable to take any more pictures that evening!
I wish I could tell you that the other photographers were supportive and helpful and helped get me out of the situation, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I heard “You should get a better tripod” and “Can you even fix a camera that old?” Those were actually some of the more helpful comments. The reality was that I put the tripod in the wrong place and even had the tripod been rated for more weight, I’m not sure that would have helped.
To salvage the evening, I thankfully had my Leica R3 ready to go and loaded with Fuji Velvia 50. As such, I was still able to make the most of my time at the overlook.
I drove back to my accommodation in a very somber mood thinking that I had clearly killed my camera after only taking 1 sheet of film for the whole trip. I had trouble sleeping that night because I was very disappointed by this turn of events and the less than helpful responses I received from the other photographers.
As I lay there trying to sleep, I realized that I had gaffer’s tape on the back of my Leica R3s to cover the film window and that I could probably use the gaffer’s tape to seal the holes in the bellows! With this realization in mind, I went straight to work. I patched the holes in the bellows and then in a dark room put a light in the bellows to ensure that no light escaped. I had fixed the camera — and with the gaffer’s tape that I already had! To this day, gaffer’s tape comes with me on photography trips. (As a side note, I don’t think gaffer’s tape fixes Canon’s ERR 99 and other such computer malfunctions….)
After fixing the camera, I was able to get to sleep and enjoyed the use of my camera for the rest of the trip!
Here are my favorite images from the Leica R3 from that evening: