Fine Art Photography
4x5, 120, and 35mm Film

Category: Stories

North Carolina Winter

Late February seems awfully late for a first snowfall, but that is where we are this year in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I hope that you enjoy these tranquil scenes of the sun starting to shine through the snowy trees after 3 inches fell the night before.

The Warming of the Day – Fuji Pro 400H – Mamiya 7 – 80mm f/4
The Sun Rises – Fuji Pro 400H – Mamiya 7 – 80mm f/4

Further Adventures with the Kodak Tourist: Adding a Walz Rangefinder

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: you will see where two others have done this before. Dan Mitchell posted this picture, which is the Walz rangefinder disassembled:

Parts of a Walz Rangefinder. (Taken by Dan Mitchell) From left, there is the cap that holds the mirror in place (it has two holes for screws that are just above it) and to the right of that cap is the actual mirror. The hole that you see when you unscrew the end cap is the hole on the back of that mirror piece. That mirror slots into a circular slot in the rangefinder that allows it some movement and the cap holds it in place. Moving the mirror around with a screwdriver is how you do the calibration. If you are unable to get any movement, you may have to take the whole thing apart and loosen the screws on the cap that holds the mirror in place.
Picture of the adjustment hole. Yes — that’s the backside of the mirror piece. (Taken By Dan Mitchell)

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.

The initial stages of disassembly (Taken by Dan Mitchell)

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).

The rangefinder is focusing on the leaves in the very front. As you can see, the actual focus is further back from those leaves.
This one is in focus due to the greater depth of field.

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: . 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.

What’s surprising is this actually works!

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.

Best of 2018

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:

Deco at Night, Raleigh, NC – Kodak Portra 800 at 3200 – 6x6cm


Patterns in Downtown Raleigh – Kodak Tri-X 400 – 6x6cm


Sunset on the Pamlico Sound – Ilford Delta 100 – 4×5


Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and Dallas – Cinestill 800T – 4×5


The Start of Fall – Fuji Superia 400 – 35mm


Wiseman’s View – Ferrania P30 – 35mm


Kitty Hawk Waves – Kodak Portra 160 – 35mm


Lifeguard Beach Sunrise #2 – Kodak Ektar 100 – 4×5


Ocracoke Lighthouse – Kodak Ektar 100 – 4×5


Linville Falls – Ilford Delta 100 – 4×5


Sunset at Big Laurel Gap Overlook – Kodak Ektar 100 – 4×5


Deerlick Gap Overlook Sunset – Kodak Ektar 100 – 4×5

North Carolina’s Outer Banks – April 2018

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:

Bodie Island Fresnel – Minolta XD-11 – Portra 400


Bodie Island Fresnel – Minolta XD-11 – Portra 400

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:

Sunset over the Pamlico Sound – Ocracoke – 4×5 – Ektar 100

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!

Ocracoke Lighthouse at Dusk – 4×5 Ektar 100

And finally, not one, but two spectacularly peaceful sunrises at the Lifeguard beach:

Lifeguard Beach Sunrise #1 – 4×5 – Ektar 100


Lifeguard Beach Sunrise #2 – 4×5 Ektar 100

I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I enjoyed making them.

Appalachia in June (2018)

The Appalachian Mountains inspire me like few locations that I have visited. These mountains formed roughly 480 million years ago. Compare this to the 55-80 million years formation age of the Rocky Mountains and you start to get a sense for how much longer these mountains have been around. Even where the peaks are high, the movement between them is undulating and curved, suggesting a sense of tranquility that you just don’t find in a lot of places.

The first image that I’d like to share from my most recent trip this past June is one that I almost didn’t get. I had driven down to the Blue Ridge Parkway to photograph sunset and the weather was definitely all over the place. The clouds were rolling in and rain was coming. The westerly facing overlooks were clouded over with no color showing through at all and the only place where there was any sense of mystique was on the easterly facing overlooks. I made a black and white image at one of the easterly facing overlooks and then packed everything up as it started to rain. I then started to drive around to see if there was anywhere else that I may be able to make any more images that night. I stumbled upon an opening in the clouds at Deerlick Gap Overlook and could not believe my luck! I set up quickly and was able to make this image of the sunset:


Sunset at Deerlick Gap Overlook – Kodak Ektar – 4×5

To me, the moodiness of this sunset and the way the colors light up the mountains really speaks to the tranquility of these mountains.

Another one of my favorite things about this region is the sheer number and variety of waterfalls that there are to explore and photograph. I started the trip with one of the more difficult falls that I have ever tried to photograph. I still have not found a great place to capture this waterfall from and I suspect that more time is needed to explore this one and see what other vantages there are. I present an image from the waterfall on Whiteoak Creek:

Waterfall at Whiteoak Creek – Ilford Delta 100 – XTol – 4×5

Because of the difficulty that I have had in getting a larger vantage, I focused on a small section of the falls and used some front standard tilt to help emphasize the falls themselves and the almost dream like state my mind can go into while visiting waterfalls at times.

That evening, the conditions for sunset looked good again and I must say that at the Big Laurel Gap Overlook on the Parkway, I was not disapointed:

Big Laurel Gap Overlook Sunset – Kodak Ektar 100 – 4×5

The next day and night were mostly rained out, but the following day yielded conditions worth pursuing photography again. I ended up at the Black Mountains Overlook for this evening’s outing (Sunrises in this area were around 6 am and sunset around 9pm, so I didn’t quite make any sunrises).

This image is from quite a bit before the sun actually set. I have some undeveloped color film from this trip that I think covers the rest of this event. One of the fun things about shooting film is that now I really don’t remember what’s on those sheets, so it will be interesting to develop them and recover the memories!

Dusk at Black Mountains Overlook – Kodak Ektar – 4×5

I find this type of landscape photography to be both exciting and calming all at the same time. Exciting in that you get to chase the light and spend your time wondering if amazing conditions are going to occur, but calming in getting to watch the beauty of these events unfold. To watch the sun go down or come up as it has done so many times before. To be out there, sometimes by yourself, soaking it all in. That’s exciting and calming. A wonderful mix.

The last full day of my trip I went out on a mission to get a shot of Linville Falls that would incorporate as much of the plunge basin and the rocky outcropping that the Linville River tumbles through as it heads into that basin. I’ve explored Linville Falls extensively, but I had always passed up the “Plunge Basin Overlook” on the way down to the Linville River to actually go explore the basin itself. After this trip, I now realize that I have been missing out on one of the more exciting overlook views of Linville Falls. Here is the image that I made:

Linville Falls – Ilford Delta 100 – XTol – 4×5

I’m quite happy with how this one turned out and really surprised that I have passed by this overlook so many times before!

Finally, I’d like to close this post with one last image that imparts the feeling of what it’s like to travel on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I don’t remember which night of the trip I made this image, but I do remember that I was driving around looking for a particular overlook and the westerly facing overlooks weren’t working, but this easterly facing one was quite nice.

Overlook Before Tunnel – Ilford Delta 100 – XTol – 4×5

Shooting Large Format Film in Dallas

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.

The Cowee Mountains Incident

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:

About Me

About me

I'm Karl Abbott and this is my blog. I'll share images, the story behind them, and any unique technical details about how I achieved my results.