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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!
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:
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.
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.
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: