After a very big weekend out of the studio, I was ready to dive in again. At this stage, Week Three, I keep having to check to see that I am giving people enough to do without overwhelming them, but today it seemed they were ready for more: as planned, large-format cameras. It may seem a bit much to jump in one week from 35mm to 4x5s, especially for the students who just last week shot and developed their first roll of film ever, but the fact is that large-format cameras are in many ways the simplest and most direct apparatus one can use – it’s kind of just a box with a lens. They already understand how to work with f-stops and shutter speeds, so making a decent exposure shouldn’t be too tough. It’s more a matter of figuring out the mechanical details of the cameras we have here, the small details of tray development, and taking advantage of all the new possibilities that so many options – swings! tilts! scheimpflug! – can give them.
Maybe the one thing that really feels like new knowledge to some is using a hand-held meter, especially since we can start thinking about a kind of Zone System approach – not necessarily the full thing by extending or reducing contrast in development, but certainly to begin a deeper understanding of relative values and exposing for the shadows. I had split everyone into three groups of two (in part just to have someone to help carry equipment) and I went out with the two least experienced students. It was a gorgeous day, and they led me out onto the knoll for their shots, each of which was perfect for learning new things. One student was shooting a miniature clothesline she had made, so we could talk about changing the focal plane and perspective using the front and back standards. The other student shot a backlit portrait, which allowed us to discuss zones and making smart exposures. It didn’t hurt that it was a fantastically gorgeous day to be standing around in paradise. We did a lot of standing around.