Most semi-serious photographers love their gear, love playing with their gear, love talking about their gear. Usually the trick is to get us to stop talking about it all and show some pictures.
I use a lot of digital equipment but when I’m interested in really controlling the look of the image I get under the hood behind my view camera. Being able to “disconnect” the plane of the lens from the plane of the film provides opportunities for images that are practically impossible with a regular camera. Our brain does such a great job of interpreting what we see into the “correct” viewpoint that we’re generally surprised at pictures coming out of a regular camera. Oddly, it takes a view camera with all its adjustment capability to deliver a photograph that looks “normal.” The following three images are examples of what I’m talking about.
Snap this shot with a regular camera and you’ll get something that might look similar. Depending on where you stand the corners of the building might be vertical or slightly slanted, the near part of the curved wall at the bottom might be in focus or not, along with the trees in the distance. It depends on the lens being used, the tripod setup and aperture selected. For a view camera, making sure all these elements are exactly as desired is simple. A little front tilt of the lens to “see” the foreground and an aperture stopped down to increase depth of field.
This one would be harder for a regular camera. The sign is about 5 feet from my camera where as the tower is about 50 feet away. My camera is set up slightly down-hill from the tower and sign. And the sign and tower are at different perspectives. To make sure everything is in focus, and that the vertical parts are really vertical while the horizontal parts stay that way required using most of the view camera’s movements. The lens and film plane are swiveled enough to get the focus for the tower and sign in the same plane, the lens has been lifted higher than the film to keep the perspectives the same while being tilted forward slightly to “see” the path in front of the sign, and the aperture is stopped down to f/64 so that everything is in focus.
This was the simplest shot to make. Level the camera, tilt the body down slightly to “see” the ice triangle in the river, tilt the film plane to vertical to keep the trees straight, and tilt the lens forward enough to put the foreground and distance in the same focus.
Setup and adjustments like this usually take 15-20 minutes per shot – definitely not a candid image. Staring at the image developing on the glass screen under the hood is worth it, though, as you see how the adjustments render the shot just as you want it and just as your eye sees it.
One of the definitive books on this subject is Ansel Adams’ The Camera, which provides instruction on using the adjustments to get the image you want. There are other sources out there but Adams writes well and serves up sound advice from years of experience crafting images exactly the way he wanted them. It’s fun to read, and who knows, might encourage more people to try out a view camera for a different perspective on photography.