Reflections of a Large Format Photographer

For years I used a Toyo 4×5 View Camera, shooting 4×5 sheet film.  Up until 2007, I processed all my large format film, both color transparencies (chromes) and black and white negatives in my darkroom.  I used the Jobo rotary processor for film, and Cibachrome printing of my color images.  I printed all my own Gelatin Silver Prints. I operated a Community Darkroom in Durango, Colorado.  And taught darkroom and film skills at the Maine Media Workshops, at Bayonne High School in New Jersey, and private lessons in Durango.  I miss it.

Tonight is the opening reception for the Colorado Plateau: A Storied Landscape exhibition here in Durango.  As an invited artist, I was asked to show my Black and White imagery from the Four Corners.  I’m stoked to be showing right alongside Don Kirby, Bruce Hucko and Serena Supplee.  Years ago I attended and assisted a workshop, my first trip into Antelope Canyon, with Don Kirby, Bruce Barnbaum and Stu Levy.  These men are some of the biggest influences on my photography and choice to use large format, along with Ansel Adams and John Sexton.

Original 4x5 black and white negative, scanned and digitally printed. ©Kit Frost

Original 4×5 black and white negative, photographed with Toyo 45AII large format camera, scanned and digitally printed. I printed this image 24×32 and it’s amazingly sharp at that size.   Gotta love large format. ©Kit Frost

In order to complete all the work for the exhibition I reviewed years of my archive of negatives and chromes.  Choosing just 6-8 images proved challenging, yet, I found that the show was focused on the Colorado Plateau so some of my images spoke louder to me during the editing process.  Old school editing, lightbox, loupe and all.

Once I made some choices, I scanned the 4x5s at 2000dpi, planning to print to 16×20 and matte and frame to 20×24. And then the fun began.  I have digital dust on the sensor of my D300 and D5100 but nothing compares to the dust cleanup necessary with film.  My storage is a clean area, as dust free as possible. Once committed to the process of zooming in to each small square of the file in Photoshop CS4, I used the healing brush, one spot at a time.  Very Zen.  I gave myself the luxury of time, time to get the clean up completed.

Bears Ears, or Honey I'm Home!  Large format black and white negative, Toyo view 45AII, scanned and digitally printed.  ©Kit Frost

Bears Ears, or Honey I’m Home! Large format black and white negative, Toyo view 45AII, scanned and digitally printed. ©Kit Frost

As you can see, I love Southwest thunder clouds and cumulus clouds in general.  So a clean, spotless print, is important to me.  The prints were made on an Epson 7600, boy that printer is a workhorse, as I’ve had it running in my studio since 2003.  Amazing quality.  I used a combination of Lightroom and round tripped to Photoshop to use all the tools in my “toolbox”.  I enjoy the editing process, I enjoy the ease of  Lightroom to organize portfolios, to make choices as to how images look in combinations (I made a bunch of collections to view images as a group). I burned the midnight oil (but never judged prints under night lighting in the studio).

Passing Summer Thunderstorm, from Hunts Mesa, AZ.  Large Format Color Chrome, scanned RGB, converted in Photoshop. ©Kit Frost

Passing Summer Thunderstorm, from Hunts Mesa, AZ. Large Format Color Chrome, scanned RGB, converted in Photoshop. ©Kit Frost

Looking towards the Weminuche Wilderness, the Grenadier Range, part of the Colorado Plateau series.  Large format color chrome, scanned and printed digitally. ©Kit Frost

Looking towards the Weminuche Wilderness, the Grenadier Range, part of the Colorado Plateau series. Large format color chrome, scanned and printed digitally. ©Kit Frost

I plan to record video stories about each of the images hanging in the current exhibition.  I love story telling.  And preparing the work, editing, scanning, printing, matting and framing has inspired me to use my Toyo View Camera once again.  Interestingly enough, I’ve been shopping the Nikon D800 as an upgrade from my current gear.  I look forward to working those 36 megapixels into a series of 30×40 prints. But the view camera is calling my name.  I have plenty of Ilford and Fuji film, but as many of you know, the “in the field” workflow is so much different with DSLR compared to the view camera, that I’m spoiled by the speed and quick results of my Nikons.  Waiting for film to be processed by the lab could prove to be a real challenge for me.   So maybe it’s time for my next darkroom, eh?  More to follow.  Stay tuned.

Are you using a large format set up?  Have you retired your large format gear?

 

Tips on honoring the Creative Process

Thanks to the folks at the Nutter Crew, we can see a realistic approach to the Creative Process.

The Creative Process, shared by the Nutter Crew

The Creative Process, shared by the Nutter Crew

Pardon the language but I agree with this timeline.  Right now I’m in the Panic and All the Work while Crying stage, two days from the Deadline.  I have a few suggestions for the times when you know that work has to get done, but it seems like you have PLENTY of time when you’re in the Fuck off stage.

  1. Clean the Studio.
  2. Write your blog.
  3. Visit your homies on facebook.
  4. Watch your favorite Netflix series (Downton anybody?).
  5. Talk on the phone. A good time to catch up with the news.
  6. Go to the movies.
  7. Eat out every night.
  8. Send out invoices so you earn the money to move ahead with the project.
  9. Wait till the last minute to make the money to do the following:
  10. Order the frames.
  11. Order the mattes (32×40 sheets are the biggest bargain).
  12. Order the glass (who is cutting it to size?).
  13. Order the printing paper and cartridges.
  14. Make the prints.
  15. or Better yet, send them to a service bureau and wait for them to arrive.
  16. Do all your ordering with 2-3 day shipping and get reamed.
  17. Start the project.
  18. Edit the portfolio
  19. Choose final images
  20. Mess up the studio with the packaging from all those deliveries.
  21. Have the fun of making your art important.
  22. Remember that you love to work on your art.
  23. Lock the studio door.
  24. Turn up the volume.
  25. Burn the midnight oil.
  26. Get er done.
  27. Repeat.

I have an exhibition set for delivery this coming Saturday, but I can stretch the deadline until Monday.  Another delay tactic? I’m excited to be showing black and white prints of explorations in the Canyon Country and the Colorado Plateau.  I live in Durango, and as you may know, I travel to Arizona, and Utah often.  My collection of images from the Four Corners is large and editing the portfolio has been the most difficult.  This exhibition is by invitation and I feel honored to be chosen.  One of my favorite writers, Craig Childs, will be at the opening reception, and these images are to complement his slideshow and lecture about the Colorado Plateau, Land of Ghosts, Travel in Ancient Places

With two days left to complete the portfolio, I’m on target.  All the images are scanned from 4×5 negatives and chromes, the color images have been edited for grayscale in Photoshop.  I round-tripped from Lightroom to Photoshop in order to mix the red and green channels to my liking.  The black and white negatives were scanned and edited directly in Lightroom.  Each scan was about 190MB, 400dpi (so I could crop if needed) and output to 16×20 prints, matted to 20×24 frames.

Bears Ears, or Honey I'm Home!

Bears Ears, or Honey I’m Home! ©Kit Frost

Balloon Festival Photography Lessons, Bluff Utah

A last minute adventure this past weekend to the Bluff Balloon Festival proved easy.  The Desert Rose Inn in Bluff had a few cancellations and I grabbed a room.  Very nice accommodations.  I usually stay at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, but Jim and Luanne took the month of January off this year and closed the Lodge.  The Desert Rose was new (about 15 years old) and although I had to air out my linens from the strong scent of cleaner, I was comfortable. In the past, Zazi, my lab, would travel with me. Since she died I have explored some places where dogs are not allowed.  National Park trails, motels with NO PETs, etc.

Arizona Strip Workshop-11

I left Durango around 11am and arrived in Bluff for some late afternoon photography near Twin Rocks and spent a few hours along Comb Ridge, photographing sunset light hitting the walls of the Ridge.  The Bluff Balloon Festival’s after dark GLOW was scheduled for later so I  left the Comb in time to enjoy Saturday night in downtown Bluff. .  And I wasn’t disappointed in the glow.  Although difficult to photograph, the light glowing from the balloons was fun.  The pilots took turns lighting up their tethered balloons with the help of a count down.  So photography, although limited was enjoyable.  I did occasionally run and warm up in the car, as the temps were tipping 5 degrees. I planned to be up at sunrise to drive out to Valley of the Gods for the early launch so I hit the Desert Rose shortly after a few grab shots of the balloons.  The Bluff festival is small and there were about 10 balloons at the glow.  A big change for those of you who have witnessed the nearby Albuquerque Balloon Festival.

The morning launch was after sunrise in the Valley of the Gods, about 20 miles west of Bluff.  I love the Valley of the Gods, often camp there and the drive through the Comb Ridge is always a treat.  For photographing the balloons against the red rock formations in Valley of the Gods, I thought the wide angle lens would be the ticket.  My favorite lens is my Nikon 16-85 mounted on either a D300 or D5100 body.  But I found that in order to really accentuate the balloons it was best to photograph with the Nikon 55-300 lens.  The compression that long telephotos achieve was just the ticket for adding impact to the photos.

While waiting for the balloons to launch, I picked a location that would have a sweet rock formation too. ©Kit Frost

While waiting for the balloons to launch, I picked a location that would have a sweet rock formation too. I enjoy the sound of the fans filling up the balloons with air, followed by the sound of the bursts of gas heating up the interior, then the passengers load up and we have liftoff. ©Kit Frost

Photographing the balloons without a sense of place doesn't really work for me. ©Kit Frost

Photographing the balloons without a sense of place doesn’t really work for me. ©Kit Frost

Full compression of the 55-300 lens.  The background sure appears closer and the composition is fun too. ©Kit Frost

Full compression of the 55-300 lens. The background appears closer and by isolating the subjects against a shady part of the far wall, the basket stands out.  Compare this to a balloon and basket against blue sky. ©Kit Frost

Valley of Gods Balloons-5

You can see the wind blowing the balloon to the left.  Shortly after making this photo, all the balloons were tethered to wait own the wind.  ©Kit Frost

You can see the wind blowing the balloon to the left. Shortly after making this photo, all the balloons were tethered to wait out the wind. And many pilots landed and packed up to leave. The color of the basket is close to the color of the red rock, so not much separation of tones in the image.  But I waited for just the moment when the balloon on the right was between two buttes to press the shutter. ©Kit Frost

By using the Nikon 55-300 lens I was able to create frames that compressed the background buttes and spires.  The balloons, then appear closer to the mesa. ©Kit Frost

By using the Nikon 55-300 lens I was able to create frames that compressed the background buttes and spires. The balloons, then appear closer to the mesa. When working with pairs of balloons I had to photograph quickly.  It was a windy morning so they flew high above the spires in a few moments.