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Saturday, 10 October 2020


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I do my best to take the picture I see but often when editing it a bit I see a much better picture within the one I took. To me, cropping is perhaps the most powerful editing tool, made so easy in digital photography. My photographs are almost exclusively displayed on screens, so I really don't need a lot of pixels. Except for cropping.

I also photograph exclusively in landscape mode in a 4/3 aspect ratio, again because my photos almost always appear on screens, which create a horizontal world in which 4/3 remains the default aspect ratio. And I hate scrolling though photos that constantly jump back and forth between landscape and portrait modes with changing aspect ratios, which I find creates a distraction from the images themselves.

I can see your reflection in the ground glass, but that only tells me you are using a smartphone, not necessarily an Iphone. All this talk about large format has me thinking I better drag out my Crown Graphic 2 1/4 x 3 1/4. I bought it my first week after moving to Phoenix in 1958. Found it in a pawn shop,in mint condition, and it included a large case, about 6 film holders, 2 film pack adapters, 2 roll film (120) adapters, one 2 1/4 square and the other 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 and a Grafmatic (?) cut film magazine. I think some guy/gal wanted to do wedding pictures, then needed money immediately. I paid $235. I've used it for only 2 complex advertising shots for my employer years ago. About every 2 years, I drag it out and enjoy reliving it. At 92, I doubt I'll be shooting any film with it. By the way, on mine the rangefinder is on the side, not the top.

I've often used my Speed Graphic as a view camera on a tripod. If you want to shoot a vertical you will find that there is a second tripod socket on the side of the camera, allowing it to be mounted in the vertical position. A bit of trouble, but I would put a tripod mounting shoe on each socket and it was easy (in some ways easier than some reversible backs) to make the switch. Another thing I've enjoyed about the Speed Graphic is that with the rear focal plane shutter you can mount just about anything out front that you might want to use as a lens. I've made photos with a magnifying glass taped to a lens board. And, of course, it makes a fine pinhole camera.

About cropping, I came up as a newspaper photographer so cropping to fit the hole was a daily thing. But I've also always been mystified by the cult of "full frame, uncropped photos" that often involved filing out the negative carrier so that there was a ragged black border "proving" that the photo was as composed in the camera. I've never felt it made sense to limit oneself to the arbitrary format chosen by a camera manufacturer. Whatever shape and crop fit the image I was trying to make was what I would chose in the darkroom and now at the computer.

I came to photography via the old school, where cropping a photo was tantamount to an admission of failure.

Worse, I'm also one of those technical geeks for whom every pixel is both sacred and essential to achieving maximum image quality, hence throwing away otherwise perfectly good pixels by cropping an image is anathema to me.

Taken together, I can't imagine a more effective torture scheme than to have me take a photo and then force me to crop it several times to find other photos hidden inside it.

But that's just me and as the saying goes, YMMV!

" I'm writing too much about large format"

Not possible IMHO (and that's from someone who has never owned any LF gear).

It's the same each time you write about jazz or classical music. It's all part of the varied information that is due to your enquiring mind.

Hate to be that guy but:

Pretty sure if you turn one of those Graphic cameras on its side it will go from horizontal to vertical. You'll lose the movements your weren't going to use anyway, otherwise you wouldn't be using that camera.

While old press guys might have cropped their Graphic negs to vertical I think it's more likely that they just turned the camera 45 degree. My Crown has a second tripod hole for vertical shooting on a tripod.

Hi, Mike. There's also a Busch-Pressman 4x5 Model D camera, a competitor of Graphic, and it's a bit smaller with an aluminum body. I found one with a 150mm Heliar Voigtländer f4.5, though they usually came with 135mm f4.7 lenses, for $100 locally. And it has a rotating back. Good alternative to the Graphics. http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Busch_Pressman_Model_D

One: the reflection, on the viewing glass, of you holding an i-Phone.

Two: you said so :)

> There are two ways you can tell these were shot with an iPhone. Can you spot both?

I'll bite. Counting the two reflections as a single clue (you wouldn't be so mean as to write this tongue-in-cheek, would you?), the most obvious second characteristic to me is that the blur* seems to by area, rather than by field-depth.

Describing this more literally, various parts of the frame have either been blurred to appear as part of the background when they are certainly part of the foreground, and others vice-versa. The most obvious examples of the former are protrusions from the camera silhouette - top edge, cables, adjustment knob on the right side of the camera in the left image (forgive me, I'm unfamiliar with the subject matter so don't know the correct term). There are some less obvious examples of the latter - the line of the cabinet adjacent to the tripod in the left image, the vertical lines between the two tripod tilt handles in the left image, the wires immediately below the tripod plate, etc.

To me, the overall effect is a little jarring - but I'm likely either being elitist, or have been influenced by your small 'challenge' and am looking for flaws that I might not notice on a more casual glance at the photos. Certainly, the point is likely academic given the intention of the photos as documentary/illustration.

* I use the word somewhat self-consciously, rather than describing in terms of focus/defocus.

** I’ll take a guess. First is seeing your reflection, which is presumably the obvious one. As for the second, I was going to say aspect ratio, but then, iPhones are 4:3, so not that unique. I’m looking forward to the more observant TOP readers pointing it out.

...the internet (now, is it supposed to be capitalized, or not?...

i don't know, is there an 'h' at the end of bokeh?

BTW, "Self Casing" view cameras are cameras that fold down to a tight package, be it cameras like the Graflex that fold into themselves, or cameras like the Deardorff that fold to a nice box. In fact, I read a article where one of the Deardorffs actually corrected someone calling his camera a "folding camera", and told them, no, it was "self casing".

This is different to what can be referred to as a "tail board" camera, which is a camera where the front end, usually a frame, folds up and clips, and the rear frame, unscrews and comes off (sometimes they also fold up, but not usually, as it allows you to use the camera in a smaller form when doing wide angles). Which ever way, they don't make a nice package, and are kind of "floppy" when transporting!

I used to own a Kodak 8X10 Magnesium, and it was a "tail board" camera, photo on this website with the guy holding it (it was also a drag to transport):


Re the **question: The reflection of course. And the little wire just below the tripod plate which portrait mode didn't know it should blur out? There also seems to be an artefact where the cream colour of the background apparently bleeds into the window, not sure what I'm looking at there!

"Find a smaller composition within a larger one, take it with the wide or normal view of the phone camera module, then crop it down to what they visualized, to see what it looks like. Exercises like this help our seeing. Once you've got the knack (or so I believe), you've got it."

The Army sent me to the Defense Information School in the 1960s, where, among other things, they taught us to use Speed Graphics, even though 35mm had been around for years. Anyway, what you learned was that as long as you had enough of something, you could crop it into a useable newspaper image. So while the fashion of the day -- are you old enough to remember this? -- was super-tight shots of people's faces and bodies, the journalistic style was to go for basically the same image, but to stand back for the shot and then crop down for publication. The ultimate sin was to cover a non-repeatable news event and try for the fashionable shot, and find out (in the days before chimping) that all you had was one nostril and half an eyeball from the visiting Senator. This wide-and-crop strategy seems to me most emphatically true with current photography, most often looked at on video screens. You could shoot an image with a m4/3 camera, cut it in halves or maybe even quarters, and still get as good resolution on a video screen as you would with a 47mp FF. So, I shoot wide and crop down, and I think that strategy would serve most people well. (I except specialists -- artists and so on, who are shooting tight high-res for a reason. If you've got have that razor-sharp falcon's eyeball in mid-dive, then wide-and-crop might not work for you.)

I have used 4x5 Speed and Crown Graphics, a 3¼ x 4¼ Crown Graphic, and a 2¼ x 3¼ Crown Graphic. My recollection is that they all have a second threaded port for the ¼"x20 tripod screw, located on the left side, beneath the unlatchable leather strap. So while the back is not reversible, the cameras can be oriented both horizontally and vertically on a tripod.

The front standard has vertical shift, horizontal shift, and tilt. Horizontal and vertical shift are still functional when the camera is tripod-mounted vertically. However, the tilt loses its utility.

The 2¼ x 3¼ Crown Graphic was a lovely thing, with its 101mm f3.8 Ektar lens. With a 120 roll film back, it was just the best. I sold it in 1970 to buy some new lens for my 35mm camera. So sad. Selling it is my biggest camera regret!

I think that Ansel Adams takes a very sensible approach about "to crop or not to crop" in his master-class book "Examples - The Making of 40 Photographs"

Adams observed that the world does not neatly fit into human-defined aspect ratios like 4x5, 35mm, 2 1/4 square, etc., so why should people try to force a composition to fit a standardized format? He advocated cropping as needed to make the strongest image.

That's particularly true, I suspect, with large format photography, where you have a great deal of spare resolution in those very large negatives but no practical long-telephoto optics nor zoom lenses. There's no objectively strong argument here against substantial cropping when appropriate.

I'm currently re-reading "Examples", which may be the single best book about the general craft of, and approach to, serious photography that I've ever read. There's a particular wealth of useful insight about large format photography, even though such cameras, optics, films and chemistry have improved considerably since many of those photographs were made.

"Tuco" was, I believe, the demon bloodthirsty drug importer in "Breaking Bad."

[Pretty sure this is a different guy! (Just kidding.) --Mike]

"I know I'm writing too much about large format."

Can't happen.

You are writing about cameras with SOUL. Cameras one can easily display as ART in the home or in a museum. Cameras that demand personal attention from the photographer and help put the personality of that individual into each print produced.
Few other types of cameras demand so much for and contribute so much to an individual as a View Camera.
Wood or metal - they invite personal attention and speak to the soul of those who would be creative when using them.

Isn't Examples wonderful? I learned huge amounts from that, and it was a lot of fun.

Cropping: I'll walk closer 'in post'.
I think most of my photos are adjusted by cropping. I became lazy after getting to enjoy making panoramas (with Autopano Pro), I would use superb 75mm equivalent lens and wonderful resolution of my Sigma DP3M, to take a few overlapping frames of and around the subject, and finalise the composition at the computer with pixels to spare. I feel like a cheat, oh how far I have fallen since my childhood days of 25 ASA slide film!

A further thought: such quality in a camera and lens is of limited use if you can't hold it steady - hence the DP3M has gone and I have a SD Quattro where I can use lenses having shake reduction.

...the internet (now, is it supposed to be capitalized, or not?...

Yes. Also, just in case it comes up, it's Web site.


Whenever I crop a photo I feel like I’m cheating. It’s an admission of failure. For a long time I wouldn’t crop (and used to have a 35mm enlarger holder that would print the black edges). Now I’m more used to failure and will crop as needed to make a better photo.

My Crown Graphic is my Still Life camera. I often shoot it vertically.

The digital "zoom" function on phones is useless since you get the exact same results by taking full frame and cropping later. Digital zoom is a joke.

[You're right, but I was talking about it more as an exercise in seeing rather than as a way of getting results. --Mike]

I believe it was Ansel Adams who said that you're not "taking pictures of objects, you're taking pictures of the light emitted (or reflected) by those objects" or words to that effect. In essence, lighting is everything, either in the studio or, by Mother Nature. The camera is just a capture tool.

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