Delving into the world of film photography was a terrifying decision for me. It was a medium I had longed to be working in. Even years before picking it up, I felt a draw towards it. And yet, for too long, I allowed the fear of diving into something new, ripe with the crippling possibility of failure, to stand in the way of my own personal and creative growth.
My first experience shooting and scanning film took place nearly two years ago, in February of 2019 during a studio lighting course I was enrolled in at Oregon State University as a part of my photography minor. Working on a short-term project, I was equipped with only 10 sheets of black and white Ilford HP5 large format film to expose. This made the process both terrifying and electric. Truth be told, I think I fell in love with the thrill. The darkroom, pitch black, full of anticipation as I loaded the sheets of film – trying my best not to scratch it with my fingernails. Taking extra care with each exposure – carefully composing the upside-down image. Breathing slowly. Practicing patience. Trusting my light meter, eye, and gut. Jumping into the film world with 4×5, large format film was a risk.
The Process of Shooting Large Format Film Photography:
You see, the process of shooting 4×5 large format film is complex and more labor-intensive than shooting a roll of 120 or 35mm film. For starters, each frame must be loaded into the camera individually. This means one must load and remove their film after each exposure, in complete darkness. And because large format cameras are historic (which is not to say less powerful) the lens mechanism inverts things from top to bottom. Meaning that the live image one sees through the viewfinder is upside down and backward. As a result, in order to frame an image properly, the photographer must tilt left to move the framing right, down to move up, and so on. Finally, because the sensor size is massive, every scrape and dust mite living on the filmstock is visible on the image. Even so, the final result is so raw and wholesome that it remains irreplicable.