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Corona Del Mar in B&W

It's been my dream for years to shoot 6x17 panoramas. 6x17 is a film format in which the negative measures 6cm tall by 17cm wide. It's a huge negative. Almost 7" wide! This means ultra-high detail and resolution in a beautiful wide format. Scanned at high resolution, you're looking 300+ megapixels.

Arch Rock, Corona Del Mar, CAArch Rock at Little Corona, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5
Ilford Delta 100, 18" at f/45 - 3-Stop Split ND & 3-stop full-field ND
Click Image for Larger Version

The only problem is that dedicated 6x17 cameras are heavy, rare, and ultra expensive. The gold-standard Fuji GX617 camera with one lens runs about $4,000...used. But man oh man would I love to shoot some true panoramas. No stitching digital files, no Photoshop, just good, pure panorama negatives.

But good news for me. Shen-Hao makes an attachment for their 4x5 field cameras that converts the standard 4x5 back into a 6x17 roll film back, just like the Fuji but for only $600 or so. I get to use my current large format lenses and I can even use camera movements like rise, shift, and tilt - something the Fuji can't do. That means I can keep vertical trees looking vertical and control distortion in a way only large format cameras can.

So I bought it last year as a Christmas gift to myself.

I'll be honest, the thing is difficult to use. There are a lot of things you can forget to do. It's all manual, it's slow, it's heavy. No fun for hiking and there's lots of room for error. But with some practice, I've become very adept at using it. And I'm addicted. I've been shooting 6x17 like crazy - black and white, color, beaches, forests...it's just plain fun.

For my first attempt at some serious 6x17 work, I went down to the local beach "Little Corona Del Mar." There's a great archway off the coast that I figured would be good practice. I decided to shoot B&W partly because I thought it would look good, but largely because it's cheap and I could develop the results that night.

I started with a horizontal pano. A simple composition with soft water and carefully placed rocks. Then as the night wrapped up, I tried a vertical pano that would highlight the distance between the near rocks and the far archway.

But other than that, I'll let the pictures tell their own story. Please click each for a larger version.

Arch Rock, Little Corona Del Mar, CAArch Rock at Little Corona, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor W 150mm f/5.6
Ilford Delta 100, 8" at f/32 - 2-Stop Split ND & Polarizer
Click Image for Larger Version

And all in all, I'm pretty happy with the results. It was a first attempt, so they're not perfect, but I think it's the start of a long love affair with 6x17.

New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in B&W

Old Fence in Aliso/Woods Canyons - Orange County, CA Click any photo for a larger view

As recounted in my post "New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in Fog", I recently spent some time photographing nearby Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park in the fog. While my medium format Mamiya RZ67 camera was loaded with color transparency film, I also carried my 35mm Canon EOS-1v loaded up with Ilford Delta 100 black and white film.

I debated back and forth whether to shoot B&W on my medium format because there are few things that look better in B&W than fog. It has that great, old-timey, moody feel that Hollywood epics always bank on. But then again the color of that morning light! Ah, what a tough decision. Luckily I decided to torture my spine by carrying both systems with me.

I carried only one lens for each camera - a 50mm wide-angle for my medium format and a mid-range 24-105mm zoom for my Canon. You know it's funny, when I used to carry only my digital SLR, I couldn't leave the house with less than 3 lenses. But now I just had a single mid-range zoom for my camera. Strangely enough, I didn't feel held back or limited at all. Sometimes the only wide angle lens you need is just taking 3 steps back.

With my B&W shots, I first concentrated on the muted tones created by the fog near the old fence, but then worked my way up to some high-contrast shots with dew drops on a spiderweb and light streaming through an old oak tree.

I'm currently going through a love affair with all the stately oak trees around here in Orange County. I never fully appreciated their size, age, and aesthetics until now. I guess it took some B&W film to open my eyes to their beauty. Expect more photos of these wonderful organisms in the near future - color and B&W.

Foggy morning in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA
Foggy morning in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA

Dew on spiderweb in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA
Oak Tree in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA

New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in Fog

We had a stretch of foggy mornings here in Orange County back in November. Dense fog makes for great photos in the right environment and it's one of the few things that will get me out of bed before sunrise. I'd been exploring the Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park on my mountain bike quite a bit over the previous couple months and had scouted out a couple areas that would be perfect to take advantage of the fog.

Fence in fog - Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park, Orange County, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/2 second at f/16 - Lee 2-stop split ND
Click for larger version

When shooting foggy landscapes, you need subjects receding off into the distance. See, the only thing that makes fog look like fog in a 2-dimensional photo is that there are subjects in the background areas that appear more faded than the near subjects. If you have a rock right in front of you, a tree 50 yards away, and a hill 500 yards away, you're golden. The near rock will be un-occluded by the fog and will thus appear relatively crisp. The tree in the middle ground will be slightly faded due to the dispersion of light caused by the fog, and the hill in the back will be very soft and muted. All this equates to fog in the resulting shot. The more you have of these layers, the better.

But if instead you have a simpler scene of a barn 50 yards away surrounded by trees that are just 60 yards away, then the sense of fogginess gets lost. Everything will be about equally muted by the fog and, thus, the photo will look flat. There won't be that sense of depth and layering created by having subjects at varying distances from the camera.

Knowing this, I envisioned a photo in Aliso/Woods Canyons that would utilize a dilapidated gate from an old corral in the foreground, the fence receding into the mid-ground, and several layers of hillsides into the background. All these subjects at varying distances would give me my "fog look."

I decided to use my medium format Mamiya RZ67 for this photo - partly because I just wanted to try out this new camera, but I also wanted to capture the minute details in this scene with better resolution than 35mm. I could have captured maximum resolution with my large format 4x5, but I knew the fog would dissipate quickly, so I wanted something a bit quicker to set up.

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 LensMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Click for larger version

With my Mamiya packed up in my backpack along with my 35mm camera loaded with B&W film (those pictures coming soon), I set off on my mountain bike to my planned spot. Between the medium format camera, 35mm camera, accessories, and tripod, my pack was pretty heavy. Carrying this much weight while on a mountain bike can be a little tricky, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with it - and it sure trumps walking in terms of speed and effort.

It was a beautiful morning. I saw half a dozen coyotes deep in the fog like ghosts watching me through the haze. It was calm, cold, and quiet. Mornings like these remind me to go riding at sunrise more often.

At my desired spot, I worked out a composition as the light intensified. Using my handheld spot meter, I calculated an exposure of 1/2 second at f/16 using Provia 100F film. I knew the photo would come out quite blue due to the blue light of early morning and the further bluing caused by the moisture in the air. I could have warmed it up a bit with my 81C warming filter, but I decided to let the blue color ride, banking on the fact that it would create an appropriate mood to match the fog. I also used a Lee 2-stop hard-edge split ND to hold back light in the background.

After firing 2 more identical exposures, I ventured off on to another trail in search of a different composition. I eventually found myself in a small meadow of golden grass where orb spider webs dripping with dew dotted the meadow, picking up the backlighting from the morning sun like chandeliers.

With my Mamiya and 50mm wide-angle lens (equivalent to roughly 24mm in 35mm format), I tried a vertical and horizontal of a particularly beautiful web. Both utilized backlighting to highlight the dew, but the horizontal framing ultimately won out. I chose an aperture of f/8 to blur the background a bit so as to draw more attention to the web, which brought my shutter speed to 1/30. A Lee 3-stop hard-edge split ND held back light in the bright background. I could have used 5-stops of split ND to prevent the background from blowing out, but I wanted to keep it bright to give a better sense of the bright morning sun breaking through the fog.

Dew on Spider web in Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park, Orange County, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/30 second at f/8 - Lee 3-stop split ND
Click for larger version

With one roll of medium format film exposed and another roll of 35mm black and white completed, I rode my way back uphill to the car and treated myself to some McDonald's breakfast on the way home. Good times.