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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: Crescent Bay Sunset

Sunset at Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach, CASunset at Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5
Fuji Provia 100F, 30" at f/29 - 81C Warming Filter and 3-Stop Split ND
Click Image for Larger Version

Shooting large format at the beach is tough. The camera is slow, unwieldy, and once you lock down the shot, it's a royal pain to adjust anything. This makes using a tripod in the surf essentially impossible. As soon as the water rushes in around the legs, they start sinking, which messes up everything. Plus, it's not uncommon for exposures to be 10" or longer, which makes it really impossible to set up in sinking sand.

I tried to make some "snow shoes" for use at the beach to remedy this problem, but they don't work well enough. So instead, I either set up in the dry sand or if I want to be close to the water, I must find just the right cluster of rocks that will permit me to set up my tripod on them. And that's what I did here.

Shen-Hao HZX-45IIaFrom high up on my perch on some rocks at Crescent Beach in Laguna Beach, CA, I composed this image using my large format Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa 4x5 camera with a Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens.

On my way to the beach, I envisioned a photo of the Pacific Ocean smoothed out into a gentle fog with the water's surface and wet sand reflecting the vibrant colors of a fiery sunset. I wanted some dark, nearly black rocks in the foreground to break up the reflection and, luckily for me, the sand level was low at the beach that day and the perfect rocks were perfectly exposed in the perfect location under a stable platform for my tripod. And the sky was nice enough to serve up the colors that night.

I metered the scene using my handheld spot meter, calculating an exposure of 15 seconds at f/29 on Fuji Provia 100F film. A 3-stop split neutral density filter allowed me to hold color in the sky and water surface and an 81C warming filter brought out the warm tones of the sunset exactly as I hoped. The 30-second exposure smoothed out the water and the wet sand picked up the reflections just as I envisioned.

I also tilted the lens forward a little bit while keeping the film vertical. Sounds weird, but on this type of camera, I can tilt the lens and film independently of each other so that they are no longer parallel as on a standard SLR camera. Why would I want to do this? Well when you tilt the lens forward but leave the film plane vertical, you basically tilt the entire plane of focus forward so that it better aligns with the earth stretching out in front of me.

So if you imagine on a traditional SLR camera, the plane of focus is always parallel to the lens and camera back, like photographing a wall straight on. But when I tilt the lens forward on this camera, the plane of focus starts to "lay down" in front of me, like a wall tipping away from me. This gives me a huge depth of field so that everything is tack sharp from foreground to background. This phenomenon is called the Scheimpflug principle and is a very valuable tool for controlling depth of field.

It doesn't happen often, but I love when all the elements come together perfectly like they did on this evening.

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