Patrick Sullivan is a woodworker with over 50 years of experience under his belt. In this 15-minute video, Sullivan shares how he spent the last couple of months building a traditional large format camera — a project that kept him “absolutely fascinated.”
Before sharing his particular build process, Sullivan first gives a brief history of large format cameras, from the simple, large, and unwieldy cameras used in the first half-century of photography to the beautiful devices that emerged as the art form grew and evolved.
Sullivan notes that allowing the film plane to be tilted and the lens to be tilted and shifted adds a considerable amount of complexity to the camera build.
Unable to find exact plans online for the camera he wanted to build, Sullivan carefully studied many photos of old cameras to extract key design principles. Using these, he drew a tentative plan — a plan that was continually tweaked as the project progressed.
The basic camera body consists of three main parts: the base, the back frame, and the front frame.
In the video above, Sullivan shows and explains the build process for each of these parts in detail.
Here’s what his beautiful finished large format camera looks like — it can fold up for transport and weighs a little over 7 pounds (3.17kg):
Despite what some people think about LIDAR for cars, in the near future it is foreseeable that this technology will take its rightful place in our daily lives. Not just for cars but with almost anything and everything. We have already seen Apple’s new iPad and iPhone utilizing this technology. I wanted to see if I could use a LIDAR, in its most fundamental function, on a film carrier that is printed on a 3D printer.
After using EPSON’s v600 and v700, and DigitaLIZA from Lomography, I wanted to make a versatile film carrier that would help digitize film negatives faster and better. We hardly notice it but camera sensors are among the fastest scanners readily available to us. Captured images are read line after line out from a sensor at a rate that even makes 120 frames per second videos possible. And this feature is becoming more mainstream. In addition, the resolution and color quality that these sensors typically provide are quite amazing today. Therefore, making a film carrier that utilizes these sensors for purpose of digitizing film negatives makes more and more sense when compared to scanners made a decade ago.
Noticing all the cheap LIDAR sensors available on Alibaba and Amazon made me wonder if I could incorporate this technology on this OPEN medium format film carrier. Most common LIDARs make use of infrared frequencies that make them invisible to the naked eye. The LIDAR that was chosen for this film carrier is called VL53L0X. This sensor is designed to measure short distances within the range of a few centimeters to a meter. The module makes use of the 940nm wavelength that is sourced from a Vertical Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser (VCSEL). The light that is bounced back from the subject is detected on an integrated Single Photon Avalanche Diode (SPAD), and from this the time is calculated. The distance is deduced from light’s time of flight (ToF) since distance is proportional to time. The VCSEL used is a Class 1 laser and is safe under all conditions of normal use.
The word LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. In principle, LIDAR’s are just like RADAR’s; they are directional ranging devices. However, what separates a LIDAR from a RADAR is the electromagnetic (EM) frequency they use. RADAR’s are based on radio frequency (Ra) and LIDAR’s are based on wavelength closer to the visible spectrum (LI). And the remaining abbreviation DAR is Detection and Ranging. Maybe one day these names will merge and become EMDAR.
Important Note: The static electricity created by the film carrier is channeled to the LIDAR via the mounting screw. This causes the LIDAR to freeze, and a restart is required. To avoid this do not use the screw to mount the LIDAR.
Designing with FreeCAD for 3D printing
It was the first time I was using a 3D printer. Bizarrely, everything went super smooth with the first test prints. However, it was time to design a film carrier, and the last time I made any technical drawing was many many years ago. Moreover, I was only taught to make a technical drawing on paper using a T-ruler and a compass. But because 3D printers did not understand paper-based technical drawings, I needed to learn how to use computer-aided drawing (CAD) software.
Because Fusion 360 (by AUTODESK) was in process of changing its free license terms, and SOLIDWORKS can be afforded by companies usually. This left me with using FreeCAD! I soon found out how much FreeCAD was packed with features. Maybe, even too many; this open software was developed by hundreds and hundreds of developers over the past 18 years. It felt a bit like a jungle at first. I found out that there were correct ways of designing, and there were really correct ways of using FreeCAD. One that makes going back and refining designs easier.
With that said, it did not take very long before I stumble upon the notorious “Topological Naming Problem” of FreeCAD. This issue arises when you decide to change a previous feature of your design, which ends up breaking a reference that is used downstream due to the change in the number of faces and edges. This and other smaller software bugs almost made me give up on FreeCAD. But I decided to press on and make it work for me. And did it work!
Some of the YouTubers who also made my learning process easier were: Brodie Fairhall, Jayanam, flowwies corner EN, Martham Engineering, MangoJelly Solutions, Andrew CAD, and Joko Engineeringhelp. So a big thanks goes to them!. That said, I am continually learning how to use FreeCad in better ways and more efficiently. To conclude, FreeCAD is like any other analog camera; it may have its limitations, but the more you use it the faster and more efficient you become on it. And due to its active developers, I can only image it will improve even further. The FreeCAD that is currently under development is also rumoured to have tackled the notorious “Topological Naming Problem.”
Printing with a 3D printer
After designing a part on CAD software and generating its solid digital mesh, an .STL file, I needed to figure out how to print on a 3D printer. I soon figured out that 3D printers needed G-codes that were generated from slicer software. To my surprise I realized how separated CAD software and slicers were; one naturally assumes these two designing tools could benefit if they were a bit more merged.
A G-code contains information such as a cross-section of your design layer by layer, the temperature used to melt the filament, the temperature of the bed, fan speed for the solidifying plastic part, etc… In order to create a G-code I came across two software: PrusaSlicer and Cura. I had to choose one, and I randomly settled on PrusaSlicer. In hindsight, maybe it was because I could not afford a Prusa 3D printer or an e-3D printer.
I needed to find out typical settings that would work on my 3D printer. I ended up finding a YouTube video that had just that: prusaSlicer setting for Ender 3 (BV3D Bryan Vines). This setting worked so well that it ended up hindering my learning process. Troubleshooting some of the problems I had sometimes took a long time as there were a lot of setting I did not fully understand. However, there is a rich 3D printing community online, which makes learning very easy and fun. Some of the YouTube Channels that immensely helped me improve my understanding of 3D printing were: CNC Kitchen, Teaching Tech, and CHEP.
Creality Ender 3 v2
Perhaps it is because it’s my first 3D printer, but I really love this printer. Out of the box, this printer was optimized to print polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is great to print with because it melts and flows very nicely, it does not absorb water from the air as much, and it is not as sensitive to fluctuating room temperature during printing. Its biggest drawback is its glassy state (warping) that begins around 65 degrees Celsius.
The Ender 3 printer has a Bowden extruder, which means that the filament is pushed into the printing nozzle from a distance away via a Bowden tube. Unfortunately, the pneumatic couplers used on the Bowden tube will eventually fail. The good news is that replacements for a better part are only a few dollars and are fitted very easily. In fact, upgrading 4 things, which will cost under 30$ US, will take this printer to another level. These are: changing the plastic extruder for a metal one, using stiffer leveling bed springs, using Capricorn PTFE tubing, and pneumatic couples (see items section). Perhaps this was what initially made Creality Ender 3 to become the most modified 3D printer in the world.
The printer’s stock hotend prints PLA very nice and is very reliable. However, one of its drawbacks is that the PTFT tube is within the hotend that can go up to 200°C-220°C during PLA printing. Unfortunately, the PTFT tube has a Teflon lining that starts to disintegrate just above 220 degrees, creating poisonous vapors. The same happens when you sear red meat on a Teflon pan as well. Therefore, I decided to play it safe and decided to purchase a Micro-Swiss’s all-metal hotend (see items section) that separates the Bowden tube from the hotend with a titanium heat stop.
Maybe today’s single nozzle filament 3D printers are not as fast as some might like them to be. However, to design something unique and transform a virtual design into a physical object on that very day is super fun. This makes me wonder why I didn’t own a 3D printer earlier. I believe in the near future we will see double/triple or quadruple nozzles working simultaneously on the same part, as I believe this is only a software challenge at this point. Some nozzles are already printing at speeds of 140 mm/s. However, most people today will cut time by owning multiple 3D printers. One well known 3D printing farm is owned by the company Prusa. This farm has more than 400 3D printers that constantly print new parts for its new 3D printers.
In addition, companies such as Voltera are also now demonstrating PCB printing for electrical circuits. I imagine, not too far in the future, printing physical parts and electronics will merge. If components that are used are constantly fed in a production line, I don’t see why 3D printers can not be self-sufficient to produce a complete 3D printer. Just like self-replication.
OK, back to printing and assembling a film carrier!
Main design goals
Main features of the film carrier
3D printing the parts
Assembling the film carrier (link for downloading the Film Carrier)
The electronics to the film carrier (link for downloading the Arduino Sketch)
Items used and cost
There are lots to cover. So let’s begin!
1. Main Design Goals
Use front rollers to intake film and rear rollers to push film out from the film carrier.
Utilize the LIDAR to automate the film intake.
Utilize the LIDAR to determine whether the is film precut (short) or newly developed (uncut and long).
Flatten the film in the film carrier for sharp scanning by applying longitudinal tension and lateral stiffening that arises from precise film bending.
Toggle between different film formats (645, 6×6, 6×7, 6,9, and 135) for precise stepper motor progression.
Use micro-steps (button 3 and 4) to perfectly align the film under the camera.
Make the process of revisiting archives easy. Archived films are usually cut and sleeved. Thus, the adjustments made with the micro-steps, before any picture is taken (before button 2 is used), is temporarily stored in the system with the assumption that the remaining film strips will be pushed to the same location (under the lens).
Use magnets and brass inserts for a sturdy film carrier construction, and a rubber bottom for a good grip.
2. Main Features of the Film Carrier
When the film carrier is switch on, the system will automatically commence with a LIDAR calibration to determine the surface height. If the optional RGB LED is utilized, it will indicate the completion of this calibration by turning RED. Because color film is more transparent to 940nm frequency, compared to a black and white film, a quick calibration on the films are needed. This automatically is executed everything the first film is inserted. This difference in these measurements allows the system to understand if a film is inserted or not without the film being touched.
The film enters into the film holder with a specific sequence that ensures correct film bending. After the film enters the carrier it backs out a bit and then moves to its final position. At this point, if the user uses button 3 and 4, for moving the film in micro-steps, the system will assume you are aligning the picture frame under your camera lens. This new location is automatically recorded and used on the next film strip. This feature is active every time a new film is inserted. This is especially helpful when unarchiving sleeved films.
Most of the effort was focused on reliably keeping the film flat within the film carrier. The major difficulty arises from the fact that medium format films do not have a lot of emulsion free edges compared to the total film width. In addition, the nature of thin films, differences in film stiffness and different levels of film curls all contribute to making this task even harder. I had more than 15 design iterations. I also began to review academic papers to understand the physics of bending thin films, but before I drew any meaningful results, my last film carrier iteration luckily worked very well. That said, this design did not perform very well with films that had a heavy longitudinal curl (due to the emulsion). The next design I made had the best all-around performance, but this required a specific film entry sequence to ensure correct film bending, as mentioned in the paragraph above.
With bending film, it is desirable to work with gravity. Having the film bend longitudinally in a U shape, with emulsion facing downwards ensures the film edges exert pressure on the guiding rails (red line in the figure below), without opposing gravity. However, it is crucial that this pressure is not too great either. Otherwise, it will begin to bend laterally due to the nature of the thin film. The interesting part was to strike a balance between sufficient bending of the film, so that the film longitudinally complies, but not too much so that the lateral bend does not warp the film surface. In hindsight, I think I would have benefited from learning how to apply a finite difference simulation on this problem.
The partial solution to this problem was achieved with the design below. The red track shows the location and the amount of film bending applied by tracks. To show this, the rendered image below sets the main body out of the way.
Furthermore, for uncut films, like in the figure above, the rear push out rollers (left side) has another function. The diameter of these rollers is slightly larger than the intake rollers. Hence, when they make equal turns, the amount of distance covered by these rollers are slightly larger. This ensures a little tension on the film that further keeps the film flat on its tracks. Therefore, whilst assembling the rollers, make sure circle labeled rollers are used for the rear push out position, and minus labeled rollers for the front intake position.
3. 3D Printing the Parts
In total there are 10 parts to be printed, with one being an optional part. Two make up the main body, 2 spacers that ensure a specific length between the main bodies, 4 rollers (2 for the film intake and 2 for the push out), and lastly, the tactile round handle. The optional round collector part is for anyone who has their uncut film wander off to a mysterious location on a desk after a scan.
Some typical 3D printing settings I have used are the following. For the main body, I generally use at least 2 solid bottom layers and 5 top solid layers, 2 perimeter lines, with 20% infill (10% is also fine). The z-axis resolution was set to 0.25 mm, using 50 mm/s extrusion rate for the perimeters and 70 mm/s for the infill. The two main bodies can take around 12 to 15 hours of print time. For the rollers, I would suggest higher than 40%, possibly even 100% infill.
I have used polylactic acid (PLA) to print these parts. The heat generated by the stepper motor is not enough to warp the prints. However, if you are constantly using the stepper motor for an hour or two, this will soften parts that are in contact with the motor. Therefore I have added a code that will switch off the stepper motor after 15 seconds of inactivity, and there is a switch to turn off the stepper. In the future, I will probably print in Nylon or carbon fiber filled Nylon to combat this warping.
The figure below shows some of the printing orientations for the parts. The printing should be relatively easy even for an inexperienced person (such as me). The main body only needs a tiny support for the section for the part that hides the 4 screw heads. The rollers benefit from a support shown below (right side) in green. I noticed that the nozzle sometimes tipped the print over without it. The spacers and the film collector are also oriented vertically, similar to the rollers.
4. Assembling the Film Carrier
After printing the parts needed it is a good idea to gather all the pasts needed for the assembly as seen in the figure below. These are everything needed, except for the electronics used. This will be covered in the next section.
There are 2 timing belts that are used (Item 1). The shorter timing belt (110mm) transfers the torque from the stepper motor to the intake roller. The longer timing belt, 300mm, transfers the torque from the intake roller to the push-out roller. There are four 20-teeth pulleys that are used in this process. The handle is located on the push-out roller, and the design has a pocket where it allows a brass thread to be melted in, as an insert, using a soldering iron (Item 2). A grub screw is then inserted in this thread so that the handle is firmly attached to the roller. Round magnets are attached to the main body at 4 different sights as well as on the 2 spacers, as shown in the figure below. The plumbing gasket seals roll into their place on the roller, which applies a grip on the film edges.
I would imagine that these printed parts either will fit perfectly, and in this case, there is no reason to use the magnets and the brass thread, or a tad loose. If they are slightly loose, there are pockets within the carrier body and spacers. Sometimes the magnets did not need any adhesive as it required a bit of force to place them in. However, if needed, an ordinary superglue worked well (hot glue was not strong enough).
The assembly process should be simple. If the parts are a bit snug it can also loosen over a day or two as they will adjust to each other. You can DOWNLOAD The source files or the .STL files from HERE.
For clearer assembly instructions, do not forget to check out the video above.
5. The Electronics for the Film Carrier
After assembling the electronics you can DOWNLOAD the Arduino Sketch from HERE for uploading it to your Arduino Nano.
6. Future Directions
Even though encoders would make more sense for this application, using them would also result in more rollers and more contact with the film. Maybe more robust sensors around IR frequency would make good alternatives to the current setup.
Source files for this film carrier are available on my GitHub I would be very interesting if anyone implemented other features to this film carrier. Perhaps track designs that keep the film even flatter, etc. Spacer designs for 135 format film, or super 8.
I did not see an awful lot of use for fully automating this film carrier for medium format as 16 images are the most one scans on an entire role. But merging the fully automated film scanning python program, from my previous blog post, could be interesting for some people.
In the near future, I will probably print this film holder using carbon fiber nylon filament for better rigidity, and better temperature resilience.
Controller boards such as ESP32 that is WiFi-enabled or Arduino Nano 33 BLE that is Bluetooth capable can be used to turn a cell phone into a controller for the film carrier too.
I really enjoy looking at the microcontrollers, capacitors, and a colorful breadboard, so I do not plan to make an enclosure anytime soon. But it would be interesting to see cool enclosure designs for this open film carrier.
7. Items used and costs
I generally used Amazon to purchase what I needed for this project. This was mostly out of convenience. It also didn’t require me to physically go to shops during the pandemic. Sometimes I also bought more parts than I needed, thinking I might want to use them for other projects. If you also end up with parts you do not need at the end you can always donate them to your local schools. However, depending on the quantity and the place you order the parts from, for the film carrier, it can cost you as low as 100 US dollars. If you include the 3D printer it would cost around $400 dollars (without upgrades).
I have linked items below to mostly make it easier for finding the right parts. But if you use the links below for your purchase I may receive a small commission. This possible kickback could also motivate me to share other projects in the future. Using these links does not affect the price. That said, I also suggest you use other websites for better prices.
Below are the items I have ordered and used. Some have * attached with them. This is because they were no longer available, but should work the same way.
I hope you have enjoyed this how-to manual. If you have any questions or suggestions please don’t hold back.
About the author: Seckin Sinan Isik is a photographer and programmer who likes practical aspects of programming to tackle real world problems. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Isik enjoys experimenting with photography as much as prototyping and developing new designs. Graduated from Physics, he holds a master’s degree both in Optical Engineering and Molecular Biology. You can find more of Isik’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published on his blog.
Brzz, bzzzrrr. The rollers on the vintage Polaroid developer start to suck in the 8×10 Polaroid. Dan Bosman, a Mars Cafe barista of 14 years, and I are chatting just like we always do.
“It’s been slow,” says Dan. “None of my regulars have been through.”
The developer is a contraption like no Polaroid camera you’ve seen. Because it’s not a camera. It’s just the developing part, separated from the camera because it’s huge (weighing in at 20 pounds) and has to be plugged into the wall.
Brrrzzz. The photo jams. Brz, brz, bzzzz. The rollers finally suck in the positive and negative, burst a packet of developer, and squish it between the layers of film before shuttling the photo into the light-sealed holding box.
After a few minutes, Dan and I peek at the photo. It’s not all there. An error in film loading, or a fluke of the processor, has rendered only half the image. I’ll have to try again.
I open up the film holder and slide in a single negative film pack. I close it, pull out the light cover, and walk back to the accordion camera.
As Dan starts an espresso pull at the bar, I check my angles and start focusing again.
He finishes his latte art pour, a classic tulip with his signature swirl on top, and says, “oh, that one’s perfect” as he sets down the mug and looks up at the camera.
I’ve been a professional photographer for nearly 15 years. I balance the weight of budgets, crew, timelines, client expectations, and deadlines without much thought, but today is different.
Today, I’m nervous.
With my hands shaking and heart racing more than the normal caffeinated amount, I quickly double-check everything.
Are the strobes still connected? Pop.
Is the shutter closed? Is the shutter cocked and ready? Check and check.
Is the film holder sitting correctly? Check.
I pull the dark slide.
I hope Dan’s still in focus, I think to myself as I raise the shutter release cable. I can no longer view the inverted and upside-down image on the ground glass from the back of the camera. The film holder is there in its place.
Sure, a misstep will cost me another $20 frame, but that’s not my worry.
Why am I so nervous?
I am one of the few people who know this is Dan’s last shift, one of the few people who know it’s his last shift because Mars Cafe is running out of time.
Located in the Drake Neighborhood next to Drake University, Mars Cafe has been a Des Moines, IA, staple and important part of the community for 14 years.
In my early 20s, the Russian cosmonaut-themed coffee shop served as my internet connection and study spot of choice when finishing my business degree. It then became my business incubator.
It has been the start to many days before heading off to photograph across the state and country, and it has been the end to less exciting days, a place to grab a beer following hours of editing photos.
It’s been a concert venue, art gallery, movie set, and a political rally site. Dan has photos with dozens of politicians and celebrities to prove it.
You don’t go to Mars just to get a quick caffeine hit. You go to Mars to see who you’ll run into.
I always looked forward to running into Dan. Our favorite topic of conversation: travel.
Dan would talk family road trips to national parks like Acadia and Denali. I would talk about the places my camera takes me, like Alaska’s Iditarod trail and Arizona’s Sky Islands.
Our paths even crossed once in Glacier National Park. I took a photo of Dan and his family in a glacial valley that is hanging on the wall in his home.
COVID-19 has beaten and bruised my coffee shop, and its lease runs out in a couple of days.
This place, and Dan, are important parts of my history. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m using my 8×10 large format camera and special handmade instant film.
I’ve always used instant film for moments that mean something—my wedding was shot in part on instant film. That’s why I keep a fridge full of discontinued instant film.
It has a nostalgic look and provides a nostalgic experience. It allows me to hold a memory in my hand while hundreds of thousands of digital photos get lost on my growing list of hard drives (over 100 and counting).
It might take me a couple of hours to track down a digital photo on a hard drive, but I can always find my box of Polaroids. In fact, this is the reason the Library of Congress requires historical documentation to be done on large format film.
Digital files, formats, and hardware are so easily lost or discontinued. It’s easier to store a physical piece of film.
While Library of Congress photographers aren’t using instant film, the main cultural research arm of congress expects its film negatives to last over 500 years. You can’t say the same about the digital photo you stored on a floppy disk 20 years ago.
It’s taken over two hours to get the first frame and screw up the second. I won’t have time for many more attempts, if any, to capture the second photo of this diptych project, a two-part art piece that I plan to share with Dan. I’ll give him a photo, and I’ll keep one.
I know I’m pushing Dan’s patience, mine too, whether he knows it or not, and we’re losing our ambient light with the sun beginning to dip behind the buildings on University Avenue.
While my first mocha was made by my, now, wife at a different coffee shop, my love for coffee didn’t sprout until Mars introduced me to third wave coffee, distinguishable by its light roast and single origin-sourced beans that are grown with care like fine-wine grapes.
Mars was a breakthrough in Iowa. A first of its kind. It didn’t serve the burnt stuff.
Now, Des Moines has third wave coffee shops popping up left and right. Four have opened in the last year. All serve great coffee that puts Starbucks to shame.
Despite the new blood in town, Mars Cafe is still my coffee shop. My wife and I bought a home a couple of blocks away, and I’d be lying if I told you Mars didn’t influence that decision.
Mars Cafe was started by Larry James to provide Drake University students with an off-campus hangout. Later, Larry transferred ownership to four influential small business owners who have kept the wheels turning. Bless them all.
Coffee shops don’t make much money and can consume a lot of time. These four soon invited Dan into ownership, recognizing his importance to the place.
If you’ve visited Mars Cafe a time or two in the last 14 years, chances are Dan Bosman has made you a drink. Chances are he’s made you more than that.
With the fate of my coffee shop, my home away from home, hanging by a thread in the wake of 2020, I feel the weight of this photo. It was Dan’s last drink.
To prevent a poorly timed blink, I give Dan a countdown. Three, two, one.
Dan Bosman is now the proud owner of his first solely-owned coffee shop, Daisy Chain, in Des Moines’s East Village. His shop combines his newfound passion for beekeeping and honey with his joy of serving up coffee and conversations. If you stop in, make sure to get his signature honey latte and ask how his bees are doing.
Mars Cafe was purchased and will continue on with new passionate owners!
About the author: David Poyzer (production manager & director of photography) is an accomplished landscape photographer, avid Driftless Area fly fisherman, experienced paddler, mountain bike hobbyist, and roller hockey amateur. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. He has a deep love for all things outdoors, vintage (especially cameras), and third wave coffee. He likes entrepreneuring enjoyable work for himself and others whether it’s a career, an art project, or renovating an 1898 home with his wife Mariah. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.
Toward the end of November, I went back to one of my favorite places in the desert. A spot out in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest significant human population well over an hour drive away.
A tall cliff overlooks the arid desert plateau there, running for a few hundred yards north to south. Winds blow tumbleweeds between desert shrubs and over cacti, and aside from lizards and flies, it’s rare to see much life. This wasn’t always the case though.
Thousands of years ago, beneath that cliff there was a river valley full of life and game, a beautifully lush prehistoric habitat. Dating as far back as 10,000BCE, various waves of Native American peoples thrived in this area. They left behind petroglyphs upon the face of this cliff, and on some of the more prominent rocks below.
Researchers place the oldest of these markings as being approximately 12,000 years old, with newer ones being 5,000 and 1,500 years old. Various rock alignments and paths have also been identified on the plateau, just above the main painted side of the cliff.
Having gone to this location before with wet plate gear, I wanted to pay homage to it in daguerreotype form. Making those in the field, though, is a task riddled with possible pitfalls, so this was to be a good test of my field readiness. I decided to camp there for two nights, because there’s nothing quite like being in the desert on those clear winter nights. I would set up on the first day, work all the second day, and have some time to shoot a plate or two in the morning of the third day before heading back.
Of course, camping in the desert means that within an hour or two after arrival every item you brought with you is covered with an even layer of dust. I knew that having some dust spots was going to be inevitable, and so made peace with them even while driving in, half an hour down a dirt road with some pretty hairy washes to traverse.
I set up in such a way as to have the most shade possible for my dark box and working table but had to move the car and reconfigure once a day because as soon as even some sun would reach the box, it would heat up to past 100°F. Midday in the shade it was still 90° though, so fuming times and ratios had to be adjusted with every plate.
I also decided to switch my modus operandi, and this time limited my arsenal to only 19th-century lenses. With me, I brought a 75mm Morrison WA, 100mm Dallmeyer 1aa, RR, 210mm C.C. Harrison Petzval, and 12in Waterbury single achromat.
Selecting perspective for my images meant climbing with a 4×5 and tripod on a 45° slope riddled with boulders as big as a room, with plenty of cactus in between each rock and of course the always-possible rattlesnakes. Overall it was great fun, seeing how I consider moments of high concentration and intense work to be great fun if that work is in fact creative.
I fixed and gilded the plates after getting back home. Thankfully I was reminded that this can indeed be done by a good fellow daguerreotypist because gilding on location is a sure sign of begging for major trouble. I selected the following 5 that spoke strongest to me. Two plates are of the same composition; these were made with the Harrison, utilizing different aperture discs in order to have less or more depth of focus.
Some ambient info about the trip is as follows.
While driving there, I was traveling at night east on an empty desert highway, and, while going full speed, saw an animal just about to dart out in front of my wheels. Our reaction time seemed to have been about the same, because by the time my hands were making a move to the left it too froze in it its tracks, halfway over the white line on the pavement.
I didn’t move left much, so my headlights hit the figure full blast, and I was elated to realize it was a grey desert fox, which is one animal I have not yet seen in the wild, even by side of the road like this. For a second there, I got a great look at a beautifully furry creature, and off behind the car it went.
On the first night on location, I had a very small fire going, upon which I made my humble dinner. Shortly after finishing the meal, I was in the state of contemplative meditation, reflecting upon successes and failures of the day, and just staring at the ambers of the fire, as has been my favorite pastime since childhood.
As one sits alone and looks at the fire, there’s a bit of a tunnel vision effect that happens, and the world outside the viewer and the fire pit softly muffles itself and gently drifts off. There’s not a light or movement around you, and smoke materializes, rises up, and dissipates like civilizations in time.
I must have been sitting pretty darn still because all of a sudden two very bright triangles appeared within the rightmost reach of peripheral vision. In my dazed dreamy state, I blinked as I moved my head much slower than perhaps the actual situation on the ground of having something unexpectedly come very near me, should have dictated. To the right of me, well within the reach of my right hand, stood an elegant and well-groomed desert fox, with its medium grey salt and pepper fir, and large triangular ears with bright white fir inside those triangles.
The beautiful creature must have been attracted to the smell of my recent dinner and was peeking into the fire pit when I first saw it clearly. At that moment the fox realized I was not an inanimate object, and got seemingly confused or embarrassed, because it looked at me, back at the fire pit, at me again, moved away about a foot, made a move back for a split second, and then slowly trotted away and around the fire like everything was cool and planned.
By then, my hand was already going to my phone, and at that moment I was quick enough to get the fire-lit photo below. I noticed that the fox didn’t exactly run off, but was hanging around and examining the camp perimeter area just outside view, so I tossed a few bits of bacon and salami into the dark and saw them being carefully picked up.
As I tried to shoot another picture of two, complete darkness prevented my phone camera from focusing, but as it glanced over I did end up with that funny second ‘guess who’ photo. The next night I was thinking my visitor would return, but coyotes were singing loudly nearby, so I think the fox was wise to stay put.
Along with enjoying the cheerful crackling of the fire, the night desert is also perfect for stargazing. The Milky Way is clear and colorful, and a myriad world can be seen twinkling down at you. As I started that part of my meditation, I soon saw a really bright shooting star, thinking it was a great omen. Then another one, then two more almost at the same time.
Well, turns out the nights I picked for my trip were the best nights to observe the yearly Leonids meteor shower, so I was staying up as late as I could, and saw over a dozen excellent meteors each night, with one fireball, that’s when they break as they heat up, and make multiple fiery trails.
Upon arriving back to civilization, I saw that the main day of my making plates out there, November 18th, happens to be the birthday of Louis Daguerre, inventor of the noble photographic method I was employing.
P.S. I am also very grateful to be able to say that 4 of the 5 plates above have been purchased by one collector, and are currently awaiting shipment to their new home. I am keeping one of the two near-duplicate plates as a reminder of this short but fruitful trip. Without such sales I would not be able to continue to survive and keep making more work, so, thank you to all who support independent artists like yours truly.
It’s a bit like arriving on the set of a nature documentary; watching whales swim around distant icebergs and fresh blueberries underfoot. The key to this passion project was to show the extreme seasonal variations on the incredible island of Greenland. Juxtaposing the summer warmth with the extreme winter cold.
During winter, filming temperatures reached a high of -25°C / -13°F and dropped as low as -45°C / -49°F.
Newer cameras seem much better prepared for abuse. I’ve read countless articles over the years warning about failing batteries and cameras freezing. I’ve never had an issue.
During one shoot I captured 4,000 frames using a Nikon D5 from a single battery. Mostly at 12 frames per second. Modern kit is amazing, able to perform in all conditions.
There were some quirks. LCD screens were slow (reminiscent of watching TV when drunk). Some cables also became brittle and snapped during filming.
It’s also easy to forget how cold it is when you’re moving around and wearing the right clothing. Simply breathing near a frozen camera was enough to cover it in a thin (and rather annoying) film of ice.
The final scene of the video, looking across frozen Ilulissat as 24 hours pass, is a real testament to the camera kit. This involved three cameras shooting continuously for three days in temperatures around -25°C. They performed faultlessly. The Northern lights even decided to make an appearance.
What more could you want?
About the author: Rob Whitworth is a BAFTA winning EMMY nominated film maker. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Whitworth’s unique flow motion works are instantly identifiable. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram.
I’ve always found northern harriers to be a raptor species that stood out from most others. Their hunting method provides ample opportunity for creative photography as they glide over gorgeous marshes and grasslands searching for food. On this particular evening, I visited a new grassland in the middle of New Jersey that I had not visited previously to see if I could capture some photos of these beautiful birds.
I arrived about 2 hours before sunset and it wasn’t long before I saw the first northern harrier gliding on the cold windy breeze over the brown grassland. It was an adult male which was exciting since I don’t see them nearly as often as females. The bird stayed a good distance away as it hunted over the fields. After some time I saw a second bird and then shortly after they were both gone.
I was initially sitting in my car and decided to get out and set up along a dirt road and stand in one spot to see what would happen. I had my behind the scenes recording setup with me and thought it might be a nice video to share with others if the harriers showed up. I put on my heavy jacket connected everything to the tripod and went out into the cold.
It was an entirely clear afternoon with no clouds in the sky and as the sun dipped lower and lower towards the horizon, the brown field started to take on a golden glow. I began to see a northern harrier flying around and began to take some scenic photos. A large flock of Canada Geese began to land in the grassland as well which gave me something else to watch.
Eventually, the sun dipped behind the trees and that is when the magic happened. Suddenly more and more northern harriers started showing up, I think I counted 6 or 7 at one point. There were a couple of adult males mixed in which made for some nice variety. This is the point when I used to wrap things up and head home but I’ve learned to stay well past sunset because there are often wonderful wildlife photo opportunities during that time.
The colors in the sky started turning into pastel pinks, purples, and blues. The overall color palette of the grasslands was gorgeous. With harriers flying all over the fields I was tracking them almost non-stop at this point. This is when having fast glass is helpful and I set my Nikon 500mm to f/4 and started managing the shutter speed and ISO to get a sharp bird-in-flight shot.
Once the sun was gone, I started at 1/640 and ISO 1600. Having the Nikon Z6 II, which is great in low-light, was also an advantage and one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed the lower resolution full-frame cameras from Nikon for the past decade.
I know many photographers like to have much higher shutter speeds for birds in flight. In my experience, I’ve found you can often get away with slower shutter speeds than you may think, especially with birds that fly like harriers, gliding in mostly straight lines. I ended up dropping to 1/400 at ISO 6,400 by the time I wrapped up the session a solid 30 minutes after the sun dipped behind the treeline.
There was only one moment when one of the harriers flew very close to me and I entirely missed focus because I was in the middle of rotating from vertical to horizontal when it happened, which you can see that exact moment in the video! Since they were distant I concentrated on capturing the beauty of the scene.
I’ve long been a fan of birds small in the frame and this series of photos are some of my favorite northern harrier photos I’ve taken to date. The colors in the sky and the sense of space over grassland is what I try to accentuate and I hope that came through in these photos. I hope you enjoy the video as I take you along with me on the outing.
About the author: Ray Hennessy is a full-time wildlife photographer based in New Jersey who specializes in bird photography. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Hennessy offers workshops and mentorships and is also available for assignments. You can find more of Hennessy’s work on his website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I first came to the hospital back in June, having decided that the stories and experiences of the front line staff shouldn’t be forgotten. We’d all seen inside the Italian hospitals, but when the virus hit the UK, there was nothing coming out of the UK, so I made it my mission to gain access and document the life and death struggles going on behind closed doors.
This project is unique, and through it, we have a chance to see what it was like inside a COVID hospital at the peak of the pandemic and hear from the front line staff in their own words what they were going through. The Kickstarter book will also help these very same people because all of the royalties are being given to the hospital’s charity, and used only to improve the staff’s working lives. It is a chance to give back to the people who have given so much.
I’ve had some scary photo shoots before, the floor of a nuclear power station is pretty up there, as is the time I had to jump on the back of a motorcycle taxi to escape an angry crowd that had me surrounded, but this was different, and I remember walking in for the first time feeling rather scared. I was knowingly going into a coronavirus hot spot, repeatedly and over many days, back when there were no tests to diagnose the virus and no cast-iron guarantees of how to avoid catching it.
My heart was in my mouth when for the first time I went into a ‘Red Room’ — one with a confirmed Coronavirus patient. I was there to photograph the medical staff as they treated him, and I was both excited and worried as I pulled on the PPE gown, mask, visor, and gloves. It struck me as a bit stupid that I could hardly see through the viewfinder, but in a way that probably helped me concentrate on the photography rather than my worries. It would be pointless to put myself and my assistant in danger if I didn’t even get the shot.
The general atmosphere in the hospital was intimidating. People were rushing to and fro, always on the way somewhere, or gliding by pushing beds with silent occupants. And it’s not surprising that many people didn’t want to be photographed.
They’d been, and in fact were, going through so much. They’d tell me stories of incredible suffering and heartache, such as the physiotherapist seconded into ITU who “could still hear all the beeping and the alarms in my ears when I got home, sitting in a dark quiet room,” or the nurse who told me “I still have nightmares at least three times a week and I know I’m not the only one in there.”
And so it became incredibly important that I approach the people, who nearly always didn’t know to expect me, with a great deal of tact and understanding. A portrait is a photograph of a person who has volunteered to share themselves, for better or worse, with the photographer – they’ve made the decision that they’ll let a stranger in, and show them who they actually are. That’s a big ask at any time, let alone when surrounded by “the most intense pain and grief and suffering.”
And so how do you as a photographer, make a connection in such terrible circumstances? It’s easier to say what not to do. That’s because each person is a world unto themselves. The bridge that the photographer has to build between them and their subject has to relate to them, and not the photographer, and so you can’t come at it with a list or a recipe — otherwise, you’re only taking a portrait of yourself.
So this is how it goes: I’m standing there in a corridor or a ward, lights and set up ready, and I’m feeling anxious about interrupting people as they scoot past. There’s a tug of war happening inside me, one part saying run away so I don’t leave myself open to their rejection, and the other half, the half that eventually wins, picks up when someone slightly slows down or slightly orientates themselves in my direction. But why did they do that? Why are they open?
That’s the question I now resolve to answer. It’s time – time for me to step out and try to find a bridge of some description. It’s always the most nerve-wracking moment, and it’s not something that I enjoy. I also never know what I’m going to say or do, which is doubly worrying! I’m often as much of a spectator as anyone else as to what’s going to come out of my mouth, but I’ve taken a decision that this is the way that it should be done, this is the way that it has to be, and so I follow my own lead – I genuinely want to know why they’re different from all the rest.
The present is a dangerous place which is why so many people avoid it at all costs. But to take a portrait, you have to be present with the other person, and place yourself in the precarious position of not knowing what will happen next. These kinds of portraits require that.
And it’s partly that unknowing, that makes me love this phase of the shoot so much. It’s like racing down a steep slope on a rickey go-cart, knowing that you may well wipe out, but you also might fly triumphantly onwards, reaching your unknown destination in glorious technicolor. And in the hospital, that feeling of being on the way to an unknown destination was heightened because I needed to have something much more meaningful than a regular conversation.
I had to ask them about situations and events that were incredibly painful – literally about the life and death of them, their patients and their families, and all that goes into that – and ask them to go back there and tell me about it. It kinda spooks me, thinking about it now, because of the enormity of what I was asking them to do. But I remember feeling that we were both high up, on a level far above that of a regular mundane moment. It was both enlivening and chastening to be elevated so precipitously without a net beneath, only the two of us. It all felt so fast, and so precarious.
And the difficult thing about photography is that you’re doing two mutually exclusive things at the same time. On the one hand, you are present and together with the other person; and on the other, you’re attending to the technical side of things which are constantly trying to strip you clean of the moment: is the exposure right, the location appropriate, does the composition or lighting need changing, how would they react to me doing that … is the lens cap on?
When you get it wrong, the sense of loss is huge. I’m sure every photographer knows the feeling when one of the spinning plates comes down. Sometimes you’ll only realize it hours or even days later. And here in the hospital, I was continually worried that I was in the wrong place, or taking the wrong approach, or going after the wrong thing. The weight of all the people’s experiences sometimes felt so heavy – what if I just wasn’t up to the job of translating these people’s experiences? What if they were telling, for the first time, the most extreme events of their lives to a stranger, and all for nothing?
The project is now a book, and I like to think that people are alive inside it. As you leaf through, it feels to me that you’re almost walking along the corridors or wards with them, or taking the buses home, or greeting their families on their return. I think also that inside it we can learn how to look after our own selves because so many of the people here are figuring out how to care for themselves too.
What has happened at the hospital, let’s not kid ourselves, is trauma en masse. Many of these people, on these pages, have undergone trauma on a scale unknown outside of war. And indeed, there have been more deaths of British hospital staff in 6 months than the British armed forces suffered during 12 years of war in Afghanistan, and 6 years of war in Iraq, combined. Combined.
It’s not normal, what they’ve been through, and I think, I hope, that this book tells their stories. These are their words, and these are their images.
About the author: Slater King is a photographer in London, UK. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Details of the book are on his site. All royalties from the book are being given to the hospital’s charity – ring-fenced so that they can be used to make these people’s working lives easier and more enjoyable. Think a coffee machine in a staff room, or funding to buy paints for a mural to brighten a place up. The book launched Tuesday, November 24th.. Slater won with three of these images at the prestigious British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain Awards 2020 in September 2020.
A photographer in Japan was forced to sell his favorite camera earlier this year after being impacted by the COVID-19 recession. Instead of letting that put a stop to his art, he decided to build his own 4×5 large format camera… using LEGO blocks.
The photographer, who goes by @wagoimages on social media, pulled out some boxes of LEGOs and built himself the camera on a tabletop, combining the popular children’s toy with a lens, bellows, and ground glass.
The photographer has been traveling all over Japan, shooting beautiful photos with the unusual camera.
The two spirit levels on the top of the camera are watched over by a figurine and a couple of dogs:
Here are some of the photos he has shot with the LEGO camera so far:
Here’s a 12-minute video showing how he made the camera and uses it in the wild:
You can follow along with this photographer’s work on Instagram and TikTok.
Image credits: Photographs by @wagoimages and used with permission
President Trump was golfing on Saturday when most mainstream media outlets called the 2020 presidential election, projecting former Vice President Joe Biden as the winner. A few photojournalists managed to capture photos of Trump by shooting with ultra-telephoto camera lenses from nearly a mile away across the Potomac River.
Photojournalist Al Drago shared an interesting behind-the-scenes view of how he, AP photographer Pat Semansky, and Washington Post staff photographer Jabin Botsford ran along a riverfront footpath to get the shots they were after.
The Washington Post reports that photographing Trump at the private 800-acre Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, is tricky because photojournalists aren’t allowed on the course itself.
“[T]he best vantage point across state lines on the shore of the Potomac River is often blocked by trees,” the Post writes. “The photographers on foot have to run along the river to keep pace with Trump as he moves from hole to hole aboard his golf cart.”
After hearing the news that media outlets had called the race for Biden, the photojournalists frantically worked to shoot the breaking news photographs of Trump at that moment from their position in Maryland.
“We were shocked that it was in that exact moment that we’re basically looking at him as we’re finding out historic news,” Drago tells the Post.
Whenever the president was visible at a hole, the photographers set up their huge and heavy camera gear (Drago was shooting at 1200mm), tried to locate Trump in the frame, and snapped away. And whenever Trump moved on to the next hole, the photographers had to run alongside the river to hunt for the next unblocked vantage point.
The photographers spent over an hour trying to chase down the perfect shot.