Musings on Photography

View Cameras, DOF, and the ‘walk-in’ landscape

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on October 18, 2006

Colin makes some interesting points in the comments to this thread about using a view camera tilt to get the near foreground and the distant horizon in focus for ‘walk in’ landscapes.

It’s interesting in that Colin, who’s been using smaller format cameras (and sometimes tilt capable lenses) is moving away from them at toward a 4×5 view camera at the same time I’m busily making exactly the same transition but in reverse.

I suspect that much depends on the fine details of the landscape you’re photographing. On the beach, I was happy with a view camera – often there are few things really sticking straight up out of the foreground plane, so using tilt is a great solution. (see photo above)

But for what I’m working on now, I have real problems and find tilt to be of limited utility. There are objects in the foreground that stick up and mean I’d need great vertical of depth of field right up close – things like gates, and fenceposts, and tall crops. With a 35mm lens and f/16 focused at hyperfocal distance, I get a near focus of about 5 feet, and a far focus of infinity. That’s often not good enough, but movements won’t help me, so when I get to that point, it’s time to get creative. That can be good; giving up the closely held belief that in a landscape photograph, everything must be in sharp focus has been a (ahem) intensely felt learning experience.

This ties in to another idea I’ve been fiddling with in the back of my mind – a sort of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis for cameras. That is, I think that the sort of camera you have in your hand affects the sort of photographs you ‘see’ and thus capture. If you have a view camera, you ‘see’ images that require movements (most often for me, including foreground by using front fall to avoid convergence). Some of these affects can be had (albeit at a cost) in post capture processing (perspective correction in photoshop) but for some reason I just don’t ‘see’ that way when I’m out with the 5d.

And at the same time, for some reason, I don’t see shallow depth of field photographs when I’m out with the view camera. I’m sure this is a personal failing; the view camera is nearly ideal for such photos. But I don’t use it that way, and the habit runs deep.

Of all the arguments about film, digital, view cameras, and SLRs, I think this is the least explored and perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of the large, bulky, unwieldy view camera. Hopefully, more on this as my thoughts gel a bit.

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  1. Colin [] said, on October 18, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    I agree with you about the verticals (gates, trees and so on). The part of Scotland that I live in is strong on coastline, moorland, and lochs, none of which feature strong verticals.

    I also agree that the camera in the hand affects the thngs that we see to a surprising degree. I notice this most strongly when I’m carrying an SLR with a macro lens. Suddenly the grand vistas disappear.

  2. matt~ said, on October 19, 2006 at 8:39 am

    I’m finding that the camera in hand definitely has an impact on the way I visualise. After a couple of years of using a rangefinder almost exclusively, I’ve been using a DSLR quite a bit the last few months. Once I got over some of the obvious stumbling blocks of the switch from film to digital, I started to realize that I’m really strugling to see the world through such a different viewfinder. At first I thought it was just the comparitively small size and dark view of the DSLR, but on further reflection I think it really is just a different way of seeing. It’s certainly a different set of constraints. For one thing, I find myself getting too close with the DSLR, something that really wasn’t possible with an RF’s imposed close focus limitation. Perhaps more important, I’m finding that not being able to see around the edges of the frame is nudging me into much less geometric compositions.

    These challenges and changes aren’t necessarily bad things, but they aren’t necessarily good either. Even though it would represent a serious financial burden, I’m seriously considering an M8, as I’m not entirely sure that my photography isn’t suffering at the hands of SLR photography. But perhaps I should consider a view camera as well. That might really shake my mind up.

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