Larger format negatives present a greater challenge on the photographer’s skill. If you are used to shooting on 35mm film and want to make the next step up, or if your 120 negatives never come out as good as you expected because you forgot to adjust one of your camera’s settings again, try this easy tip to help improve your success rate.
The larger film format you go up to, the less forgiving the equipment can become. Features taken for granted as standard in many 35mm cameras may not be present at all in larger format cameras. Things you may have gotten used to, for example, film advance lock, multiple exposure lock, integral light meter, now become a luxury. To make things even more challenging, you also have fewer shots to play with before having to change to a new roll of film.
My first attempt at large format photography reminded me of learning to drive – there seemed to be so many things to remember all at once that you don’t know how anyone manages to do it!
One of my tips is to make a ‘cheat sheet’ and tape it to the back of the camera. It’s a bit like writing a maths formula on the back of your hand to help you get through an exam, except this one is allowed!
Scribble a list of procedures as an aide memoire and refer to it when you shoot. As well as being a handy reminder of what to do next, it is also a great way to train yourself into getting used to all the steps involved. After a while, you’ll find that everything just comes naturally and you won’t need the sheet anymore.
Here’s my suggestion for an all-manual 120 film camera’s cheat sheet:
1. Lens cap off*
3. Trip the shutter
4. Set exposure (f, 1/X, >1s?)
6. Wind on
*include this if you are using a rangefinder type camera (i.e. you can still see through the viewfinder even when your lens cap is covering the lens)
- f = aperture
- 1/X = set shutter speed
- >1s? = if your exposure is greater than half or one second (or more, depending on the film), you may need to allow for longer exposure than normal.
You can use this list, or make up one of your own according to your camera and the order you like to work in. For example, I prefer setting the exposure immediately before taking the photo. Unless I am making a multiple exposure, I always wind on the film just after having taken a shot; when I start a new shot, I always know it’s already been done.
Overcoming all the potential pitfalls, comes the reward in image quality. And the 120 format is so versatile, you can shoot from about 16 to 4 or 3 photos on any one roll of film, depending on the equipment.
Comparison of 120 format sizes (photos 1 to 5): 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×12:
Wait! There’s another way of getting the most out of your roll of film. Even when you have a full round of 16 shots at your disposal, before committing to step 5, ask yourself if you really want that shot. Because a wonderful thing about having taken lots of mediocre to atrocious photographs (speaking for myself) is that you can see another bad one coming your way, way before it arrives at your fingertip placed over that shutter button!