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the author

Emmanuel Bigler is a professor (now retired) in optics and microtechnology at ENSMM, Besançon, France, an engineering college (École Nationale Supérieure d'Ingénieurs) in mechanical engineering and microtechnology.
He got his Ph.D. degree from Institut d'Optique, Orsay (France).
E. Bigler uses an Arca-Swiss 6X9 FC view camera.




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« Large Format Nature Photography »
by Jack Dykinga
reading notes by a European enthusiast

Emmanuel BIGLER

Convincing : this is the adjective that immediately comes to mind when reading Jack DYKINGA's recent book [1]. First because it is illustrated with superb photographs speaking for themselves, and second because the nice illustrations drive you to the text where the author puts in simple terms all necessary information. The style is clear and easy to understand even for a non-native English reader. The spirit of the book is given in the first pages, when the author wants us to share with him the enlightenment of opening a box of of large format slides freshly shipped [2] from his favourite lab : "it is almost like Christmas !''

For French-speaking readers who already know Pierre GROULX's book [3], this book will be the "natural'' complement in all meanings of the word if you consider using a view camera for landscape photography, including outdoor walking trips, carrying all camping and photographing gear with you.

The background of Jack DYKINGA is photo-journalism. He does not try to hide all difficulties he met and mistakes he made -even if he was a skilled professional- when, after deciding to work with large format cameras, he started actually to take 4''x5'' pictures.

For this reason, based on his personal experience, the advice he gives, from view camera movements to practical organisation in the field, cannot but be totally convincing.

For those who already swear by a wooden folding field camera as being the lightest in the backpack, the book will not teach you anything new about weight comparisons. However if you are convinced that a metallic monorail view camera is not conceivable outside the studio, firmly secured on a heavy cast-iron stand, with a solid iron column, a machine-tool style wheel crank moving a counter-balancing weight, those readers will have, to say the least, to reconsider their position: Jack DYKINGA's image examples have been made for the most part with a 4''x5'' monorail.

The purpose of Jack DYKINGA was definitely not to present a technical reference manual on view cameras. For those who are interested by technical questions behind SCHEIMPFLUG's rule or related theoretical issues, the excellent reference to Leslie STROEBEL [4] is given at the very beginning of the book. However, when entering the details of Jack DYKINGA's text, the reader will discover that several difficult technical questions of view camera photography are being clearly explained and illustrated. For example he shows a silhouette of his monorail, without bellows, with two rules attached to the back of the lens at an angle equal to the coverage of the optics. This is one of the best example I've seen to help the reader in the question of lack of coverage when combining shifts and tilt. He also proposes a subtle discussion on "natural'' light fall-off effects that occur with wide angle lenses; he discusses the interactions of this effect with the other light fall-off effect known as the "bellows factor''. He explains how you can play with both effects and eventually partly compensate one by the other in certain cases of high tilts angles.

He also shows us a very interesting example of lack of coverage with an extreme front rise required to capture the whole frontage of a church, when you cannot place the camera far enough from the building, and of course when you demand that verticals on the building stay parallel on film. The black border that appears in the upper left and right corners reminds us famous views of the old Paris by ATGET [5]. The black border in the upper corners is very similar to the shape of charming old portrait frames, the technical term "vignetting'' coming from "vignette'', a soft-edge mask placed in front of the camera at a time where oval photographic portraits were in vogue, in the style of classical paintings. The extreme example of front rise shows us also how good the image delivered by a modern wide angle view camera lens can be, even as close as a few millimetres from the absolute limit of the illuminated image circle.

All view camera enthusiasts are familiar with Ansel ADAMS's insistence on pre-visualisation of the image on the ground glass, correct determination of a middle-grey tone and as well as tonal range and contrast. Jack DYKINGA does not present another personal version of the "Zone System'' method; he insists on the utmost importance of carefully planning ahead a photographic trip with a view camera, including pre-visits on site with a small hand-held camera. For example he insists on the importance of anticipating the height and direction of the sun. The author always wears a small wrist-watch style compass, and his good friends will smile at it in cocktail parties, but in the field, we cannot but confirm that he is definitely right [6].

The book is also an invitation to touring the Western States. Snow patches on red sandstone rocks of Utah and Arizona remind us with wisdom that it is outside hot summer days [7] that you'll find the best period for a pleasant and successful photographic trip in the West.

No photographic tour in the West without the famous Aspens. DYKINGA's, in colour, are less ``austere'' with their cheerful autumn foliage than black and white images in a famous ADAMS series [8]. We'll confess that, for once, we are not convinced by framing with a low angle shot; this reminds us more of a TV series where the hero falls backward in a fight, that the impressive serenity and majesty of Utah's aspen forests [9] in autumn..

At the end of the book, a section entitled "career'' provides advice aiming at professional photographers who would like to start in the business of large format photography. Jack DYKINGA warns the reader against temptation of re-doing famous images by famous photographers, do not redo MUENCH's Delicate Arch [10] or ADAMS's Left- and Right-hand Mitten at Monument Valley [11].

The advice is valid also for amateurs, although it is very difficult for an amateur touring the famous National Parks and National Monuments around the Four-Corners, not to remember everywhere famous images by American Masters [12].

So as a conclusion, European view camera enthusiasts should remind that, without actually travelling very far from the geographical triangle joining Bad-Kreuznach (Germany), Hörgen (Switzerland) and Besançon (France) (where Jack DYKINGA's favourite photographic equipment is manufactured : lenses and view camera ; moreover we should not forget the French tripod), they will find magnificent mountain landscapes of the Alps, secret cwms full of flowers, all our monuments and architectural treasuries. After reading Jack DYKINGA's book, it is more than ever time to re-discover them with a new eye, on the large ground glass of a view camera, taking our time do to it carefully.

References and personal comments


"Large Format Nature Photography'', Dykinga, Jack, ISBN 0817441573, (November 2001, Watson-Guptill, New York)



film processing by mail is not widely used in France as compared to the US, but for 4''x5'' slides however there are not so many labs in Europe.



''La photographie en grand format'', GROULX, Pierre, ISBN 2-89113-505-9, 1-st edition (Modulo Eds, Mont-Royal, Québec, 1992-1993)



"View Camera Technique'', STROEBEL, Leslie D., 7-th Ed., ISBN 0240803450, (Focal Press, 1999)



"ATGET, Voyages en ville'' choice of photographs by Eugène ATGET, text by P. GASSMANN, R. MARTINEZ and A. POUGETOUX, ISBN 2-85108-238-8 (Chêne/Hachette 1979)



Your are proud of yourself, since for this walk in Arches National Park you have eventually convinced your friends to start very early before sunrise. They did not believe you before, but yesterday the carefree party of European tourists has experienced the average 100F+ of the area in summer, now they are ready to make the effort. Here you go on the footpath leading to Delicate Arch, everybody is enthusiastic about the easy climb on pink sandstone rocks and thrilled by what they expect to see soon. The park rangers have carefully arranged the path so that you'll discover the Arch only at the end of the walk...unfortunately, the sun is already high since you've spent a lot of time in lazy photographs on the way, but the bad photographic surprise is: back-lighting !! You should have come at sunset, or better, you should have planned ahead, working on the map with your compass to find where the footpath would go, and what would be the direction of the sun at the expected time of the day for your walk... And, of course, for tonight you have booked a motel or a campsite near another Park (it is high season, difficult to cancel the reservation), hundreds of miles away, still a long travel to drive in the afternoon...


© Emmanuel Bigler



The end of October could probably be too late in the season for a photographic trip to the Pacific North-West (the West side of Oregon and Washington States is famous for its wet climate), but the time of the year known in Europe as All Saints' Day (actually a holiday in Roman Catholic countries), usually associated with cold, rain and mist (at least in France) is in fact an excellent time for touring Utah and Arizona. Daylight of course will be shorter than in summer, you'll have to forget Western European daylight-saving time and accept that night comes abruptly at 5:30-6pm. This is not a real problem if you wake up at 6am like everybody does in the West. Campsites and motels will be less crowded, temperature will be very pleasant and colours in the outdoor, magnificent. You can even go to Grand Canyon and Monument Valley shortly before Christmas, if weather is clear with no snowstorms; you'll probably take some of your best pictures with snow in the background. Be prepared to experience cold weather, at least according to Western European standards (people living in Minnesota could smile); you should expect -20 degrees C (-4F) in the morning in Williams, but it warms up quickly with sunrise. You have to accept to put on several layers of warm clothes each time you go out of your vehicle to take pictures.

© Emmanuel Bigler

For such a trip, the choice of the party is important, and if you can avoid to share your vehicle with friends who wear only a pair of light trousers and light shirts -as they do all year round in Palo Alto-, this will ensure that stops for pictures on the road will be substantially longer than one minute. And if your friends have only one thing in mind when exposed to the cold breeze of Monument Valley: driving back quickly to Las Vegas in order to enjoy a good time, sitting nice and warm in front of a slot machine before many tourists eventually come after Christmas celebrations, you'll have to suffer, extra, the torture of driving through Zion Park non-stop. The fact that you could not even have time to try and remember the luminance of the full moon to capture your own "Moorise above Zion'', this is actually an extreme torture that Zeus could have possibly invented to punish Tantalus, if he had been a photographer.



"Examples, the making of 40 Photographs"', ADAMS, Ansel, ISBN 0-8212-1750-X (paperback) ISBN 0-8212-1551-5 (hardcover) (Little and Brown Co., 1983 - 1989)



After having dreamt for hours reading the superb "Indian Country'' AAA map -actually you can find it easily even if you are non-AAA member-, you decide eventually to drive to Bryce Canyon following the backcountry road, you start from a semi-desert kind of landscape at the border of Utah and Arizona, a purely theoretical straight line on the map. Influenced as a European by your childhood lessons in Alpine geography, you imagine that when driving up this mountain road you'll find even less vegetation, and that you'll only find some kind of ``extremely mineral'' world of naked rock slabs. You are plain wrong, and the contrary exactly happens, the more you climb (always gradually on mountain roads of the West), the more flowers and trees appear. 

© Emmanuel Bigler

Aspen trees are suddenly there, magnificent. If you go to the North Rim of Grand Canyon, where elevation reaches almost 2000m (6000 feet) you'll cross a large area open in the forest, totally covered with flowers in summer, something you would never expect if you visit only the South Rim. You'll experience the same surprise driving up to Cedar Breaks where the elevation is above 2500m (7500 feet). There, aspen trees grow in what really looks like lava-like beds of chaotic black rocks. The natural marvel is breathtaking, but capturing all the beauty in a picture is, from the amateur's point of view, an extremely difficult challenge. And you are not allowed to copy the Masters...



''Utah'', photos by David MUENCH, text by Ann ZWINGER, ISBN 1-55868-024-1 (Graphics Art Center Publishing Co., Portland, OR, 1990)


"The New Ansel Adams Photographic Series, Book 1, The Camera'', ADAMS, Ansel, ISBN 0-8212-1092-0 (Little and Brown Co., 10-th Ed., 1989). "Monument Valley'', page 152.


When you visit Monument Valley for the first time on a busy day, the first encounter of your dreams with reality is that you actually see the Right- and Left-hand Mittens in front of you, that you could almost touch them (you do not realise yet how dry the air can be, and how far you can see). Then, you see just in front of you the famous ``striated'' rock -or is-it another one nearby?-, which is so sharp as a foreground on Ansel ADAMS's famous picture, due to either Scheimpflug's or f/64 rules, or both. This is a major disappointment. No Wilderness!! just stepping down from your car on the over-crowded car park, and you can step on it... but the real shame is that since the 1940's, the famous rock has been engraved again and again, and although the engravings are actually very innocent, you have to admit that "wild tribes'' against which you would like to fight as a freshly-converted cow-boy on the Fronteer (of course you cannot but remember "Stagecoach''), are actually those who very probably came by car, and are responsible for this degradation.

© Emmanuel Bigler


Emmanuel Bigler 5 novembre 2002



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