Early Summer at John Muir Park, Dunbar, 1990
I began with this picture because it representated a departure for me, and a point when I began a long journey of investigation, which is ongoing. I had become fascinated by the effects of sunlight passing through foliage, and it gave me a completely new direction in terms of landscape photography. Instead of the broad, I began to focus on the intimate, and instead of the general, the particular.
I had walked past this scene many times and was waiting for the foliage to really wake up as it does in early summer, and before it becomes tired-looking. One day I realised that the moment had come and I went back to the car to get my gear. I used an MPP MkVIII folding 5x4 technical camera, which is a very similar beast to the German Linhof Teknica, but made by a company in London. These are really nice machines, and usually pretty cheap to acquire, much less than a Tek, anyway.
The lens used was a 150mm Schneider Symmar. I don’t recall the exposure details but it was clearly well stopped down, and I remember using front tilt to make the horizontal plane of focus pass through the plants at my feet and then through the lower edge of the foliage at the ‘arch’ in the middle distance. The back was swung so that the vertical plane of focus followed the line of trees from left foreground to right in the distance.
Exposure was tricky on this. Even though I downrated the film and cut the development by 1/3, essentially giving the scene N-1 according to Adams’ Zone System, the highlight in the centre distance has always been demanding to print. I doubt if giving it N-2 would have helped, as then I think the separation in the detail of the foreground foliage would have gone muddy, which I really wanted to avoid. Sometimes you just have to live with the best compromise you can in the field and accept that you will need to rely on your printing skills later! I needed to give enough exposure to get all the rich shadow detail well registered, so that highlight was always going to be tricky.
By the way I think others will find, as I did, that where sky can be seen through the trees, s it does here, it will pretty much always go to a solid black in the neg. There is not a lot you can do about it, so it’s best to minimise this if you can by changing viewpoint. Sometimes it just happens though.
Film here was FP4 which I rated at 65 ISO (instead of 125) and I am pretty sure I used ID-11 (a variant of D-76) as the developer. Nowadays I would definitely not use that dev here, instead I would use AGFA Rodinal (or the new replacement) which definitely gives better separation between similarly-toneed objects, in this case the foliage. ID-11 and D-76 are both formulated as ‘fine grain’ developers, and are far less good at this. Personally I see little point in using fine grain developers now, and especially on large format negatives. If I was feeling particularly antsy and the image had been made on 10x8 instead of 5x4 I might just go for broke and use Pyro.
The paper was Ilford Multigrade Fibre-Based. Filtration was equivalent to a paper grade 1.5 and the print was selenium split-toned, which you can’t really see in this scan.
Originally published at Rod Fleming’s World.