Photographing Flowers with a 4x5 Camera

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by r. edge, Sep 3, 2002.

  1. I am interested in photographing flowers at a scale of 1:1 and have
    to choose between 35mm, medium format and 4x5. The better
    photographs would be enlarged and, in some cases, scanned into
    digital files. I was under the impression that 4x5 would provide the
    best detail. However, there is a thread in this forum suggesting
    that shooting small objects with a 4x5 is problematic partly for
    reasons of depth of field and partly due to a need for long exposures
    that would compromise the images due to movement of the subject,
    especially in the field. Yet in John Shaeffer's The Ansel Adams
    Guide to Photography (Book 1), there are two excellent Adams
    photographs of flowers on pages 13 and 128. The first appears to
    have been done with a large format camera. In the case of the
    second, the text expressly says that it was done with a 4x5 camera
    outdoors and in available light.

    I would appreciate comments on using large format to photograph
    flowers and any recommendations on what kind of camera/bellows
    extension I would need and what lenses are optimal. In most cases,
    the photos would be taken indoors, but I would like to take some
    pictures in a natural setting, which would seem to dicate a field

  2. Ok, as far as my experience goes, you might not need to do 1:1, you can just enlarge the area you want, if you do this then it is not such a bad experience and the exposures are not that long. I am unsure if you really mean 1:1 since the photos in the Ansel Adams book are not 1:1. OTH I have no experience doing 1:1 so maybe this does not help.
  3. There are a few things that speaks for a monorail camera, e.g. a Sinar F (F1, F2), Arca Swiss, Calumet, Cambo ...
    First, as you will be working at (or close to) macro range, long bellows extensions really come into play.
    Second, as you will do most of your work indoors, you don't need the special folding features of a field camera that often. For the occational outdoor shot, a monorail isn't that hard to carry, unless you go for a Sinar P, Linhof Kardan MT or similar.
    As you ask this question, I take it that you are not that well versed into LF photography, in which case a monorail is easier to handle.

    About lens choice, a good normal lens around 150 mm is probably the best choice. There are special macro lenses, which will perform marginally better around 1:1 range, but unless you have unlimited budget, you'd probably be better of with e.g. a Rodenstock Sirionar N or S. (You cannot go wrong with any of the 4 big brands. Rodenstock is just a suggestion.)
  4. It is my understanding that 1:1 refers to the size of an object being the same as it appears on film. Therefore flowers would appear much smaller in the context of a 4x5 than a 35mm piece of film. This could mean in a sense, that one could see more minute detail in the small format than the large. At 1:1, you would for example, see one flower versus a bouquet.
  5. I've tried 1:1 shots in the field of tiny little flowers growing in rocks, and they were all failures. I used a 135mm lens, which just managed to rack out to the 270mm lens-to-film distance needed for the 1:1 shot. I was shooting slow film, and even with the subject in direct sun I still had some very severe exposure problems. At that lens-to-film distance the bellows exposure correction is 2 stops, and the depth of field is miniscule, so after stopping down to f/64 to get some DOF back, my exposure time went to about 25 seconds. My shot shows a flower in focus, but none of the rocks were. And during that time, the air that I thought was perfectly still wasn't, and the flower petals, small though they were, suffered from motion blur.

    Maybe one of those little white cloth tents over the subject would have flatened the light some, and controlled the air, but even then I'd guess my shots would be blurry from yet unexplored reasons.

    It's tough to do, but sure looks great when it's done. Maybe a studio (no air conditioning), much light, a lens that will stop down to f/128, much patience, a monorail camera, and a very sturdy tripod are what's needed.
  6. Roy, close-ups with a 4X5 field camera are not difficult. For example, a standard 150mm lens only needs 300mm of bellows extension to reach 1:1. Most field cameras can handle that, and most standard LF lenses will perform O.K. at that close distance. There are LF lenses that can handle extreme close-ups, so-called macro lenses, but they are more expensive and not necessary unless you want to get closer than 1:1. They don't perform as well at infinity. Of course the depth of field is shallow at 1:1. Requires a lot of light and a small lens opening. You also need a solid tripod, especially outdoors, to minimize camera shake. Not any different than shooting with 35mm or medium format.
  7. Thanks very much for these responses. Bjorn Nilsson's statement that he assumes that I am not "well-versed" in large format puts the matter in a most diplomatic manner. I have no background whatsoever in large format. I know what to expect if I use 35 mm for this purpose, but I want to explore medium format and 4x5 as options. I understand that the Adams images are not 1:1 in the originals (although I'm not sure about the second photo), that the depth of field is limited and that the flower does not fill the whole frame, but they are nevertheless compelling images - more interesting than most 35 mm images that I have seen.

    What I need to get a sense of is what differences there are between 35 mm, 6x4.5 and 4x5 closeups of flowers that are inherent in the format chosen and whether 4x5 is more hassle than it is worth. Beyond that, I'm interested in comments on appropriate gear, and thank people for their suggestions on this question.

    Here's a specific question which will not doubt reveal the degree of my ignorance: If I take 35mm and 4x5 photos of the same flower against a white card background at 1:1 or close to it, so that the flower fills the 35 mm frame but only part of the 4x5 frame, then crop the 4x5 photo to the image of the flower alone, and enlarge both, am I going to get a more detailed image from the 4x5 format? I'm not saying that I would crop the 4x5 photo, because I'm not exactly against there being background material, but what would happen in terms of image quality if I proceeded as described?
  8. Several of the other responders have hinted at this, but the results you will get from 35mm, 2 1/4, and 4x5 will be very different even if all are at 1:1. At 1:1 the flower on 35mm will be 24mm by 36mm at the largest. At 1:1 the 4x5 will give you a 4" x 5" image! If you were to use contact prints, the 4x5 image would be useable the 35mm would make too small a print to display. Now imagine an enlargement. The same degree of enlargement would yield a 10 times larger print from the 4x5. So what are you going to take a picture of? At 1:1, the 35mm may be too small! What are you going to do with it? The 4x5 would allow you to have a flower blossom enlarged to wall size, like some of Georgia O'Keefe's paintings. A 2 1/4 would put you somewhere in between.

    All of the formats would be burdened with short depth of field at 1:1 and therefore make you want extreme f stops and subject you to considerations of wind, exposure reciprocity, tripod strength and enough light fall off to make exposure difficult, but the result you want should drive your choice of equipment and format.
  9. I have just done a series of pictures of garden flowers using my 4x5 field camera. I used a 150mm lens and had no problem
    getting 1:1. Image quality was outstanding and exposure consideration are not such a big deal. I have also done a considerable
    number of 35mm flower shots and found the view camera much more pleasant to use. In both cases you need to use a sturdy tripod,
    and in the case of the 35mm I would always lock-up the mirror prior to exposure to minimize camera shake. When I did flowers
    with my Blad I also locked up the mirror and let the shutter close down prior to tripping it. Again to mimimize shake. The
    35mm would be better for weird angles, but as I see it that's it's only advantage.
  10. Um, er, I've done a lot of flower photography with 35 mm, always with flash, and eventually got very dissatisfied with the results. Had to choose between filling the frame with the bloom, sometimes very small, and losing the setting and filling the frame with the setting and losing fine detail in the bloom. Am now shooting flowers with (yes!) flash on 2.25 x 3.25. Am using a macro lens because I have one, shoot at 1:2 to 2.5:1. Not easy out of doors, as the subject can move between the time I've focused and composed and got the film holder in and shutter cocked, but the results are very promising. As for depth of field, well, its the same at 1:1 regardless of format. I got by with little when shooting 35 mm, I'd better be willing to get by with little when shooting 2x3.

    Since you're not sure, why don't you stop taking advice from people who have preferences that probably don't match yours, rent some MF and 4x5 gear, and find out for yourself whether the results are worth the added pain? I know I know what I like and will put up with, I suspect I'm pretty clueless about what you like or will tolerate.


  11. I am now involved in setting myself up to do indoor shots of flowers in staged settings with my 4x5. My previous stuff was done outdoors with a 6x9 and a 80mm Componon (enlarging) lens. Those shots came out just fine on color print film. I'm using a 4x5 as I want to develop my negs individually and contact print them using the PT/PD process. Eventually I'll either get a bigger camera or make copy negs in a larger size. With 4x5 and wanting DOF you will have to close down and know the reciprocity of the film your using for long exposures over 1 sec for B&W, or shoot Provia lets say and scan and digitally manipulate for B&W files; Otherwise you'll have to use lights indoors and maybe out. You should adjust your format to the size prints you want. In order to get a shot of a whole flower whether using 35mm or 4x5, you will probably not be shooting 1:1. Remember it will be 1" of subject on 1" of film for 1:1 More than likely you may be 1:2 and greater depending on format. If your prints aren't going past 8x10, a 35mm shot will be fine and you'll save money. Stepping up in print size and to MF will entail "usually" much greater expense to do macro shots, but still you'll have rollfilm and open aperture composing. Plus MF is "usually" lighter to carry, and the lenses, especially Zeiss and Schneider's can be amazing and you'll get "plenty" of detail regardless of cropping. Also remember that LF cost more to scan and you'll need a beefier computer to manipulate those files which is in itself ALOT more money. If it wasn't for that fact I'm contact printing, I'd probably shoot MF as well, and just may end up doing so since I can enlarge a MF neg just as well as a 4x5, and I get greater DOF to boot with the MF lens. Before you make any decisions, get a copy of John Shaw's "Closeups in Nature" about shooting and lighting for macro. Best book on the market for what you want to do.
  12. I have done a lot of flower photographs with 4x5, with magnifications up to 5X. (Photographing a very small part of the inside of a flower and filling the 4x5 frame with it.) In the studio it is very difficult. In the Field it would be nearly impossible....decent depth of field requiring extremely small apertures requiring long exposures..... Even 1:1 in the field would be tough.
    Having said that, you can shoot 4x5 with great control and precision, and enlarge a part of the image, with results far better than anything you would get with a 35mm.
    In any one film type, there are only so many grains of silver per unit of surface area. The more grains of silver in a given image, the more information they hold, the better the quality.
    In theory.
    But it all really comes down to what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you feel about doing it.

    I would suggest you rent a view camera, shoot a few flowers, and see how you feel about both the process and the results.
    Good luck,
  13. Actually I think scanning 4x5 negatives are the cheapest option... there are plenty of flatbed scanners out there that have 4x5 adapters, and since your scan (if you are going for 8x10 print) only needs to be about 600 dpi you can downsample quite a bit from your original scan. My 4x5 scans on an epson 1640 make some pretty detailed prints. I have some 4x5 flower macro stuff in my folder which were done in my studio (cardboard box painted black inside) in available light (on front porch). They aren't much to look at but I am quite new to photography.<br>
    Good luck!<br>
  14. One thing to keep in mind. While this is not 100% precise, most lenses of similar focal length have similar depth of field. Thus, if you are using a 135 macro for Canon, a 120 Macro for Hassy, or a 135 mm 4x5 lens, you will get similar depth fo field for a given film-lens-object distance.

    However, with bigger film, you get greater coverage. As you stated, a piece the size of 35mm cut out of a 4x5 would look the same as a 35mm film, assuming the same lens and lens-film distance.

    On the other hand, if (using the same length lens) you want to fill a 4x5, the lens will be further away than it would be to fill a 35mm with the same image (say of a single flower). This will mean that you have less depth of field and longer exposures.

    Things you get with a 4x5:

    1) larger film for enlargements (probably only important above 20" print or so relative to medium format).

    2) ability to do tilts/swings to control what is in/out of focus.

    3) up to the limit of the camera, ultimate control over magnification. You might need extention rings for medium format or 35mm to get extreme closeups.

    4) Easy polaroid.

    5) probably equipment is cheaper (but film/processing is more)

    Things you will loose:

    1) Convenience and lower cost of roll film (unless you use a rollfilm back on 4x5).

    2) Some portability/speed of setup

    3) Potentially shorter exposures (maybe flash outside would help, but that can get problemmatic). I have not found this to be a problem with 4x5 outside on sunny days with a fill reflector. However, at dusk or on cloudy or windy days, you are out of luck.

    4) ability to have through the lens metering, which is a lot easier than calculating extention factors!

    I have used both Hassy with 150 lens and extension rings as well as 4x5 for closeups of flowers, but mostly in the studio. I think the 4x5 is nicer, but mostly because I can aim down and tilt the lens to get the look I want.

    This is a complex subjet. Try renting or borrowing a 4x5 to try it out.
  15. My conclusion from the responses is that 4x5 presents some real challenges, but that I'll know whether it's the right or wrong choice only by trying it. On the question of scanning 4x5 files, I realize that digital 4x5s will be large, but I have a fast computer and lots of storage capacity. On the question of equipment, I think that I need to rent a camera, try taking some 4x5 shots and then come back with more specific questions if necessary. Mr. Lukas: I really enjoyed the jpeg. Thanks to everyone for your assistance.
  16. Roy,

    Just a warning, what someone said above is plain wrong. Take a photo at 1:1 with the 35mm, 6x6 & 4x5, and assuming you can get the whole subject within the 35mm frame, all of the photos will be exactly the same. The 1:1 ratio refers to the size of the image on the negative, not the proportion of the negative covered. Unless you go beyond 1:1 (this is very difficult to do) you won't get any more detail by using 4x5. The only variable in this case is lens focal length, which will determine depth of field and apparent perspective.

    As to choice of 4x5 (or any view camera) for macro work, monorails are generally better, the prime reason being the ability to keep the focus track out of the way.

    If you try 4x5 for you flower pictures, keep in mind the need to compensate exposure for bellows extension. As others have pointed out, using flash (even outdoors) for this type of work is a very good idea. One advantage of 35mm and some medium format cameras is "off the film" flash metering, and macro work seems to be where OTF flash excells.
  17. I do a lot of "formal portrait" flower photography in 645, 6x8, and occasionally 4x5. This is done indoors, with studio lighting, with orchids and many other flower types. Most of the time, I'm photographing only selected parts of flowers. While MF is much easier to use with many subjects, some lend themselves better to 4x5 than others. A flower with a great deal of depth, such as a lily, is naturally much more difficult to get decent DOF in 4x5. I've gone to about 2:1 in 4x5 with less "dimensional" subjects such as sunflowers and narcissus. To get enough light, just use multiple pops of the flash. I wouldn't attempt such close work outdoors with 4x5; too much problem with wind and light.

    See my website, (Studio Flower galleries) for lots of examples. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions.

  18. Roy, I had to make the same decision you are now pondering. My solution was to add a Flexbody to my Hasselblad
    system. It gives me the tilt function of my 4X5 for added depth-of-field when I need it and it is a bit less
    cumbersome in the field. By changing hoods I can put it at eye level or even put it on the ground and point it up.
    Plus, I get TTL metering. You have to be flexible in your equipment choice to achieve the image you are looking for.
    35mm, 6X6 and 4X5 are just tools. I use all three. Don't get married to just one. No format is the perfect format. If
    that were the case, we would all be shooting the same camera, film etc.

    Also, 1:1 means the same size on the film as in real life and has nothing to do with "relative" sizes. A penny laid on
    a piece of film would be the same size as the image of that penny on the film. Therefore, 35mm would fill the
    frame, 6X6 substantially less and 4X5 a speck with a lot of wasted space. It is easier to fill the frame with subject
    using 35mm vs 4X5. A four-inch full view flower on a 4X5 sheet would be 1:1 magnification. The same full view
    flower on 35mm or 6X6 would be a reduction.

    Next time you venture into your garden, take a 35mm slide mount with you and lay it on a flower. That is what
    you'd get at 1:1. You can even take it further by cutting out a 6X6 and 4X5 aperture in a piece of cardboard and do
    the same thing. I think you probably want less than 1:1 in many cases. If nothing else, it will be a fun exercise in
    the art of "seeing". I hope this helps.
  19. I really think that this is one area where LF is entirely the wrong choice. I honestly don't think that the very slight improvement in image quality of 5x4 over MF, will offset the shallower depth-of-field/longer exposure times, or repay the masochistic extra effort needed.<br>I think we should remember that film quality has improved immensely since the days when Adams took his best pictures, and also considerably since his death.<p>IMHO the best compromise of usability, portability, and quality of end result, would come from using a 6x7 format SLR, with a dedicated macro lens, plus a custom tilt/shift attachment or extension bellows.
  20. I'd consider a view camera with a roll film back. This will allow a wide choice of lenses (with smaller apertures than MF lenses for more DOF), built-in bellows, movements to control the plane of focus, loupe focusing, and the economy and convenience of roll film. Unless you plan to make very large prints, 6x7 will provide plenty of quality.
  21. The 4x5 cameras 135mm lens when extended to 270mm will yield a 1:1 image. This means the flower will be life size on the 4x5 negative.

    Using a 4x5 camera will allow a larger flower; ie a 4x5 size one. Using a 35mm camera at 1:1 will only yield a 24x36mm section of a large flower.

    The perspective with a larger camera will be flatter; because the lens will be farther away from the flowers. With a giant camera; the "depth" of the will appear very flat when used 1:1 . With our process camera; our 35" (890mm ) lens is 70" away from the object when 1:1 . Here is a thumb with the smaller 24" (600 mm ) lens ; with a roughly 48" focus position for 1:1 . At this extreme; we could shoot a whole bunch of photos with one 24x36" negative; but the lens would be 48" away from them at 1:1 . This probably would make them appear really flat. [​IMG]
  22. Opps; I meant to say : " At this extreme; we could shoot a whole bunch of flowers in one single photo with one 24x36" negative; but the lens would be 48" away from them at 1:1

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