Technical Information

I need to summarize basic photographic procedures to get some detailed technical information out of the way. Many of you will disagree with my procedures or the logic for using them but, for me, the proof is in the pudding, errr the prints.

I capture images directly in black & white using black and white film as opposed to capturing images in color with a digital camera and then using software to convert color images to black and white. To me, black & white film provides a more direct way to acquire black and white image data and it has the advantage of 175 years of research & development as well as the investment of a considerable amount of my personal experience. I know how the films I use will respond to various situations and I can depend on them.

I expose 4inch x 5inch film because it allows me to capture an enormous amount of image information for each scene. I use a view camera because it offers swing and tilt adjustments to optimize focus & perspective and these adjustments are made very deliberately for nearly every scene. I use a “field” style view camera since it can be folded compactly when I need to hike a few miles to obtain a photo. The glass hanging on the front of a camera has a greater effect on image formation than anything else so my camera is equipped with four Schneider lenses which are sharp-as-a-tack. For virtually every scene, I secure my camera on a heavy wooden tripod to minimize camera vibrations. I use zone system controls to optimize film exposure & film development for every scene. To determine exposures I routinely sample numerous areas of scenes with a modified one degree spot meter. Various colored filters are used to modify tonal values in photos and are placed over the lens of the light meter to accurately determine their influence on tones. My colored filters are high quality glass and the most commonly used ones are light yellow, medium yellow, dark yellow, orange, orange-red, red and green.

One of the primary disadvantages of my photographic approach is the heavy weight of the equipment. If I pack photo gear for a hike and include a raincoat, sandwich and water, my pack weighs about forty pounds. I used to carry this load on a large framed backpack (a “carcass” pack) that was designed to help hunters carry large game out of the field. Now, I use a lightweight golf cart trailer to carry my load since pushing or pulling the trailer is a heck of a lot easier than carrying the gear on my shoulder. Another disadvantage to using my equipment is the long time it takes to capture a photo. I have missed many images because I could not set up my camera before the scene changed. Consequently, I tend to seek subjects that don’t change rapidly. I think it is fair to say that my approach to photography is more deliberate than most photographers. However, my equipment and procedures usually produce extremely high quality black & white data in negatives which contain an enormous amount of information.

Each 4×5 negative is mounted in fluid and drum-scanned at high resolution (5,000 ppi at 16-bit pixel depth) to achieve a digital greyscale file that is nearly 1 GB in size. I use a Howtek 6500 scanner with DigitalPhotoLab software to adjust the light aperture and other hardware features prior to beginning each scan so I obtain an optimum digital file for each negative. A 4inch x 5inch negative scanned at 5,000 ppi produces a 33 inch x 41 inch image at 600 ppi and a 66 inch x 82 inch image at 300 ppi. Of course, these large print sizes are not appropriate for many images but a good drum scan provides plenty of excellent data to spare. Digital files from the scanner are edited with PhotoShop using a calibrated monitor and profiled printer to achieve consistent and predictable printing at high resolution. A 44inch wide HP Z3100 12-pigment inkjet printer provides archival prints (estimated life is 100-200 years) using three or four black inks. Subtle split toning is commonly used to help create depth in prints.

I normally produce landscape and abstract fine art prints which look better at larger sizes and my photographic approach provides plenty of data to accomplish this. I usually send a 600 ppi image to the printer so viewers can examine my large prints both far away and up close to see more image detail if they desire.

Visit my website at  to see some of my photographs.

If you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park area, call 865/850-8234 to see some prints.

Randall R Bresee

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