Photo Trip

I recently returned from a photography trip and thought that it might be worthwhile to summarize some information about the trip. Many of you probably know that I make a written record of each photographic exposure so it is easy to gather detailed information for any period of time. I do that periodically when I ponder the “big picture” for my photography work or  want to know specific information such as how often I use a particular lens, filter or other piece of equipment. A little of that information is shared in today’s blog.

Trip Itinerary

I drove 5,000 miles in 22 days to make photographs at four locations. Three locations involved landscape photography and the fourth involved photographing airplanes at an airshow. My overall goal was to produce black & white prints of the highest technical quality and large size, if desired. The photo equipment I took on the trip reflected that goal.

My equipment consisted of one 4inch x 5inch view camera (a compact “field” camera suitable for hiking), four lenses, a regular bellows for three lenses and bag bellows for a wide-angle lens, 250 sheets of black & white negative film, 25 film holders (reloaded periodically during the trip), a 1-degree light meter, four colored filters, a heavy wooden tripod (for most photos), a smaller lightweight aluminum tripod (for tight spaces), and a lightweight two-wheeled cart to carry everything while hiking.

The four locations on my itinerary were:

(a) Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado) and nearby areas,

(b) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado),

(c) Numerous scenic roads in Colorado (e.g. Alpine Loop, Highway of Legends, Silver Thread Scenic Byway), and

(d) a Memorial Weekend Airshow (Columbia, Missouri).

Number of Scenes Photographed

The exposure records for my trip showed that I photographed 93 scenes. This means that an average of 4.2 scenes were photographed per day and an average of 54 miles were driven to photograph each scene. I think that most photographers using hand-held digital cameras would have photographed considerably more than 4.2 scenes a day at the locations I visited. However, I suspect that other large format camera users would have recorded a similar number of images as me.

Travel between home and the first location as well as travel between the last location and home can be subtracted (a total of 2.8 days and 2,100 miles) to exclude travel to and from locations where I actually photographed. This might facilitate comparisons to similar trips made by other photographers. After subtraction, an average of 4.8 scenes were photographed each day and an average of 31 miles were driven to photograph each scene.

Number of Exposures Per Scene

I exposed 115 negatives at the 93 scenes. This means that an average of 1.2 negatives were exposed at each scene. That is, a single negative was exposed at most scenes (78 scenes).

Two negatives were exposed at 12 scenes and most of those involved capturing alternative shadow patterns on the landscape when clouds passed overhead. Four negatives were exposed at one scene. This was done because the scene changed greatly as a result of the setting sun and clouds which passed overhead rapidly. Five negatives were exposed at two scenes. Both of these scenes involved substantial set-up work and I wanted to have extra negatives in case I made a stupid mistake during exposure which needed compensation during development. One of the scenes was a portrait in front of an airplane and the other scene was a difficult shot inside a large airplane which had to be moved for the photograph.

Contrast Adjustments Using Film Development

One of the advantages which black & white film offers is the opportunity to modify image contrast by varying film development time. Although image contrast also can be adjusted during digital editing, better image quality typically results when adjustments are made sooner in the photographic process rather than later (e.g. during film development rather than during digital editing). I strive to produce images that require only small adjustments during digital editing so I carefully control development time for each negative.

Contrast varied greatly at the 93 scenes which were photographed. Contrast at only 48% of the scenes was appropriate for the images I envisioned. That is, less than half of the scenes I photographed required “normal” film development. The majority of scenes required modified film development to adjust image contrast.

Nearly one quarter (23%) of the scenes required a contrast reduction equal to one Zone (or one f-stop). Films for these scenes were developed N-1 to avoid obtaining blocked black areas, blocked white areas or both in the image. 9% of the scenes required a contrast reduction of one and a half Zones (1.5 f-stops) and were developed N-1.5.  4% of the scenes required a contrast reduction of two Zones and were developed N-2. These scenes were extremely contrasty and development time reductions allowed images to be obtained without large areas of blocked tones.

13% of the scenes required a contrast expansion of one Zone to avoid “flat” images which would require fairly large contrast modification during digital editing. Those negatives were developed longer (N+1) to increase image contrast by one Zone (one f-stop).  3% of the scenes were extremely “flat” compared to the images that I envisioned for the scenes. Film for these scenes required a two Zone contrast expansion and thus were developed N+2. These were my most exciting images.

Tonal Adjustments Using Colored Filters

The technical goal of my photography is to make large black & white prints of the highest technical quality that I can produce. My technical approach to photography helps achieve my desired goal. Of course, other photographers have different goals which require different technical approaches than me.

For me, acquiring black & white images directly on a large-sized black & white sensor (i.e. large format black & white film) makes more technical sense than acquiring colored images on a relatively small sensor and then converting the colored images to black & white images. One of the advantages of black & white sensors is the opportunity to use colored filters at the scene to alter image tones very early during the photographic process (during exposure). Image tones can be changed during digital editing but, again, better image quality typically results when adjustments are made sooner in the photographic process rather than later (e.g. during exposure rather than during digital editing).

Subjects that I photographed were illuminated a variety of ways and several situations required that image tones be changed. However, 66% of the 93 scenes required no tonal modification and thus were photographed without a colored filter.

17% of the scenes required a medium yellow filter to darken “blue” sky slightly, strengthen the structure of clouds slightly or reduce atmospheric haze slightly.  7% of the scenes required a dark yellow filter to modify scene tones a bit more than with a medium yellow filter.  9% of the scenes required strong tonal modification and an orange filter was used during these exposures. One of these scenes involved an airplane which was painted with an important orange stripe and the orange filter was used to brighten the stripe considerably in the black & white image. The other scenes required a large amount of haze reduction and the orange filter provided more aggressive tonal modification than either yellow filter. A red contrast filter was used for one scene. This image required a feeling of solidity and hardness in massive rock walls and an extreme amount of haze at the scene would have obscured this feeling. The red filter reduced the haze substantially to achieve the feeling I desired for the photograph.


Information which readers may find to be useful has been summarized for a recent photography trip. The information reflects my personal approach to photography. There are many ways to work and I hope that people share their photo trip experiences with others in the “Comments” section of this blog post.

I am in the process of developing and drum-scanning my film to prepare digital files. I will edit the strongest images during the summer months and will post images on my website when they are finished. I will discuss a few of the most interesting images in this blog after all work on them has been completed. In the mean time, check my website occasionally for new images from the trip:

Randall R Bresee

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