Walking around a 40 acre site like the Weald and Downland Museum with a large format camera takes a certain degree of planning. But it is worth it.
Last July I got a press pass to shoot at The Weald and Downland Museum’s Living History Festival . I regularly work for the museum, so I already had a good relationship with them. It also means I knew where everything was and how to get there without having to wander around too aimlessly. I know it may sound crazy to a digital photographer, but one of the first questions you ask yourself when shooting large format is “How am I going to get all my heavy camera gear to where it needs to be to take pictures? Preferably without hurting my back or having a heart attack”.
The Weald and Downland museum is a challenge to a large format photographer. The buildings are spread out over a 40 acre site, and most of it is hilly. Thousands of people go there at the weekend so you can find yourself parked a good few minutes walk from the museum proper. It is not so straightforward to nip back for a lens or extra film holders.
I prefer to set up my camera up from the boot of my care, attach it to a tripod and walk around with it like that. Padding one shoulder with my dark cloth so the tripod doesn’t dig in to my skin, and then hanging my camera bag on the other shoulder. My camera is a Toyo-View 45C monorail. It is more portable than a lot of rail cameras, but not exactly a featherweight. A field camera would be a lot lighter, but most lack the bellows extension I need for shooting close with my longer lenses. A monorail is also nicer to shoot with once it is set up. Mine has geared movements, and is very stable and precise.
The real trick is knowing what to leave out of the accessories bag. I decided to stick with one lens, a loupe, and a light meter so that I could pack in as many film holders as I could.
I packed in 15 holders that would give me in total 30 shots. I planned to take two pictures of every subject I chose. Normally, I work in a way that I direct people until I think I have the shot I want, and expose one sheet of film. I then shoot another sheet which is usually a close duplicate of the first shot. When it comes to processing I split the two sheets into different batches for development. That way if there is some problem with exposure, a user error in the development process, I know that I have a back up of the image. Of course this does mean you have to label all your holders and keep notes, but does cut down the risk of disaster.