My large format adventure has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Initial results were good, six happy frames from six exposed, but that rate of success was always going to slip. When I started shooting colour on my travels this summer, it slipped a lot.

I was digitising the negatives using a version of the technique I wrote about six months ago; holding and photographing the negatives with a backlit flash, (see here). My results had questionable colour, tone, and clarity, I came away from the process very deflated.

In the ensuing month I waffled at length at long suffering friends about how I was going to walk away from the entire experiment, ‘so much for large-format’ I said, trying to mask my sadness at the failure. I hadn’t even finished developing all of the film I’d shot when I started throwing toys from my pram.

It fell to one of these friends to point out that the process I was using contained a series of untested variables, and that perhaps I should try to trim the process, or at least replace sections of it, with things I knew to work.

The faithful Canoscan, upon which I have scanned all of my film over the last few years cannot accommodate a 4x5 negative, but, at my friends’ suggestion I laid one of the big negs across the backlit section of the scanner and pressed go.

Perhaps because my original results had been so bad, the new product made me very happy indeed, but try as I might I couldn’t marry images scanned in two halves. This left me with a difficult decision, 4x5 scanners are/were expensive.

Significant time was then spent trying to find a budget option, a way to get the scan width I needed. I eventually discarded these budget options as false economy, and the time came to grit my teeth and get it done. I took delivery of a new Epson V850 which is by no means a budget option, but it is a genuine solution. I felt slightly daft investing so much in something that is likely to remain a niche part of my practice, but made my peace with it once I saw my first colour sheet-film images.

No doubt there will be opportunities to sing the praises of large-format, the things I have learned thus far include –

  • Portra rocks in sheet form as well as in roll film
  • Ensuring the film is level in the dark-slide saves heartache later
  • Lapses in concentration cost money
  • 4x5 negs need to dry quickly
  • Non-merging verticals are cool