My ‘Hope’ had been calling to me quietly from its briefcase in the corner of my studio. Last week I realised that I had everything I needed to get out with it. Everything aside from the impetus to do so.

I had been prevaricating, firstly as I had no film, then I had no chemistry, then I needed a sheet film spool for the Jobo. Finally I needed a reason to use it and a subject to aim it at. The time had finally come to grasp the bullet, to bite the nettle; it was on a trip to a local urbex site that my large format adventure truly began.

Much like taking the ‘Blad out for street photography, urbexing with a 5x4 camera is a step out of the ordinary, but I’ve visited the site before. Using the ‘Hope’ also allows me to ape the delightful work Christopher Payne has done with large-format photography and derelict spaces).

Learning Curve

The nice thing about being back at the base of a learning curve is that everything is new. I had never really interacted with a piece of sheet film before. I had no idea what the mechanism was for knowing which way round the film was. Thus my first action was to sacrifice a sheet of film so that I could look at it, essentially to meet it properly for the first time. It turns out that it relies on corner notches for side identification and is thicker and more rigid than I expected. Once we’d met it was time to load it into the backs, again requiring some research and some practice with my sacrificial sheet. Once I was happy with the process I loaded six sheets into backs and trundled over to the site in question.

The 150mm f/5.6 lens offers me, roughly, a 40mm equivalency to 35mm, and a depth of field equivalency of about F/1.2. I muddled through the process, experimenting with a flat subject, then a deliberately 3 dimensional one. I metered as I normally would if I were shooting the ‘Blad. The final shots of the night were experiments with the things that set large format cameras apart. The ‘standards’ are adjustments one can make to both the front and back of the camera, that offer the photographer phenomenal control. Depth of field, reflections and perspective can all be changed, altered or affected through adjustment of these standards. I shot more slowly than I would with my medium format cameras, taking about two hours over six exposures.

For ‘Dials’ I rotated the front standard to cheat a shallower depth of field than I would normally have achieved at f/5.6. For ‘Derelict’ I lifted the front standard, tilting the rails back, tilting the the rear standard forward to keep the focal plane parallel with the walls of the building. As a result the verticals in the building are kept from leaning to meet each other, and the building looks suitably vertical and real.


Being too excited to go to bed once I got home, I mixed up some dev, set the Jobo to 20°, and set about trying to load the sheet in to the sheet spool. (This took a while, but I’ve wrestled with 120 for longer in the past). Once processed I was blown away by how nice the negatives are offering massive detail, depth and tonality. (My thoughts immediately turned to the massive awesomeness of 5x4 slides but that’s because I like to make trouble for myself).

In the meantime I’ve learned the following so far:

  • Using the huge focusing screen is lush
  • Raising a loupe to fine focus is a genuine pleasure
  • I probably need a larger blanket
  • briefcases are not much cop as camera bags.