A Day in Toronto with a View Camera: Six Pictures

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I attended a recent photowalk in Downtown Toronto with a group of photographers who share their images on Google+. Google+ has a great community of photographers, and when I learned of this little adventure, I had to tag along!

I got to thinking that it would make for a great learning experience and conversation starter to shoot most of the day with just my Large Format 4×5 View Camera. Not sure what that is? Take a look:

(Photo courtesy of Ron Clifford)

The camera is big, uncomfortable to carry, and tricky to set up. You also view the entire image upside down on the back, a fun experience that I’ve yet to get tired of. The camera exposed sheets of film 4″x5″ in size, capable of giving me 300-400 megapixel scans. It may be old, but used correctly it can be extremely powerful.

I loaded six sheets of film into film holders the night before the photowalk: 2 black&white, 4 colour. Here is what I came up with.

Frame #1:

I saw this old building, still well kept in it’s own right, cast in the shadows of the modern skyscrapers around it. Something felt right about photographing it with an old camera.

Frame #2:

I watched this wedding party travel through Kensington Market – a great place for alternative wedding pics! I set up the camera anticipating their movements, and at just the right moment a cyclist entered the frame. When shooting with a view camera, you cannot see through the viewfinder at the moment you press the shutter – it was guesswork trying to get the timing right.

Frame #3:

In the mark of Kensington Market, I noticed this coffee shop with people around. I set up the composition that I wanted, and waiting for the right arrangement of people and interaction. I could have stood there for hours waiting for just the right moment, but eventually took an opportunity. Bonus points if you can find the skateboarder in this image. 🙂

Frame #4:

Heading towards the harbourfront, we briefly stopped by the Rogers Center. I’m not sure why I had this shot in mind, but I had envisioned it before we arrived. I wanted to frame the CN Tower with other landmarks in the city, and this fit the bill. I’m going to try to use this negative for some alternative-process contract prints when I find the time.

Frame #5:

Oops! I goofed up on this one, but learned some lessons. Don’t try to use a view camera on a moving boat would be the most important of those lessons, followed by properly cleaning the film holders. A very dusty image! Ah well, this was a shot I could waste anyhow, I just had one more image in mind for the day, and now one sheet of film left.

Frame #6:

The City of Toronto as seen from Olympic Island (right next to Centre Island) at night. I set up the camera and got everything framed and in focus before sunset, ready for the right moment. A minute and a half exposure, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The film I was using, Portra 400, did suffer from reciprocity failure a little, but I can live with it. Shortly after this image was made, we packed up and started on our way home.

It was a great day and a great learning experience. One of the things I keep telling myself is to keep trying new things in photography – never stop learning and never stop experimenting. Many of the other photographers on the walk were taking hundreds of pictures. I had no choice but to look at a scene and tell myself whether or not it was worth one of six pictures I could take. So many times I said “no” without even looking through the camera. Being selective is a good thing!

(Photo courtesy of Chris Bagley)

I’ll be the first to admit that 4×5 camera are not the easiest to carry around with on photo walks, my shoulder was a little sore the next day!


  1. June 4th, 2012 | 11:24 pm

    Great post about a memorable day, Glad we had the chance to meet and begin to share a passion for photography.

  2. Raymond Hoffmann
    June 8th, 2012 | 5:49 pm

    Perhaps this is the look you were going for, but couldn’t that camera be used as a type of tilt shift (since it has bellows, right?) giving you straight buildings? I’m just curious.

    I like these photos, they are all very nice. Great job.

    Is there a link or tag to the Google + group for the photographers who were on this photo walk?

  3. July 4th, 2012 | 8:19 pm

    Love Frame #5! I miss 4×5 camera’s they are so beautiful. I miss setting up a shot and taking a breath right before you put your head under the cloth and click the shutter.

    Studio Coordinator at PTSMstudios – Toronto Studio Rental

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