Stills & Cinema

The Guts and the Glory

A blog on the mechanics, philosophy, and art of image making

reflections on shooting large format: a story

If shooting a 35mm rangefinder on the street is like playing a four piece jazz kit in a jazz combo, then shooting large format is like playing timpani in an orchestra.

I still remember how excited I was when my parents first asked me if I wanted to take percussion lessons.

I even still have my first lesson notes.

| If you would have asked me 2 months into drum lessons if I liked it, I would have told you that I probably hated it. |

I really really did hate it.  First of all, I was terrible.  I mean really terrible.  Second, for a 5 year old to do the same 3 exercises every day for a whole year really was just torture. I didn’t have much discipline as a 5 year old but really what 5 year old has that much discipline?

I did make it past that first year of hell. I really don’t know how I made it, but I did.  I did have good parents that were good about not letting me quit.  I also had a really good teacher that really knew how important your stick grips were to the rest of my technique and so he pushed me.

| Somehow I did get better. |

For that first year, it was all about developing good technique in my ‘match grip’, a style of stick grips where both palms face downward (traditional grip is with the left palm up). My teacher used to (gently) hit my pinkies if they would stray out like I was at some tea party, saying, “pinkies in.” Eventually my grips reached absolute perfection and we moved on. That grip technique would ultimately become the strong foundation for the rest of my drumming career.  Looking back, I am so thankful for that formation.  It allowed my technique to remain strong and it still allows me to continue progressing as a percussionist 24 years later.

It’s so funny to think about all that stuff you hated being so so good for you.

| I really had no idea back of how it would impact me now (definitely a life lesson somewhere in there). |

I got better and better.  I played in middle school, high school, became a drumline section leader, got a scholarship to play in college.  In college I played in jazz combos on weekends nights and city orchestra on weekday evenings.

So this large format photography thing…

If shooting a 35mm rangefinder on the street is like playing a four piece jazz kit in a jazz combo, then shooting large format is like playing timpani in an orchestra.  The similarities of these two disciplines sometimes scare me.  For those who have shot any film, they know there is a rhythm in shooting it.  Moments of drama, crescendos, moments of silence, codas, motifs. I find this happens in the images and in the shooting experience.  You learn to see (or hear) the light and scene and play your part that shows off and accentuates the scene.  You respond to movements.  You aim for the moments and do your part at the perfect moment.

| It’s a dance.  It’s leading. It’s following.  It’s call and response. |

When your part comes you put in everything you have to making it the best moment whether it is fortissimo or pianissimo.

| You place bits of yourself in every sound or frame. |


The large format photography shooting experience is quite different though.  There are so many videos and blogs about how to shoot large format photography.   Blog posts about reciprocity, bellows extension factor, composing on ground glass, large format aperture, lens fov equivalents, and so many more.  But how do you know what you don’t know?  All these things are essential information in a large format photographer’s tool belt but no one tells you what it’s really like to shoot it in it’s rhythm or how it feels compared to other formats.  What is the rhythm as you use all those tools to create an image. The steps and the dance.  What is that process like. In my opinion using this analogy helps.

Playing percussion in an orchestra is about



being bold

having independence


being precise

being calculated

playing every note in your music

and absolute perfection.

Really, this describes the large format photography shooting experience as well –a perfect description.


Now, playing a 4 piece drum kit in your buddies 5 piece jazz combo on a saturday night is very different. It’s about


more listening


creating structure

more listening,





give and take

more listening




and tastefullness.

Now this is exactly how I would describe the 35mm rangefinder on the street shooting experience.


So go tune your timpani in 5ths and go shoot some large format film photography.

Am I right or am I right?