We've shared some of Michael Strickland's stunning large format photographs before on the blog, but for awhile I've wanted to do a little bit of a deeper diver into how he makes his photographs. If you follow along with Michael on his Instagram (and he's a good follow) you'll see him out in the field with some pretty big and technical cameras. Having only toed into medium format photography myself, I'm fascinated by large format photography. So Michael was kind enough to sit down and answer some of my questions.
As always, head on over to Michael's website to check out more of his work or to purchase prints.
Along with Michael's photographs posted below are some recent framing projects we've collaborated on.
Q: Can you breakdown your process when photographing landscapes with your large format camera(s)? Say for instance you're going out to a location to shoot. What are you looking for in the landscape? Are you going to scout a specific spot or are you going to move around while your out in the field? What are the time considerations when working with your equipment (how long does it take to prepare, compose, expose, etc etc).
First and foremost, color. Nearly all of my (published) work is in color and the balance of color in a scene is very important to me. There are some scenes I won't photograph due to the combination of colors that aren't aesthetically pleasing to me. Typically I do hours upon hours of research on a location before my trip either in books, Google Earth, or from other photographer's work to get an understanding of what the landscape is going to look like. When I arrive at what I think might be a promising location, I typically throw my Mamiya 7 (medium format camera) in a pack with a few lenses and go out scouting. This camera is super light and is a great compositional tool for me, alongside my iPhone and a few handy apps I have. If I find a scene I think is promising, I'll compose the scene on my Mamiya or my phone, sometime setting up a tripod for the shot, and watch the light. I use an app called Photographer's Ephemeris to get an idea of where the sun will be throughout the day, but if I have the time, I like to watch the light at the location without the big camera - just to study. If, after watching the light for a good day or so, I decide that it's a photograph I want to expose, I'll pack up the 8x10. The camera, tripod, head, film holders, and lenses weigh in just around 60-70 lbs, depending on how many lenses I want to take with me, so I have to pick and choose how far I want to hike. The setup process usually takes about 5-10 minutes to get composed and focused, but I can push it a bit faster if I need to. I like to arrive at the scene well before the light to take in the scene again and ensure everything is set right on my camera. Then it's just a waiting game. If the light doesn't pan out, I'll typically come back to that spot until it does. On any given trip, I consider myself very lucky if I expose more than 5 sheets of film, depending how long I'm on location.
Q: There's also a lot of work that goes into creating your prints after you make the image. Describe the process you go through to get a print into a client’s hands.
I now develop my own film, so that's the first step. To be cost effective, I usually wait until I have about 15-20 sheets of film to develop. After I get my sheets developed and the images are selected, I will get them drum scanned. This scan is the highest resolution analog-digital conversion I can get and use a photographic lab. They email me back a file that is usually about 1.5 GB and is pushing 400 megapixels. It's scanned very flat and almost looks like a digital RAW image to capture as much highlight and shadow detail as possible. From there, I add a few contrast curves, color corrections, etc. until I get the image looking like the original film. All of my limited edition photographs are printed on a LightJet printer, which creates true light exposed photographs using lasers to project the image on light sensitive paper. I work with my photographic lab to create proofs of the final print. They save the settings for my selected print so when I get a print order, I call them up and they can print my images on demand. Then the image is sent out to be framed before eventually being drop shipped to my client or to me for delivery.
Q: If someone would like to get into the world of medium and large format film photography, what are some recommended resources (books, websites, etc.) and ways to learn?
The internet is full of resources, especially YouTube. Ansel Adams had a great series of books entitled The Camera, The Negative, and The Print which is full of great information. Ben Horne is an 8x10 photographer and has a great inspirational channel on YouTube, and Alan Brock, a 4x5 shooter gets a bit more into the technical aspect of shooting large format. If you've never shot film, I'd suggest going medium format first. Cameras are inexpensive, the film is just as expensive as 35mm and you get much higher quality images. Once you get the hang of metering and exposing film. a 4x5 is a great choice and most people never see the need to go larger. There's really never been a better time to shoot film than now. The Large Format Photography Forum is an excellent community with a ton of knowledgable people willing to answer questions. I also offer photography workshops tuned for those wishing to get into large format photography!
Q: What's next for your photography?
That's a tough question. It's a different game on a daily basis, but I'm making a full-fledged effort to begin exhibiting my work more in fine art galleries across the country. Because of this, I have been concentrating on a number of new projects to not only focus my work, but to create a body of work that can be exhibited. Maybe some 16x20 wet plate photography? Who knows :)