Words and pictures Colin Prior
'An image doesn't start with a camera - it ends there.' is a useful maxim borrowed from one of the National Geographic Photographer's Field Guides. Its simple, concise message serves to remind photographers that it is what lies 'beyond the lens' that should command their attention. Nevertheless. For each assignment it is essential to have the right photographic equipment at hand, together with an understanding of its limitations.
Cameras, just like any other tools, are designed to operate within a range of parameters to fulfill different criteria. The choice of equipment depends largely on subject-matter, personal preference and the ability of the camera to reproduce the image visualised by the photographer. I have experimented with camera formats for many years, and maintain that they are an important and often overlooked aspect of the visualization process. Like an artist's canvas, the shape and size of the film, onto which the photographer paints with light, is an important aspect of the total image.
The panoramic format delivers a powerful visual experience. Its 3:1 image ratio is superb for composing landscape using the rule of thirds. I find that it depicts the way I see the world and gives poignancy to my work. I have also owned and used most other camera formats and have a distinct preference for rectangular formats. Recently, I worked with a Fuji GX680 system (6x8cm format) but found it too bulky for location work. I followed it with a Lingo Technikardan 5x4, but was frustrated by the length of time that it took to set up the camera often missing the conditions, which have inspired the photography in the first place. I now use an Arca Swiss 6x9, which I find superb. Like the Linhof 5x4 it has a telescopic monorail and full camera movements but it uses 6X9cm roll-film backs, which are infinitely quicker than the sheet film used by the Linhof 5x4. While the camera is still reasonably bulky and heavy it is by comparison faster to set up and produces transparencies of outstanding brilliance, through a range of Schneider lenses.
My early work was with 35mm Nikon cameras and I found their 24x36mm format well suited to all aspects of photography. Certainly the 3:2 ratio produced pleasing results, both for landscape and for the underwater images I was shooting at the time. Working underwater is a very different challenge from landscape photography, but I learnt some interesting lessons from this pursuit, which I still use today. In order to cope with the additional problems posed by taking photographs underwater, I organized my diving and photographic equipment in such a way that it became 'invisible' - not physically but philosophically. In an effort to maximize every possible photo opportunity underwater, I built camera systems, which performed with 100 per cent reliability and sourced diving equipment in which 1 put the same confidence. For a photographer, there is little point in being deep under the Red Sea as a shoal of hammerhead sharks passes, if you then find that you are having trouble with your regulator or that your flash won't fire.
In the mountains I use the same philosophy paying the same attention to detail in both photographic and mountain equipment. In winter conditions, crampons, an ice axe and a head torch are as essential as the camera and tripod. All the images published in this book have been shot with the aid of a tripod. Image sharpness has as much to do with camera shake as it has with lens design, and a tripod is essential if depth of field is to be maximised. During the last three years I have carried the superb Gitzo Mountaineer carbon fibre tripod with a 3-D head. This is considerably lighter than its alloy equivalent, which has been a welcome development as weight remains the limiting factor on many of my excursions, particularly if camping equipment is added. The film stock I use is extensively Fuji Velvia, which produces a highly saturated transparency, rich in greens and blacks. Normally rated at ISO40, the exposure latitude is narrow and the emulsion is intolerant of erroneous exposure readings.
Most of my work is now shot on a Fuji GX617, using either the standard 90mm f/5.6 or the 180mm f/6.7 lens. Originally designed by Linhof, a panoramic model by Fuji was introduced some years later with some notable improvements - namely an ergonomic design interchangeable lenses protected by an aluminium frame - detachable high-magnification viewfinder, film-winding crank and a vertically opening back. The lenses produce transparencies of outstanding brilliance and colour balance free from chromatic aberrations. On most trips, I carry both lenses and around thirty rolls of 120 film.
About the author
|Colin Prior has been hailed as one of the great landscape photographers of our time. His work has appeared in books, calendars and exhibits around the world.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1958 his proximity to the Highlands had a powerful influence that helped shape his passion for the elements.
For the past decade, his quest for wild places has taken him more than a million miles, quite literally to the ends of the earth. His four calendar commissions for British Airways have received considerable critical acclaim and won him numerous awards. He has had two major solo exhibitions, The Scottish Visual Experience and Land's End.
Colin's pictures and books are available from his web site www.earthgallery.net