Photographing wildlife with 4×5 large format camera and expired film
These days, for sports and wildlife shooters, it seems the smaller sensor cameras are often favoured for the “extra reach” with long lenses. Most wildlife shooters I know, at least up until the days of mirrorless, were shooting fast APS-C DSLRs like the Nikon D500 and Canon 7D Mark II. Some have switched to Fuji and even Micro Four Thirds mirrorless.
But for some photographers, bigger is always better. And that certainly seems to be the case for Markus Hofstätter. We’ve featured Markus a bunch of times here on DIYP for his wet plate photography, but attempting to shoot wildlife on a 4×5 large format camera, especially with expired film is definitely a little… extra.
Markus has been following a family of local swans for a couple of years now. They see him so often that they’ve accepted him as part of their environment and not a threat or danger, allowing him to get closer to their nest and offspring than they might otherwise allow. They trust him so much that he says they’ll even sleep in front of him without a care.
Markus decided he wanted to try to photograph the swans on large format this year. Initially, he thought about using the wet plate process he’s most known for. But local lockdown restrictions meant that he wouldn’t be able to spend enough time there in order to get the quality and variety of shots he wanted. Instead, he decided to go with 4×5 large format film.
So, he packed up his Linhof Technica 4×5, a borrowed 400mm Tele Xenar lens and a bunch of packs of Kodak Readyload film – most of which are expired by at least 20 years. Markus had Readyload film in a variety of film stocks including Kodak Ektachrome E100S, Portra 160VC and TMAX 100. But he also took along some Fujifilm FP-100C peel-apart film (also expired) to get more of that wet plate experience of being able to see your image relatively soon after you’ve shot it.
The project took Markus several months to complete, and he documented the whole journey and compiled it together into the video at the top of this post. But he was also able to produce some pretty spectacular photographs with that Linhof during the process, too. These were the images he created using the Fuji peel-apart film.
Where things really start to shine, though, is with the actual film, and seeing the character and differences between them. The black and white images here were shot with the TMAX100. The colour images are a mix of Portra 160VC and the uniquely distinctive Ektachrome.
Of course, even with a 400mm lens, 4×5 large format doesn’t exactly have a lot of reach. So, naturally, he took along his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4x teleconverter, too, allowing for some great close up shots of the swans and their signets.
I can’t imagine trying to photograph wildlife on a large format camera. For Markus, though, it seems it was a very worthwhile little project resulting in some great images. Images that will have taught him a lot about shooting such creatures on large format. Hopefully, when they come back to raise new offspring next year, he’ll be able to get back out there with some wet plate. Those should be pretty spectacular!
[Images used with permission]
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.