I was down in Brighton recently and called to see Max and Naomi at Intrepid. We had a really nice chat and a catch up showing me all the latest things they were working on and when I left I thought to myself “why don't I shoot street photography using a large format camera” It is something I have fancied trying for a while but as most of my large format cameras weigh a ton and are difficult to carry around I didn’t think it would work but now having the Intrepid MK3 it is so light and easy to set up I was excited to try… this could be interesting.
The first place I went to was Hastings so I headed straight for the old town, I’d been before and knew it would be quite a good place to be for street photography. So how do I do this?.. do I walk around with it already set up and just plonk it down on my tripod, fiddle and shoot? or do I spot the person I want to photograph and ask them and then set it up and shoot? Normally I would have my camera already prepared, this is what I always advocate on my workshops, I would load with 400 ISO usually Ilford HP5+ due to its flexibility and would have pre-focused and taken a light reading so that I would be set and ready to engage and shoot, but obviously that’s just not possible with large format photography.
When you stop somebody you have to read their body language quickly so you know what to do with them and make them feel very comfortable straight away. So my concern working with my 5x4 is the length of time it takes to set the camera up, would my subject get bored and fed up. Well the more I thought about it the more I was talking myself out of it, I just had to do it. So I turned my mind off and concentrated on spotting someone I wanted to photograph. Now the part of Hastings I was in had very narrow streets, but there was no traffic and the good thing was that the pubs had outdoor tables. It was a lovely warm day and it didn't take me long to spot the person I wanted to shoot. She was a young lady having a drink with her friend but she had amazing tattoos. I walked on a bit further looking to find somewhere to place her before I approached her.
Once I had found a suitable spot all I had to do was ask her, connect, and make her feel comfortable, take her to the location and shoot, simple.. it's what I would normally do, but I'm shooting 5x4 and I guess was still a little nervous about it. So anyway I asked and she said “sure, what do you want to do?”. I explained that I had a location in mind and I also explained about the 5x4 large format camera, this excited her and also provided a point of conversation and anticipation as she told me she was interested in photography too and also used film. She finished her drink and we all went over to the location I had found. I guided her through the process of setting the large format camera up and focusing, taking a light reading and then shooting, it worked perfectly and I was happy with the shot but more importantly it gave me great confidence that working on the street with a large format cameras can work. We exchanged details so that I could send the image onto her and I have since worked with her again which is great.
The next day I went to Eastbourne, I didn’t know but there was a Steampunk fair on, all along the promenade.. perfect. I walked carrying my 5x4 already on the tripod talking to people I wanted to shoot, it was great! All of the people I selected were so interested in the camera and the process, they were permanently engaged. That day I had one of the most productive street photography days I’d had in a long time. I really enjoyed using the Intrepid 5x4 camera and only shot 5 sheets of Ilford HP5+. So I think I can safely say 5x4 large format photography is suitable for street photography..