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In the Douglas Kirkland on Photography series, well-known photographer Douglas Kirkland explores a variety of real-world photographic scenarios, sharing technique insights and critiquing the results.
This installment follows Douglas as he creates a portrait for Kodak's On Film series, which features portraits of directors, cinematographers, and other major players in the film industry. Douglas has shot nearly 250 portraits for this series over the past 20 years.
The course begins with a discussion of the unique qualities of film—its clarity, definition, and tonal range—and of film's enduring importance in today's digital world. Next, Douglas tours the Mamiya RZ67 medium-format camera, demonstrating its components and comparing its format to 35mm film. He then demonstrates a variety of lighting, posing, and styling techniques while photographing Owen Roizman, an award-winning cinematographer, in the Kirkland studio in Los Angeles, California.
The course concludes with a critique of the resulting photographs. Douglas also shows how he resized and cropped the image to fit a print advertisement.
So here we are in our studio, and today I want to show you something about medium format, something that's been very important to me through my career. And today we are going to start with the RZ Mamiya, or some people call it the R Zed, and this is the basic camera. A camera like this is a little different than what you are accustomed to seeing. For one thing, we are looking straight down like that, and you might have a little trouble at first with it because things tend to move the opposite way, because there is a mirror inside here that you're looking at. However, we can use a pentaprism and make it the same as what you are accustomed to seeing with your 35 millimeters or similar digital camera.
The way I do it is I have focus here and my finger is over here on this button. That's where I take the pictures from. And with this version of the camera, you do that and that moves the film forward and cocks the shutter each time. But this is the really cool thing, look at this. This is a bellows, and this is how we can shoot and focus, and we can get very close. I mean I can get in like that close, which is fantastic. And the other thing is the wheels are on both sides, so you can focus from either side. And beyond that, what's super cool is if you have a locked-down shot, like you are shooting a wonderful landscape or something, you can actually lock this, so it won't focus at all.
That's at times, again with a landscape or something like that, very comfortable to know you can do it. Focus it perfectly and then lock it down. So let me show you what the back looks like. Here's the size of the film, 6x7 centimeters. If you want to call it inches, it's about 2 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches in size, but typically called 6x7 today. So on a 120 roll we get 10 frames each time we put a roll in. Let me show you one of those roll. This is a standard 120 film, probably the most common film used, and that's what we put in this. Or you can use the same film-- it looks very similar to this--called 220.
We simply put it in here, very simple, and not complicated. There it is, and you tear this and pull it around and slide it into the little slot here. Okay, it's there. See there are little arrows on the film? At that point, I'm ready to go. I bring it to there, and then I put this, the back, back on to the frame, close up, put the locks on. Now I simply roll it forward, like that, or there is a button I can push and have it done automatically, and it will stop at the right position.
Now, this film which I've just loaded can go on to another camera. I can swap it with another back. I've got the slide in there. There is a little lever on the bottom. Lift it off and I can just swap the back that rapidly. And just some other things. Let's put a lens on this camera. Very simple. And I just put this on here. We have a little dot, very similar to all your SLRs, a similar camera, but one thing is different. There's a 50 on this 6x7 format, because the film is about twice the size of a 35- millimeter frame, the image created by a 50-millimeter lens would emulate or be very similar to what you get with a 25 on your 35-millimeter camera.
Much wider, so this is a wide-angle lens. Let me show you the version that we actually use of this camera. I'm going to get one of them out, and once more, I'll put it back on the camera, Nothing complicated about it, a little lock down there in the bottom. There is a slide we pull out, put it in the back. Now, what do we have here? We have the same camera, with the same movements, but we have a motor on the bottom which advances the film. That's my secret, one of the secrets, because we can shoot just bing, bing, bing like that, and no time lost advancing the film. And this is a pentaprism up on top, which is how I prefer to work.
Let me put on the lens we use more than anything else. You will see me use it when I shoot our subject in a few minutes. This is a zoom lens. Lenses like this are not that typical on a camera this size, but this one-- remember the focal lengths, the numbers are all different--goes between 100 and 200 millimeter. And what that does, it allows me to work quite quickly and easily. And as I am doing here, I can focus very easily with this, and then I can also zoom. It's great.
One lens does just about everything. And then ultimately, I want to show you the last very cool little trick here. We have the possibility just of rotating the back. So I am shooting horizontally. I instantly want it vertical. That's it. I don't even have to mention it with my subject. Now you might wonder why I work with a camera like this medium format film camera versus my 5D Mark II or similar digital camera, or why not put a digital back on here? Well, some clients want film--yes, believe it or not, they want film, I mean from all over the world. And don't walk away from film.
Some people say, "Oh, you still have to shoot film? Do you know how to shoot film?" I urge you, if you're really interested in photography and want to take it the full max, know how it all works. So that's a quick tour of what we are going to be working with today. Very good. It's been very good to me and I love it. I've used Rolleiflexes and Hasselblads very well in the past, but I love this, and I love not having a square format. This is not digital. Yes, you can put a digital back on it, but I love it with its medium format film.
That's the way I generally use this camera.
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