Large format colour has a quality that is quite different than smaller formats. I shot this image in 1986 on Kodak VPL 4108 8×10 film. VPL was a tungsten balanced film intended for long exposures, which was a suitable choice for this night shot. 8×10 was the format chosen as the resulting print was intended for 30 x 40 inches.
There is a smoothness to large format colour prints that does not exist in the smaller 35mm and 120mm formats. The lack of visible grain makes the tones very clean and smooth. Large prints from large sheet film have the potential of making exceptional prints.
Making large digital prints from sheet film scanned on high quality scanners offers similar advantages for exceptional prints. Unfortunately, not all films scan readily on certain types of scanners. Twenty seven years of aging does not help. This negative is very difficult to scan on my Scanmate 5000 Drum scanner. After scanning this image more than a dozen times over the last year, this scan seems to be workable.
Making the original 30×40 chromogenic prints were not overly complicated and relatively pleasant to make. Balance the artificial lighting, set the exposure and administer some judicial burning down of too bright areas. The scanned negative offer up many options in Photoshop. The first thing that I noticed was the sense of scale. Many photographic practitioners do not always consider this. Their print size is dictated by the equipment they own. They have a darkroom and can manage prints to 8×10 inches, and so that is the largest they make a print. Similarly many digital photographers are constrained by their printer size and digital capture size. I see many prints that are too small and would benefit from being a larger size. I also see large prints that really would be more appropriate as smaller images!
So here I am confronted with this image on my monitor. Smaller than the actual negative, which is interesting. I can balance the light source to a much finer degree than was possible than the materials we were using in 1986. With Photoshop it is easy to take specific areas and custom balance the colour. Working with contrast controls, it is possible to move the tonalities around displaying shadow and highlight detail that was difficult with the analogue c-print.
It’s interesting to revisit older images. I find the small image size on screen interesting. Yet I still feel that the appropriate print scale for this one should be large. Now the dilemma of deciding which fine digital print paper to output the image!
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