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Ultra Large Format Photography Diary – 8×20 Scouting For A New Tree Landscape at Siloam Springs

I love exploring local landscapes with my 8×20 camera. I have been thinking about a new project, Broken, But Still Connected, that I have been writing about recently, and the 8×20 camera and landscapes feel right to me.

Before I ever pack up the gear or load a sheet of film, I like to scout an area as much as possible.

I use an application on my phone called Mark II Artist’s Viewfinder to help me scout and pre-visualize my scenes. I created custom formats for 8×20 and 16×20 and loaded in all the focal lengths that I own.

Then, when I am out in the field, I take photos with my phone, and the application overlays whatever focal lengths I have selected on the image. This is a huge time saver for me because when I return to the location, I already know what focal length I want to use for the composition.

I love this landscape scene in the image below, and I think it is perfect for the 8×20 format. I take my morning hike by this location several times a week. I will patiently wait for a dramatic sky because it will really help tell the story.

In my work, trees are anthropomorphic and take on human forms and traits. I am bridging the gap between nature and humanity through my artwork. I see the large tree in the front, symbolizing a father taking on a protector role, and the small trees behind as his family and children.

No matter how big and strong we may be, shielding and protecting your family from all threats and enemies is impossible. This is the unfortunate and ugly truth about life, but there is also a positive lesson to take away. Enjoy every moment with our children because we don’t know what the future holds for us. I could have never imagined that my youngest daughter would have been killed in a tragic automobile accident on her way home from school.

I have some ideas of how this scene may fit into the narrative for my Broken, But Still Connected body of work. I need to spend more time there and reflect to see if this is a fit.

I think it is worth mentioning that I don’t aimlessly go out and “take” pretty photos. I have no judgment about anyone that may do that. It’s just not how I work. I have a purpose and vision that drives my work; this is how I express my emotions and feelings and share my creative vision.

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8x20 Ultra Large Format Scouting by Tim Layton - www.timlaytonfineart.com
8×20 Ultra Large Format Scouting by Tim Layton

As the image above shows, I have narrowed my compositions down to 300mm, 450mm, and 600mm focal lengths.

This is just a general image, and I will likely change the exact composition when I get behind the ground glass, but I know that I have a good starting place.

The problem with the 300mm is that some telephone lines are in the frame in the upper right corner. Since this is real photography, there is no “Photoshopping” them out.

I am leaning towards the 450mm focal length because it will give the main subjects (trees) a little more room to breathe and show off the dramatic sky (when it happens).

I will be able to get more of the sky in the scene by using a simple rise movement on the front standard.

I won’t really know until I get there and get under the dark cloth, but I know that I have a good starting place with this scene.

Let me know which focal length you prefer in the comments below.

I will follow up with a new article when I head out into the field and expose a negative. I am not sure if I will use sheet film or a paper negative yet, but I know that I will use a soft focus lens to try and move towards an impressionist and Pictorialist idea. I have 18-inch (450 mm) and 24-inch (600 mm) TT Signature Lens elements, and I think I will start with this lens. I also have some meniscus lenses that I can try as well.

If you are a photographer or interested in learning about analog photography, we have an Analog Photography Membership Community that is the only community of its kind where you can learn and explore analog photography in depth. I also have an extensive training library of video workshops and guidebooks if you prefer to download the videos and books for offline use.

THE UNKNOWN WORLD OF TREES

Trees are all around us, yet we rarely see them. 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and then think about trees.  

What do you see in your mind’s eye?  

You probably saw a tree or a group of trees, but very few details. 

Did you know there is a detailed and complex world that lives within trees that you pass by every day without ever noticing? 

The primary purpose of leaves on a tree is photosynthesis.  If you think back to science class in grade school, photosynthesis is the magical process of transformation of solar energy and chemicals in the leaves to provide nutrients for the rest of the tree.

I still believe this is magical and part of the marvel of nature.  

Leaves provide respiration for the tree where the leaves take in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.

Since we are oxygen breathers, we should look at trees daily with deep gratitude for cleaning and contributing to the air we breathe. 

Why Trees Are Important

Research data tells us that people value nature and our natural resources less today than any previous time in history.  I suspect this is because many people are being insulated from nature as part of their everyday life routines.  

I want to inspire people to connect with nature and get involved in their local communities. I believe that people protect what they love.  If we can help people understand the issues, then many of the right actions will be taken because the vast majority of people care about things that matter.  It has been scientifically proven that when people spend time outside, their health improves and their sense of well-being is better too.  

If we can get people connected to nature in a positive and meaningful way, I believe that we have a better chance of protecting and conserving our natural resources for ourselves and future generations.  

  • Trees combat climate change – Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by many factors is a building up in our atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.
  • Trees provide oxygen – In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
  • Trees conserve energy – Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.
  • Trees save water – Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most newly planted trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.
  • Trees help prevent water pollution – Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents stormwater from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies.
  • Trees provide food – An apple tree can yield up to 15-20 bushels of fruit per year and can be planted on the tiniest urban lot. Aside from fruit for humans, trees provide food for birds and wildlife.
  • Trees heal – Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with less complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.
  • Trees provide heat – In suburban and rural areas, trees can be selectively harvested for fuel and craft wood.
  • Trees help prevent soil erosion – On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place.
  • Trees mark the seasons – Is it winter, spring, summer or fall? Look at the trees.

WHAT CAN I LEARN FROM TREES?

  • I can be in one place, but I can thrive. Constant movement and change are only illusions that distract us from more profound truths.
  • Focusing and committing to fewer things fuels exponential growth. 
  • Trees use their leaves to collect the elements they need to live and grow. What and who are my leaves that help me grow?
  • Trees use natural defense mechanisms to fight off predators and heal.  I call this intuition and following my gut. 
  • Trees are very slow to grow but have great stamina and longevity.  These are lessons I need to be reminded about very frequently. 
  • A tree’s roots are deep in the ground below the surface.  Roots are the lifeline that makes everything possible.  What and who are my roots?  

WHY PHOTOGRAPH TREES?

Trees are all around us, yet we rarely see them. 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and then think about trees.  What do you see?  

Did you know there is a detailed and complex world that lives within trees that you pass by every day and have no idea what you are missing? 

Trees cleanse the air for us.  Are we thankful or even conscious of their gracious and tireless work on our behalf?

Trees provide shade for comfort from the hot sun. 

The forest is a refuge and shelter for man, wildlife, and plants. 

Defoliated trees represent the elemental shape of life and enduring growth. 

Without trees, the earth would be rocks, sand, and desolation, as it was in the beginning. 

Most people don’t know the name of their favorite tree; they know they like it for some reason they can’t explain.   

Trees breathe a timeless, slow, quiet breath, exchanging harmful gases to make us healthier.  When is the last time I paused for a moment and thanked a tree? 

Trees communicate through a delicate series of impulses through a thin film of cambium, just under the bark, and we have no idea this is happening.  What else is beyond my sight and ability to understand? 

Still and forever, the forest breathes life.  Do others see me this way or do I have more work to do? 

The silence of a tree contains our unspoken thoughts. Am I brave enough to listen?

We enter the forest and leave behind our world and troubles. 

Trees unite the earth and the sky and communicate beyond our grasp and understanding. 

Trees are alive and active; we can’t see them because our minds are cluttered and blocked by white noise that keeps us from our best. 

Trees have a curious relationship to the subject of the present moment. Am I present at this moment? 

Trees sacrifice their bodies for the pleasures and desires of man.  What investments or sacrifices have I made for them?

The leaves of a tree are like the melody of a song if I am willing to listen. 

Trees are messengers of nature, and perhaps I should listen.

If you are a photographer or interested in learning about analog photography, we have an Analog Photography Membership Community that is the only community of its kind where you can learn and explore analog photography in depth. I also have an extensive training library of video workshops and guidebooks if you prefer to download the videos and books for offline use.