Pete Rezac: Large Format Has Changed Me as a Photographer

All images by Pete Rezac. Used with permission.

Continuing our series featuring and highlighting photographers who shoot analog and have fantastic work, photographer Pete Rezac is amongst the bunches who submitted to our analog photography zine and have incredible photos. After the jump, you’ll read more about Pete, his work, and his creative vision.

I’m a portrait photographer living in the “Biggest Little City in the World” also known as Reno, NV. My favorite subjects to photograph are kids between ages of 4 and 12 and individuals of any age. I also photograph a large number of families each year.

I’ve been slowly reintroducing film into my sessions over the past several years, as I’ve been able to acquire some really great old cameras for pennies on the dollar that when I started my career I would never have been able to afford. This year I’ve made the decision to lead all my sessions with film based cameras and only using digital as my “Polaroid” to check lighting on critical shots. I’m finding that the old analog cameras provide my clients with a “new” experience and they lead to great conversations while I’m working. That is a huge benefit to me as it relaxes my clients and I’m able to get the expressions and poses out of them I’m looking for.

Regarding what kinds of cameras that I own and use. I use a couple of medium format kits. I have a Hasselblad 500cm with 60mm CF and 150mm CF lenses and several extension tubes. This is one of my favorite cameras to use as it’s a photographers camera. Small compact, easy to travel with, and of course the legendary Carl Zeiss lenses! I also have a Mamiya RZ67 with 65mm, 110mm, 140mm, and 180mm lenses.  The 140mm lens is mounted to this camera about 90% of the time as its a fantastic portrait lens. I go to this camera primarily for family and larger group work as the rectangular format seems to work better for those applications. This camera is a beast to haul around so I give some thought as to where and when I’ll put it into play, but again for families and studio work. Lastly, I have a large format Sinar F2 camera with 90mm and 210mm rodenstock lenses and 300mm Fujinon W lens. This is by far my favorite camera to work with and all of the attached images were created with it. Large format has changed me as a photographer by the slow process it forces one to work by. I’ve had many other colleagues think I’m crazy to use it as a portrait camera, but I absolutely love the fidelity of the negative that large format delivers. The only thing better for me would be going to a larger large format platform such as 8×10. 🙂

My creative take on pictures is as a portrait photographer. I like to have control of everything from the lighting, to props, poses, and expression. I want my pictures to be captivating to the viewer and have the eye go to the subjects face first then move around the image enjoying all the tonality of the image. I want the image to hold their attention by seeing something that is created rather than just captured. I find that using film is the perfect tool for me to achieve this. Digital is not film and film is not digital and I think that its clear to viewers that when they they look at images created on film that there is a unique quality to the image that helps it set itself apart from a digital image. I know for me the skin tones rendered on film are smooth and creamy and very forgiving rather than showing every pore and imperfection that digital does and then having to spend time on digital images refining skin, which is not something I have to do with film.

I love the entire process of working with film from ordering it, receiving it via fedex, to deciding which emulsion I’m going to use on a particular client. Then loading the film film backs for my medium format cameras, aligning the arrow and winding to the first frame, or loading the changing bag with a box of sheet film and the 4×5 film holders, then using my hands to see in the dark finding the notched edge and holder slots. Then using the light meter to set my lights and frame the client on the ground glass, set the f-stop, shutter, remove the dark slide and wait for the decisive moment for expression and release the shutter with the cable release. After the session I love loading the development reels with the film in the changing bag, then the smell of the chemistry as it processes the film and the melodic sound of the Jobo Processor cycling through it’s revolutions as it processes the film. Then that last minute in the wash cycle before popping the lid I feel the excitement build wondering if the negatives are going to be well exposed, sharp, and deliver an image that I had in my head. I love all of this process and even when I screw it up I still love that I have a tangible mistake I can hold in my hand.  I also love that I’m automatically backed up on my images again with tangible negatives that can be rescanned or optically printed at anytime. That is why I love working with and shooting film. It appeals to all my senses, well almost all I don’t taste anything!

I got into photography by pure accident in 1995. I was an engineer living in Valdez, Alaska working on the Trans Alaska Pipeline Marine Terminal. There wasn’t a lot to do outside of work, especially for a 24 year old guy. Then one day I saw an ad for an introduction to photography class a the local community college there. I never took a photography class in high school or college so I thought that would be a great thing to do, but more importantly I thought I’d meet a girl. I did not meet a girl, but I did fall in love with photography and seeing a print come to life in the developer tray hooked me forever!

There are several photographers that have influenced me in my work. Again I’m a portrait photographer so I’m drawn to portrait photography. Of course I’m a huge fan of George Hurell and his Hollywood lighting, Mark Selliger and all of his work, Richard Avedon and his black and white work an how he evoked expressions from subjects and his clean white background work, I wish he were still with us to see what he would continue to produce. I also love the work of Marc Hauser and how he works exclusively in black and white. Then there are portrait photographers in the Professional Photographers of America that have been huge influences and teachers to me. Tim Kelly and Tim Walden are two that I’ve personally learned from during presentations at PPA’s national conventions. Then there are old portrait photographers that are no longer with us that have had major influences on me in Don Blair and Monte Zucker.

I’ve been involved with photography since my introduction to it at the class I took in Valdez, AK in 1995. I’ve been a portrait photographer since 2003 and full time portrait photographer since 2010.

Photography has become an important part of my life, as I’m sure it has to all of those that find it and get bitten by it. It is my profession, it is my hobby, it is my teacher and next to my family – my true love. It has taught me to see differently, it has introduced me to thousands of interesting people, provided me numerous opportunities to learn, teach, and create lasting friendships. It has given me a way to express myself in ways I could not. It is part of who I am and who I will continue to become. It’s earned me awards and allowed me to help others through our participation in PPA Charities Celebration of Smiles Day benefitting Operation Smile. It’s taken my life in a direction I would have never imagined in that first class back in 1995 in Alaska.

I’m definitely a creator rather than a documenter. As I said earlier I love to be in control of everything about my pictures – it’s why I’m a terrible wedding photographer and do not do them. I love to measure the light, pose the subject, arrange the props, and then make the exposure.  That doesn’t really work in documenting, although a formal portrait is documenting a moment of a clients visual history. So maybe I do a little documenting as well :-).

What’s typically going through my head when I create images is this “don’t screw (i use another word) this up” :-). Eyes are super important to me and so I’m always thinking of the eyes, are they sharp, is there light in them, are the pupils too big, are they too far to one side, and so on then I’m looking at the hands and making sure they are looking natural or as natural as I can make them. Then finally it’s the subjects expression. I don’t want big smiley expressions as I want to see the eyes, so it always goes back to the eyes for me and making sure there is life in them and that they are sharp! To do this I compose my image on the ground glass or view finder of a supported camera. I use a camera stand in studio and tripod on location. Once I have the image composed in the viewfinder I can step away and adjust lighting or poses as required for my vision of the photograph. Then it’s back to double check all the edges of the frame and make the exposure. I try my very best to get image as right as I can in camera, and that’s another reason I love to work with film is the process of slowing down that film forces a photographer to do allows me to think about check all aspects before pushing the button.

Regarding my processing techniques.  I’m a black and white guy for the most part so once I’m done with a session I’m processing all my black and white film in house. I like to use Kodak HC110 developer at 1:31 and use it one shot for about 7:00min on Tri-X or films. Then a minute in stop, 5 min in fix, 2 min in hypo clear, 9 min wash changing water every minute, and finally 2 min in photo flo. Once negatives are dry I scan using a epson V750 scanner using epson 4×5 holders that came with scanner, and medium format holder for my medium format work. I will wet mount on a wet mount plate on critical work. Silverfast is the software that drives my scanner. I love the control and quality of the scans that Silverfast provides. I usually scan at 3200dpi at 16bit TIFF files, then I’ll bring into lightroom for any cropping or scanning adjustments. Usually to bring highlights down a bit and shadow detail up a bit. I’ll then export from Lightroom to Photoshop to dust spot and then run some GOOGLE/NIK filters over the files to bring out some additional detail that is in the file  and to tone the image. I like to apply a warm tone to portrait work as I feel it just adds a bit character to the image. Lastly I’ll print the image from Lightroom to a Canon Pixma Pro 100 printer if I’m doing small prints or export large 16bit TIFF file to send to a lab for printing on wide format printer. I love Hahnemuhle Baryta Fine Art Satin Paper for my prints to live on.

I have now started reaching for the film cameras first over digital because I have confidence that I will get the images I need to get for my client work. Again the film cameras provide a unique experience for my clients as most all of them have never been photographed with a Hasselblad or RZ67 camera, and almost none of them have ever sat in front of a large format view camera. So the experience for the client coupled with the quality of the image really is starting to make it a no brainer for me. I find that I shoot less and sell more because we are not overwhelming the client with a bunch of images, but rather a dozen or 2 dozen at the most. Of course there are some jobs that just demand digital over film – event work and volume work are better handled digitally, but that’s ok working with film has made me a better photographer with the digital camera too.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.